Cruelty Thoughts

Something I learned really quickly was that death is expensive. In my first mission, I busted in the front door, shot a couple guys, and got mowed down by their friends. Barely got started and died immediately. Then I noticed that my respawn fee is $500. I didn’t have any money, so my balance is in the negative.

Alright, back into it, round 2. I slink around. I don’t go in through the front door. I manage to get a couple kills that drop organs. Yes, organs. Kidneys, livers, intestines, etc. And then I die. My balance is -$1000.

This game has a stock market. One of the tabs in it is “parts”. This is where I can sell those organs I found. Neat! After an even slower and even more cautious run, I finish the first level. I’m paid $1000 for my troubles. Considering the cost of implants and upgrades, this is a pittance. For $1000, I can’t buy anything worthwhile. All the cool stuff, higher jump, grapple, armor piercing ammo, is way too expensive for this. I’m going to have to sell these organs if I ever want to get cooler stuff.

On the second mission, I am a ghoul. I’m not making money completing missions. I’m making money harvesting and selling parts. I don’t know of a more reliable way to get to parts than kicking corpses, so I’m football kicking these dead motherfuckers all over the place. When I kick a corpse over a wall, I curse. Fuck, there goes my parts! Civilians got parts too, so they’re not special. I’m going to get their parts. What passes for dogs in this game have parts. Give me those parts!

I’ve walked into a residential neighborhood, killed a lot of people, and walked out with a sack full of intestines, livers, pancreases, brains, and kidneys. I got paid $2000 for three of those kills, but I made four times as much selling parts. And look at these jump boosters I just put in my legs! I can leap right over fences now! Makes it easier to get to those hard to reach parts.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about Cruelty Squad. Trailer below.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Here’s what Torment: Tides of Numenera (TTN, because I’m not writing this over and over) has over its predecessor, Planescape: Torment – I finished it. Okay, that’s probably a bit unfair, but I’ve given Planescape: Torment several attempts, a bunch of good college tries, blind and with guides, and never finished it. For whatever reason, it didn’t hold my attention long enough to reach the end.

My experience with TTN is a lot of the same, except instead of starting from scratch I’ve just picked up the same save over the years. I backed this on Kickstarter. I’ve had access to it since launch, maybe earlier.

I think it’s taken me four years to finish because it’s a lot of reading. This is the definition of a narrative-heavy game. It’s almost all narrative without being a visual novel. Every map has a dozen plus things to look at and inspect and prod, and every area has four or five named characters with backstories, perspectives on what’s going on, and usually one side quest between them. There are seven companion characters, three can follow you at a time, and they all have their own side quests. I also learned way too late that you can switch them out rather easily, so it’s possible to pursue each of their long-running quests on the same playthrough.

It’s a lot. And the world it takes place in isn’t your standard fantasy world. It’s based on Numenera, a tabletop RPG that puts players millennia into the future. You’re so far into the future that you’re in the 9th world, as the last 8 have somehow ended in cataclysm. One of my favorite descriptions of Numenera is that magic is real, it’s actually technology, you can find it by digging around in piles of garbage, and it’s wildly dangerous. This whole world of cyborgs, mutants, farmers, raiders, slavers, airship pirates, magic, technology, transdimensional beings, living gods, and sentient cities is a whole lot.

What TTN does very well is that it does end with explanations. There is so much weird stuff going on. By doing the quests, and talking to everyone, you can get answers. But like the setting of Numenera itself, you have to dig to find out what’s under the surface. It’s a lot of reading and most of it is well written, but at some point I had to ask myself if I wasn’t better off reading a book.

Demo Derby – Steam Next Fest

Demos are hard. The biggest games don’t do them because they don’t need to. Their fans will promote the shit out of their games, with no hands-on experience, to the point that they can rely on pre-orders. Mid-tier games sometimes do them, but often don’t because they’re hard to do. You need to give someone enough to play to get a feel for the game, not so much that you’ve given them all they need, and you have to put your best foot forward so that you don’t turn off a potential sale. Indies do a lot of demos. They need to sell to publishers and they need to sell to potential buyers.

Steam is doing their own not-E3 this year called Next Fest. Part of Next Fest is highlighting indie games, including a ton of indie game demos. A handful of games I’ve been interested either put up demos for Next Fest, or I’m just learning they had a demo. Here’s some impressions, starting from least impressive to most impressive.

The Fermi Paradox

This is a not-4X with a stated goal of guiding space-faring species into meeting each other. Unfortunately, I found it a bit dry. This guiding is done by collecting influence points and using those to nudge sliders like tech level, population, and ethics via random events. For example, a war broke out on Earth. I could flat out stop the war by spending points, I could let it happen without losing any points, or I could encourage the war to add to my influence. That’s sort of the whole game. I didn’t feel like my nudging of sliders was particularly effective. I spent the whole time clicking to collect influence, making a decision every now and then, and none of it felt like I was doing much more than blindly navigating a decision tree.

NORCO

NORCO is a sci-fi Southern Gothic point and click adventure that explores the industrial swamplands and decaying suburbs of South Louisiana. It is exactly what it says on the tin. I love the way this game looks, and the writing is the kind of atmosphere I’m into, but it’s still a point and click adventure. I already had this on my wishlist before Next Fest, but I’m not exactly a huge fan of the genre. It sort of had a Kentucky Route Zero feel though, which I’m into.

The Riftbreaker

This is part RTS, part twin stick shooter. It’s like if you played Total Annihilation without selecting any units beside the commander. It’s a good looking game, but I’m not the RTS type. It starts with building a base.

Death Trash

Third person, post-apoc RPG. I’m pretty into this. It felt like the first Fallout except with direct input action. It’s weird and dark and a bit slow moving. I hadn’t heard of it before now and I’m going to keep and eye on it.

Dread Templar

Quake-like. Fast action, lots of brown and red texturing. It’s plenty fast and the shotgun felt good, but the first weapons are a pair of pistols and the first enemies are a bit too skinny. I know I don’t have perfect aim, but I felt like I was missing when I should’ve been hitting. Give me a bit more credit, please!

Sable

Third person adventure platformer. This game’s got a great look to it and I like the atmosphere. It’s fully 3D but it’s flat shaded and looks like a rotoscope animation. I mainly stopped playing it because I don’t want to get too far and have to redo it all when the game is released.

UNSIGHTED

Really surprised by this. It’s a 2D action RPG, a lot like Crosscode or Hyper Light Drifter. I generally loved what I played and stopped before I got too far into it, but it does suffer from that third person 2D perspective problem where it can be hard to tell what plane of elevation I was on.

Far Cry 5

Yes, I got around to playing Far Cry 5 months (?) before Far Cry 6 is to be released. What of it? I’ve flopped around all over the floor trying to find a game that I want to play, and I landed on Far Cry 5.

Far Cry 5 is fun. I haven’t played a Far Cry since 3, barring Blood Dragon, and this game is still really familiar. Instead of islands and jungle, it’s in rural Montana. That shift in location makes a pretty big difference in how the game plays out too. I spent a ton of time in Far Cry 3 sneaking around and stealthily stabbing and neck-snapping to take over outposts. In Far Cry 5, I get into a helicopter and hover over an outpost while I rain bullets on anything moving below me. Sometimes I have to land to clear out one or two holdouts in a building, but usually my AI companions will do that for me.

It falls apart a bit in the narrative. In isolated, rural Montana, a Christian doomsday cult has taken over. This region is split into three territories controlled by each of Joseph Seed’s siblings, John, Faith, and Jacob. Each of them have their Thing. John is the torturer, Faith is the drug dealer, and Jacob is the militarist. That’s about all the development they get though. This all comes through periodic abductions.

It’s sort of hamfisted, even for an open world game where you can be anywhere and doing anything when an abduction occurs. They occur in different ways, which is a bit hilarious. In each of the three regions, if I completed enough missions, I’d be marked or blessed or hunted, and then I know I should stop doing something time-consuming because I’m going to get snatched.

This is how the vast majority of the narrative is delivered though. Me, in a cage, being talked to by one of the Seeds, before they (for some reason) release me back into the world to shoot their cultists to death some more. The delivery in the cutscenes is great! But it takes me out of the game to push me further along the storyline and that’s not a great experience.

I’m also a bit sour on the ending. It’s appropriate but it’s a bit of a cliffhanger and I have no idea if the DLC or the semi-sequel New Dawn resolves it.

Pause

I went hard on FFXIV for a couple days and stopped playing. Why?

In short, I have other games to play. Wow, such a revelation, right? But that’s the beauty of a demo. I can try out something that sounds good and see if I want to put more time or money into it.

Playing FFXIV made me recognize that I wasn’t really doing anything I couldn’t do better in a single player game. I have every other Final Fantasy. I’ve only finished XV. I could even play FFVII Remake.

I will give FFXIV credit for being a better single player MMO than ESO. The world’s prettier, there’s a lot more meat to the narrative, and actual cutscenes. It’s fun, just not so fun I’d spend $15 monthly on it.

Adventures in FFXIV

I finally got out of my starting area.

I’ve read that tank and healer classes have an easier time finding groups. I experienced a bit of this when the story sent me to an instanced dungeon. My current class is lancer, DPS. I went to start the dungeon and it put me in a queue, waiting for a healer and a tank. The wait time was estimated at 6 minutes.

Now that I can go to any of the starting areas, I decided to swap classes to a tank class. That’s when I found out that there are very few non-DPS classes.

As I learned, if I want to play a tank, I can pick gladiator (which leads to paladin), or marauder (which leads to warrior). Dark Knight and Gunbreaker are advanced classes (level 50+). Likewise, if I wanted to play healer, I could go conjurer (leading to white mage) or arcanist (leading to scholar), which astrologian being an advanced class. I was really close to the starting point for marauder, so I went with marauder.

Side note: look at this wild class imbalance. Four tank classes, three healer classes, eleven DPS classes. No wonder DPS classes have to queue.

I went to the marauder quest giver. It turns out switching classes is as simple as switching weapons. He gave me an axe so I equipped it.

Immediately, I’m standing there in nothing but my underwear with an axe on my back. All of my armor was either specific to lancer, or too high level. I was a level 1 marauder.

I didn’t keep any low level gear. I had to run around in my underwear until I could find an armor vendor. Even then, his only level 1 armor was a shirt. Oh well.

It did not last long because I was able to level up to 5 (the next gear level) fast, but it was pretty funny and definitely unexpected.

Making Mistakes Online

I know MMO games are not really my thing. It doesn’t stop me from playing them.

It started with Everquest. I saw one of my friends in high school playing it and I thought it looked like nothing I’d ever played before. I bought my own copy. But I was in high school, and broke, and had a short attention span. I played it for all of a week under the 30 days of game time it came with, uninstall, and never played it again.

Since then I’ve picked up and played some Champions Online (free), a lot of Star Trek Online (free), some Guild Wars (one time purchase), some Guild Wars 2 (one time purchase), a little Star Wars: The Old Republic (free), a little World of Warcraft (free trial), and a lot of Elder Scrolls Online (one time purchase). I’ve never considered playing a subscription MMO since Everquest. I don’t count WOW as I was never going to pay for WOW, I just wanted to see what the fuss was about long after it was on the decline.

Final Fantasy XIV gets a lot of positive reviews though, and it’s a subscription MMO. Every time I’ve considered it, I’ve installed and played ESO instead. But ESO is bad. It’s just an ugly, dreadfully boring game. I call it my depression game because I can only play it when I’m depressed. I demand too much for my time to play it otherwise.

This time, though, I’m giving FFXIV a shot. It has a generous free trial. I can get the full game + a month of subscription for cheap if I enjoy it. And so far, maybe two or three hours in, I’m enjoying it.

The mistake here is that I could be playing any of the hundreds of games I already own. But here I am, starting an MMO that will takes hundreds of hours to “complete”.

The Quiet Man

When I was a teenager, a game called The Bouncer came out. It was an early PS2 game, when the PS2 desperately needed new games. But the reviews and chat around the Babbage’s was that The Bouncer was bad. Short, repetitive, linear. A good looking but dumb beat-em-up. I didn’t play The Bouncer, largely because of this reputation but also because I was pretty broke.

The Quiet Man is a The Bouncer for this generation. I should have treated it accordingly.

This game is a movie that you play. Half of it is cutscenes. The other half is a simple beat-em-up, except that the game does nothing to explain its own systems. How to fight, how to counter, how to finish a fight, none of that is explained at all. It’s also extremely cheap and frustrating. The button that dodges attacks will dodge right into the attack even if you’re pulling away from the punch. Some enemies seemingly can only be beaten with a special attack mode, but I couldn’t figure out what it took to trigger. Overall, terrible gameplay.

But half of the game is cutscenes, and these are all professionally shot. It’s not a bad looking game and blends well between cutscene and gameplay. But your character is deaf and the whole game is from his perspective. In a completely bizarre stylistic choice, you can’t hear anything. Every spoken word sounds like muffled harps. Even your own sign language isn’t captioned. You can’t do anything but watch a mostly silent movie.

You can’t skip cutscenes, even if you’ve already seen them. You can’t save mid chapter, and most chapters start with a long cutscene. Once you finish the game once, you can replay it with the actual dialog and sound back in. But you’ve suffered enough, really. Doing this twice is just cruel.

Do not play The Quiet Man.

Resistance 3

When I didn’t have a PS3, the Resistance series gave me a reason to want one. It’s my thing. A first-person shooter set in an alternate timeline where World War 2 is replaced with a fight against an invading alien species. But what really drew me in was the reviews for Resistance 3. It was compared to Half-Life 2 frequently. I played the two games before this so I could get to Resistance 3, and then I didn’t finish it. I guess I got distracted.

Here, almost 10 years post release, I am finishing this game. Were the comparisons to Half-Life 2 warranted? Maybe 10 years ago. But it comes up a little short on Half-Life 2. There are clear parallels here, with the focus on a journey to stop an alien invasion, and some of the levels are fairly comparable to each other, but Resistance 3 lacks some of Half-Life 2’s hallmarks.

Is it worth playing 10 years later? Sure. It’s easily my favorite of the three games. I didn’t finish the first, and the second was okay. Once I got really rolling in this one, I was having a hard time stopping. The last couple levels, though, really tried my patience. They’re some of the most action heavy and least forgiving. But in 2021, if you like PS3/X360 era first person shooters, Resistance 3 is one of the best. Play it while you can. The Resistance series apparently isn’t moving beyond this era of Sony console.

Support your independent creators

James Stephanie Sterling is a youtuber whose work I’ve been following for several years. They recently came out as trans-feminine non-binary. Since then, they’ve lost thousands of Youtube followers. Part of this is because Youtube’s algorithms routinely punish and de-value works from LGBTQ creators, and part of this is simply that bigots who are intolerant of Jim’s identity are leaving. As they say in this video, it’s a good thing their livelihood doesn’t depend solely on Youtube, because Youtube is a terrible platform. Without Patreon supporters, like myself, they’d be in a much worse position.

Likewise, May Leitz from the Youtube channel Nyx Fears also finds her videos being de-prioritized or hidden by Youtube’s algorithms. She put a lot of work into this touching and personal video about childhood neglect, and it’s gotten less views than a week-old video about her DVD collection. It’s sad.

In one of her videos, she started it with (paraphasing) “This video is sponsored by no one. Nobody is going to sponsor me. I’m a trans youtuber talking about weird horror. No one is going to pay me for that.” And she’s right. That was the day I subscribed to her Patreon. Corporations might be scared to sponsor a trans youtuber, and Youtube is definitely fucking with her videos, but I can throw her some of my money. I like what she makes and I want her to keep doing it.

Another Youtuber I love whose work isn’t completely supported by Youtube is Patrick H Willems. He makes fun, thoughtful videos about movies. He’s been connecting the last year+ of videos with a side story about an evil coconut. He’s going to dedicate a whole video to wrapping up the coconut storyline with a mini-movie. But instead of his youtube channel, he’s putting it on Nebula. He had to take to twitter to elaborate on that decision because some people were mad about it.

It’s pretty clear to me that Youtube isn’t enough. Maybe when you’re at the tippy-top it’s enough, but everyone else isn’t getting enough out of it, especially queer creators. So please, if you have a favorite youtuber, find ways to support them outside of Youtube. A couple weeks ago, Youtube recommended a Jon Tron video to me, and today they showed me a Prager U ad. This thing sucks and I’d sure love it if these folks could all make enough outside of Youtube to leave it entirely.

https://www.patreon.com/jimquisition
https://www.patreon.com/nyxfears
https://www.patreon.com/patrickhwillems

Ne Cede Malis