Try-It Tuesdays: Sunless Sea

sea

The world-building and storytelling of Fallen London is first-rate, an engrossing tale of an alternate Victorian London that somehow got pulled below the Earth’s surface to thrive in the dark. While I love the writing, the “gameplay” is often a little tedious and confusing, and I often wished that someone would just provide all of the text from these games in one fell swoop.

So for this week’s Try-It Tuesday adventure, I decided to go with a recent Steam purchase and play a ship survival simulator set in the Fallen London universe called Sunless Sea. The concept is that you pilot a boat through the “underzee” to discover islands and other oddities while combating terror, supply shortages, and all of the other horrible things in the eternal dark.

Like Fallen London, Sunless Sea is couched in many stories with a very distinctive writing (short, clipped sentences and fragments that are very evocative). It’s probably the discovery of more stories that keeps people going than anything else.

The action takes place in a top-down view of your boat, which has fuel, supplies, a crew, a light, and a bat that can fly out and see if there are islands nearby. Since you can’t ever scoot the map or see past the edge of your current screen, there’s a sense of claustrophobia and fear of the unknown here. The atmosphere is quite effective, especially with the occasional bits of sound effects and music.

I liked it as a casual game, although I found it very slow and (like Fallen London) the item system a little too confusing in exchange for having odd descriptions and titles. I ran through a couple of lives (your dead captains can pass on their legacies to successors) and enjoyed making my own adventures. I just wish it had gone a little faster.

I devoted one run to seeing if I could cross the entire map to hit the far side. I managed to do it, although it was a close call as I ran out of supplies, my crew started eating each other, the ship began to slow down, and we all went mad with hunger and fear. That’s the sort of charm that lies in wait, although it’s not all a horror story.

The Pokémon Go phenomenon is kind of unnerving

pokemonI can’t remember the last time that I saw a video game become an overnight global phenomenon like Pokémon Go. I mean, Pokémon releases are usually popular but they don’t really cross over into my space — the franchise came out after I left college and I never understood the appeal of it. All I’d ever see are kids with DSes playing them, and that was that.

But this? This is something wholly different. It’s like Pokémon had been planting seeds for decades now that were waiting to bloom when Go came out. It’s not just popular, it’s absolutely pervasive. Overnight omnipresent. Everyone seems to be playing it — adults, kids, cops, robbers, you name the demographic. And because it’s a game that interfaces with the real world, the phenomenon is much more noticeable, with people driving and walking all about to “catch ’em all.”

I guess a lot of public spaces are being utilized for the game, because our church is a training gym, which means that people keep driving into the parking lot at all hours. When I took a bunch of teens out to lunch on Sunday, they were all hunched over their phones, catching Pokémon in the restaurant. My wife said that half of her work was trying to sneak off to play this during the day.

I’ve kind of joked how this is the beginning of a very strange apocalypse, and I guess that’s just me, an outsider, feeling a little unnerved by how fast and huge this got. How it’s changed the habits and behavior of people.

I’ll freely admit that it’s not bad. I love games, and I think that the structure of this is kind of genius. Gets people out of the house, being more social, exploring more places, etc. Reminds me a lot of exploring during geocaching. But you know how it is, when you’re not particularly into someone that is popular, and it makes you feel a little weird. Nobody’s excluding you but you are excluded from this “club” based on your own interest.

It might be something fun to do with my kids, although I’m just now trying to work them through Super Mario Bros. and don’t want to stack on more Nintendo franchises. It will certainly be interesting to see if this game keeps growing and develops legs, or if this is some sort of flash-in-the-pan hit that will simmer down a month or so from now.

Music Mondays: Keygen Music

keygen

So here’s something slightly interesting that I’ve been listening to lately: keygen music. I didn’t actually know that this was a thing that existed until I stumbled on it the other week. Now I’m plowing through hundreds of tracks and am pretty enchanted with many of them.

The interesting thing with these is that they are usually paired with an illegal activity: software pirating. According to Nest HQ:

“For those not familiar, a keygen, short for key generator, is a tiny piece of illegal software, usually bundled with a torrent download, that generates an unlock code to the full version of an application. Just click “activate” and your trial version of Photoshop is now the full suite. The best thing about these apps is the music that plays every time you open one. There are thousands of these things out there and all of the tracks in them are amazing, but until today, most of the artists and track titles have remained largely unknown, or unlooked-for.”

So while the keygens are illegal, the music isn’t — and some of it is pretty darn good. It’s hard to classify them, as they’re mostly electronic with some that riff off of classic video game tunes, pop culture hits, and whatever else they want to throw in there. Here are a few that have caught my attention so far!

Agents of Yesterday is an all-too-brief glimpse into an alternate Star Trek Online

Yeah, things aren’t looking good for the crew of the U.S.S. Pickled Worm. But that’s when you get when you allow a temporal agent to start calling the shots and sending you careening across time.

So last week Star Trek Online released its third expansion, Agents of Yesterday. It might well be the smallest expansion to date — more than a content release, for sure — with about 11 missions, a temporal agent reputation system, and more ships (gotta sell those ships!). Six of the missions are the 23rd century captains-only, so if you don’t roll up a new character, even a temp one, you won’t be seeing them.

It’s a strange format that’s trying to have the best of both worlds and not quite satisfying the hunger for either. Cryptic said that it had discussed creating an original series (TOS) version of Star Trek Online, but wisely decided that it wouldn’t be worth splitting the community and dividing its efforts. So instead we get an extended TOS tutorial/story arc, some one-off missions that anyone can do, and the bizarre inclusion of 23rd century ships in the 25th century universe (then again, it’s probably too late to start nit-picking “should this ship be present and flown by Starfleet captains” in STO).

I’m not saying that the expansion is bad — I actually enjoyed the first six missions. I loved the attention to detail in creating this past Star Trek era, down to the sounds, visuals, and music. The cameos were neat and it’s pretty cool to see how well the STO interface and mission system works with this era. It’s not the first time that we’ve gone back to the 23rd century, so we knew it could be done, but it is nice to see some love for it.

uhura

Good to see Uhura getting some time in the command chair! Also, did anyone else find it strange how very little (almost non-existent) we see Kirk in this expansion that features the Enterprise so heavily?

But for the life of me, I don’t get its purpose other than to be a throwaway 50th anniversary promotion. Brand-new players who choose the 23rd century will be yanked out of that era within a couple of nights, and veterans have to roll up disposable characters just to see these new missions. It’s kind of awkward, especially for those who might have wanted to stay in the 23rd century. Cryptic’s always had a problem with scope in STO — just ask the Klingon faction, which for years struggled with a dearth of content. Yet here we have a new “faction” that’s not one at all, it’s merely a different Lieutenant experience before you’re doing the same thing as everyone else from levels 10 through 60.

Gimmick? I wouldn’t be upset with you if you called it such.

It just feels like a missed opportunity with the 23rd century faction. Again, the missions ARE really well done. Having them pay homage and even intersect with classic episodes brought a smile to this ex-Trekkie’s face. But I would have expected 23rd century sector space to be a semi-permanent home to those who wanted it to be. Maybe open it up to Foundry content creators to pick up the ball and create more missions.

Full disclosure, I still have yet to do the cross-factional Agents of Yesterday missions that anyone can access, which should throw in more time travel and TOS-era adventures. I’m merely expressing my consternation that the “23c” captains are robbed of a full experience the way that the other factions get.

Quest for Glory II: Fire at the disco

eye

(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

My gradual street wanderings leads me to a short alleyway, at the end of which is a purple door with a giant eye on it. When I knock, I’m asked a series of questions that culminates in a not-too-hard riddle. Access granted!

aziza

This is the home of Aziza the Enchantress. Very peaceful and aquatic-themed, made more so when she offers to share some tea. Other than sipping my tea and wishing hard for coffee, there’s not much that I can really do here. Thanks for the break, ma’am!

omar

Day three’s evening entertainment is Omar the poet, who is actually more of an oracle that talks about the need for me to save the land from the elementals. It’s not very good poetry and it makes me miss Shema’s dancing all the more.

dinarzad

I return to Dinarzad looking for a little thieving work. One of the fun aspects of adventure games with text parsers is experimenting with different commands to see what little responses the developers put in there for you. The above thought comes when I type “eat Dinarzad,” and I cannot decide if the response is creepy or coy. Coyly creepy?

For some reason, she’s not giving me a job yet, so I guess I’ll slink back to the inn and feel like a total failure. Why can’t I even get work as a thief?

fire

Day four begins with word that there’s been a “strange fire” outside in the plaza. Sure enough, Alichica’s stall has been burnt to a crisp, although that hasn’t deterred this merchant from figuring out a new way to make money. Got to give him credit for ingenuity here!

sneak

The astrologer does not have encouraging words when I return to his clubhouse. Mostly it’s darkness and doom and cryptic phrases, plus a hint that I should abandon the hero lifestyle. But accountant wasn’t an option on the character creation screen! Trust me, I would have taken it.

Without much else to do, I spend some time working on my thief skills — namely sneaking and lockpicking. Sneaking is easy — you just type /sneak and your character minces about in broad daylight while your skill goes up a bit. Lockpicking requires one of Shapier’s many locked doors. I spent a good 20 minutes doing nothing but entering “pick lock” over and over again.

Then this happened:

pick

That’s right, folks: I killed myself by lockpicking so, so hard. It’s so ridiculous that I can’t even fault the game for offing me. As long as I got a laugh out of it.

saveus

The strange fire from day four becomes a full-blown emergency by day five. At breakfast, Abdulla tells me that there’s a fire elemental stalking the plazas and will certainly burn the city to the ground if I don’t do something.

I kind of like how there’s a timeline to this game — it takes away the feeling of “sameness” to your activities. Instead of going through a linear, movie-like tale, you’re being asked to inhabit the daily life of the town while still progressing the story. I think the game takes place over 30 days, with significant events coming on a fixed time table. Cool!

Quest for Glory II: Desert trek

sa1

(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I’m positive that I’ve mentioned before how very uninterested I am in deserts as a setting for any game. They’re just bland and don’t inspire me to feelings of adventure and excitement. This is probably why I’m not that big of a fan of the Arabian Nights as a game theme either. Yet it’s not the end of the world that we have both here in Quest for Glory II, because I am compensated with my own pet dino to ride around. Dino mounts make anything bearable.

sa2

Turns out that my saurus is a total coward, because the second a giant scorpion shows up, he bucks me off and hightails it out of there. So if I win this fight, does that still mean that I die from exposure?

fight

I get into another fight with a brigand. Because I’ve already sparred with Uhura, my SP is dangerously low. I barely win this fight — there’s only a sliver of HP remaining — but I feel accomplished for having jammed on the “thrust dagger” key over and over again. Plus, I got some money!

Saurus doesn’t come back, however, so I hoof it on foot to the nearest oasis.

oasis

Not the most impressive oasis in the world, but it’ll do, pig, it’ll do. Sitting there is a dervish, who speaks in weird proverbs and has his beard wrapped all the way around the nearest palm tree (what). I snip off a piece of his beard — he doesn’t seem to mind — and walk away, whistling.

rock

What I keep forgetting to do in this game is to level up my skills. This sort of happens organically — you do get skill boosts from just adventuring like you would normally. But you don’t get enough points that way, which means you have to make time to skill up by fighting, picking noses, or in this case, endlessly throwing rocks across the desert. I like the goofy face my guy makes when he throws. OOF. OOF. OOF. THROWING ROCKS IS HARD.

dance

Tired and exhausted, I head back to the inn for some dinner and a show. In this case, it’s Shema performing one of her weird twerking/jumping dances. I guess that Shema dancing is a “thing” that the Quest for Glory series does? We’ll see if it happens in the third installment before calling it a trend.

After a night of sleep, the sun dawns on the third day of my stay here in this scorching, air condition-less paradise.

kiss

I try to make the moves on Uhura, especially since she’s baby-free that morning, but no dice. Maybe the moose will be up for a kiss then.

syp

Still touring around the city and meeting new locals, I bump into this astrologer. I don’t really know what to make of his house here, especially the “KA-BOOM” poster. Looks like a kid’s room, to be honest.

The astrologer can apparently predict my future, but he’s going to need a day or so to figure things out. Come back later! Okie-dokie.

The weirdness continues as I sell that snippet of beard to the magic shop owner. No… I don’t want to know why he needs it. That’s got to be one very disgusting bit of beard.

As I’m walking through the maze-like city streets, the game informs me that an ominous sound is drawing closer. I tense up, prepare for combat, and…

clown

Silly clown! Honk honk. That optional game setting is already paying for itself.

4 long(ish) games I would love to finish some day

f4

Back before marriage, kids, and MMOs, I used to have absolutely no problem sinking dozens and dozens of hours into lengthy games. In fact, the longer, the better. And computer RPGs like Baldur’s Gate 2, Fallout 2, Planescape Torment, and Knights of the Old Republic were perfect for that sort of thing.

Now I find it tremendously hard to actually complete any of these monstrous games. In fact, with my regular MMO play, other games only get a few hours here and there before eventually being abandoned. And that’s kind of a shame, because I do wish I could finish these four games (and some day, perhaps I will):

1. Fallout 4

Nobody really talks about this big ticket game these days, but I have to say that it was a really enjoyable ride for what time I spent in it. Lots to do, to explore, guns to get, screens to shot. My thing was that I wanted to complete the map and not miss any of the areas and secrets, so I didn’t get as far as those who just powered ahead with the story.

Maybe some day I’ll go back, reroll, and do a full run. I think I’d really like that, and I would totally ignore the game’s housing system in it. But it’s probably not going to be any time soon.

2. Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley isn’t the biggest game in the world but it is a time-sucker, and my frustration with it is that I feel like I’m missing out on things I should be doing as I’m puttering around on my farm. Out of all of these games, it’s probably the one I’ll go back to sooner rather than later, maybe with a walkthrough for guidance.

3. Dreamfall Chapters

The Longest Journey is one of my hands-down favorite adventure games of all time, and Dreamfall was a decent follow-up. So it’s weird to me that I bought this episodic sequel and then gave up after the first 20 minutes. Maybe I was waiting for the full game to come out? I don’t recall, but I do feel like its a waste that I haven’t played it yet.

4. Pillars of Eternity

I know I talk about wanting to and needing to play this RPG a lot. And now, especially that there was a well-received expansion released along with a nice quality-of-life patch, I probably should. I just don’t know *when* I could put it into my gaming schedule. I see it taking the place of my retro gaming time, but I love doing those retro pieces, so no thanks for now.