A very Bio Break Thanksgiving

thanksgiving

Thanksgiving seems to have snuck up on me this year. Funny how staying all sorts of busy will block out the incoming holidays. Our family likes to hew to a low-key Thanksgiving: going out to see a movie, eating a meal at Bob Evans, and then start setting up Christmas decorations. Maybe Syp might even get to play a game or two, but with the routine thrown out of wack, who knows.

Having a thankful heart is something commanded by my Lord and helps me have a better attitude in general. We can grouse all the live-long day about disappointments in our lives, but when I look at what I’ve been blessed with, complaining seems to come off as petty and ungrateful.

As this is a gaming blog and all, here are ten things that I’m thankful for with my hobby this Thanksgiving:

  1. A newish computer that runs my games great and has plenty of space for all of my media and projects.
  2. The choice of dozens of interesting MMOs at any given time and the lack of burnout due to the variety.
  3. My wonderful guilds that make me feel warm and welcomed every time I log in.
  4. Getting to play virtual dollhouse and enjoy the break from combat by setting up a cozy home in-game.
  5. Two new expansions (Legion, Starfall Prophecy) to play this fall and the revitalized interest in these games that they have caused.
  6. All of the MMO bloggers who keep me informed and entertained about other games.
  7. My Massively OP coworkers, who put in so much effort on this project while keeping the office space lively and weird.
  8. Getting my first Legendary in World of Warcraft. Almost like a Thanksgiving gift, that was!
  9. The joy that writing about games and gaming that Bio Break brings me.
  10. All of the video game composers who have produced such terrific music that I enjoy listening through.

So have a merry Thanksgiving and stuff yourself with gaming!

Retro Reprise Episode 7: Star Control 2

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Jump to hyperspace and turn up the tunes, for Syp is going full-on into Star Control 2’s amazing and bizarre soundtrack. It’s an oddity among video game scores, even to this day, and much beloved because of it.

Episode 7: Star Control 2 (show page, direct download)

  • Intro
  • “Starbase Commander”
  • “Hyperspace”
  • “Spathi Theme”
  • “Zoq-Fot-Pik Theme”
  • “Slylandro Theme”
  • “Melnorme Theme”
  • Outro (“Yehat Theme”)

Breaking: Syp makes ‘legendary’ progress in World of Warcraft

legendary

Well this was a rather pleasant surprise for a somewhat stressful and busy day. I quickly zipped through my daily emissary quest only to see the chest spit out three items — one of which was my first-ever legendary item in the game.

I haven’t been doing much else than world quests that could award a legendary, so I knew my chances of getting one were on the low side. At least it isn’t that dumb ring, right? Actually, I’m pretty happy with it. I don’t use my anti-magic shell much, but having it become tougher and heal me will really help when I’m facing spellcasters in the future.

Try-It Tuesday: Planet Coaster

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Try-It Tuesdays is a (semi) regular weekly feature in which I take a break from my current roster of games to play something else for an evening. You can check out past Try-It Tuesday adventures here or submit a suggestion for a future title in the comments!

One of my all-time favorite and most-played (non-MMO) computer games is 1999’s Rollercoaster Tycoon. The idea of an economic simulator revolving around building and operating a theme park was genius, especially when you threw in the ability to create some of the rides. I never got into the sequels much, but when I started hearing good things about Planet Coaster, I couldn’t resist grabbing a copy at launch. I reasoned that it might be a good title to play with my kids — which turned out to be true, in fact.

So while Planet Coaster isn’t an official entry in the Rollercoaster Tycoon series, its status as a spiritual successor is one that it takes very seriously. It’s incredibly similar in setup to the RCT games, just with much more modern graphics and some different types of rides. After a short learning curve (queue paths != regular paths), I was off to the races and building my own park.

There are three modes to play here. Campaign mode takes you through certain scenarios, starting with partially made parks and told to fix them up, set. Sandbox mode gives you unlimited money so that you can just build with no financial pressure whatsoever. But for me, the most interesting of the modes is Challenge, where you create a park from scratch, researching new rides, completing certain challenges for extra cash. My only quibble with this mode is that it’s very slow going at the start, with the same handful of rides and a long wait to be able to research/afford more.

Again, this is very much a glossed-up Rollecoaster Tycoon — and that’s not a bad thing. RCT had a tight, engaging formula and the similarity enabled me to pick up this game very quickly. There’s a deep satisfaction in building up a park, laying out future expansion, and watching the crowds pour in and enjoy it. It’s also really neat to be able to ride all of the rides, from the boring carousel to the awesome coasters.

I’ve noticed that there are a lot more options in regard to decorations and queue line scenery. Taking the time to make an entrance to a ride that’s an experience in and of itself is something I always loved about Disney World and I try to replicate here. Plus, it gives you something to do while you’re twiddling your thumbs waiting to be able to afford more rides.

Quibbles? Sure, I have a few. Most of the characters look like they’re from Planet Hipster, not Planet Coaster, especially the avatar options for the player. Clipping is huge with crowds, especially when you get down on the street level. It’s almost impossible to figure out how long or short to make queue lines without people complaining. There’s very little challenge or failure states, and crowds start pouring in right away. There’s only a handful of initial themes, which takes away from creative expression when you’re creating the theme park scenes.

Probably the most glaring absence is the lack of a blueprint mode. Creating coasters and track rides is a long, involved, and expensive process — and one that can only be done while the game is running. Why isn’t there a blueprint mode where we can design coasters to our heart’s content, test them, and then be able to save them for eventual use?

On the flip side, there are great touches, like the reactions of the park attendees, the touches of humor (plop down a Chief Beef stall and you hear the title read in a breathy voice), the ability to tweak and customize rides, the way pathing connects, and the soundtrack.

Planet Coaster will probably be one of those games that I’ll take out from time to time to enjoy with my children, but similar as it is to RCT, it’s probably not going to draw me in as deep as the original once did.

RIFT: Unicorns barfing rainbows

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There comes a time in every adventurer’s career when an evil corrupted unicorn is barfing all manner of rainbows on him or her, causing a moment of inner crisis. “Is this who I am?” the adventurer ponders. “Is this what I’ve become? A target for a disgruntled Trapper Keeper employee?”

Rainbows take FOREVER to wash out of clothing. I should know: I grew up in the ’80s. Care Bears wouldn’t stop “care staring” at our fashion lines.

I can’t take full blame for my slow pace through Starfall Prophecy so far. Several nights have seen excess lag or even server downtime, and that coupled with a few days of physical exhaustion have left me far in the dust. I’m still in the first zone, still level 65, and still, apparently, getting puked on by jerk unicorns.

Let’s back up a minute and talk about an aspect of RIFT that Starfall Prophecy has made me realize, which is that this MMO that some deride as being a little too clone-y and too bland in the storytelling department has kind of taken a subversive turn over the past couple of years.

It’s not a flat-out weird game that calls attention to its wacky nature, but instead RIFT wraps itself up in very traditional high fantasy trappings that anyone would recognize. And then, just when your eyes start to glaze over with how safe and familiar all this is, RIFT goes to very weird, often dark places with these things. Again, the game isn’t doing jumping jacks to get you to notice this, but if you’re even half-paying attention to the quest text, companion dialogue, and the like, you’ll start to see that there’s an undercurrent of oddity and a kind of unabashed and unashamed dorky humor just about everywhere.

So in the first forest zone, there are these unicorns that are going missing, and when you start to investigate you realize that they’re being abducted for rituals and generally Not Good Things. This is compounded by encounters with the aforementioned Skittles-barfing corrupted unicorns that I totally don’t feel bad killing. It made me think of how many fantasy MMOs tend to veer away from unicorns entirely, as if they’re just a little TOO traditional and ridiculous high fantasy to exist alongside giant spiders, 637 breeds of Elves, and so many dragons that they have to carpool to make it to the raids on time.

Here? You’re thrust into the middle of Unicorn Central, where you have to gain their trust by — yes — hugging and dancing with packs of skittish mares. Nothing strips away my masculinity as quickly as having to type “/hug” to a teen girl’s greatest dream (prior to vampires). Then I had to play hide-and-go seek with unicorn foals, ingest mind-altering mushrooms, and become the savior of the entire unicorn species just to make sure that my face was fully rubbed in all of this glittery nightmare. Yet I almost can’t be too mad at the game because it’s weird and not something I do every day and I’m kind of laughing at it as much as with it. Plus, we’re long past being critical when I’ve spent a quest convincing hedgehogs to go on a pilgrimage to a critter city.

dragon

Also, there’s a dragon. The LAST dragon of Telara, although I didn’t get the memo that the rest are dead. Could Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft enjoy this same dragon drought, I wonder? I picture meeting rooms with stymied developers trying to brainstorm the next content patch for their MMO when one snaps up her head and goes, “I know! Let’s add another dragon!” and everyone shouts “hurrah!” and breaks for an early lunch.

I’m starting to get a better idea as to the whole story of this expansion, thanks to some fellow bloggers, the quest text, and conversations that my NPC companions are having. You’ll have to forgive me, as I didn’t actually complete Nightmare Tide and am a little hazy on what let up to all of this.

Apparently, there’s this giant sentient tower called Ahnket who is no nice being and has some sort of huge master plan going on involving warring factions of the life and fire planes. Ahnket is also in control of a comet that’s been smashing through dimensions, picking up parts of each, and is now bearing down on Telara itself. So we as players are going up to the comet to figure all of this out and hopefully stop this mega-machine from doing whatever it’s trying to do.

Last night I first heard someone in the game mention the titular Starfall Prophecy, which I guess has to do with an Ascended (me) and the last dragon. I’d like more details on this, but again, I’m only a very little way into the expansion proper. By jove, the unicorns will be saved and Lisa Frank will summon me to her kingdom to knight me as its protector supreme!

Fill up on RIFT, Trove, and Atlas Reactor soundtracks!

starfallThis was an extremely pleasant surprise over the weekend: I saw a forum post pointing me to Bandcamp, where apparently Trion Worlds has several of its game’s soundtracks available for purchase.

It was doubly a surprise since I had emailed Trion a few months back asking if it was possible to get the score to its RIFT expansions and the studio said that it hadn’t released any since the core MMO launch. So maybe one part of the studio wasn’t talking to the other part? I don’t know.

In any case, if you’re interested, you can pick up some great music, including the Starfall Prophecy expansion’s OST:

Star Control 2: Zex vexes

v1

(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Has your chiton rasped and moistened with excitement today? What a shame.

After our long zoo hunting expedition, we finally return to the nutty Admiral Zex to give him the dreaded beast in exchange for the maidens. However, Zex proves to be less trustworthy than you’d expect from a member of a xenophobic species that hates all humans. He withholds the maidens, gets the beast, and then…

v2

He wants to — ULP! — collect me. No, I am not going to spend the rest of this game down on a planet in some sort of collection. I have a destiny!

v3

Zex gets ready to attack my ship, but before we launch into battle, the beast escapes its containment and starts rampaging throughout Zex’s ship. It’s unfortunate we don’t get to actually see what’s going on, but Zex’s running commentary is pretty funny. Long story short, Zex is no more. You shan’t be missed, you weirdo.

We go down to the planet’s surface and rescue the maidens, all in their cryotanks.

pro

Am I supposed to feel this uncomfortable delivering dates to this guy? I’m not an escort service, I’m an intergalactic captain trying to save the full extinction of a race, darn it!

nubiles

The furry guy is more than pleased at the result here and heads off to do what rabbits do best. I appreciate that he makes a point of saying that he will only procreate with the consent of the maidens. Otherwise I would have felt pretty icky at this whole bit.

orz1

It seems like you never run out of new, wacky alien races to meet in this game. Just when I thought I saw everything, I bump into the Orz. These are chicken-ball-like guys who are very peppy and also talk in weird cryptic phrases that the translator can’t seem to properly deduce. But it’s not hard to get the gist of what certain phrases mean. In the end, we become friends and allies, just for the asking.

orz2

Oh did I ever, Orzy!

orz3

One benefit of this friendship is being able to acquire a 20,000-year-old artifact on an Orz planet that apparently will serve as some sort of psychic shield. That should be useful, don’t you think?