Let’s Review: Virginia

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Virginia wasn’t what I expected. Where I was expecting a point & click adventure game in a similar vein to Deadly Premonition, I got a game primarily about a friendship between two women. There was still that mystery aspect there, but it took a back seat to this other, strangely more engaging, story. And I liked it. A lot.

There are a lot of references. The game stars FBI agents and takes place in ’92 and thusly has made all of the requisite X-Files references, as well as a few others from more recent media, including Welcome to Night Vale. Hell, Virginia basically is an X-Files episode, only Scully and Mulder are both black women and at one point Scully drops acid. It’s a really, really good time.

Without spoiling too much, Virginia tells a story that made me feel things. Lots of things. There was definitely some sadness there, a little bit of anger maybe, some heartwarmth and a good chunk of utter confusion. And it manages to do all of that without a single line of dialogue. I was a little bit iffy on the idea of a mystery plot with no dialogue. But it worked surprisingly well, especially when the narrative took its lens off of the mystery to more focus on Virginia’s true plot, the relationship between the two leads, which didn’t need dialogue.

The fact that the game completely works without dialogue is mostly down to its incredible soundtrack. As in, Virginia might have one of the best game soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s not just the music itself, but the fact that it fits in so well with everything happening on screen and the characters’ emotions. A lot of time and thought was put into the score here and it honestly really, really shows.

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Apartments Possibly Coming to the Sims 4

After several months of EA remaining uncharacteristically silent when it came to one of their biggest cash cow series, fans of The Sims may finally have the leak they’ve (we’ve?) been waiting for.

The leak comes in the form of the website belonging to Brazil’s media ratings board (think the ESRB for the U.S., or PEGI in Europe), which has a listing, added only today, for “THE SIMS 4: VIDA NA CIDADE (EP3)”. The ‘EP3’ part of that is interesting, because Maxis has specifically been keeping radio silence on the subject of expansion packs since the second one for The Sims 4 was released December of last year. The listing was originally discovered by oSimBR.

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And as for the subject of the proposed expansion, I don’t speak any Portuguese, but SimCookie, a French language Sims fansite who are always among the first to report on these kinds of things and from whom I usually get my Sims news, has translated the title into “Vie en Ville”, which, in English, could either be “Town Life” or “City Life”.*

Either way it seems like we’re looking at a more urban themed expansion, in the nature of 2’s Nightlife and 3’s Late Night, and possibly even-dare I say it?-The Urbz. The Sims 4 included nightclubs in the base game, expanded on them in Get Together and gained restaurants with Dine Out, so there’s very little that these two expansions for previous games were themed around that The Sims 4 doesn’t already have in some way.

There one big aspect of living in a city that The Sims 4 (or The Sims 3, for that matter) doesn’t have, however; apartments. It’s been an asked-for feature for sure, and there was even some drama sparked over it when some promotional materials for Get to Work included the word ‘apartment’ in some innocuous way. A developer ended up confirming that apartments would not be appearing in Get to Work, so Maxis are at least somewhat aware of their fandom’s desire for them.

I guess we’ll see.

 

* French has no distinction between ‘town’ and ‘city’ like English does, and I couldn’t tell you which of the two the original Portuguese implied.

Special Announcement

I’ve decided to give up my budding career in software engineering in order to start full-time making YouTube videos that encourage children to get involved in questionably legal gambling.

In other news, thebleedinghedge.com will henceforth become a gambling site with a minimum signup age of 13.

These two things are completely unrelated. Totally.

Let’s Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

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The first Mirror’s Edge game was short, unpolished, based on the highly questionable premise of first-person platforming and yet, almost immediately after its release in 2008, it became one of my favorite games of all time. For me, at least, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, released June 7th, was an extremely anticipated sequel prequel reboot thing.

Mechanically, Catalyst is stronger than its predecessor. Movement is smoother, it’s easier to string movements together with the changes made to the control scheme and combat has been vastly, vastly improved to make use of Faith’s strengths rather than plop you in front of a group of heavily armored SWAT troops and tell you to get right up close to them in the hope that your reaction speed is good enough for the very unforgiving disarm mechanic. This time, the player is given tools to dance around your much slower enemies, actually using Faith’s speed to her advantage. Additionally, the player is now expected to use their environment to their advantage in combat, rewarding them for knocking enemies into each other or into environmental objects, such as over railings. Or the edges of roofs. It’s like someone on the Catalyst development team saw that moment in the original where you got to punt a guy off of some scaffolding and actually recognized that it was awesome. It probably shouldn’t have counted towards the Pacifist achievement. But it was awesome.

Unfortunately, despite all the improvements made to the combat, the development team doesn’t seem to actually understand what made combat in the first game so horrible to begin with. Sure, guns in the first game slowed you down and therefore were pretty much antithetical to the whole point of it all, but they still weren’t the real problem. The real problem with Mirror’s Edge combat was the game’s tendency to insist that the best option is more often than not running away from enemies but then immediately turning around and creating situations where combat was unavoidable. Catalyst actually does somewhat handle this, by allowing Faith to use her light attacks while at speed to push past enemies in her way without taking a hit to her momentum. It also seems to not be bothering to kid itself this time around in regards to combat being avoidable. You’re advised multiple times that sometimes the best way through enemies is to just ignore them and run for it, but more often than not the voice in your ear is pretty honest about how many people you’re about to be forced to punch off of roofs.

Oh, and the reason Faith can’t use guns is because every gun in this universe is biometrically linked to its owner. If you ask me a better explanation would be that Faith just up and doesn’t know how to fire a gun properly and a life or death situation probably isn’t the best time to learn when she could be doing something she’s perfectly comfortable with instead; running away. Actually, if you honestly tried to tell me that a city with such a seemingly large criminal underworld as Glass somehow doesn’t have a black market for ‘jailbroken’ firearms I’d probably tell you that Faith secretly being Batman would be a more plausible explanation for why she can’t use guns.

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Let’s Review: The Sims 4 Dine Out

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Oh hey, it’s another Sims post. My twitter poll wanted me to take a look at The Sims 4’s new game pack, Dine Out, so that’s what we’re here for this fine evening.

Dine Out brings back restaurants to the Sims series, something which hasn’t been a presence in the series since The Sims 2’s Open For Business and Nightlife expansion packs. I recall the Sims 3 having a DLC store set that was supposed to allow players to run their own restaurants, but it was borked on arrival and EA apparently never bothered to patch it into working condition. With the new pack, players can now have their sims patronize resturants run by others or run them themselves, much like Open for Business. And that’s pretty much the whole concept.

Attending restaurants as a customer is somewhat neat and they make a cute venue to send sims on dates. Dining is actually pretty involved, a lot more so than the previous incarnations in The Sims and The Sims 2. Sims can get up from their tables at any time without giving them up until they’ve finished up and paid, allowing them to wander around, have a chat, use the loo and or otherwise do whatever. Food and drink can be ordered separately from menus that are completely customization using any foods currently in the game, even if they come from different packs, which is a neat little touch.

But the real focus in this pack seems to be on running one’s own restaurants. It works in much the same way that the retail feature introduced in Get to Work does, although a little smoother. A nice touch is that restaurants, unlike retail stores, can run on their own when your sims are off the lot doing something else, although not optimally and they can’t be left to their own devices for too long. But its still a good idea, not to mention more realistic to be able to let your entrepreneurial sims leave their businesses for a few hours without the whole place burning down.

And, unlike in Open for Business, running restaurants in this pack isn’t… borderline impossible. In fact, I think, like many things in The Sims 4, the difficulty here might be a bit too balanced in the other direction. Staying on a restaurant lot for twenty-four hours left my manager sim with a lot of downtime. He couldn’t act as the chef, host or waiter but he could help clean tables and come around to check on customers, making sure they’re happy and trying to fix things up if they aren’t. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be enough to occupy a even single sim’s time for very long so, when things are going smoothly, it’s hard to find things to do. Maybe this is meant to compliment the whole “not having to be on the business lot at all times” thing, but either way, my biggest complaint about this pack is probably going to have to be its ease.

The CAS stuff is pretty nice, but not very usable in most situations. Hairstyles are hairstyles but most of the clothing options are, predictably, intended for kitchen and wait staff. There’s a pretty cute vest covered in flair for Office Space fans to make jokes about, but other than that I don’t really have a strong like for any of the items included with this pack. I’ll probably use them, but they’re all just kind of… there, and not really standing out.

Build/buy mode is better. Booths make a return, which I’m extremely happy about. There’s an interesting new set of objects that lets players design their own signs by applying wall decals to a base, which is a really interesting idea and something that I like a lot. I’ve spoken before about how I prefer Sims content that passes creativity into the hands of the players, so I’m glad that Maxis has taken the time to design a relatively small little feature that nonetheless allows me just a little more control over my game.

Oh, they’ve also added in a heat lamp, which looks nice and all and gives nearby sims a moodlet, but otherwise seems just a bit out of place in a game with no weather and whose primary settings consist of a desert and a Louisiana-esque swamp.

And that’s it, really. To summarize, I can see myself getting quite a bit more enjoyment out of this $20 of new Sims 4 content if the low difficulty doesn’t bore me to death first. There are quite a few improvements in this pack from the series’s previous implementation of restaurants and I find running them a lot more entertaining than Get to Work’s retail lots.

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The Sims Just One-Upped its (Already Somewhat Impressive) LGBT Representation

I did not wake up this morning expecting a revolutionary Sims 4 patch. I woke up this morning expecting that my day would be filled with things like going to work, poking fun at people getting angry over inconsequential bullshit on Twitter and then coming home and getting angry over some of my own inconsequential bullshit. But then I got on Twitter and found that one of the Sims fansites I followed, SimCookie, was already abuzz with some surprise news. The news, for those who don’t French real good, essentially boils down to this: a new major patch would be pushed later today that added plenty of new gender-related options to The Sims 4.render

As outlined in the Maxis press release, less than 6 hours from the announcement, a new major patch was to be released for The Sims 4 that, among other things, unlocks all previously gender locked content. The Sims series has never been particularly bad when it came to gender-locked content, so the only remaining things to be changed were sims’ appearances and reproductive capability. To put it simply, sims’ stated genders can now be completely separated from both their physical appearance as well as what bits they would have if they didn’t all look like Mattel dolls under that pixelation grid.

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On the Importance of Log Parsers

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UPDATE 2/6/2016: Since publishing I’ve been reminded that Warcraft Logs actually does have an option to keep parses private that I wasn’t aware of and would have been nice to know about some time ago when I was searching for that exact thing. P: Doh! I never said I wasn’t a bit dim…

I’ve played a lot of MMOs. They’re actually probably one of my favorite genres of game when my social skills are feeling up to it. Somewhat recently I’ve brushed off the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn account that I set up last summer, bought the expansion and finished leveling my White Mage to 60. And then I began the endless, skinner-boxian grind of the endgame.

There are lots of interesting things about FFXIV, but one of the most interesting yet easily overlooked is Square Enix’s policy on game addons; they’re not allowed. At all. This is a far cry from World of Warcraft’s highly-encouraging policy that practically makes several key addons absolutely required for high level play (and is also why I know Lua). Coming from running an extremely addon-heavy WoW client to playing FF with nothing but the default UI and actually paying attention to boss fights like Square intended is… Different. One of the hardest absences to get used to was the equivalent of something like Deadly Boss Mods. Being forced not to rely on timers and instead having to watch the boss’s animations (and *gasp* actually remember phase order) is actually a much more immersive way to raid, and is pretty enjoyable to boot. As long as the bosses aren’t designed so that having DBM installed is assumed (I’ve suspected for a couple years that WoW’s might be leaning that way, whether the designers realize it or not).

But the absence of combat log parsers is another thing. WoW players might know them commonly as ‘DPS meters’, despite the fact that they are useful for far more than just gaging damage. The addon I use in WoW, Skada, can be configured to display just about any information that passes through the game’s combat log. I generally keep one panel open displaying DPS and another that displays total healing done that pull, so I can call out shout at whomever in the raid wasn’t pulling their weight. On some fights I’d have to change the healing window to display total dispels instead, to see who really wasn’t pulling their weight.

But this was progression raiding, and making sure everyone was playing at their best was important. On the flip side, the kinds of guys who post their DPS meters in low level dungeons are generally just doing it to be assholes. They’re probably not even necessary in a good 85% of Raid Finder runs. In casual content like that the only real purpose of meters becomes boasting about things that no one else cares about or bullying inexperienced players in a situation where their sucking wasn’t actually affecting anything. But we put up with all this because, for most mid and hardcore play, meters are really, really important.

Or so we think.

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Arkh 2: Electric Boogaloo

Whew. Now here’s a blast from the past. Anyone else remember The Arkh Project?

If you don’t, that’s okay; 2012 was a simpler time. This was several months before the online reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter brought the misogyny ever-present in the games industry out of its damp little cave and into the spotlight where authorities in the industry could finally notice what we had all been saying for years. This was two entire years before a certain ‘ethics’ movement would, ironically, force tech companies to confront the racism and misogyny rife in the industry, despite the movement’s proponents best intentions. More or less, this was back before the idea that there was a diversity problem in the gaming industry was taken seriously by more than just a few of us.

But then along came The Arkh Project, a crowdfunding project that promised to deliver a game on the scale of Kingdom Hearts, featuring a diverse cast of characters that we don’t usually see in gaming. It purported to be everything a lot of people were asking for. Maybe even myself, if I had been able to get over my distrust of crowdfunding projects in time.

But there were… problems with Arkh. It quickly turned out that the team apparently behind the game was wholly unqualified to produce a game of the magnitude that they were offering (which is not an uncommon happening in the world of crowdfunding, if I’m honest). The closest thing that any of the team had to actual game development experience was a 2D visual novel and the entire crew seemed to be comprised of “idea guys”, people who have a lot of good ideas but nary the skill to actually see them brought to fruition.

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Please, Shut Up

I used to say that the biggest difference between JRPGs and Western RPGs (besides geography) was that JRPGs wanted to tell players a story, whereas WRPGs wanted to give players the tools to tell their own stories. And there are no better examples of this than the Fallout series. In most any Fallout game, rolling a character with an extremely low Intelligence stat allows the player some… interesting dialogue choices. NPCs will treat your character like a complete idiot, wont give you the same rewards as they otherwise would and most quests wont even be available.

There are other, less severe, ways that your character build dictates your dialogue options or how NPCs treat you, of course. In standard RPG fashion you can talk yourself into or out of battles and conflicts based on your stats and skills. In Fallout: New Vegas the amount of variation that dialogue has depending on your build almost makes it feel like you’re playing a different game each runthrough. The same goes for Dragon Age: Origins, where your character’s race and class leads to a unique first hour of of the game and then influences both your dialogue options and how other characters react to you. The amount of unique dialogue strings in all of the games I’ve mentioned so far was great, and, honestly, probably wouldn’t have been there if the protagonists of those games were voiced.

Dragon Age 2 introduced a single choice of protagonist, a human named Hawke, who could be of either gender and any of the three classes. But other than that, that was it. Other characters pretty much treat you the same as they would any other player’s Hawke. The dialogue HUD that showed you the full text of every option is gone, replaced with a dialogue wheel much the same as the one in Bioware’s other cash cow, Mass Effect. One of the biggest issues that I personally had with DA2 was how completely it removed the creativity that the last game allowed players to have with their character.

Fallout 4 also seems to have given up dialogue choice in favor of a fully voiced Sole Survivor. Disappointing.

I’m in no way saying that fully voiced RPG protagonists are a bad thing, but voice actors cost money. Lots of money. Especially if they’re good. So, financially, having them record less lines seems like a pretty good decision. I mean, Fallout 4 and Dragon Age 2 were still enjoyable games.

Except, full voice acting didn’t make them enjoyable games. It didn’t even make them much better than their predecessors. I mean, sure it was nice to hear my Sole Survivor talk, but it didn’t make Fallout 4 all that much greater than New Vegas. In fact, I think New Vegas has some of the best dialogue in video game history, and not hearing anything my character said didn’t take away from that.

I just don’t think it’s worth it.