Saturday, February 13, 2016

Oops...My Bad.

I may have accidentally brain-poisoned my wife.

After watching my blogs and videos about Darkest Dungeon, Lor mentioned an interest in having access to it on her machine. "You know, whenever." was her request. I went ahead and installed Steam on her box, set up my client for Family Share so she could get access to the games in my Steam Library, and created a shortcut to the game on her desktop.

Since yesterday, she is now 12 weeks into the story-line, with a stable of characters nearly as high level as mine.

I can hardly blame her, of course. Her inability to get to World of Warcraft for a month now has left her playing nothing but Facebook games involving Match-3 and slot machine simulators. The compelling characters, the strategic combats, and most of all the sense of adventure (and its drawbacks) within Darkest Dungeon must have hit the "real game" pleasure sensors in her brain like a Peterbilt. I expect to see many hours of her life sucked away as she engages the Lovecraftian enemies within Darkest Dungeon. She has always been a better tactician than me - I would not be surprised if she defeats the game before I do. Maybe I can have her write up a player's guide later.

Accordingly, I have turned my attention to what other titles I wish to feature on YouTube. YouTube is now allowing me to record videos longer than 15 minutes, so I will no longer be required to break everything into bite-sized pieces. However, I have decided that nothing but hour-long dungeon crawls will probably not suit my audience, so I will be varying my videos a bit. Since I do not have access to brand-new titles, Darkest Dungeon notwithstanding, I have picked a couple of older titles that my readers may have missed.

In honor of the release of XCom 2 last week, I have decided to delve back into the XCom series. Long War is a mod for XCom: Enemy Within that adds new character classes, higher amounts of combat difficulty, a more complex research path, and a steep ramping up of Alien AI. It creates, in short, a "Long War" with games taking on marathon length, with lots of your soldiers biting the dust along the way. The similarities to Darkest Dungeon are not lost on me. I have not played this mod before, and look forward to displaying my ignorance to all of you. We will also be featuring...

Path of Exile is a Free-To-Play "Diablo clone" released into Open Beta back in 2013. My brother and I tried it for a bit back then, enjoyed the combat system, the "gem" system for learning and enhancing character skills, and most especially the character customization that looks like nothing so much as a map of a relatively large galaxy. No seriously, look at this:

Taken from Please don't sue me :-)

Anyone who has ever played a Final Fantasy game will feel right at home here. With this level of customization you can build pretty much any type of character you like. The game has apparently matured by leaps and bounds since I last tried it 2 - 3 years ago, and I look forward to taking another stab at it.

I will just have to record very quietly, lest I disturb Lor's focus as she delves ever deeper into those nightmarish halls.

Watching the Monster Lurch Down Towards the  Village,

- Hawkwind

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Collector in the Darkness

While spending some quality time within the confines of Darkest Dungeon this morning, I found myself in the not-so-uncommon position of having the majority of my "varsity" characters unavailable to me. Some were drinking, some were praying, some were self-flagellating, and a couple were having diseases treated. ("The Runs" and "The Yips", I believe the diseases were.) Noting that I had run low on "Deeds" (one of the four items used to upgrade buildings within my Hamlet), I decided to assemble a low-level party to run into The Weald (the dungeon most likely to drop Deeds as treasure.)

My party of level 1 and level 0 characters set forth, did a little exploring, had a few fights, got a little banged up, when suddenly this happened:

The Collector. Hmm. Well, I had never before run into a critter with 70 Health in a level 1 hallway before, but seriously, how hard could it be? Despite the fact that my whole party was already at around 50% Health, I was nowhere close to the end of the Dungeon where a Boss-level creature would be, right?

And this is where Darkest Dungeon gets you, my friends. Turns out The Collector was some kind of weird undead-summoning demigod who could populate the spaces in front of himself with ghosts of previously deceased adventurers. Including a Collector-healing Vestal. When done with that, he used his "Show Collection" attack, driving my party's stress levels up so high that my Tank eventually became Irrational and stopped accepting heals from my healer completely.

Undaunted, I pressed on to victory. Of a sort. You ever hear the term "Pyrrhic Victory?" Yeah. One of those:

Only my Bounty Hunter and Arbalest survived, and they were so screwed up that I had to abandon the dungeon right after this screen shot.

This in an "Apprentice" level dungeon.

Get it through your head now, if you are going to play this game. Darkest Dungeon hates you. It will do everything it can to destroy you and make your life miserable. Especially if, like me, you are still not used to the idea of looking at the relative strength of your party vs. an opponent, and deciding that maybe this is time to call it a day. I should've retreated before the fight started. I didn't. And my party paid the price.

Once back in town, I looked over the Log to see if The Collector had been taken off the list of Boss-level enemies I had to defeat. No matter how hard I looked, he wasn't there. Half of my party had been wiped out in a meaningless, random encounter. Sigh.

I come visit them sometimes, just to apologize.

Seriously, Darkest Dungeon is awesome, and I am playing the heck out of it. If you are at all interested in picking up the game, feel free to check out the first 3 episodes of my Darkest Dungeon Playlist on YouTube to get an idea of what it is all about. 

Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yup! I am officially on YouTube at the Hawkwind's Habitat channel. I am so excited that I am beside myself. and now am trying to decide if I am going to do a play-through of Darkest Dungeon all the way to the end, or if I need to vary my content a bit lest people die of single-game exhaustion. Let me know what you all think!

See You All on YouTube,

- Hawkwind

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dungeon Adventures Continue

After spending most of the day yesterday futzing around with webcams, portable hard drives and Open Broadcaster Software, I have come to a conclusion: this Internet streamer stuff is hard. My respect for guys like Gassy Mexican and Trump just grows hourly with every recording I screw up. My earlier dreams of actually becoming a full-time Twitch or YouTube personality are now gone - I just want to actually succeed in putting out a video or stream or two.

I have consoled myself by making a little progress in Darkest Dungeon:

I now have my very own level 3 character! It is very exciting. I am completely ignoring the internet chat that states that the Highwayman character is weak and useless - he is the only character I have that has made it this far, and I am going to use him, damn it. I have also defeated the Necromancer boss, and unlocked all 4 of the "minor" dungeons. The task of getting 16 characters leveled all the way to level 6 so they can tackle the final (Darkest) dungeon is a little overwhelming right now.

Those looking more closely at the pic will notice that all the characters have been renamed. I have borrowed names from Westerns, characters from David Eddings and Terry Pratchett novels (just finished re-reading the Tamuli series) and historical figures. It gives me more of a feeling of connection with my heroes. It also makes me a lot sadder/madder when I get them killed or have to fire them, but life is hard in the land of DD.

I believe I have all my technical issues sorted out now, and will be trying another round of recordings this afternoon. Thursday is house cleaning day around here, so it won't be any time real soon, but I will put out an announcement here, on Facebook, and on Twitter when I finally get it done. Wish me luck.

Back To The Vacuum Cleaner,

- Hawkwind

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

First Impressions of Darkest Dungeon

Though I have been spending quite a bit of time playing Assassin's Creed 4 (grrr, who designed these controls?) and Civilization 5 (grrr, where did the day go?), as of yesterday I got the rare opportunity to actually try a game within a month of its release date. Thanks to a donation from a long-time reader (OK, it was my mother-in-law, but she is a faithful reader.), I was able to hop on Steam and purchase...

8 hours of game time later, I have watched my characters die from diseases caused by pig spit, lost an entire party to insanity after touching an eldritch altar I should NOT have messed with, and ranted and raved over the hopeless inequity of it all. I can't remember the last time I had this much fun with a video game.

I was worried that the minimalist, 2-dimensional graphics were going to be a turn-off for me, but I was totally mistaken. The stark lines, dark color palette and over-the-top combat animations have actually left me more with the impression that I was participating in a comic book. The game is VERY atmospheric - the soundtrack is quite broody, and the voice-over narration of your deceased ancestor is simply outstanding. I am overwhelmed by how a game with an artwork and animation style this simple can be so immersive. But it sucks you in and holds you under the surface of its game play, until you emerge, gasping, on the other side of an adventure, left to lick your wounds and evaluate your casualties.

And, let me tell you, you will be evaluating casualties. This is no Baldur's Gate, where your group of newbling adventurers band together and grow ever stronger until they eventually are strong enough to face demons and dragons. No, your party of level 0 and level 1 characters will emerge from a dungeon wrecked, needing medical care, spiritual solace, and some form of relaxation to shake off the ever-encroaching darkness that threatens to steal their very souls.  You will have to rotate in a whole new set of adventurers to take over while your original party recovers. You are not even allowed to grow attached to these brave/foolish souls - just as one begins to gain some power and experience, he or she will be struck down during combat, or lose their mind from the stress of adventuring, needing to be put out to pasture and replaced by another fresh-faced and weak adventurer just arriving on the stagecoach. In eight hours I have defeated ONE of the game's bosses - at the cost of 2 fatalities, 4 cases of incurable insanity (characters I fired rather than trying to recover), and countless failed quests, ending in fearful retreat and ignominious defeat.

The game is interesting enough that I will be recording some playthroughs and posting them on YouTube - I am not an expert at the game by ANY means, but it is an experience that I know many of you would like, and might want to see what it looks like firsthand. I will let everyone know when the first recordings are available.

Descending Again Into Madness,

- Hawkwind

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hearthstone: Resurrected?

It is no secret to anyone that my Hearthstone play has dropped off to nearly non-existent. The developers of the game have seemed to be more interested in "Pay-To-Win" in recent months than "Play-To-Win", and as a low-budget gamer I had been growing more and more frustrated with the whole process - so much so that I wrote a blog post about it back in October of last year. But, as far as I could tell, the end was nowhere in sight, so I have simply drifted away from HS, into an ever-broadening field of other game titles.

But, hold the phones: as of February 2, Blizzard has just introduced the concept of two modes of play, just like I had stated it needed for the game to offer a more level playing field to new players. There will be a "Wild" mode, which allows any cards from any expansion to be used (within the existing rules of deck construction, of course), and a "Standard" mode, which will narrow things down to a collection of Basic and Classic cards plus any cards released within the last 2 calendar years. There will be ranking systems in place for both modes.

This is BIG news for Hearthstone players. It means that a smaller card pool will exist for cards to be drawn from for the old timers (which, oddly enough, includes me, I suppose), and new players entering the ranks for the first time will be on something closer to a level playing field. Veteran players who have spent lots of time or money assembling the "perfect" noob-destroying deck will eventually (in 2 years or so) find that their cards are no longer available in Standard mode, and they will have to start over. 

Not all is sunshine and roses with this solution, of course. Just eliminating the cards that are going to currently be aged out of the system (the Naxxrammas adventure and the Goblins vs Gnomes expansion) means the departure of cards like Dr. Boom, Sludge Belcher, and Piloted Shredder to name just a few. And my gold-plated fallback deck, the Mech Mage? Gone like the wind. MANY old standard decks are going to head to the Great Disenchanter In The Sky. I have already seen the complaints beginning on many forums: "Will ANYONE even play Standard format?"

Well, yes. Quite a few of us will. I guarantee I will be among them - the idea of placing my skill against your skill, instead of my skill against (your skill + your wallet + your seniority) is very attractive to me. The switch will be taking place in Spring of 2016. I await it with enthusiasm, even if it invalidates my published works on budget deck design over on Hearthstone Players. I am pretty sure they've pulled my articles down anyway - they prefer active players as authors :-) 

Crossing My Fingers,

- Hawkwind

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The LootCrate Conspiracy

At the beginning of January of this year, I received an odd coupon offer from my daily IGN Deals email. I could order myself the January offering from LootCrate for a mere $13.95. Now, I was sorta familiar with LootCrate and the other "get a box of stuff every month" businesses, but had never really investigated them. I showed the email to Lor, and mentioned that each month's box contained a T-Shirt and various other items.

"Buy it." quoth my beloved.

I blinked a few times, not sure what alien entity had taken over my wife.

"No, seriously." she continued. "I have been trying to get you to replace your collection of old, ratty shirts for months. $13.95 is a good price for a graphic T. Order it."

Now, it is true that I have a collection of shirts that are mainly made up of holes connected by string. For once in my life, though, rather than defend the character of my wardrobe choices, I kept my mouth shut and pulled the trigger on my purchase. Then I sat around all month, wondering what could possibly be in a box normally sold for $19.95 a month.

Last Monday, I received my answer.

At first, I was totally NOT impressed with my purchase. The box was TINY. I mean, really, really small:

Sitting on a lap desk, sized for a normal lap.
But, what the heck. I busted it open, and beheld the wonder therein. I was immediately reminded of my old Dungeons and Dragons days, and the magical item named the Bag of Holding, whose inside was larger than its external dimensions:

And, BEHOLD, within were the following treasures:
X-Files Graphic T-Shirt

A plush "Face Crab" from Alien/Aliens
An "X-Files" branded LED Flashlight, with batteries
A Space Invaders vinyl figure. (Limited Edition)

A War of the Worlds print, suitable for framing.
There were a few other little items, like a LootCrate pin, an id holder from The Fifth Element, a little booklet talking about all the different sources of the materials, etc. I also got 2 of the War of the Worlds prints for some reason. Odd, that.

I was able to identify the theme for the box, as well. X-Files...Space Invaders...War of the was a SPACE INVASION. So aliens really had taken over Lor's brain. In this particular case, I am totally OK with that, given the results. (Also, there was a little card in the box identifying the theme for the month, but I totally figured it out before reading the card! Yeah. Maybe.)

As I told Lor after looking over all my Loot, I would have payed $20 for either the shirt or the Face Crab (which, btw, came with a band for attaching it TO YOUR OWN FACE!! How cool is that?) This was a really good amount of stuff for only $14.00. I now need to make room on my desk and walls for all these items. (The X-Files flashlight is already on my key-ring.) It will be a challenge.

Lor and I reached an agreement that I would order a new crate (at normal price) every other month, to start working on replacing my ragged wardrobe. It worked out well for this month, since February is on a "Deadpool" theme, and I could really care less about "The Merc with The Mouth." So, no problem there in missing out on whatever might be in February's crate.

At least until LootCrate sent me an email yesterday telling me I could order a totally optional Crate on a "Firefly" theme. For only $40.00. Available until the 15th of this month.

Damn it.

Weeping With Desire for Firefly Collectibles,

- Hawkwind

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Work Interrupted

"There may be nothing harder to complete, than a work interrupted"  - Me

Seriously, though. You all know the words to this song. The book you put down halfway through. The home project that must be dropped to deal with more important things. The diet or workout plan that you stop for several days. The friend who moves away. Trying to restart anything with the same focus and enthusiasnm you had at inception seems just about impossible. Most times it is easier to just give up and move on.

Thus, my scattershot approach to Misdirected since our return from Denver. While I am improving (usually I drop the blog for months at a time after interruptions), I have been somehow unable to actually sit down and write on a daily basis. Since today is Monday, it seems a good day to take another stab at re-engagement. Onward!

In the "good news" department, I have managed to restart my personal gaming engine. I spent pretty much the entire weekend gaming in one form or another, and it felt good. Not just one title, either! Here are my latest explorations into the world of PC gaming:

Spent a significant amount of time still on Civilization 5. I discovered that I also had a Steam download credit for a Civ 5 expansion called "Gods and Kings", so downloaded and installed it. (The Humble Bundle goodness never ends.) While it does add many new civilizations to head up, as well as major military upgrades, the portions of the game I am now most interested in are the developments of world religions. Watching your newly founded religion sweep across the known world like a tide is fascinating, and I now spend more time working on religious development than I do military development. Still not sure how I am going to peel myself away from Civ when the time comes to return to WoW. I will keep everyone posted.

In an effort to break the hold of Civ 5 over my thinking machinery, I went ahead and installed Sid Meier's Starships, and invested a couple of hours there. It is an excellent little game, involving the development of a starship fleet and exploration of and influence over several populated systems in a galaxy. The AI controls opposing forces who are also attempting to influence these same systems, with the player reaching 51% control over the galaxy winning. The ship vs. ship combat is fun, involving moving around a board populated with asteroids, worm holes and planets, attempting to maneuver your ships into position to destroy the forces controlled by your opponent. Planetary development is very light, mainly involving the creation of fleet-enhancing Wonders than can change the dynamic of ship-to-ship combat.  The game reminds me strongly of Star Wars: Rebellion, released back in 1998, a game that I loved to pieces back in the day. My only complaints are that the game plays too quickly, and you are only ever given one fleet to work with, on a game board with 20-odd systems to influence. I am sure the game's original development for iPad dictated these decisions, but I wish it could have been beefed up for PC. Still a fun way to blow a few hours.

I finally cracked the seal on Black Flag, after waiting months for the right time. I totally love the game, but it totally makes me long for my long-departed XBox 360. On PC the controls are just clunky - combat is very difficult, climbing can result in flinging yourself off rooftops for no apparent reason, and don't even get me started on trying to run away from pursuing forces using your mouse and keyboard. This is a game that demands a controller for more precise movements. For whatever reason, mouse and keyboard are not providing that precision.

I am going to press onward though, because the rest of the game is awesome. The story-line is fun, the graphics are gorgeous, and I love the enormous amount of "stuff" there is to do that has nothing at all to do with the main questline. Should the forces of the Universe ever grant me a new console, this will be the first game I pick up for it. It is that good.

In the ever-more-frustrating land of Blood Bowl, my Dwarf team, Barfoogle's Bugoffs, have yet to win a game. I am totally not grasping some apparent fundamentals of the game yet. I may restart with a Human team, since they are the "base line" team and can apparently do just about anything with average competency. I feel very much below average competency right now, so getting there would represent a major move upwards for me. I really want to love this game - I just can't figure out how to play it successfully.

I have not added this one to my stable yet, but it will be my next gaming purchase. A game described by a reviewer as the demented visions of a cruel Dungeon Master brought to life is just too much for me to resist. For decades, I was a cruel and sadistic Dungeon Master, 'til all the other Dungeons and Dragons players in my life grew up and found other things to do (Thanks, guys. No, really...) Any game involving disposable player characters, development of serious mental instabilities, and dark eldritch forces is a must-have in my book. It looks very much like X-Com: Enemy Unknown merged with H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Later this month it will be added to the collection, and I will give everyone a full report.

That's it for now, readers. I will now return to a few more rounds of Civ 5 while I wait for Lor to wake up so we can go to even more medical appointments. Sigh. Would much rather just stay home and be unhealthy (while playing games).

Gaming and Writing,

- Hawkwind