Deathtrap Dungeon was a great way to revisit an old paperback classic

Thanks to a recommendation from Contains Moderate Peril’s Roger and a 70% off sale, I picked up 2020’s Deathtrap Dungeon over the holidays. This book was one of my favorites as a kid, and I vividly remember reading through it while on a Boy Scout camping trip one summer. This time, I roped my son in to go through the experience with me, helping to advise and make choices.

So Deathtrap Dungeon was one of those choose-your-own-adventure books that also factored in RPG elements, and it ended up being one of the best pocket dungeon crawls you could ask for back then. What they did here was to recreate the whole book as a narrated FMV, where the player makes decisions at key points, interacts with inventory, and engages with combat.

At the core of this is actor Eddie Marsan, who effectively plays the game master. Sitting in a cracked red leather chair, Marsan narrates all of the action and description without hurry. Sometimes he was a little too slow for my liking, which made me pour over details like his suit and the set dressing around him, but I think he was ideal for this kind of game. He’s got a good voice for narration, the kind that kicks the imagination into overdrive.

My son and I went through an entire game, which took us something like three hours from start to finish. There are numerous save points along the way, so if we encountered a game over or hated a decision we made, we could go back. But since it branches so much, it’s not like you could see everything in one run.

We did enjoy it, I’ll say that. My son squirmed at a lot of the tough choices we made and repeatedly got frustrated that I was more daring in my decisions than he would be. Yet daring even so, we didn’t have enough gems to win the game at the end, which I felt was the weakest point of the whole deal. There’s nothing like getting right to the finish line and having the game say, yeah, you didn’t get all of the items you need, so you should probably start over.

I’m patient to a degree, but not that patient.

So for $3.60, I feel like I got a good run with this title. It was definitely different, and I can’t remember the last time after the 1990s that I even played an FMV game. Gabriel Knight 2, I suppose. They didn’t inspire a great legacy.

6 great YouTube channel recommendations

About half of the YouTube channels I subscribe to are for music alone, but the other half are a hodge-podge of informative and analytical channels. There are a few that, in my mind, stand above the rest in terms of content and presentation, so I thought I’d share six of them with you today.

SNES Drunk

This guy pumps out short (5-10 minute) videos that cover all sorts of SNES and 16-bit titles, and they’re a great way to revisit my favorite console of all time. It really helps he has an upbeat and honest voice that conveys real enthusiasm for the subject.

Sean Chandler Talks About Movies

While I love cinema, I don’t subscribe to a whole lot of movie channels. I do this one, because I really dig the guy’s approach and passion for movies. He covers a lot of topics that I find interesting, such as ranking franchise installments, and doesn’t have that condescending sneer that repels me from other critics.

Deep Look

Who ever thought that bugs, fungus, and other teeny tiny things in nature would be so incredibly fascinating? These mini-PBS documentaries are always a must-watch — and usually I’ll drag the kids into the room to watch with me. Unless they have spiders, because that’s a dealbreaker with my daughter.

Toy Galaxy

This is a relatively new find for me, but boy was I ever bowled over by this channel. I’m not even a toy collector, but I think these videos are engrossing — moreso because they cover entire cartoon franchises and all of the merchandising that spawned from them. The host is really funny and well-spoken, too.

CGP Grey

This guy’s really well-known, but I felt that if I didn’t include his well-written and often humorous videos in this list, I’d be failing at life. I don’t always agree with some of his conclusions, but I do like his research and presentation of topics like geography and pirates.

The Tim Traveller

While Tom Scott might be more well-known for visiting interesting places around the world, I thought I’d give a shout-out to Tim Traveller for doing much the same thing (although mostly in Europe). He’s like a tour guide for the lazy, and he’s likable to boot.

2020 Wrapup: 11 great video games I played this year

Now that we’re wrapping up 2020, it’s a good time for me to peruse back through all of the games that I managed to play this year and share the 10 that had the greatest impact on me. Let’s get to it!

Lord of the Rings Online

For a good portion of the year, I was deeply immersed in Middle-earth, particularly with Aragorn and Arwen’s wedding and Rohan on the progression server. But by the end of 2020, I was very burned out on this title and disillusioned with SSG’s decision to monetize the latest quest pack.

World of Warcraft

I took several months off at the tail end of Battle for Azeroth, which helped to pave the way to revive my interest in the fall for Shadowlands. I really loved the new leveling revamp and spent the last month immersed in Blizzard’s latest expansion.

Disco Elysium

This was a really bleak RPG that I got over last winter that nevertheless enthralled me with its unique storytelling and game mechanics. I don’t think I’d play it a second time, but I’m certainly glad I did it in the first place.

Toonstruck

I had a really good and very productive year with retro gaming, often writing posts many months ahead of time. Toonstruck with Christopher Lloyd and Dan Castellaneta was a delightful discovery and a very funny game to boot.

Chrono Trigger

It was a real blast to go through my favorite RPG of all time to share in a rather extensive retro gaming series. I’ve never played it on the PC before, but it turned out pretty well in the end!

Fallout 76

I had several good months of adventuring through the wasteland, especially as Bethesda improved it with Wastelanders and One Wasteland. It’s definitely a title I want to return to in 2021! Here’s hoping they get text chat in there some day, however.

Space Quest 5 and 6

It was SO satisfying to finally finish up this series that I began as an 8th grader. I’d never played these last two titles, and they turned out to be really funny and enjoyable!

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Bounced around in SWTOR over various months, but toward the end of the year, I made it my mission to power through the Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion to finally finish that up. Had some great time doing this with my oldest son, who was really into it.

Octopath Traveler

Thanks to a half-price sale, I picked up this Square Enix day and got All The Nostalgic Feels from this modern RPG classic. I’m still poking my way through it but really loving its presentation and design.

Elder Scrolls Online

ESO is one of those MMOs that I find myself dipping into for a month or two and then leaving for a while, only to come back again and have a good time when I do. I finished up Elswyr’s main story and started in on Greymoor, although I haven’t completed that yet.

WoW Classic

For a good while there over the summer, WoW Classic was really hitting the spot for me. I haven’t looked back since Shadowlands, but… you never know.

CRPG walkthroughs are satisfying and comforting

You know how there’s a stigma — both internal and external — about lowering difficulty settings in games below “normal?” Well I’ve always sensed that there’s another stigma floating out there, perhaps less now than it used to be, that using walkthroughs for RPGs made you less of a gamer.

Honestly, I’ve done both, and generally I’ve found that I end up really enjoying a good CRPG more if I have a walkthrough at my side — either for hand-holding directions or general reference. Since I’m only playing these for me, I figure I can play them as I like. A walkthrough doesn’t remove all challenge, but it does help to play efficiently and thoroughly.

There are few things that bug me more than the thought that I’ve missed something really cool in an RPG as I go through it. Some secret, or side quest, or useful item, or what have you. It really bugs me when I get to the end of some of these games and lack the power and gear to make it through the final boss fights. Sure, I could always play a game once without a walkthrough and subsequently with them (and I have done it that way), but RPGs are huge time sinks. I don’t often have time to play one more than once with so many others sitting on the backburner.

And this is kind of weird, but having a walkthrough makes me feel like I’m gaming with someone else — the author of that document. They don’t know me, but I get to know them through the way they write it and how they talk to me in the guide. It feels personal and social… again, in a weird way.

That all said, I’ve found that with more modern CPRGs, I don’t need or desire a walkthrough too much. I went through, for example, Pillars of Eternity, The Outer Worlds, and Disco Elysium never once consulting any guides. I might if I go back to do them again, mind you, because walkthroughs can be a great way to squeeze out some unexplored freshness, but more recent titles are better about keeping you on track and making quest pickups and objectives more apparent.

How do you feel about walkthroughs? Do you use them? Do you judge others — and me — for using them?

Are tonal spoilers for MMO zones actual spoilers?

I know I’m a slow leveler with less time to game than some, and so I’ve made my peace with the fact that everyone in Shadowlands would be at 60 and in the endgame zones long, long before I’d derpy derp derp my way there. And that’s OK all around. You game the way you want, I’ll do me, and we’ll all arrive at the same place eventually.

But the problem I had during the first week of the expansion was that the rushing ahead crowd (i.e. “everyone but me and maybe two others”) in our guild would not stop expressing very loud opinions about each zone they went through. It wasn’t so much story spoilers, mind you, but rather tonal judgments usually expressing what they didn’t like. Over and over again.

And that genuinely bugged me, because hey, some of us aren’t there yet. Some of us would rather form our own opinions rather than have them handed down to us by the advance wave. I’ve deliberately avoided reading spoilers, beta impressions, and the like from Shadowlands because you can only experience something as new precisely once without a severe blow to the head, and I wanted this week to be that.

So we kind of got into it a little bit in the guild over whether or not general reactions to zones and storylines — the “hate it,” “love it,” “made my skin crawl,” variety — constituted spoilers. I felt that it was definitely spoiling my experience and my expectations (a feeling which was not universal), and so I eventually had to leave guild chat entirely for the time being.

And that kind of stinks, because I would prefer to stay tethered to the community. Whether or not tonal spoilers are spoilers, a guild should be considerate in the first week or two of an expansion and maybe tamp down on openly spewing reactions where people can’t easily avoid it.

How fidgeting helps to bring MMO worlds to life

The next time you log into an MMO, do this simple experiment: Don’t do anything and simply observe your character. Chances are that unless you play a very old MMO, your character’s going to be moving — swaying, rolling shoulders, shifting feet, and performing a set series of small emotes.

We fidget, in other words. Or our characters do, at least.

It didn’t always used to be this way. If you go back to older RPGs and platformers, you’ll find characters that are absolutely stock-still when they come to a rest. In fact, we all thought it was so novel when Commander Keen’s developers programmed idle animations for when we stopped telling him what to do.

Idle animations or fidgeting actually does have purpose, even if it’s not something you normally think about. For one thing, it keeps your character from looking and feeling unnatural. After all, nobody in real life is completely still unless they’re dead, and having a character that moves just a bit makes it relatable.

For another thing, fidgeting gives a character some degree of ambient personality. World of Warcraft does a whole lot with idle fidgeting, perhaps more than other MMOs (seriously, no character is this game ever stops moving if you step back and observe), but most of it does a lot to convey energy, power, readiness, likability, and so on.

I love that some MMOs have allowed for an extra degree of customization with stances and idle animations. Elder Scrolls Online even lets you collect special stances for your character, which is a fantastic idea that should be explored more. I do wish that players had the ability to slot one or two custom idle animations for their character to do without express command — such as a rogue cleaning her nails with a dagger or a bard plucking a few strings of her lute.

Fidgeting, as small as it may be, helps to make these game worlds come alive. I’m glad we have it.

My five desert island games

From time to time, I think all gamers ponder what would be their best line-up of “desert island games” — games that you’d be OK with playing for the rest of your life if you could only have those few games. I’m sure my internal list on this might change over time, but I challenged myself to come up with five titles that would be ideal for an island without any internet connection (but, oddly enough, electricity).

For the purpose of this list, I’m focusing on single-player computer games that would come bundled with all of their expansions and DLC (if any). Without any further ado…

One: The Sims 4

This one is almost a gimme. I already know I like it, and there’s a near-infinite number of ways that you can approach and play this game. It would offer me virtual social interactions (of a sort), housing, world-building, and story-telling. At this point, Sims 4 is pretty huge in scope, so all of the DLC combined would make for a lot of stuff to explore and use.

Two: Rimworld

For desert island games, you really want a LOT of replayability, and in my view, you also want games that are “story builders.” So instead of a set story or a story that’s limited in scope and direction, it’s a title where the story could go in a wide variety of places. Rimworld is one of my favorite titles that does all of this, plus it’s a pretty solid RTS that feeds into my base-building desires.

Three: Torchlight II

I know that I’d be missing MMORPGs a whole lot and would want something to fit that void — and a good, solid ARPG would be perfect for that kill-loot-equip-repeat gameplay loop. Torchlight II is probably the best candidate for this field, especially with its colorful visuals.

Four: Baldur’s Gate II

I had to get at least two straight-up RPGs on this list, and they had to be both titles I know I already liked and would offer a massive bang for the buck. Baldur’s Gate II may be old, but it’s a classic with a big expansion and tons to do — and tons of that BioWare storytelling that I love.

Five: Witcher III

I agonized over this pick because there are lots of CRPGs that I hold to be more immediate favorites, although this could well be that I haven’t really pressed that far into Witcher III to form a full opinion. But the sheer size of this game and its DLC is a big plus for a desert island pick, as are the strong reviews. I’d want at least one title on this list that would let me explore a virtual world in over-the-shoulder 3D too, so it’s what I’m going with.

What would be your five desert island computer games?

10 upcoming MMOs I’m excited about (part 2)

Last week got away from me — gee, wonder why? — and I didn’t get around to finishing up my 10 most anticipated MMO or MMO expansion releases for 2021 list. To recap, my first five were New World, Elder Scrolls Online’s unnamed expansion, Book of Travels, Magic Legends, and LOTRO: Gundabad.

Let’s finish it out with…

An officially authorized City of Heroes fan server

Yes, we have a playable City of Heroes emulator right now — many of them, in fact. But they’re still not legitimate, a fact that kind of sours my enthusiasm to engaging with Homecoming on a long or regular basis. Talks have been in the works with NCsoft to license or legitimatize these servers, and I’m crossing my fingers this actually happens in 2021. If it does, I expect a City of Heroes revival — and a return to Paragon City.

Ship of Heroes

Speaking of superhero MMOs, I’m betting all my chips on Ship of Heroes being the one City of Heroes spiritual successor that actually makes it across the finish line and does well for itself. I don’t think it’s going to launch in 2021, but a beta could definitely be feasible — or perhaps a public playtest of a sort. In any case, I haven’t yet touched this game and want to sometime next year.

Burning Crusade Classic

It’s not official yet, but the general consensus is that Blizzard will be announcing Burning Crusade Classic soon, probably at BlizzCon in February — and then launching it later that year. It’d be a huge boost to the Classic community, many of whom (myself included) would rather be in one of the early expansions rather than plain vanilla. I will be dutifully leveling up my Hunter to prepare for this launch.

FFXIV: Forspoken

Yeah, get off my back, I already know the weird and twisted relationship I have with this MMO. I know it’s not really for me. I know I get all excited about the *idea* of it, return, do OK for a while, and then fizzle out. But new expansions are like irresistible catnip to me, and I’m positive that I’ll find myself lured into the hype, just to see if FFXIV will stick with me this time around. Prediction: It won’t.

Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons

In a similar vein, Guild Wars 2’s next expansion could be an attractive prospect. I like this game more and don’t mind returning from time to time, but if the expansion actually improves on what I’ve seen as a pretty faulty setup these past couple of expansions? I’d trade my temporary enthusiasm for a longer-lasting variety.

10 upcoming MMOs I’m excited about (part 1)

The way things are going right now, I’m pretty content to hunker down in World of Warcraft in the lead-up and launch of Shadowlands. It’s hitting the spot with me, but that’s not to say that I’m going to be in this and only this for the next year. There’s always that point where the excitement and newness wears off and a desire to add in more variety grows.

So looking past the rest of this year, what is there to get excited about for 2021? Considering how much got delayed from 2020, it’s a whole lot at this point. I wanted to bust out a quick list of 10 MMOs (and expansions) that I’m looking forward to checking out in the new year:

1. New World

Amazon’s MMO has gone from being a punchline to a genuine prospect, especially after some solid word-of-mouth this past summer. I like the setting and want to see what the studio does with the extra time afforded by its delay. It definitely looks like it’ll be one of the bigger MMO launch events of 2021, and that’s exciting!

2. Elder Scrolls Online’s next expansion

While I don’t care for the combat, ESO has a great world and a fantastic questing system. And it keeps pumping out new expansions on a yearly basis, so we’re almost assured to get another one next spring. An expansion release does a lot to pump up interest, especially with a past history with the game. My big question is, what will the new tentpole feature be? A new class or race is never not welcome!

3. Book of Travels

I don’t think we’re getting a 2021 launch with this micro-MMO, but beta testing looks to be probable. I really love the imaginative approach and art style of this — and I can’t wait to give it a good try.

4. Magic Legends

Despite Cryptic downgrading this from a proper MMO, yeah, I’m still on board for Magic Legends. At least to give it a whirl and see how the card-collecting and setting work in an ARPG format. Could be horrible… or could be a new guilty pleasure, like all of Cryptic’s games.

5. Lord of the Rings Online: Gundabad

While this fall’s paid “mini-expansion” has left a really bad taste in my mouth, I can’t fail to show up to an actual expansion launch. With a new class (the Brawler)! Let’s hope that SSG gets its head out of its rear by next spring and starts talking more and making better decisions, because I’d love to see this be a strong hit.

I’ll be back in a day or two with the rest of this list!

Is Chromie the face of World of Warcraft?

A half-decade ago, if you had asked me who or what was the face of World of Warcraft, I might have said “murlocs” or “Chris Metzen.” But that answer has changed in recent years,  and it’s not doughy J. Allen Brack. No, weirdly enough, Blizzard’s really latched onto Chromie as its key figure.

Like a lot of Blizzard things, it started as a bit of a joke — a giant time traveling dragon who just so happened to choose a cute-as-a-button gnome for its disguise — and then made it more and more canon. Chromie kept popping up in the game anywhere time shenanigans happened, and soon enough, she was appearing elsewhere.

When Blizzard made the stunning announcement of World of Warcraft Classic a couple of years ago, it was Chromie’s face that players saw at the start of the announcement trailer. And now with Patch 9.0, the cheeky gnome is up in everyone’s face as they go to her to beseech “Chromie Time” for their leveling journey.

What amuses me is that it’s always seemed like Blizzard really hated gnomes. They had them in WoW, sure, but always as the butt of a abuse or a joke. Chromie — despite not being a real gnome — seems to signal a change in this. Huge hulking kings, growling orcs, wishy-washy banshees all took a step back to let Chromie come to the forefront.

And I’m totally fine with that, because I like it when a game shows that it doesn’t have to be super-duper serious all the time. I like the idea of mighty power being compacted down into a small and unassuming form. And I like it because gnomes are amazing and should be the only race in the game.

Maybe it’s time to make Chromie the new warchief? She couldn’t do worse than anyone else that has sat on that throne.