Scale in Borderlands 2

This is far too much to tweet about.

Borderlands 2 is fantastic. It’s a great first-person shooter. On top of that, it’s a loot game that’s very fucking long. It’s 30+ hours, and that’s just the base game. Each of the DLC campaigns adds another five something hours.

But it’s not just a long game, but it’s also a huge game. Each map is fairly enormous! Most have an hour or so worth of things to shoot, items to collect, quests to complete, etc. It’s really incredible. And the environments are varied!

But beyond even the length of time you’ll be playing and the amount of land mass in the game, the scale of the fights in Borderlands 2 further convey the enormity of the world. Early on, every fight is a struggle. There are enemies everywhere, and the guns suck. Even as I got better guns and better skills, it still felt like I wasn’t overly powerful as I went through the later parts of the game, and the DLC.

But then I go back through earlier levels to clean up quests, and I am at a much higher level than I was the first time around, and suddenly I’m death incarnate. I can choose not to fight and run right through the area, or I can lazily fire away in the direction of bad guys and they die. I can breeze through the whole level in a quarter of the time it took me the first time around.

I find it fascinating how Gearbox managed to make the world seem much larger than it is by throwing appropriately difficult challenges at me, and how those challenges slow me down and create the sense that the game is much bigger than it is in hindsight.

My 2014 Summer of Suffering

I kind of love running. It’s pretty much my favorite form of exercise. My favorite used to be biking, and I still love biking. But running does more for me. I’ll feel a good run for two days straight. I have to ride a ton of miles to feel a bike ride. And biking is expensive. I have to maintain a bike, and I can’t afford to compete. Running is free, races are plentiful and cheap. Even if I have no ambition to win (and I don’t), it’s still fun to get out in some race at dumb early in the morning.

I’ve ramped up how much I run and for how long. Last year, I made a big deal out of running a 15K and then a half marathon. The half marathon was brutal. I probably wasn’t prepared enough, and I swore I was done with distances like that. But my sister finished the Illinois Marathon and I got hella jelly, and then she talked me into running a half marathon with her, so whatever. I’m doing it.

I’m also doing the Decatur Running Club Grand Slam, which is finishing four out of five of their sponsored races. Coincidentally, four of those five I haven’t run in years past. And, of course, I wanted to keep up on the races I ran last year, and I added some more in that sounded like a good time, or fit well within my schedule. So here’s my 2014 Summer of Suffering, ignoring the fact that it started before summer did, and will end long after summer does.

  • March 29 – Penguin in the Park – 5K
  • May 3 – Moonlight Marathon – 5K
  • May 10 – Whitmore Classic – 5M
  • May 31 – RAINN 5K – 5K
  • June 28 – Scheels 5K – 5K
  • July 4 – Staley Firecracker – 4M
  • August 17 – Abe’s Amble – 10K
  • September 21 – Shoreline Classic – 15K
  • September 27 – We Care Twin Cities – Half Marathon
  • October 12 – Sand Creek Trail Run – 7M

I’m probably going to jam a couple more in before the end of the year, and the ultimate goal is to finish the Illinois Marathon next year. But I’m totally excited for the distances to start ramping up again! And I will complain and whine about it but I do it to myself because I love it!

And by “I love it”, I mean I do it for the t-shirts. Because if I don’t get a t-shirt out of it, what’s the point?

I have arthritis

The subject says it all. Okay, almost all of it.

Quite a while ago, I had a physical and as the doctor was inspecting my feet, she asked “So how long have you had arthritis?” I had no idea what to tell her because I had no idea I had arthritis. I mean, I’ve had some joint pain in my big toes for a couple years but I chalked it up to just feet being feet, or the result of wearing boots all the time. But it all ended there. The pain in my feet wasn’t significant enough to me to pay any attention to it.

A couple months ago, I woke up and my left index finger was incredibly stiff. Painful to bend at the first and second joint. I assumed it was sore because I’d just gotten back into riding the motorcycle regularly. But it kept up and every morning I wake up with a stiff finger and it goes away later in the day and comes back at night or after playing games with a controller for a while.

I decided to do something about it this week and, yep, I’ve got arthritis in my hand now. And the doctor was very nonchalant about it! “Just a little arthritis”, yeah, okay, and it’s just my finger. But it’s joint pain for every day of my life for the next oh 40 – 50 years. It’s less of a bummer that my finger is sore, and more of a bummer that it’s probably not going to stop at one finger, and it’s never going to go away for good. My elementary school science teacher had arthritis in her hands and it was a constant factor in her life and fairly heartbreaking to those of us who knew her.

But whatever. I don’t let arthritis in my big toes stop me from running, and I won’t let arthritis in my hands stop me from doing anything either.

Notes from Pathfinder session 30 MAR 14

Let’s be honest: it’s been a while since I chucked dice, so half of what I know about Pathfinder is barely remembered rules from my last D&D 3.5 game. I played a couple sessions with a group last year, and some 4th a year or so before that, some sporadic games while I was enlisted, and the longest running campaign I played in about 10 years ago. So I’m a little rusty, even if I’ve got the basics down. To make matters more confused, Pathfinder is only a little different from D&D 3.5, so I’m constantly checking myself to make sure nothing changed. About 75% of the time, I’m right.

I had a plan to run my players through a one-time adventure where everyone would play a 10th level bard. It was to be kind of an introduction to the game, and an exploration of the bard class, because bards get a bad rap. After making the short adventure and the characters, however, I realized that with all the spells and skills a 10th level bard has, it’d probably be way too much for an introduction. Everyone seemed to want to play their own character anyway, so I shopped around for an adventure path I could run with.

There are a ton of Pathfinder adventure paths, and they all sound awesome. I went with Rise of the Runelords. It is a nice collection of all six modules compiled into a hardcover book with bonus encounters and post-release enhancements for only $40, which is as much as two modules alone. Scrapping my bard adventure meant I didn’t have as much time to prepare, and the game suffered a little for it. However, the first part is mostly combat, so I managed to get by.

Speaking of combat, jumping into it with four brand new characters is a great refresher on all of the little details that need to be remembered! I overestimated how much of the stats would be in the campaign book, so I was quickly looking up goblins in my 3.5 Monster Manual. Then I got a reminder of how many little details and numbers need to be crunched when a sorceror or cleric casts a spell. Range, effects, saves, resistance DCs, all of that.

I also got a reminder of how brutal this game can be at low levels. A goblin managed to score a critical attack on the cleric, and dropped him with one hit. I felt a little bad for that. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to bail anyone out when their number comes up. I feel like the game is less interesting when the DM is constantly bailing out dying PCs. There’s no threat of death. But the cleric was a guy I just met. Thankfully, he stabilized right away and I managed to interject a brief respite for him to get him up to 1HP so he could at least heal himself a little.

The rest of the session went fairly smoothly. The PCs survived some strong hits but no more crits. For the first time, I had to consult some riding and mounted combat rules. I simply never touched them before, but one of their encounters involved a goblin ranger on a goblin dog. I wish I had remembered that I had the reference guide in my phone, because I didn’t have a stat block for the goblin dog. I had to fudge a combination of a standard dog and a riding dog, and I missed out on all the little details of a goblin dog. Whoops.

Of the mistakes I made that I think can be easily fixed, I’m going to start withholding loot and XP until the threat is over and those things matter. I started doling out both after the second battle, even though there was no opportunity to spend either. That was kind of a waste of time, as I could’ve combined all the previous encounters at the end of the session.

But all in all, I think the session went well and I’m very excited to get back into it next month.

PCs:

Nordak – Male half elf sorceror 1

Ironhouse – Male dwarf cleric 1

Tragehon – Male dwarf fighter 1

Groob – Male half orc rogue 1

#40 – Deadpool (PC)

I got this more or less on Steam sale impulse, and I was pleasantly surprised! Deadpool is kind of a dumb character, and Deadpool is kind of a dumb game. But it’s dumb in a good way! There are a ton of stupid jokes that miss more than hit, but the action is pretty fast-paced and varied, and the platforming is mercifully brief. Deadpool talks constantly, as is expected from the character. I heard “what’s your blood type?” more times than I want to count.

The environments are not the most exciting. Sewers, a prison, the ruined island of Genosha, and a rather tame interpretation of Hell. What kept me going was the cameos from X-Men and how Deadpool interacted with them. The main story isn’t exciting, or particularly cohesive, but Deadpool’s interactions with Cable and Death were good. What particularly hurts the action is the camera, which doesn’t always seem to be in a good position to follow what’s going on. But it’s not a deal breaker.

It’s also a game that makes fun of a lot of video game tropes, some more competantly than others. Remember the strip club scene in Duke Nukem Forever that was really weird and creepy? In Duke’s fantasy, he’s the coolest guy and all the ladies want him. It’s just the weirdest thing because sexy polygon ladies is always weird and they’re coming onto you. Deadpool takes this in the other direction. There’s a pool party and Deadpool tries to hit on the women there and they just shoot him down every single time. He’s gross and weird and they want nothing to do with him, and it’s hilarious. Deadpool frequently breaks the fourth wall and points to the dumber stuff in video games.

It’s no masterpiece, and it’s short (6 – 7 hours), but if you’re into Deadpool and competant action, it’ll keep you entertained for a weekend or a long afternoon.

#39 – Antichamber (PC)

I don’t know what I really think about this. It’s a really visually striking as it’s a lot of white rooms with splashes of color. The puzzles range from simple to what in the hell, mostly because not a lot of it makes logical sense. There are plenty of parts that are really awesome with how it plays with perspectives, but a lot of it also feels like “look at this cool stuff I did in Unreal engine”. I also managed to hit some hard limits of the engine as I crashed it three times using one of the later abilities in the game.

But I don’t know. It’s no Braid or Portal, but it’s got a lot of puzzles that got stuck in my brain until I solved them, or shamelessly youtube-d the solution.

#38 – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers has been on quite a few top 10 lists this year for good reason. It’s fantastic. It’s kind of like a single-player coop game, in that you control two characters with the control sticks of the gamepad and they’ve got independent movement and actions. Most of the game is traversing terrain and simple puzzle solving, but it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s relatively short (about 3 hours) but it’s perfectly paced and no part of it overstays its welcome. It’s three hours well spent.

#37 – Dishonored (PC)

I probably should have finished this game long ago, but I wanted to get the “good” ending, and that requires not killing everyone, and this game makes it a lot more fun to kill everyone. It requires patience to sneak around and choke out so many of the things in your way, and I’ve played this in fits and starts because I’m much more direct than that.

There’s also a lot in this game. The levels are enormous and there are books and lore and non-hostile characters all over the place. Much more of the game world is revealed in the texts than ever presented on the surface. Maybe I didn’t connect enough of the dots, but I want more of that world-building because it’s really interesting. It’s a great blend of sci-fi and industrial age.

#36 – Papers, Please (PC)

It’s hard to describe what’s so fun about Papers, Please. To put it simply, the game is about checking the documents of people trying to cross a fictional Eastern Bloc nation’s border with ever-changing rules and procedures. It’s an oppressive environment as you’re constantly choosing between strictly enforcing the rules of your superiors, or bending them at your own expense to do what seems right. You can have people detained for cash. You can take bribes. Everyone seemingly has a story or excuse for their discrepancies. And all the while, the rest of your family is starving and cold because you can’t afford food and heat.

But it is fun! It’s so fun. It’s almost entirely mouse-driven, but everything feels perfect. You move the documents onto your desk for closer inspection. Stamping papers makes a satisfying “kachunk” sound. Upgrades to your interface bring shortcuts. There’s a time limit to each day, and you get paid by the person processed, with fines for screwing up (either intentionally or unintentionally) more than twice. It moves pretty briskly but once I got a rhythm down, I never really felt oppressed by the clock. Everything just works great.

Glory to Arstotzka.

#35 – Resistance 2 (PS3)

This might be the last game that I finish this year, unless I really buckle down during my vacation to wrap some up, namely The Last of Us.

What to say about Resistance 2? It’s way better than the first game. It’s got a lot more color even if it’s all green and yellow, and there’s a more distinct style to it. It’s just really lacking in story. Each level feels really different and none of them feel interconnected by much at all. It’s also at least twice as difficult as it should be by making the player very fragile. Sure, you regenerate health, but it’s really not a lot of fun to replay parts over and over until you memorize the locations of enemies, or spend half of the game staring up close at the waist-high scenery in cover.

And what the fuck is up with PS3 exclusive shooters with horrible endings? Holy crap, there’s not much story to this game, and it ends very poorly.

Now that I’ve wrapped this up, I might be able to get around to the entire reason why I played Resistance and Resistance 2. I might get to start Resistance 3, which I’ve read is fantastic and takes a lot of cues from Half-Life 2. Or maybe I’ll throw myself down a JRPG hole and start Ni No Kuni.