We downloaded the Switch version of Lego Worlds. I’ve been virtual LEGO’ing.
If ever I had a moment of fire-hot regret for my hasty and impulsive pre-order purchase of Nintendo Switch earlier this month, those feelings have long since been quenched by my time in the overrun kingdom of Hyrule, the open world wonder that is the basis of the game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
I could probably be content at that.
This is my new favorite game.
Most games that I’m playing “right now” are in some way held high in my esteem, true. Most games that are locked by your focus are considered at least marginally “favourite” else you probably wouldn’t bother playing them, I recognize that.
But this one, somehow stealthily and unexpectedly, quickly moved into the coveted category of “The Top Five Games I’ve Ever Played”™ …and now I’m juggling the thoughts in my head of what else would rank so dearly for me. Skyrim fits into that list. Final Fantasy VII has held a place in my gamer’s heart for a couple decades. Stick a generic MarioKart title in there (for the nostalgia factor) and the fifth slot would probably be a rotating, ever-battling list of hot titles that have peppered my gamer’s history rising and falling with the waves of eclectic moods and memories that flit through my life.
But then I was sick all weekend with the sinus cold to rival all sinus colds and so spent (modestly) a solid twenty of my waking hours immobile on the couch, cuddling a box of kleenex and multiple cup of hot tea, useless to most any chore save for the flicking of my my fingers on a pair neon Joycons… and so Link’s adventure through this unbelievably immersive world had a good-and-proper opportunity to sink into the depths of my soul and take root.
This is my new favorite game.
I could gush about the technical achievement of creating a uniquely broad game with a rich and immersive physics engine. I could wax poetic on the satisfaction that comes from building to a level of skill that feels as more earned than merely grinded. I could ponder the nuances of how valuable the tapestry of a carefully balanced yet seemingly unpredictable world set against an implied deep history sets a story of patient urgency into a subtle motion that compels the play to peek around every corner and climb every cliff and nudge every stone. I could.
I could also gripe about the deficiencies. Yes, the voice acting is mediocre. The rain conveniently seems to drizzle down on me whenever I find an alternative route that involves a long cliff climb versus fighting a powerful baddie. And some of the characters seem to be silly, cringe-worthy & tacky archetypes pulled out of some anime fever dream.
But even that is just small forgivable things in the context of everything else. It’s the 2% mediocre contrasted against the almost perfect 98% rest of it that is so damn good I can generously overlook the if onlys.
This is my new favorite game.
I know that many of my readers are not gamers. I know that many of my readers find the idea strange of someone being drawn into a multi-hour interactive story like this.
The world of video games can definitely be one overflowing with violent, shallow experiences that seem trite and burdened with a conflict to elevate the game aspects above a tacked on story. But occasionally there comes a title that is so much more than just shooting guns or kart racing or candy crushing: occasionally there is a game that compels you to enter a world that is layered with, yes, some of those things, but that also works very carefully to build steps above it to tell a story about a world and a place and a group of people that is, in a way that manifests from the drivel games with awesome graphics and photo-realistic blood spatter and ends up instead as good as any great cinematic experience, as good as Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or even rivaling the merit of a compelling novel, all this in that it transcends the medium to entrance your mind and heart.
It’s just a game, but a game that leads to something that might even be considered –dare I suggest it– art.
So, yeah… this is my new favorite game.
I didn’t quite squeeze into the eighteen second window between when the Nintendo Switch online pre-sale started … and then ended this morning, but I reconciled to that fact by reminding myself I tend to be a late adopter of gaming systems anyways, and even moreso these days.
In fact, a short six years after the system debuted, we finally upgraded my classic GameBoy from 1998 and bought a 3DS last week. (Well, actually it was a 2DS, but that’s virtually the same thing but without the 3D part.)
Claire considers the purchase a power move by an awesome dad. Other household opinions have varied.
The system came with Mario Kart 7 bundled, which is a fun time-waster and has got some retro-familiar fun in the form of classic tracks and nostalgia dripping from the experience in more ways than I can inventory here.
But I picked up a couple of used titles (the benefit to late adoption is of course second-hand content on the cheap!) in the form of a couple more more-in-depth games.
For Claire, I channeled my years of observing her interest in sandbox, toybox, world-building games and scored a game just for her that is probably just a little too on the nose and in her wheelhouse. Tomodachi Life is summed up the product page with this blurb: “What happens when friends, family, and celebrities become Mii™ characters and live together on an island? Tomodachi Life happens! Start by creating Mii characters and customizing everything about them. Have fun recreating your best friend, your favorite actor, mom and dad, co-workers…whoever! Then watch as they rap, rock, eat donuts, fall in love, break up, go shopping, play games, and live their crazy Mii lives.”
Needless to say, she is obsessed, and I’ve already lost track of the number of G-rated but slightly-WTF? things that she’s blurted aloud in response to what she’s seeing on the screen. Either way, it’s so much better than her just watching Fuller House on never-ending loop.
For myself, and with a wide range of titles to select from, I found myself oddly intrigued by a game that is probably a little bit too far down the cutie-pie scale for a 40-year-old guy to be playing, but (a) I was trying to find something Claire might eventually play too, (b) the game beneath the cartoon skin is actually pretty in-depth and (c) I’m too old to care what you think about what kind of cutie-pie games I play. I picked up a used copy of Fantasy Life (yes, I realize both game titles end with the word “Life”… weird) and have been enjoying it exactly as much as I expected from the various bits of research I did prior to my purchase.
The game is a blend of RPG, life-sim, & resource management game. One reviewer put it as: it’s a mashup of the Elder Scrolls and Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley, all as if painted by Studio Ghibli. That’s not a completely accurate explanation, but close enough. And mindless enough to make me lose a few hours of cold winter seclusion in a tiny little handheld screen. Maybe I’ll do a fuller review later, but so far I think I’ve got my twenty-bucks worth out of the game.
As unlikely as it is that I’ll actually find a more modern console for our living room in the coming months — the PS4 hits the wrong demographic for our house, the Wii U is out of production, and the Switch will be damn near impossible to find for the next year — for now the 2DS will need to satisfy the gaming itch.
Warning. I’m about to get a little Abe Simpson here.
Y’know… Back in my day…
It’s only been a short twenty-five years or so since I was that kid hiding out in the basement with my sibs or my friends playing those now-classic video games that shape the memories of my youth.
For context, we had this at-the-time-awesome and state-of-the-art Intel 386 desktop machine, with a VGA monitor and a whopping “you-ll-never-need-anything-bigger” 80 Mb (yeah, that’s not a typo: MEGAbyte) hard drive.
And we loved to play video games on it. No kidding, huh?
Part of the effort to actually play games went something like this:
1. There was no Internet. At least, it wasn’t something that was remotely on our radar as a thing. And it definitely would not have had anything to do with video games. Everything we knew about games came from recommendations or visits to the video game store or most likely: expensive magazines from the bookstore. So, after seeing a scattered collection of printed glossy screenshots in a magazine, pondering the glory of that game for weeks or months, saving our pittance of an allowance, we then needed to convince our parents that a trip to the mall was in order.
2. There were precisely four places in town to buy video games. The video game store at the mall was my preference because they had the best selection, but you could also find a small selection at Radio Shack or London Drugs. If you were really desperate, the little hole-in-the-wall store where we bought our computer system had a couple games mixed in with their copies of Windows 3.1 and WordPerfect.
3. We’d bring the game home, crack open the box, extract a small heaping pile of 3.5 inch floppy diskettes which were numbered for efficient installation, and usually some other goodies like a manual, a cloth map, a paper gadget of some kind that served as copy protection, and a few advertisements. The experience was much more like cracking open a new board game these days, with lots of parts and rules and that anticipation of getting things set up.
4. We’d boot up the computer (because you didn’t just leave it on all the time, c’mon!) and quickly realize that there was not enough hard drive space to install our new game. So we’d spend a good 30 minutes to an hour uninstalling (or usually just deleting the files with DELETE *.* command) of at least one or two other old games (or various files) that were not going to be interesting in the foreseeable twenty-four hours.
5. Presuming all went well in the effort to locate some hard drive space, the installation would begin. This was an epic ceremony that involved feeding a new disk into the drive every five to ten minutes and watching the command feed or the progress bar churn through the copy process. Most games had four to five disks. One, I recall, had a number in the teens. That was an afternoon project.
6. When the installation was complete, it was time to cross our fingers. You’d get into the DOS prompt, type the command to run the game, and hope. It was a 50/50 prospect that the game would run. Sometimes it would just flop you back into DOS prompt with a cryptic message about memory allocation, or a graphics setting, or an incompatible something, in which case the real game would be pouring over the MS-DOS manual for hints on how to edit the config files to redistribute system resources in a way that the game liked. If you were unlucky, this might mean hours of effort and countless reboots as you tweaked the config files, all the time hoping you didn’t break anything crucial. It you were really unlucky it meant convincing your parents to buy a new piece of hardware for a couple hundred bucks… and then you were waiting weeks or months for that to happen.
7. And then maybe, just maybe the game would load. And remember when I mentioned those goodies, like that copy protection gadget? The game would ask you to prove you’d actually paid money for the files by forcing you to look something up in the manual or turning a paper wheel that aligned with a secret code or locating the name of a city on that cloth map you’d been studying in the hours since you’d first optimistically opened the box.
I bring this up for further context because today, in late 2016, twenty-five years later the teenage me would be in awe of the current process to play a video game. Currently my effort to play a game goes something like this:
1. Yesterday morning, as I’m walking up the stairs and out of the underground from the LRT my phone connects to the internet again and in my inbox an email appears. Steam has sent me a message letting me know that “A game in your Wishlist in on sale.” I think “Oh, four bucks, that’s a pretty good deal.” So as I’m riding the escalator I click the link.
2. The Steam app on my phone opens up while I’m standing in line to buy my coffee before work. The line shuffles a little closer to the front, and meanwhile I click the virtual button on my phone, add the game to my cart, and then click another button to complete the transaction. Five seconds later I get an email thanking me for my purchase.
3. I order a black-one-sugar coffee, pay for my drink, and then stand to the side to wait for them to pour it. The Steam app asks me if I’d like to remotely install the game and shows me that my desktop is running back home in my basement. I click ok.
4. The lady calls that my coffee is ready, and as I pick it up (and just before I turn off my phone and slip it back into my jacket pocket) I get a confirmation from the app that the game has been installed and is ready to play.
Sometimes I want to just stand on a street corner and shout out loud: “Welcome to the future folks.” (As an added bonus, Claire would be so embarrassed.)
I’ve been playing this little indie game called Factorio.
Think SimCity meets Minecraft.
In essence, you’re handed an undeveloped procedurally generated landscape peppered with a few basic resources and barely a handful of tools. Through a series of activities like mining and refining, you build progressively better tools and faster technologies, ultimately leading to researching, improving, and building towards the end goal of producing enough material and technology to launch a rocket into space.
The interesting part is that while you can manually craft and transport resources around from machine to machine, the spirit of the game encourages you to creatively link your machines by conveyor belts, transport machines, and carefully planned power grids. You need to build pipes to bring in water and oil from where they are found half way across the map, link your coal production via a self-powered belt to fuel you power generators, and twisting and wind complex layouts of mining equipment and grabbers and refining smelters and little production units to build increasingly complex resources in an attempt to fully automate your creation.
In effect, you’re piecing together an insanely complex machine that is so delicately balanced that pulling a switch on one end of the map can result in a cascade of effects that completely stops everything on the other.
It’s way too easy to lose a few hours of your life in the micromanagement of the (literally) hundreds or thousands of moving pieces.
I think I might be ever so slightly addicted.
With the brutal cold weather in December that’s a long list, but I think my latest addiction is an indie game called Factorio.
There is this addictive little title I found on Steam called Stardew Valley. I bought it for Claire (and she likes it) but I spend more time playing it than she does… admittedly.
I’m a little bit behind on the video gaming news. I guess when there are million more real things happening around you the ebbs and flows of the entertainment industry take a back seat.
Long time readers of this blog –and frankly anyone with a child who has ever been to our house– will know that over the last couple years we’ve really gotten into a video game called Disney Infinity.
Your three sentence primer on Disney Infinity.
Imagine a sandbox-slash-world creation game populated by almost every bit of Disney Corp intellectual property you can think of, animated, and made interactive on your video game console. Now imagine that to unlock many bits and pieces of the game you had to shell out ten bucks here and fifteen bucks there for little real-world plastic statuettes representing characters, levels, or skills that were physically placed on a “base” where they activated and entered the game. Now imagine that after you bought into that game, and the more you unlocked, the more of the million little things unlocked too, exploration-platform-type games to cart-racing to farming to exploring to just simply building your own video game.
I bought in. I bought in first to the tune of the version 1.0, $70 starter pack a few years ago.
And then I bought in to a few dozen of the little character models. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.
I bought in for Claire. I bought in because I was a dad. I bought in because, freaking-Disney-what-could-go-wrong?
I bought into the version two and then later version three upgrades. I bought into the online play. I bought into YouTube subscriptions and hours upon hours upon hours of daddy-daughter time. I bought in. I got my money’s worth, but I bought in.
“Bought” being the operative word there.
The fact that Disney announced about two weeks ago that they are not only simply shuttering development on the project, but BANG! that they have effectively and abruptly stopped further work on this game (probably leaving a long list of talented, creative people unemployed) — that sucks. In a very selfish way — it’s probably a good thing, at least for my bank balance.
In another way it’s a bit of a kick in the face from Disney to all its fans.
See, the real problem isn’t just that another solid family video game is now part of video game history (rather than video game future) but that Disney, for all their marketing genius, is leaving a lot of loyal fans with a very physical reminder of this sudden break up.
Sure, the little plastic toys are probably considered “collectible” or could easily be displayed on a shelf somewhere — y’know, if you’re into that. But for a lot of parents and young gamers who loyally bought into this abstract concept that they were buying “pieces of a vision” that had a long term gaming future, that — say maybe– owning a Jack Sparrow figurine now wasn’t worth particularly much, but perhaps five years from now he would drop neatly into this other part of some new game and that early loyalty would pay off– that same toy, now gathering dust on my shelf is a reminder of a broken promise.
I know this is a bit whiny. I get that. Like I said, I think I got my money’s worth, and it’s just a silly game, and ultimately, worst of all things, the real hurt is probably going down somewhere in California where a bunch of hard working creative people, including some interesting, dedicated faces who humanized the game, built a real culture around it that was worth as much as the game-play itself as they talked to us every week on the social medias, they are out of their job because… well…
… yeah, money. Profits. I get that, too.
But I guess what makes me question the abruptness of this is the dissonance between my two major Disney experiences.
It seems like every time we go to Disneyland I get pinned down by one of their little roving survey folks: They politely ask me for some demographic info, they record my email address, and then a month or two later I get an invitation to fill out a short survey about my experience. And this is just the obvious stuff. Disney puts on a show from the moment you get off the airplane in LAX until the moment you leave to go home. It’s about the warm-fuzzy feeling you have in your heart while you consume crappy food, wait in line for mediocre rides, and fight crowds for a good spot to sit and watch it all happen. It’s control of your feelings and your impression of all the things they are throwing at you from the second you enter their realm until the moment you leave.
So then it’s funny –not haha-funny, but hmmm-funny– that a company is so concerned with tweaking and fine-tuning their “guest experience”, is so deeply invested in what a guy who spends a couple thousand bucks to bring his family to wander around a theme park for a few hours thinks of that experience, while simultaneously divorces themselves from the opinion of that same guy who spent a few hundred bucks but a few hundred hours to wander around a virtual theme park back at home.
After all, we’ve now got this Disney clutter, a few dozen little figurines that are still good fun and working-for-now, but whose utility now has an expiration date, and no answers to what use they will be in, say, three months. Or, three years? Those good feelings will fade. The dust will settle. New fun will certainly take their place.
Yet maybe when one day some time in the near future when we’re discussing, thinking, talking about sitting down to book another vacation, wondering where we should travel this time, maybe, just maybe, that glassy-eyed plastic Mickey Mouse will look from under a fine coat of dust, staring across the room and the little mousy voice in my head will remind me that I’ve already given him quite a bit of my money. That buying in didn’t pay off quite as well as I’d hoped.
A privilege? Sure. A right? Certainly not. But a thing we did, and a bit of our mind-share given over to an unfulfilled vision. We bought in this time. But how does it go again? “Fool me once…” I’m on to you now Disney.
But really, ultimately, finally… kudos to the people who made this and gave us a great few years of something really special. No regrets.
I think the name “Disney Infinity” really refers to the cost. We gave Claire the latest edition of the game for her birthday along with some of the add-on packs. It almost feels like Disney now officially owns my soul.
June continues! And onward we push through those thirty posts that I’ve been writing every year this month. For the fifth year in a row I’m back to a month of daily blogging: each day a new post on a new topic, but on the same blog-per-day topic as last year, creating another set of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be about something that I am:
Watching… A Gamer Kid
Even though we’ve been making an active effort to limit her screen time, she still gets some clock cycles here and there to watch and/or play what she wants. More often than not, this continues to be Minecraft.
And she’s getting pretty good.
But the biggest problem is that when she’s playing, I don’t get to. I get to watch. In fact, I have to watch. I’m begged to watch: “Hey dad… dad? Dad, I want to show you something. Hey dad, look at this. Dad, come here for a minute I want to show you what I made. Dad. Dad look. You gotta see this, dad. Dad, isn’t this awesome? Look at this. Dad. Dad!”
Yes… yes, it’s wonderful.
So, thanks to a weekend Steam sale, I finally picked up some (steeply discounted) copies of some of 2011’s Elder Scroll V: Skyrim downloadable add-on content: Dragonborn and Hearthfires. I’ve had this game installed on my same computer since release day, so that may account for some of the mild agitation I encountered while trying to install it. Thirty minutes… just trying to get the two dollar add-on to recognize and install.
That doesn’t seem worth it.
As a result, I figured I’d write a little note to future bumbling middle aged gamers like me who (a) encounter the same issue and (b) can’t be bothered to watch the cryptic and awkward youtube tutorials created by countless teenagers who don’t quite get tech support and (c) just want to spend their hour of free gaming time ACTUALLY playing, not fixing issues.
To get it to work I needed to:
1) “Verify Integrity of Game Cache” which is a little button located in Steam > Library > Games > Properties (Right Click) > Local Files
2) This ran for about five minutes, found some kind of error (who cares?) then downloaded an update/patch/fix of some kind.
3) I then hit Play, loaded up the game and on the little windowed launch screen, checked Dragonborn.esm & Hearthfires.esm > Click OK
4) Relaunch the game and everything seemed to work.
Now, hopefully I’ll have some time in the next couple weeks to actually try it out. *sigh*
At one point in my life it may have been fair to say I was addicted to Populous.
Of course, when you are a teenager, there is a fine line between obsession and addiction, and I’m probably overstating it. But we played a lot –A LOT– of that game.
I downloaded a modern port of the original a few months back, or maybe it was a year ago, thanks to a Humble Bundle collection that tossed it in as a bonus but ended up being my sole motivation for digging out the virtual wallet. It was still –well– okay… but it just didn’t captivate me the way it had back in the early 90s.
Rewind even further back than my rediscovery of Populous, and you’ll find a modestly publicized Kickstarter campaign (a campaign that met it’s goal) to re-conceive the spirit of Populous (though I don’t know enough about it to know how rooted that statement is in reality) by the original developer of the game I loved so dearly. Mr. Peter Molyneux managed to crowd-fund over half a million pounds of start up capital to create Godus, and almost two years on, through numerous beta releases and incremental updates, the game is really starting to take shape.
The latest update came out about a month ago, in mid-September 2014, and I’ve been putting in some generous hours with it. Enjoyably, so.
Fifteen hours, so… at least according to Steam which kindly tracks those sorts of stats and lets me know how much of my in-real-life I’ve spent nudging landscapes and torturing little virtual people. Of course, most of that time has been in thirty minute bursts of checking in and –so much like a mobile game that pesters you with notifications to come back and check on your game every few hours– collecting the various resources accumulated in my absence and making sure none of my little meeps have betrayed me and swam across the ocean to join that rival tribe.
The game is not Populous. It’s very different: deeper, more elaborate, with more focus on building a quasi-society out of your tribe and less on the utter and wanton destruction of the opposing team (which I get is a “game thing” but there is a philosophical layer wedged in there, whether by design or by accident, that like, say, Minecraft results in a game that is more than just acquire-target-and-destroy-it.) I like it.
And there is something else that is cool and if you haven’t played is a reason your should try it right now: the game is incomplete. According to the loading screen it’s only 51% complete. It’s Beta after all. But while some of you out there will balk at playing an incomplete game, others who are interested in the process will love the little perk that comes along with an incomplete game: the commentary. It was a little odd at first, but I’ve really enjoyed the developer commentary. In fact, I think it’s Mr. Peter Molyneux himself who –upon unlocking a new stage or feature in the game– just starts casually chatting as you’re playing about how things work, with some hints about how a certain feature fits into the bigger plan, or a tip on how you may want to make use of a feature. It’s a bit like you are an investor playing the half built game and standing over your shoulder is the president of the company explaining little bits to you as you play. A little weird, but in a way really quite awesome too.