Retro Gaming: Star Trek Judgment Rites part 7

rom1(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Trek Judgment Rites. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Episode 7: Though This Be Madness…

Now that shore leave is over, it’s back to the stars — and in a big way. Episode 7 starts out in a wild flurry of huge events. First up is a Romulan sub-commander who broadcasts a distress call from the Neutral zone. Kirk is loathe to violate the treaty, so he ignores the call. Plus, it’s the Romulans. Forget those guys.

Then another call comes in, a planetary invasion of Atabis. That sounds more fun than stuffy Romulans, so away we go!


Showing up at Atabis, the Enterprise encounters two strange sights: a Klingon battlecruiser and a giant alien ship. The Klingons are there to defend their interests (Atabis is a disputed planet) and the aliens… no idea. At least the Klingons don’t want to fight.


The away team beams over to the alien ship, joined this time by Uhura (because of possible communications issues). Might want to change that red shirt, Uhura!

Talking to the two people here give the feeling that we’ve stepped into some sort of mental institution, as they’re textbook Hollywood “crazy.” McCoy examines them and notes that both have some physical issues going on, while Spock tricorders the plants and discovers that none of them are on file, but all have similarities to real plants. Fascinating.


More examples of Hollywood crazy here: a big man being a little baby and a guy who thinks that he’s a king. And a cactus that probably thinks that it’s a cactus. Fortunately, Uhuru is descended from royalty, so the king treats with her and then leaves.


Another room, another collection of disturbed people. These guys are more like a gang, with the ringleader to the right there. Plus a teddy bear. Kirk wantee the teddy.

The Klingons beam in to do their own search of the ship, which I predict will quickly end in bloodshed.

Again, nothing is quite as it seems here. Scans from the tricorder reveal that the playhouse is actually a space-time portal. Wonder if I just won myself a space-time teddy bear too.


In another room we meet the Phays, a “food-fixated mothering computer” that keeps swapping between referring to itself as “I” and “we.” It seems to think that all of the people on the ship are its children (of sorts) and ignores Kirk’s entreaty to stop trying to land the ship in the middle of a settlement.

Spock does a mind-meld with the woman in the corner, who apparently gorged on the library computer in an effort to try to understand who made the ship and what is going on. However, understanding never happened and she’s nearly a vegetable as a result. The Klingons barge in, asking for answers, and are unhappy that McCoy wants to treat the woman back on the Enterprise.


Am I the only person who never liked the Klingons as villains or allies? Bunch of paranoid bullies with single-minded dispositions. And in this mission, they keep following Kirk around and being passive-aggressive.

Meanwhile, Kirk phasers some plant equipment in hydroponics and imagines Klarr’s face on it. Pew pew! Believe it or not, this is all part of a complicated plan to grow fresh food.


Food is pretty important here. The Phays mentioned that she was feeding her children, yet Stambob talks about how there’s something being put into it that’s bad. Sure enough, after analyzing a box of prepackaged food, Kirk discovers that it’s been drugged to hell and back.


After much — oh so much — puzzle-solving and maneuvering, Kirk, company, and Klingons arrive in the heart of the Phays. Since it’s just another super-computer that needs to be spanked, Kirk knows exactly how to deal with it.

Klarr actually helps to repair Phays, who now becomes more-or-less complete. She says that this ship, the Compassion, was launched by the Builders but somehow she became damaged. The more Kirk talks with her, the more apparent that Phays doesn’t know much or won’t admit to much. After calling her out on it, the mysterious alien race that has been testing Kirk over several episodes creates a portal, tells him that he’s passed the test, and invites him to make first contact. Klarr decides to come as well.


6 MMOs I wish I had time to be playing

Right now I’m in a pretty good MMO gaming groove, focused down on two games for the most part: WildStar and SWTOR. Each gets about an hour of playtime a day from me, with a smattering of Marvel Heroes here and there.

And that’s perfect for me right now. I want to focus on those titles with the upcoming major content updates, not to mention that I’m genuinely enjoying both. Trimming down to two MMOs is definitely less stressful as well, which is something I want to keep in mind for when baby #4 arrives here around November. No sense overloading!

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about playing other games, sometimes wistfully so. You can’t read all of the blogs I do and write about MMO news without peering over the fence at other games. So here are six titles that I have no time to play — but I still think about now and then.

The Secret World: Now that Tokyo’s over, I feel the urgency to progress through TSW at a standstill. Sure, I could continue with my lowbie playthrough series (and I might at some point), but right now I’m OK taking a break to return whenever a new zone or missions arise. No, Funcom, a new dungeon isn’t enough to get me to come back.

Trove: Weirdly enough, I feel deeply regretful that I’m not playing Trove. I see that community having a rip-roaring good time and know that in a world where I had another 10 hours to my day, I could be dropping a third of that time into this game happily.

RIFT: Speaking of Trion, RIFT will always be an “MMO home” that I’ll at least know I’m welcome to come back to at any time. Lots to love about that game, and after doing a dev tour yesterday, I wish that I still had the fire to be playing it. I’ve made a promise to myself that if I ever do come back, it will be on a character that will only do instant adventures and dungeons.

Project Gorgon: This one will take some explanation. I didn’t suddenly lose my newfound interest in this game. On the contrary, I really, really want to be playing it, but I don’t want to get too deep and then have to start over (either from a wipe, some major changes, or — in my case — the addition of a new race that I’d want to play). I will come back, it will happen, it’s just a matter of time and development progress.

World of Warcraft: Sometimes it hits me, how long I’ve been away from this game. It’s for the best, I know — I was burned out and I wanted to see the wider world of MMOs. And I’m glad, not just professionally but personally. But every now and then I’ll hear some WoW music that will drudge up memories or have a small freak-out that I’ve missed out on some five years of the game’s life and want to go back. Never say never!

Star Trek Online: Those space battles were something else, weren’t they? And I loved how I never felt insanely far behind the power/gear curve. I haven’t even seen the Delta Rising expansion, it’s been a while.

Vote for Bio Break’s next retro gaming series!

I just wrapped up the final two missions of Star Trek Judgment Rites, the writeups of which will go live this weekend. With that out of the way, I’m open to a new game for next week and would like to put it to a reader vote.

Here are the three candidates for the next retro gaming series:

  • Pool of Radiance (RPG): A classic “Gold Box” D&D adventure from 1988 and the first such advanced D&D computer game.
  • Thief: The Dark Project (FPS/Stealth): The 1998 first-person stealth title that kicked off a cult series.
  • Master of Magic (Turned-Based 4X): A 1994 title that has the player assuming the role of a wizard who must grow a fantasy kingdom.

That’s a good variety from my library, I feel. No adventure game this time around!

The three types of MMO winter zones


Winter’s been on my mind more lately, partially because the season has turned to fall here in Michigan and partially because I’ve been adventuring through Whitevale this past week on my Medic.

Generally, I like winter. I’m weird that way, but I think it’s important to find something that you love in all of the seasons instead of taking sides and preferring one at the expense of loathing another. After all, if I’m going to be saddled with three or four months of snow and ice, I should make peace with it. And I do: I love the look of snow, the whole lead-up to Christmas, the coziness of sitting inside somewhere warm while the wind is howling outside, wearing winter clothes and jackets, and having fun with my kids outside. There’s a simple pristine beauty that winter can demonstrate that the other seasons can’t.

So I’m also drawn to winter zones in MMOs. We make a lot of jokes about how MMOs have been using the same generic biomes that have been in video games since the days of the NES, but to be fair, many designers do come up with different twists and shades of those biomes that end up putting each in their own categories. So it is with winter areas.

There are the “Christmas” winter zones, as I like to call them. These are welcoming, bright, and full of fluffy snow. WildStar’s Whitevale is a great example of this. Plenty of cozy and inviting settlements with traditionally festive winter activities — building snowmen, for example — and lights and vivid pine trees. The sky is bright, the air is clear, and one wishes that one had a snowmobile to travel around on.

Alternatively and less rare are the “desolate” winter zones. Winter here isn’t a set dressing, it’s a nasty force of nature that’s out to oppress and kill. Lots of ice, mountins, howling snow, blizzards, frozen landscapes, and few if any settlements. LOTRO’s Misty Mountains could fit into this category, or perhaps SWTOR’s Hoth.

Then you have the “Scandanavian” zones, which can be a mix of the above two, but throw in the northern lights, more greenery, and some jagged fjords. There’s a different sort of beauty here, one that’s wild and breathtaking and bold. These areas have more moose and bears and other tundra/boreal forest fauna. World of Warcraft’s Howling Fjord is a prime example.

There are probably more divisions than these, but the above three are the ones that I commonly notice in MMOs. Which is your favorite?

I’m worried about Sword Coast Legends

I wouldn’t say that I’m pinning all of my hopes on Sword Coast Legends — WildStar, SWTOR, and Fallout 4 are there this fall no matter what — but after the premature demise of Shadow Realms, it’s been the co-op DM experience I’ve been anticipating.

Early reports of SCL were good. Lots of strong word-of-mouth, even as recently as PAX. I had no problem with pre-ordering the game based on that, especially since Steam had a discount that made it just a little over $30. But now my faith in this game is a bit shaken based on this past weekend and today’s announcement of a delay.

If you didn’t hear, SCL held a head start weekend that was really just a two-day stress test of an unfinished build of the game. All pre-orders were welcome to attend, so I jumped in on Saturday with the hopes of writing some grand saga on Monday. Obviously, this didn’t happen.

There were things I liked — the character creation looks promising (even if the classes are the blandest of D&D bland), the graphics appealing, and the co-op at least functional. But I felt confused the entire time and frustrated with the controls. I wasn’t sure which menu option to pick to get a live DM campaign (were they running?) and instead ended up in a couple of groups running non-DM dungeons. There was no roleplaying, no big story, just a dungeon crawl with some fights. I felt like I wasn’t getting it, and in a game that you want to understand and like, that’s a big problem.

Also, can someone explain the controls? Sometimes hitting a skill button once and then clicking a target fired it off (healing spells worked okay). Sometimes I had to jam on a skill TWICE after clicking a target. It felt inconsistent and awkward. I ended up auto-attacking with flame cantrips nearly the entire time.

I also really, really disliked how loot — at least in the dungeons I visited — was first-come, first-served. Party members were rushing to grab stuff, leaving the rest of us with nothing. It was like the earlier, uglier days of MMO looting, a time I am not eager to revisit.

My initial goal was to get familiar with the game and then try my hand at making something, but I didn’t even get that far. From hearing what others have reported, many of the tools were either not present or not as in-depth as they would have liked.

So maybe it’s a good thing that Sword Coast Legends is delayed until October 20th. At least it won’t be competing with WildStar’s F2P launch for my attention next week. I just hope that the finished product is a LOT better and easier to grok than what I experienced.

Thoughts on Telltale Games’ Walking Dead Season 2


While the full game has been out for over a year, I only finished up Season 2 of Telltale’s Walking Dead last night (mostly because I’ve been doing it in short spurts while exercise biking). I wanted to wait until I was all done before writing down some thoughts on the season, so here goes.

Season Two transfers the role of the protagonist from Lee (who died at the end of Season One) to Clementine, now a bit older but still very much a kid. This was a risky move that didn’t quite pay off as the designers intended. While I applaud having the player take on the role of a smaller, weaker person in the midst of a zombie-ridden apocalypse, ultimately it is frustrating (she can’t do everything that the adults can) and contrived (why are the adults listening to her this much?). Plus, Clem’s personality isn’t as fleshed out and interesting as Lee’s was.

Likewise, the second season didn’t quite pay off as the writers probably hoped. While Season One was a gripping tale with moments of off-kilter beats and questionable developments, Season Two is a wildly inconsistent ride with a few genuinely poignant moments.

I think what aggravates me the most in the Walking Dead series as a whole is that the characters themselves can’t seem to stop being high-drama idiots who keep fighting and undercutting each other and perpetuating all sorts of horrors on each other now that civilization has collapsed. I won’t deny that a zombie apocalypse would be stressful, but this season couldn’t stop making everyone either a yelling maniac with poor decision skills or dead.

This is especially weird considering that a big theme of both games is the necessity of the group for survival in this new landscape. I guess if you had people get along all of the time and find a good spot to hunker down and live well, that wouldn’t make for an interesting story. However, the opposite is also off-putting. Clementine spends most of the game being buffeted around by different groups (and reforming groups), none of which provide stability or security. She’d have been much better off just footing it into the wild by herself.

I also agree with reviewers who note that the high point of the season — the arrival and showdown at Carver’s hardware store fortress — comes way too soon, leaving the remainder of the game to meander and introduce pointless conflict after pointless conflict.

The story is doubly important here because that’s all the game has. There’s even less puzzle-solving than the already anemic Season One, so mostly it’s just prodding the screen to progress, participating in the occasional quick-time event, and making choices (dialogue and action).

Fortunately, the story did keep me interested for the most part. Carver was a strong threat and the game did well at making you loathe him completely. The return of Kenny was at first joyful and then increasingly regretful, as the man is even more unhinged than he was following the deaths of his wife and son in the previous season. There are a few great new characters here, particularly Luke and Jane, each of whom bring another slice of story into the end of the world as we knew it.

Telltale did make more of an effort to present choices that had meaningful consequences, but the story could only branch so much, and still many decisions — such as efforts to save characters — played out the same no matter what you did. The illusion versus the reality of choice is very much in effect here. If you can buy into the feeling of having agency in these games, then immersion slips over you. But if you get jolted out of it — as I was in the final episode — then it’s just another game of you vs. developer, where the developer always wins no matter how much you try to control your destiny.

I hear they’re making a third season, which I’d love to see. Hopefully Jane would be the protagonist, or a much older Clementine. So now I’ll be turning to Telltale’s Borderlands game, which I’ve heard good things about.

Battle Bards Episode 59: The Crew

crewostHaven’t played The Crew? You’re not alone! Haven’t listened to The Crew’s soundtrack? Shame on you! Today the Battle Bards take on this driving MMO’s score to see if it causes them to put their pedals to the metal… or their heads to their pillows.

Also we got another speakpipe challenge for our regular listeners at the end of this episode – be the first to claim the prize!

Episode 59 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Takedown” and “Game Over”)
  • “Leadfoot”
  • “Backalleys”
  • “Heavy as a Feather”
  • “Introductions”
  • “Outrun”
  • “Dayton”
  • “On Point”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox – “Honor for All” from Dishonored, “Tiny Masterpiece of Evil” from League of Legends, and “Alderaan” from SWTOR
  • Speakpipe Challenge!
  • Outro (“Disband Deed” from Wurm Online)

Listen to episode 59 now!