Media Months in Review – September 2014 – February 2015 – Games and Books

The intention is to post these monthly. Since I haven’t posted these in a while though, I’m going to split the last half year’s media consumption post into several parts. This one will focus on games(video games, board games, card games), and books (also manga and comics). I’ll give a paragraph or so for every show I have what to say of.

Video Games:

Diablo 3 4 Furnaces

Diablo 3 is all about the loot. Taken during patch 2.1.1, those 4 Furnaces, damn.

Diablo 3 – The big elephant in the room. I’ve spent over 800 hours on the game over the recent months. It had consumed me, at least for the first 2-3 months, where every single free moment of my time was spent on it. I barely watched anime, even. The drive for loot was strong. I’m now slowly winding down my time with it. Both because the gameplay isn’t all that good, and because I realize the only goal you play it for is to get items that make you faster at obtaining items. The “end-game” content is truly lacking, and the only thing worse than the end-game content is pre-end-game content, which just feels bad. Though the basic leveling in terms of levels feels good.

The game itself is almost designed in terms of “bizarro-land”, in that the basic skills are designed to not feel good, unless you supplement them with loot, which is the game’s objective. I’d lie if I said I am not having fun, or at least, had, when I played the game, but it feels more about lizard brain than good design. I should write at least one post about it for my game design blog.

The loot management “game” is a necessity if you want to play all builds for all classes, and is as fun as breaking your own thumbs.

Borderlands 2 – September 2014 marked Bungie’s Destiny release. I watched quite a bit of streams of the game, and followed a lot of news about it. All I could think of was, “This is a nice shooter, but in terms of everything else, it’s just a duller version of Borderlands 2. Hey, I still have a lot of content to go through in Borderlands 2!” and so I did. I had a lot of fun visiting Pandora’s colourful vistas again. I still don’t know how to handle all the DLC, and it seems it’s more designed for additional playthroughs, because most things don’t scale alongside your character, and one way or the other you’ll be over-leveled for quite a bit of content. But still, fun!

I did not have fun with inventory management – there’s only so much you can carry or store, and it’s actually very little. Selling material for money when there’s nothing to really do with said money is also not very enticing. I just wish such games gave me more space, a lot more space.

Woodruff and the Schnibble of Azimuth – I’ve played this one in grade school. How? I have no idea, since the quest actually requires you to know more English than what I should have had at my disposal at the time. I got stuck 95% into the game, and a mix-up in translation when I finally turned to a walk-through (and even the Israeli publisher’s phone-line) resulted in me never beating the game. Well, I decided to check the walk-through for no particular reason again recently, had a lightbulb moment (“Go down to Stairs Street” as opposed to “Go down the stairs to the street”), and reinstalled the game. I did rely on the walkthrough a handful of times, but I’ve finally laid the game to rest. It felt good, after nearly two decades.

Guilty Gear Xrd Sign – Sadly it took quite a bit of time to arrive at my house, even though I pre-ordered, due to the vagaries of international shipping, and then I was busy with other things, and only got about 3 hours with the game. Did some of the tutorials, and went into a bunch of arcade/M.O.M games with several characters and semi button-mashed to see who I like the feel of. I’m liking Faust’s range and poke, and Ramlethel’s fluidity of stringing attacks into one another, but I haven’t even tried most characters yet in any capacity.

Homeworld Remastered – Back when I was younger, I wouldn’t get nearly as many video games as I’d like. Instead, I’d read articles about them in physical and digital magazines, and wish I could play them. Homeworld was such a game. I’ve never played Homeworld, and this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. While I haven’t played a lot of it, the music is already superb, and the 3D gives rise to some unintentionally hilarious moments – while moving on a 3rd axis, I can only pan the other two dimensions, and so sometimes end up sending my fleet 10-300 kilometers than where I want it to go, and it can take a couple of attempts to fix it.

The game isn’t easy, and sometimes it’s assumed you’ll have a certain amount of resources or ships of a certain type at a certain point, and if you don’t, you’ll have to load a save of the previous map so you could warp into the next one with the right conditions. It’s quite clever, you get to warp your remaining ships from map to map, but you can’t spend all your resources before seeing what the next mission would ask of you.

Ys: Memories of Celcetta – Winter where I live means power outs. I charged my PS Vitas, and played this game some. I only played it during the power outs, so I barely advanced any. I truly need to spend more time with my handheld consoles. There was quite a bit to like about the fluidity, it reminded me a tad of somewhere between God of War and Tales of Xillia (my only experience with the Tales series, thus far).

League of Legends – I only really played the Ascension mode. It was a lot of fun. Play tanky champions who rock on Dominion, and now they can’t be escaped? Skarner was fun, and Warwick with his passive blood-scent, movement-speed, and entire kit based on working with CDR was so much fun. I haven’t loaded the game a single time since purchasing Diablo 3, actually. There’s only so much time one can give to games that demand your all.

Hearthstone – I play enough to at least get the monthly card back. When I play, it’s sometimes hard to kick back the urge for “just one more game”, but I don’t find the game very satisfying, and often feel as if I didn’t get a “full meal” after I’m done with playing it for several hours. Meh.

One Finger Death Punch – Played a bit to pass the time. A good way to empty one’s mind.

Persona 4 Arena: Ultimate – Didn’t play it much. Still not a huge fan of Persona 4 Arena as far as anime fighting games go, it just feels so stiff, in terms of move-fluidity, or going from one move to the other. It just feels like there aren’t enough normals to go around.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth – Played a bit, certainly not as much as quite a few other people I know. It’s nice, having new monsters to learn to deal with, new item combos. I should play more.

Board Games:

YINSH

YINSH – You either love abstract games, or you don’t.

All of these were played in a two player setting, with one other person, over several occasions.

YINSH – This abstract game really reminded me of Abalone. It was a bit more direct in how scoring in the game makes it harder to score further, making it so one side doesn’t fall too far behind. Like Abalone, it’s also possible to “clog” the game board. The person I played with likes Abalone, but didn’t like YINSH, interestingly enough.

Guilds of Caldwallon – Not my first time playing this. A nice little worker placement game. As with many games, I’ve only played this in a 2-player configuration, and it should be quite different with four players. Illuminati is an example of a similar situation, where what’s up for grabs is much easier to plan for in two players, whereas more make it so you have to mostly plan each turn anew. Upsides and downsides, of course, with the value of planning moves ahead diminishing the more players you add, but making the game more “dynamic” in exchange (scare-quotes, because it’s mostly through our computational limitations).

Quarriors! – A deck building game! With dice! Rolling dice is fun, sometimes too much fun, as tabletop roleplayers can tell you when someone’s dice-tower crashes with a clatter on the tabletop. I really like the design, not of the game itself, but of the, hm, setup, I’d call it? With how a collection of 4 dice for spells and 10 for creatures (or so) could be used for a lot more variety than it’d seem – by allowing multiple cards (and thus, monsters or spells) to be used per set of dice, but you can only use one at a time. Yes, that means that even if you have, say, 5 cards per die-set, and 2 sets, you won’t have 10 monsters that could be in the game at once, but only one from each set, but it still got around the physical limitation in a really nice manner.

Puzzle Strike – Similarly to Quarriors!, the physical aspect of handling the tokens is nice. I played a handful of games here. The different “characters” don’t add enough character to each player, especially as the size of your deck grows and you’re less and less likely to draw the cards that “matter” to you. I quite liked its “come-back mechanic”, which rewards risky play, the closer you are to losing, the more you draw each turn, and you can get farther away from losing, so it’s an interesting mechanic.

Coup – This game really doesn’t benefit from having only two players, as it revolves around missing information, and with two players if one side doesn’t catch on early enough, the other can have all the information there is, and then the game’s mostly locked out.

Pixel Tactics – Got almost a full game done, but couldn’t finish. Level 99 Games, the developer behind BattleCon, and similarly, there are a lot of decisions to make with a limited amount of cards. Definitely something that only really becomes a pick up game after the players are more familiar with it.

Books/Comics:

The Girl With All the Gifts - M.R. Carey

The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey (Mike Carey) – I saw this recommended on facebook, didn’t recognize the name, looked it up and saw it’s Mike Carey, who wrote my favourite run of the Hellblazer comic (the one with John Constantine, released by DC’s Vertigo imprint) and the epic (in the literal sense) Sandman spin-off, Lucifer. It was a good book. Horror, without actually relying on “scary”, but the atmosphere, the secrets that you can half-glean, and slowly piece things together. The setup and the first half of the book are better than the denouement which doesn’t collect all the threads in a perfect way, but it does so well enough. A good ending, not necessarily in terms of agreement with it, but it flowed well from what preceded it, and was interesting without feeling cheap.

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie – This reminds me of Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks, and somewhat reminded me of The Girl with All The Gifts which I’ve read previously, a combination of being given information piecemeal, and jumping around in terms of chronology make this story more interesting due to the way it is told. You have several social situations, alongside several character configuration, and you know there are temporal skips in the story, and you try to piece together how each are connected. It helps that I found every single one of the various settings interesting on its own, and would’ve found them interesting even had all the information been available from the beginning and the story delivered in a chronological manner.

The last act with all the action is thankfully short, and it’s not bad, but it’s just “stuff happens”. I should pick up the second book, and apparently it’s to be a trilogy.

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss – I read through this book in a storm. It’s true that the first 150 pages covered more material than the 600 that followed, but the book was very enjoyable to read. The pacing did suffer majorly in the last arc, when Kvothe left The University behind on his trip north, and the weakest part of the book aside from that was the description of romance. Being a bildungsroman novel, it’s expected that there’d be a romance sequence, and as one can see from my taste in anime, I’m not at all opposed to it, but it just tends to be so awkward in novels.

Anyway, while waiting for the second book to arrive I tried to read meaningful sequences from the book again, and found out that there were next to no such moments, no moments that popped out in terms of imagery, and relatively few which left a significant emotional impression. So what drew me to the book, and forced me to read it, and wish to re-read it? The prose. Rothfuss writes really elegant and flowing prose, and knows how to incorporate some subtle rhyming as well when you don’t expect it. Recommended.

Sword Art Online Light Novels 12 – first half of 14 – I mostly read this at school, and on my way to and fro. I’ve reread the 12th novel before continuing onward. Much action, some thoughts, determinators abound, a tale of trust and friendship. Mostly “plot happening”, and mostly in terms of action, and some “feels”. Not a lot to say until this part gets resolved, though I feel I stopped just before that part, so I should keep going.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Volumes 5-7 (complete) – Finished! Tears flowed. Erm, there’s not much more to say here. General Miyazaki themes of acceptance, of sacrifice, of living for the world, sacrificing for the world, and for future generations. Given more space to stretch the themes though. The finale was very “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” in the term of a mystery behind the scenes, a final conflict, etc.

Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday (Comic) – My mother purchased the omnibus edition of this, told her to take it back to the store and lent her my old copy, as two TPBs. Read the first one first. It’s so trashy, wow. I didn’t remember just how trashy it is. Not necessarily terrible (but pretty bad). I need to read Crimson and see how it held up. These are basically the western comic version of light novels.

Chihayafuru manga chapters 90-141 – As part of the Chihayafuru rewatch, I read from where the anime ended back up to live. Progress was made! I mean, it’s like we’re cooking with gasoline right now! Also, going by how each new grade of new students are, I dread to think what will happen when Sumire and Tsukuba are third years, yikes. Of course, there’s a downside to how interesting things are right now, which is the snail-paced release schedule of currently serializing manga…

Any games (digital or otherwise), books (or manga, comics, or light novels) you’ve consumed recently and would like to discuss?

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