Mike’s Prattle

Miscellaneous

Mike’s Vacation Report

Posted by Mike on January 5, 2009

Had a very lazy last couple of weeks, besides family stuff, which included watching my nephews for the first time on my own. Much nerdery after the break:The oldest is now at the age I can watch Doctor Who with him, which he seems to be really enjoying, we’re watching the first (new) series now. The youngest watches as well, but occasionally gets a little scared. Anyway it was what I grew up with as a wee 7 year old, so my younger family gets to as well. And speaking of the show, they announced #11, Matt Smith, a few days ago. I’ve experienced every regeneration since 4 to 5, so always remember this sort of feeling of panic when they’re first announced (this time it was “That guy looks like he could front Depeche Mode or The Cure with that hair!”, only to quickly warm to the new guy and to be honest I think they’ve made a pretty amazing choice, at least for those of us who don’t mind that the actor is 26 years old, the youngest actor to ever play the role. It makes me crack up to watch fandom throw their collective arms up in the air and threaten not to watch anymore, even though they all do anyway, at least to bitch. I’ve always thought if you don’t watch the show through childlike eyes, you’re not really getting it. The latest Christmas special with the gigantic Cyberking was loads of silly fun.

I watched quite a few movies over the last two weeks, but was most impressed with Batman The Dark Knight. I don’t usually like superhero movies so much, other than the obvious visual spectacle, but this one had some depth to it and was quite epic. I guess I’m not totally jaded with Hollywood yet. I ran it a second time while doing some gaming just to pick up a little more subconsciously.

Anyway I spent way too much time gaming, trying to find the new Oblivion basically. As I’ve said before I loved Morrowind, Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights and all of the official expansions. They all had their very difficult moments but all have the tools to save at any given moment, so that in the extremely difficult fights (which for these three games and expansions is basically the Dracolich in NWN: Hordes of the Underdark) one can actually save yourself through a difficult fight. After all in any initial fight you die 1 out of 50 times to that Dracolich, and much higher if you don’t save. And, of course, the Elder Scrolls games aren’t linear, so if something is too tough, you can come back later, even a lot later when you can tackle it.

So now I’ve hit a couple unbelievably stressful game moments and am wondering why I’m wasting my time with them. Maybe I just don’t have the patience, or at least I wonder at the people who do get past these moments, just how many times they go through a certain sequence to get past it. I mentioned the unofficial NWN nights mod in my last post, which I tried not to take too seriously as it was free and unofficial. But then I got in the Diablo Battle Chest box. Diablo 1 was a piece of cake, after all you can save your game. But Diablo 2, probably because it was created for Multi-Player, has a boss at the end of Act 1 that is insanely over your level. Some hint guide had her at 1000 hit points (something like 3-4x my own) and loaded with poison. That is, you try standing up to her you’re basically dead. The strategy, apparently is to port in or out a half dozen or so times. I’m running a Necromancer with one henchman, a golem, 3 skeleton mages and 3 skeletons and this boss takes them all out before I can basically breathe a word. I could spend the requisite time to do this, but it takes forever and I resent spending so much time learning a virtually useless skill. So either I do this or about 4/5 of the game is a waste. Because you can’t save your game and when you die, Diablo II dumps all of your equipment where you died, right in front of the boss. You can exit the game and provide for it all to return to home base, but that also resets the level, so you have to go through all the henchmen yet again. I marvel at the idea this is anyone’s idea of fun. And my first kit somehow didn’t make it anyway and I lost several nice items in the bargain all of which disappeared when I exited the game. I can’t fathom a time where I’ll want to spend this much time getting stressed out, wondering how many times I’m going to go through this. I don’t find it fun at all. But I’m also the type to never give up on a challenge so I’ll probably be back eventually.

And then I get in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Beautiful looking game, with similar controls to the Elder Scrolls games, much of the beginning is a video game version of Innsmouth. But it deals with the save issues by having periodic areas of the game with a symbol where you can save. I was a little stressed out in a situation where I had to do some sneaking, grab a couple objects and jet down a cellar door before a cop came back in. It took quite a few redos to do that. But it was nothing to the sequence of trying to escape the hotel room, book style, after staying the night. The sequence is extremely long and harrowing, one can barely miss a move without getting mobbed. You have to run through a door and bolt it, move aside a bookcase to reach another door (which somehow managed to already be moved later in the seqence), bolt it, run to the hall door, bolt it, run through another door, bolt it, move a bookcase in front of the hall door, run over, move another object away from a window, open the window, jump across to another balcony, run through a door on the left, push a table in front of it, run down a long hall without getting shot through the window, open a door, pelt down a stairway, move into a room with a crazy woman screaming, open her window (which I still can never really get right), jump the balcony, climb up a ladder, walk a plank to another balcony, and probably even more moves until you can get to the next save zone, all with a dozen or so loonies following you every step of the way. The more you get shot or knifed, the harder it is to see what you’re doing, so even getting wounded once makes it 10x more difficult. And I’m thinking, why am I doing this, who’s idea of fun is this? I get needing a challenge but making one so stressful, one you HAVE to pass to get to the rest of the game, just ruins the game.

So anyway my decision was to put the two to bed for a while and come back to them before I demolished something in anger. I started the old Baldur’s Gate for a while, which I had trouble getting into, probably because I wasn’t in the frame of mind to manage a 6 person party, but at least in this case I’m sure I’ll return to it given what seems to be a large world and apparently an epic and impressive plot.

So I installed Gothic 2 (some spoilery stuff from here on out), which at least for the time being, is the answer to needing a new Morrowind or Oblivion. It’s first person and with a huge, epic overarching story which doesn’t force you into the plot. It’s a tough one to get a hang of at first. First of all you start out so weak and useless that it makes every violent encounter a thing of true fear. This game actually makes the orc much more than the 1HD cannon fodder it was for D&D. Early on going up against even one orc means instant death and quite frankly the fear is so instilled in you that it’s a long time before you’ll go up against one, in fact when I finally decided to, probably around Level 16, I crushed the orc so hard that it changed the  game for me. Of course, going up against 2 was pretty difficult, but now I’m near the end of the game and level 35 or so, they’re not much of a problem.

Getting hang of the controls also made it difficult, they’re kind of the polar opposite of Oblivion, which means unlearning a lot. Even now every so often I slip into Oblivion controls and get creamed. In a way the Gothic controls are actually pretty easy once you get used to them, you hold down your mouse button to focus on an opponent and pick directional keys to attack. What’s cool about learning this is that you kind of progress as your character does. By the time you’ve increased your strength and weapon skills to higher levels, your character adds all sorts of cool fight moves including spins and such and it becomes nicely automatic. It’s similar in that way to Oblivion, that you have to learn how to fight every opponent in different ways and once you get the hang of the left and right swings things get a lot easier.

Anyway Gothic 2 works in chapters, which is kind of cool because each chapter rewrites the game map, increasing the difficulty. There appear to be two major game maps. The first which you spend all your time in Chapter 1 is the city Khorinis and its environs. For a long time you don’t move out of the city too much because encounters in the wild never go your way. At first even tackling 2 or 3 bandits in a cave is a near impossible task. You tend to spend most of your time running errands for experience, which is a nice way of getting used to a city whose geometry is almost entirely confusing. Lots of figure 8 type maps and a lack of a game map for a while made it difficult to know where I was. Even with one it could be confusing, especially for someone like me who seems to have been given a life penalty on 50/50 polar choices (I almost always pick the wrong one).

Like the Elder Scrolls games the worlds are pretty large and there are lots of caves and places you have to find to get into many of which have nothing to do with either the main quest or side quests. I like this a great deal, even if it means referring to a walkthrough every so often, the farther one gets away from a linear game plot all the better. One part of the overall map looped around almost the whole map. To go the short way meant wading through enemies initially way too powerful to deal with, going the long way often meant you ended up in difficult territory by the time the sun goes down. I somehow managed to explore some Incan styled temples with pretty powerful treasure far earlier than I deserved by hopping on ledges and arrowing more powerful enemies to death.

But even if this map was deep with so much to do, it’s nothing to the second “Valley of Mines” map. This is kind of the big deal of the plot, a castle in the middle under siege to dozens of orcs and your job is to get into the castle. I found this part of the game immensely fun as it really took some skill and thinking to do, in fact the answer was basically to look for an opening and RUN. One side of the castle had a huge wooden log and once you get to it you’re home free and end up getting a Teleport rune, so you don’t have to do it again. Even later on, when I had gotten powerful enough to take out orcs on my own, it still took strategy to go against groups of 6 or 7, including Orc Elites which make things difficult in numbers of 2 or more no matter how good your are. But I spent some time sweeping up around the castle for experience points, which usually meants arrowing orcs into a chase, running away from the onslaught and repeating.

But this part of the map is nothing to the environs around, wherein hide 4 dragons that are the Chapter 4 arc. They roughly line up elementally as fire, water (ice), air (swamp) and earth (stone) and really, by the time you get to them you’re usually powerful enough to take them out without too much fuss. But it reminded me why I missed dragons in Morrowind and Oblivion, the huge size, flame breath, etc give them an epic feel. Visually each area was totally different as well, big ice caverns, a volcano up to a craggy cliff, swamps with lizard men and sharks. Just fantastic overall, even with a powerful character it was always challenging, but not near impossible/stressful/frustrating like the games I mentioned earlier. The first time you take out trolls, golems, dragon snappers, fire lizards etc are really satisfying.

Now I’m nearly finished with the game, just a few steps before the final baddie and overall very pleased with the experience. No the graphics aren’t quite even Morrowind level, but they’re good enough to be immersive and I’ve gotten hours and hours of play from it. And fortunately there’s an expansion which I just ordered, although it meant buying Gothic 2 again in a batch of all three Gothics.

One thing about gaming I’ve found interesting is they almost eliminate the need for sleep. Stay up too late doing anything else and you’ll pass out on a couch or wherever in an instant, but I spent plenty of all nighters gaming without noticing too much.  Also, I can keep my cool at work in the most extreme drive-0by “we need the work right now” situations, but even the most dumbest of video games can piss me off to no end. I almost washed my OWN mouth out with soap. But weirdly enough these RPGs don’t give me, what did they used to call it “Nintendoitis” with the hands. Nethack used to do that to me, I’d play it until I needed to shove my hand in ice. No problems at all with these others.

Remarkably I feel pretty well rested on my first day back, although it helps there was nothing waiting for me at work. One thing I’ve really noticed of late is I’ve more or less dropped my music habit. I just don’t actually listen much anymore, even when I am using the stereo. I seem to have a detachment to just about everything I listen to now, as if I’ve lost the ability to be blown away by something. Subsequently, even with an incense thing going, I’m finding I have a LOT more free money than I used to. I could get used to it…

At the State, we’re looking at a possible enforced furlough here. It’s not in stone yet as our Union appears to want to go to court against it, so I’m not sure if it will actually happen, but the plan would be a forced two day a month vacation with the resultant loss in pay. Doing the math makes it a bit extreme, something like 1/11th of a paycheck but given it wouldn’t intefere with benefits it might not be so bad to have a bit more time off. My hope is they compromise with a one day furlough. I don’t like the idea at all that the State thinks only State workers should pay for the economic crisis though and think they should raise taxes across the board, but unsurprisingly there’s great resistance on the Republican part to doing so, part of this trickle down myth that just seems like so much “pro-rich” propoganda to me.

OK that’s enough out of me!

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