Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So It's Halloween. Whoopie.

For me Halloween is the night where I hide indoors terrified of the neighborhood children and their plaintive mews for candy. Why North American's send their children out to beg for sugar and razors is beyond me. Does everyone have that good of a dental plan or, worse yet, a tolerance for toddlers mainlining sugar? Why not send them begging for useful, household items like detergent, or proper food even? Haloween, or All-Saints Day was a proper holiday in Ireland (no work and everything) and the practice of 'trick or treating' was only just catching on when I was there. Needless to say we had very few costumed kids at the door...or maybe we did but how could I tell from the dark confines of the pub?

I've done what any proper, Halloween hating man should do- I've closed the curtains, turned off all the lights and this year I've actually hung a 'sleeping baby, do not disturb' sign on the door. It's also the night where we have to put our bins out so I have a feeling the children may get their trick, if not their treat in eventually. I do realize this is one of the last years I can do this, now that I have a wee pumpkin head of my own but I'm going to put it off as long as possible, and then complain bitterly when I have to participate (only to She, of course, and not New Mouth To Feed as I'm not that much of an ass). Come to think of it, I am low on butter and a few other essentials... maybe I'll chuck her into a costume and head out to do the weekly shop.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Fortuitous Friday: Where's My Towel?

My Great-Grandfather used to box. He fought under the nom-de-plume of "Tiger Smith" but not the Tiger Smith that comes up when you Google it. Having only fought 6 professional matches, and all of them local (ie in the middle of no-where) he never achieved, shall we say, any fame as a boxer. He did it during the depression for some much needed cash, and added it to his long list of odd-jobs that he, and many like him, did to survive those terrible years. I still remember his boxing gloves as they were a favorite feature during the family's Sunday lunch with my father, uncle, and Great-Grandfather all letting me have a go at them.

Visiting with my Great-grandparents on their farm featured regularly in my life even after the family as a whole imploded and the Sunday lunch tradition ceased. My Great-Gradfather's passion for boxing (among other things) infected me, and it remains one of the only sports I truly enjoy and make an effort to watch. The title of the post, then, is a reference to the practice of a corner throwing a towel into the ring when they feel their boxer is in danger and a win is unlikely. Unfortunately that rarely happens these days as the professional side of the sport, as a whole, has gone quite down-hill and too many lads get beaten for too long in the name of entertainment or money...but of course I digress.

I've been thinking about throwing in the towel here at the 'ole blog. Although I am a bit pressed for time these days (even though I'm home full-time with New Mouth To Feed) it isn't about the time, really. I simply wonder what it is I still have to say about games that's worth posting. I've never pretended to be any kind of actual review-based blog, as plenty of professionals do that much better than I ever could. Of late a few of my regular reads have vanished (32nd Law), taken a bit of break (Don't Mention Ze War, quit due to real life issues (Cool Story Sis), or mysteriously disappeared (Melmoth from Kiasa). Blogging is a funny business in that it's not a business at all, and the joy of it is what keeps us going. It's what makes blogs so great, in my opinion, but when that joy is gone, or life interferes, then the blog will (necessarily) suffer.


Monday, October 22, 2012

The Walking Dead Part IV

Spoiler Alert!


Spoiler Alert!



Spoiler Alert!


Right, you've been warned.


Holy shit, I can't believe I've been bit! What a great ending and a heck of a way to set up the last episode. I was genuinely surprised at the end and I can't wait for the final episode.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

X-Com: Bugs Aside, Mission Accomplished. The Earth is Now Safe

Despite the bugs, design flaws, and my constant complaining I have been playing X-Com steady since it's release and I am happy to say the Earth is safe. You no longer have to worry, nor play the game yourself as I have killed the alien scum and saved mankind.

"Flawed Gem". Total Biscuit (of You Tube fame) described X-Com this way and I agree. It is so good yet at the same time absolutely terrible. Whole portions of the game don't work (S.H.I.V.'s currently) and bugs have forced me to re-start  but yet the tactical game-play is simply brilliant. I would like the try the game once again on Classic Ironman but not until they fix the bugs. Until then I am done. This game was my fourth, but in fact was only my second. I abandoned my first game just after the tutorial and started fresh. The second game was a quick loss in Classic Ironman. Game three was Normal Ironman but I had to abandon that after a bug in the first assigned mission. I started this game in Easy to get caught up, and then switched to Normal difficulty after the first Alien Base mission.

Oddly enough the "Gankalicious" character I made (initially a Heavy) went on to not only survive the whoe game, but be 'the one'. I found Normal mode to be quite easy, really, and re-loaded due to deaths only twice. Without further adieu, here they are:



A late entry to the team who arrived as a reward for a mission.

Ewan turned out to be one of my best guys in the end. Who knew actors were so good with weapons?

The man, the myth, the legend: Gank

Vladimir Putin was my go to killing machine..... ahem...no further comment.

Former Beatles singer Paul McCartney was also very good with the shotgun.
Max Shmelling was my heavyweight Sniper.



It says Easy, and it was, but I played mostly in Normal mode.


I didn't even need all of my base slots in the end.

Final death toll was very low. I didn't lose anyone in the last 20+ missions. Next time I play Classic mode.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

X-Com Enemy Unknown: An Introduction

Why introduction you may ask? Well, because there a lot of in-depth reviews already and I'm a bit pressed for time these days, so this is just a brief over-view for those not familiar with X-Com- mostly for Bronte who asked :)

Okay, so here we go.

Why should you care about X-Com Enemy Unknown?

X-Com UFO Defense (the original) was released in 1994 by Microprose and has since deservedly become a cult-classic. The game-play was challenging and tense, and it was one of the best turn-based, tactical, squad-based, strategy games I have ever played (wow that's a mouthful). Technically I played the sequel Terror From The Deep (1995) which, I'm told, was harder than the original. In the run up to the newest addition to the X-Com franchise, Enemy Unknown, there was a lot of hand-wrangling and speculation about how it would treat the legend that has become X-Com. Re-making a classic is never easy and can go horribly wrong (Jagged Alliance I'm looking at you) but the biggest problem is always going to be the fans. Some people remember things so fondly that no re-make will ever come close. That's the great thing about memory- we tend to forget all the bad stuff after a few years.

In any case the developers this time around assured the populace that they too loved the original and that they were going to capture the feel of it and make us proud. 2k Games, Firaxis and Sid Meier all teamed up on this one so hope was running high. What was that feel, you ask? The original was good because it was tense, it was hard, and it was cool (aliens were invading earth for pete sake!). You started with a bunch of noobs, knew nothing about the aliens, and were out-gunned, and out-numbered at all times. The turn-based tactical part of the game saw you commanding a squad of 8 men and women who you could re-name  (which was really novel at the time). You would, then, have a squad of people named after yourself and friends and it worked remarkably well in that it made you really care about them. You would assign individuals different weapons (heavy guns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, etc) and watch as they gained in experience and skill through play (better hit points, aim, load capacity, etc). You would wail in agony after a 90-minute mission when your favorite guy got ambushed and killed and as there was no mid-mission saving allowed you were basically screwed.

The greatest part about the original X-Com, and why it became a cult-classic is because it got people talking. How did your favorite squad get wiped out? How far did your name-sake make it? What was your longest mission- hunting for that last stupid alien hiding in the far corner of the map? The game inspired our imagination and had us sharing our stories long before the internet (yes, there was such a time) and forums made it easy to do so.

That's all fine and dandy, you may be saying, but what about the new X-Com? 

The new X-Com involves both a turn based, tactical game and a strategic overview game. In the tactical game you control 4-6 squad members who you can customize (names, looks, nick-names, etc) but who earn there roles in combat (they will be randomly assigned one of the roles Heavy, Support, Sniper, or Assault after a few missions). As far as I can tell these are random assignments and not based on anything they do on the battlefield.

The tactical portion of the game is top-down, and cover-based in that you move the cursor around and the various levels of cover are shown by shields. It is hard and you will need to follow basic squad-level tactics in order to succeed. If you aren't in cover, and if you aren't providing supporting fields of fire you will die. In fact you will still die even if you are. It is challenging and the AI is pretty good. They will seek shelter, and they will try to flank. In the beginning they out-gun you, and you will always be outnumbered. There is no such thing as being too cautious. You have to think and go slow or you will get wiped.

The strategic part of the game remains essentially unchanged from the original. You have to find out who the aliens are, what they want, and how to beat them. You do this by bringing back alien corpses, weapons, ships, and live beings to research on. As you go, you develop your technology so eventually you are a bit more evenly matched. In the beginning your crappy armor and shotguns do little against their plasma-based weapons.

You are the commander of X-Com, a kind of united nations for alien-busting and you are answerable to the nations of the world. You have to keep them happy to keep your funding up and you do this by responding to alien attacks, building sattelites to monitor the country's space, and running missions for 'the council'. There is also a bit of base-building in that you have to upgrade your research/engineering/hangar facilities and construct alien containment chambers, sattelite arrays, and the like but it so minimal that to call it 'strategic' is a bit of a joke.


Does it live up to the original? 

Yes.....and no.

It isn't a clone of the original and that's good. The original was slow-paced and could be exceedingly frustrating and the graphics, of course, are a bit outdated. The new X-Com is pretty, and has been streamlined and optimized so it could be released for consoles as well as the PC. I've discussed this prior, and in fact I said they 'dumbed it down' and I stand by that. I am, however, an obsessive nut for micro-management in games so the streamlining annoys the crap out of me whereas others may not mind so much.

Ultimately you have to ask does the new X-Com deliver as a stand-alone game while allowing those of us with warm, fuzzy memories of the original to feel good? The answer is yes. The tactical portoin of Enemy Unknown is challenging, tense, and it is one of the best turn-based, tactical, squad-based, strategy games I have ever played (sound familiar?) despite it's multitude of bugs, and flaws. The strategic portion of the game is anything but with it only serving to offer up more tactical battles. With today's technology and such a great development team I am very dissapointed that this part of the game was left to suffer.


The Good:


  • Tense, atmospheric tactical squad-based gameplay that punishes you for your mistakes.
  • Good graphics, sound, and effects with a fully destructible environment.
  • Engrossing 'just one more' game-play (to be expected from anything with Sid Meier).
  • One of the few truly turn-based games available today.
  • Some skill advancement choices for your troops.
  • Classic and above difficulty and/or Ironman mode makes things quite challenging and adds a lot of tension and excitement which I usually get in Player-vs-Player games.


The Bad:

  • Suffers from a multitude of bugs which is a joke for a AAA title (73 officially recorded here).
  • Strategic portion of the game is virtually non-existant and leaves the player mostly a spectator to what is happening.
  • So much more customization and player choice could easily have been included.
  • Troops 'skill trees' are lack-luster and offer little choices (two choices per 'level').
  • The panic system can see you 'lose countries' (a critical part of the strategic game) without giving you the chance to alter the outcome.
  • Suffers from 'stupid syndrome' in the amount of things that make no sense.

The Verdict:

Addicting as hell, and worth a play if you are a fan of X-Com or tactical turn based squad combat games. If you like strategic elements, or 'the big picture' more than tactical combat stay away and avoid disappointment.

Hopes for the Future:

An expansion which adds some real depth as the game doesn't have much re-playability at the moment and after a 100 or so tactical battles it may start to bore.





Friday, October 12, 2012

X-Com Enemy Unknown: Game Breaking Bug

This may be the first for a few reasons. One, I never post about games on Friday: it's usually my 'day off' where I whitter on about some aspect of my personal life. Two, this is the first time I have encountered a bug in a AAA title which is literally a game breaker.

On the Alien Assault mission in X-Com Enemy Unknown I sent a S.H.I.V. through the door into the last room. It got blown up on a hex adjacent to the door and somehow blocked it. My troops can't get through and even though I've killed the 'boss' alien there are a couple left who won't come into view of the door and let me shoot them. No problem, right, just re-load? Nope, playing Ironman so no re-loading possible.

Note the doorway appears open, but is not.

Thanks, Firaxis. Nice work on a game-breaking bug in a AAA title.

Oh, and in the spirit of Fortuitous Friday I will let you know I may be off the air for a bit. New Mouth to Feed is teething hard (very cranky) and today is also the second portion of her immunization shots which did not go very well the last time.

Happy Friday everyone!

2012-12-13 EDIT: More on the nature of this bug, and a work-around (unless you're in Ironman) here:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

X-COM Enemy Unknown: Cracks In The Armor, or Calm Down, It's Not That Good

I often find myself wading against the sea of common thought and/or behavior.X-Com released to many a great review (too lazy to link) and I agree with most of them. It's a good game but it has some very, very maddening design flaws and bugs which are 'bugging' me very early into the game. For the record I am a fan of the original, and no, I'm NOT disappointed it's not a clone. I like a fresh take on old games and enjoy modern graphics. In any case, here it is in brief, mostly to get it off my chest, as it were:

1. No inventory

This is ridiculous for a squad-level turn-based strategy game. Unforgivable really. I get that maybe the developers didn't want; you blowing everything up since the game is a cover-based offering, but come on. It's up to the player, not the designer what they blow up and the constant war against me using grenades is maddening (both in inventory and the annoying b**ch from research who continually tells me to stop blowing things up......piss off Research Nerd, unless you want to come out to the battlefield and take care of things). It's no just that you are limited to a single grenade per soldier (two for some with advanced skills later on) its the whole idea that you can only put one item in your backpack (which doesn't seem exist as it isn't visible).

So I can carry a scope for my rifle OR a grenade because why exactly? Shouldn't the scope be, um, oh I don't know...on the fucking rifle? And the first extra protective armor you can make gets put, you guessed it, in your backpack.

One extra item per soldier is stupid, and thanks for giving me unlimited Frag grenades. It's kind of like teasing  really: Hey you, look at all these grenades, oh, no, can't have more than one!

2. You can't carry your mates.

What ever happened to 'No man left behind?' Since the dawn of armies men have been risking their lives, and dying, while attempting to get wounded comrades off the battlefield  Not so in the future, it appears, because although you can stabilize a wounded mate if you can't revive they are left to die if you have to run out on a mission. Once, long ago (4 years ago) I was training to join the Army (long story- I never actually did). I had never ran before in my life but I knew it would be a major part of my life from then on. One of the motivation techniques I used when my legs were weak, and I was out of breath and ready to give in was to think that within 6 months I could be in a war zone. Someones life could literally depend on me being able to carry them to safety, and so I would force out another mile for the sake of that unknown soldier I may have to save.

Here we are in X-Com and that whole idea is thrown out the window. Here you go, mate, all patched up, but sorry I'm just gonna leave you here to get captured and probed by the aliens. Ta ta!

3. Bugs aren't just from space.

I never, ever forgive a AAA title with a price tag of $50 or above developed by a major studio for glaringly obvious and repetitive bugs. These should have been found in the testing stage or did Firaxis cut that department. Glitchy graphics when trying to rotate around the battlefield, especially when buildings/roofs are involved, soldiers animations firing through walls, and my favorite, soldiers facing backwards but shooting forward in some scenes. Nice touch.

4. The base is built.

Why start me with the first floor of a base? I want to design my own and make use of the proximity bonus' thank you very much. Oh, and while I'm on about customization why not let me choose more details about the soldiers? Home town, starting weapon, that sort of thing- I know eventually we will all be sporting alien lazer cannons but at the start why not let soldiers come geared up with country specific weapons and armor instead of 'sniper rifle' and 'assault rifle'.

5. Can you say console?

I know it's hip for PC gamers to complain that games made for consoles aren't as good, but if the shoe fits...... It's glaringly obvious that this game was made for consoles and many great features that could have seen the light of day in a PC game are not included. Can't we all just get along? What about compromise? Balls to that. I have a PC, not an Xbox so I don't give a shit about making it console friendly.

6. The game feels dumbed down.

All in all it feels like the game has been dumbed down. The hard levels are hard, not because the AI is better, but (it seems) that aliens do more damage, hit more, and are more aggressive in attacking (on Classic mode anyway). Aliens still tend to stay put until you 'discover them' and then they come at you. Till then they seems to be immobile even if a squad of their green-skinned buddies is getting slaughtered in the next room. Maybe that changes on Impossible level. Don't get me wrong, you will lose a lot of guys, but if you stay in a group, and move together instead of worrying about the entire map, you will find you succeed more often.

You can also change difficulty levels mid-mission. I know "Ironman" is a personal choice, but if you select this mode of play should you be given the option (which I have done in my current Normal Ironman game) to lower the difficulty level in a hard mission? I still lost my whole team, though, due to the aforementioned attempt to cover all my flanks instead of sticking together.

That's it, rant over. You'd think I'd give up in disgust but I am still playing and, generally liking, the game so far. Why bitch then? Well, hopefully some of the bugs can get patched and who knows...maybe an expansion pack could change a few things. Either way I like to complain...I'm a blogger after all!

This may make me take a closer look at Xenonauts, however, for a more faithful re-creation of the X-Com feel.







Wednesday, October 10, 2012

X-Com Classic Ironman Challenge: Say Hello To Our New Alien Overlords

Is it really so bad? I mean, come on, they must be superior if they were able to find us so maybe having the aliens rule earth is a good thing, and I've actually done the world a favor by failing miserably at the X-Com Classic Ironman Challenge.

But not as terrifying as Classic Difficulty Ironman mode.

Ahhhhh, it seemed like such a good idea.
 
Of the 12 missions completed, most of them turned out like this.

The council was not impressed.

The Brave men and women who died in vain.

So yea, it's hard. I'm glad I had Ironman turned on or I'd still be stuck on mission five or so, desperately trying to save my squad from the Alien scum! I've re-started in Normal Ironman mode and am enjoying the game a lot more. I did fairly well for the first 5 mission or so, and then it all fell apart. Classic mode really punishes you for any mistakes. A crying baby distracted me during a mission and I lost several of my vets. The subsequent squad of rookies just wasn't up to the task and I began to lose entire teams which resulted in failed missions and increased panic. The panic levels get high quite fast on Classic mode.

The final tally.
As an ex-com veteran player, and fan, I didn't go into the game with any lofty expectations. I was looking forward to the game, yes, but I wasn't expecting (or wanting) a modern clone of the original. Overall I find the game good fun but there are some things which really bother me and which I am overwhelming disappointed in. I'm happy to have the game, and pleased to see a turn-based offering succeed commercially but am left wondering why they made certain choices which shouldn't be so obvious so soon. You know how it is when you get a new game you love, and you play and play and play, and then, after some time has passed and the rush is gone you start to notice things that bother you? Maybe it's a UI feature (or lack there of) or some game-play that doesn't make sense. Whatever it is, it usually takes a while to surface in a good game. Not so with X-Com Enemy Unknown.

In any case that is a post for another day! For now there are aliens to kill.




Sunday, October 7, 2012

Scratch One Alchemist...and a Netherlord

I've just now finished Torchlight II with my Engineer! Take that Alchemist, and miscellaneous Netherlord guy who appeared at the end for whatever reason. I died a hell of a lot of times trying to kill the Netherlord (twice as he re-animates after the first death) but my howls of rage, followed by my howls of victory have faded, and he is finally dead. I am now into the 'end-game'. I'm most likely going to play with my Embermage or re-spec as as a Cannoneer as I was getting a tad bored with the Hammer Engineer. I used the modability of the game to re-spec and will continue to do so as I hate being locked into a single build. There are some neat shared storage bins out there that won't flag you in multi-player (though I wonder who would care if you were flagged) full of stacks of re-spec potions that I highly recommend. You can even alter your stats if you've made some mistakes along the way.

All in all it was quite satisfying. I think the game was challenging enough (on Veteran) but not too tough that I grew frustrated. Raptr tells me I've logged 79 hours but quite a few of those were 'lost hours' where I was alt-tabbed, or on pause tending to the baby (who got to see the final boss kill and was quite interested in all the colors). All in all I stick by my recommendation- for $20 this game is a steal! As Bronte pointed out in his  review, you'd be crazy not to buy this!

Take that!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The X-Com Classic Ironman Challenge (Gank's Edition)

As Thade has outlined there are a few of us partaking in an X-Com challenge this coming week. The much-anticipated (by me at least) X-Com release offers players a 'hardcore' mode which has both an increased difficulty, and no opportunity to reload. Only one auto-save is provided so if you mess up and your team is annihilated...... too bad! I think it will be a lot of fun even though I don't anticipate getting very far on this difficulty setting.

It's been ages since I played the original X-Com series. I cut my teeth on Terror From The Deep which took me ages to finish and was quite hard. Each single mission could take up to an hour or more as you hunted for that one last bloody alien hiding somewhere in a cabin on a cruise ship. If you lost your favorite guy after 50 missions you could re-load (and I did) but then you'd have to start the mission all over as there was no in-mission saving allowed.



The new game is a different breed with only four (so far that I've seen) squaddies allowed per mission (up to 8 in the original I believe) and they all have pre-determined specialties (sniper, assault, support, etc). "Back in the day" you just gave someone a sniper rifle and that was it- insta-sniper. Oh, ya, and we had to get to the game by walking uphill, through snow, with no shoes. I never went back to the original series- I rarely do- because as graphics and such move on, so do I. There are just too many games to play and, if you've read my Spring Cleaning series (which isn't done yet I'm afraid), you know I have trouble not trying them all!

I've pre-ordered X-Com from Amazon using an old address of mine from when I lived in Arkansas (at the Super 8 motel in a room next to a meth lab and note I said next to, not in) as Amazon downloads require a US address for whatever reason. This is my first time with Amazon (awww, you always remember your first time and the pick-up truck or youth facility you were in at the time) so we'll see how it goes. I know with Steam you can pre-load, and Amazon indicates you can download at 9pm on Tuesday. I'm hoping to try it at midnight but these days that's pretty close to my bed-time so we'll see how it goes. Unfortunately She Who Will Be Named Later tends to frown on my staying up all night and sleeping all day due to the fact I have to "do my share with the baby". Sigh, is it my fault I have no milk-making ability in my boobs and she is up all night? Oh well, her bedtime is around 7pm (the baby that is) so there'll be plenty of gaming on Wednesday night.

I want to put a call out for names- reply here and I'll name a squaddie after you and you can see how long he lives for! If no one bothers then I'll just make up some cool names and/or steal ones from Bloggers that I read. So if you're playing then join the X-Com challenge! Even if it's only for your first game- you can always start again on a easier setting (sissy) later so go for it and let us know how you did.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fortuitous Friday: Why You Talk Funny?

Another week has come and gone and I realize I'm down to four months before I have to go back to work.... I know, shut-the-hell up, right? I still feel blessed that I live in a country that allows for such generous parental leave, and an employer that is willing to let me go for such a long time... and then let me come back....and then let me take holidays to go to a wedding in Ireland a couple weeks later! It goes against my basic nature to be positive about anything but I have to say everything seems to be working out smashingly.

I guess I've always been fortunate- don't get me wrong there's been some hard graft along the way and some very, very tough times but in the end I seem to come out on top. Whether that truly is a testament to my wits and/or general ability or more to do with luck I'm not really sure. As it stands I've got to live and work in a lot of different places doing a lot of different jobs and along the way I've met some very interesting people. I have an innate ability to blend into the background and adapt to whatever situation I find myself in. I think it comes from not really understanding people all that well. This leads to a quiet curiosity inside me which lends to watching and listening to people. I tend to look at people like animals in a zoo- curious things who behave oddly.

I'm also a pretty good mimic when it comes to accents. By the time I left Ireland people were quite shocked to find out I was from Canada and when I returned to the place in which I grew up, people would ask me where I was from. The accent is fading now, having been away from Ireland for four years, but I do still retain a bit of it (ah, sure, but who wouldn't so?). The clerk in the grocery store asked what part of Ireland I was from the other day just from me asking for some bags. I was surprised she could pick it out, but she explained that her son hires a lot of Irish builders (our economy is booming and theirs sucks) and they live in her basement. Sounds a bit dodge, really, but I assume they are here on work visas, and not, in fact, slaves living in her basement and laboring for her son.

I often think about Ireland, and why I still have a bit of an accent. I've met a few of 'those' people in my travels. You know the ones- they become fixated on a particular culture and then 'go native'. White guys with dreads talking like Rastas is a good example although that has mostly to do with the fact they are too stoned to know any better (Ja man, dis some good weed here). I met a few people in Ireland who were in love with Ireland, if you know what I mean, but for me it was just another place to be. I followed the work and Ireland was paying a good, living wage for archaeologists at the time.

Ireland was the first place I felt that I fit in, and as a result I did a lot of socializing. I went out, and generally socialized more in Ireland than I did anywhere prior to, or since. Due to some poxy immigration problems I was, technically an illegal immigrant and couldn't leave the country for a number of years. An EU Supreme Court ruling later reversed that decision, and made me legal but it was, ironically enough, on the day I moved to Scotland...legally. This meant my contact with family and friends in Canada suffered. The only people I talked to were Irish and so, in the end.... I 'went native' and my accent changed. A great deal of it was me trying to fit in, as I said, and purposely mimicking it (successfully it seems). I think the accent remains party because I do try and keep it, and I don't do a lot of socializing here 'at home'. The person I speak with most is She Who Will Be Named Later, and she's Welsh (but sounds generically British), so no help there returning to my native tongue. My 'real job'- a closely guarded secret here on my blog- is a rather solitary one that doesn't see me talking to very many people in any given week.

All this makes me wonder how New Mouth To Feed will end up sounding. Her mom sounds like she's from Reading (think 'generic middle class British accent'), and her dad sounds like half-an-Irishman from Waterford/Cork. We almost exclusively watch and listen to BBC programs but the world around her will be distinctively Canadian. Oh, and her Grandmother, who talks to her weekly on Skype, is from Glasgow. It might make for an interesting mix indeed. New Mouth To Feed, by the way, is turning into a 'normal' baby- transforming from the screaming monster who dominated our lives for those first 12 or so weeks. It was like a switch went off and suddenly...... happy baby. It was an enormous relief and I can say now, finally, I am beginning to enjoy her immensely.

In addition to keeping my real name, and occupation secret, I don't tend to post a lot of personal photos- even on Fortuitous Friday when I tend to mostly babble about myself. Today I'm in a bit of a mood, however, and so I thought I'd post one of New Mouth to Feed. Friends have put some up on Facebook (despite my protests) so I guess one here on my own blog won't hurt. What kind of parent would I be if I didn't at least show off one picture to a (mostly) uncaring audience? Oh, come on now, I still don't like to look at other peoples babies and I have one of my own, so if you're without kids, feel free to Alt-F4 and not look. I know I would.

We're desperately hoping that the Worlds Hairiest Newborn Contest is still open for submissions 'cause I think we'd have a real shot at it.






Happy Friday everyone!



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Prison Architect: Never Mind The Shanks, Television is Killing Me.


Now that some hard stats are out I have to backtrack on my last post as it turns out that 'over 1,000 copies sold' actually means that Prison Architect sold 2667 copies with four of the top-tier $1,000 options purchased. Wow. That's a lot of money to fork over for a game- especially one that's not fully developed.

That does, of course, change my calculations and bring the average donation level down, but my original opinion remains unchanged- it's too much for an alpha 'donation'. And yes, I'm still pissed that the forum is closed and they only care about what the Kool-Aid drinking masses have to say. When did it become common-place to pay to test someones game anyway? Didn't that used to be, you know, an actual job for people at some point in time? Never-mind: that's a topic for an entire post on its own.

I've spent a few more hours with the game, read a couple interviews with the lead-developer over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and at Bitscreed, and I am watching a fun You Tube play-through as well. I highly recommend you check out that You Tube channel. They are quite funny, and British, and who doesn't like listening to the British? They all sound like the Queen to me, except anyone from Essex...or East London...or the North....or Scotland....or Wales....or Northern Ireland..... well, okay, so not many of them actually sound like the Queen, but these guys are still worth watching and waaaaay more interesting than the Queen. Once again I seem to be digressing.....

Despite all my complaining then I have spent some more time with the game and it is, at it's heart, a pretty cool little management game. It's got a unique setting going for it, but as I mentioned last time it has some inherent design flaws.The developer acknowledges the Alpha is full of bugs so I'm not talking about the problems with AI pathways, UI issues, or general bugs like naked inmates eating in the shower. My issues then, are as follows:

The game has been imagined and created by someone who's never been inside of a Maximum Security Prison. Ironically enough the release of Prison Architect comes on the heels of a prison-related mania for me where I've gone back and watched almost every prison movie ever made. Now I'm only talking about the good ones like Cool Hand Luke, Escape From Alcatraz, Cell 211, Felon, etc, and not the crap ones like Lock-Up and the like. I prefer my prison movies to be based somewhat in reality and not like the television series Oz (which was a fucking joke, by the way, in terms of its realism but somewhat on the mark with the issues it presented). Unfortunately the developer cites Oz as a major influence and it shows in the game-play.

Like the developer I've also been to Alcatraz but it was back in the day when actual Park Rangers gave the tour and you didn't just get a head-set. I remember they locked us in 'the hole' as part of the tour and it was very, very dark indeed. Now watching all those prison movies and touring Alcatraz doesn't make me an expert on prisons, now does it? No, it doesn't, but then again nor does it give the developer any insight into what prisons, or prison management is like. Now that's not the end of the world is it? I mean there are people developing baseball games, for instance, who aren't baseball stars aren't there? Yes, indeed there are, but I'd venture to say they've been to a baseball park along the way and have likely watched a lot of baseball.

The game is grounded too deeply in television prison. Can this be a bad thing? I mean, no one wants a hard-core prison sim now do they? Not likely, no, but the problem with television is, well, it's television and most of the time it's crap. I do realize I'm in the minority and that many folks watch, and like t.v. but that still doesn't make it an accurate portrayal of whatever topic it's covering. Police dramas, for instance, rarely show the realities of policing and how can they when they have to reach a successful conclusion in 60 minutes or less? Where's the case that takes a year to investigate and two to get to trial, and then three more while the conviction is appealed because the jury was accidentally informed that he had 214 previous convictions and may have formed the impression that he's some sort of criminal? That would be a long, boring episode.

It is obvious that the prison and inmates in Prison Architect are based on t.v. role models and I can't explain why this annoys me so much. It's likely the same reason shows like Oz and Prison Break annoy me- I know a bit more than most about the realities of prison (maximum security in particular) and trust me- those shows do not represent reality. I can't help, as I play this game, to wonder where the gun towers are, and the razor wire, and the 24-hour armed response vehicles which will shoot escaping inmates? I'm also wondering why maintenance staff are wandering about in the prisoners cells. Why aren't there aren't any tiers (with netting to prevent suicides and murders), control rooms, staff pods (with riot-proof plexi-glass) or double-bunking or, quite honestly, why no one is getting raped?

Most of this could be avoided by simply making it a medium security prison instead of a max. 'Maximum Security Prison' has a more ominous ring to it, I know, but 'Prison' in general would be better and allow, for me at least, the willing suspension of disbelief required by all works of fiction (games included). Did you know, for instance, that in Canada, Correctional Officers in any prison designated as Maximum or above are required by law to do everything in their power to stop riots and escapes including using lethal force? The law also states that failure to do so can result in jail-time (I know, ironic isn't it). This is why the constant escapes through doors that would quite be out of reach of the inmates, and upcoming features that let inmates tunnel out bother me. It's just not that feasible in the setting they have chosen and if they had simply done a bit of real-life research on actual prison instead of t.v. ones I would be less inclined to complain (ok, maybe not as I do love to complain).

The 'heirarchy of needs' is flawed. The inmates AI is based on Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs and this is problematic not because the theory may or may not be correct (it's only a game so it's not that important really) but because needs in prison do not mirror needs in life. The developer states that prison is a unique world with its own rules and he's right. The problem is he doesn't really understand it.

In the end I will, of course, take a look at the final product but the Alpha price-tag combined with some flawed development models means I'll pass on funding this one.