Friday, April 3, 2020

Blapril Day #4 - Totally Reliable Delivery Service

Human history is filled with records of desperate humans resorting to unthinkable acts in times of great distress.

On April 2, 2020, Mrs. Everwake and I were driven to an act of madness. Pushed to do so something so unthinkable that no one else as ever even attempted it.

We launched a game other than Fortnite from the Epic Games Launcher.

Scrolling through a list of games that were once claimed, but never installed, never thought about, lost to the obscurity of time, I chose a recent selection. Totally Reliable Delivery Service. Why? Does the hyena know why it laughs? Does the desolate night consider it's own darkness? Will Tim Sweeney ever stop lighting money on fire? Some questions are simply unanswerable.

We loaded into the world and were immediately tasked with delivering a box from point A to point B. This was made difficult by the loosey-goosey controls. Left mouse button grabs with the left hand, right mouse button grabs with the right hand. 'Q' and 'E' raise each respective arms. Walking is slow and unstable.

It's a physics sandbox along the likes of Goat Simulator, which I never played. The difficulty of basic movement is what makes the game what it is, but it also makes the game tedious to accomplish a specific task. The Mrs. and I quickly abandoned the pretense of delivering anything and simply ran around the map.

We found a draw bridge and raised it to it's max height. Then we got into the delivery truck and ramped over it. I made it, the wife didn't.

Respawns are quick and fast. So on we went.

We found a lovely boardwalk with a Ferris Wheel. She got in a cart and I turned on the power. Due to the difficult nature of the controls, she didn't get exactly into the cart.


Then it was my turn.


And on it goes. There seems to be maybe 40-50 little diversions on the island, either a new vehicle or perhaps a playground.


Eventually, the wifey and I found a hot air balloon and went for a little ride.



We tried to drag race a blimp but lost.


Then we found a light house and decided to end our hot air balloon ride by playing lawn darts.


We were the darts. We also missed.

We then found a mountaintop campground. Mrs. Everwake elected to take the sled down.


I went for the hang glider.


Not surprisingly, we got separated. I found a rocket base and figured that would be an expeditious way of getting back together.






It of course, ended exactly how you thought it would.



After testing the limits of the game's verticality, the Mrs. pointed out the difficulty of topping a rocket ride to the stratosphere. We played for a little under two hours and feel we got our money's worth. Which, for the next week is free on the Epic Games Launcher and also included as part of the Xbox Game Pass. I don't particularly think it's worth paying for, but it was a fun mini-date night in the middle of a quarantine.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Thunder Dome is the New Law

In times like these, it's important to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are actually are. I feel particularly privileged during this quarantine as I'm both young and healthy. Our jobs are not overly impacted by the crisis and we have a rainy day fund healthy to survive even the worst case scenarios of the social lockdown.

But then we lost electricity to an ice storm.

If you need me I'll be leading a band of Corona Marauders across the American Midwest. Mob justice is law and gasoline will be our currency. We will protect you, but we cannot save you.

...

Literally as I typed this the power came back on. We are fine. I will now return to my sweatpants.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Blapril Day 3: Same Old

A little late getting this post out, but then again, not a whole lot happened on the gaming front.

No D&D yesterday, the second session is happening tonight.

Animal Crossing is still slowly rolling on. Recruited my first villager from the Campsite. Naithin at Time to Loot remarked on how slowly things unlocked in Animal Crossing. At first I pushed back against the idea but now I think he's right. I'm about halfway through the second week of this game and things are starting to slow down for already. Hopefully the Easter event that starts today gets me interested.

And that's about it. I did play an hour of Faerie Solitaire Harvest but there really isn't anything say about that. Most of my time was spent reading my RSS Feed which has exploded as a result of Blapril. I'm gong to need to cut back somewhere, probably the more general gaming news sites like Destructoid and Rock Paper Shotgun. I think I read for 4 hours yesterday and finally emerged from my computer chair with enough back pain to sideline a horse. That's not sustainable.

Speaking of RSS feeds, I just noticed I was the 'headliner' for MassivelyOP's Global Chat article. It's weird and flattering to pop up on a site I've been reading for a decade or more. I'm sure my mom will be very proud. (And she might, she reads this blog. Hi mom!) It would probably be cooler if I didn't mention it at all, but I gave up on such thing years ago. Maybe I'll print the article out and put it on the fridge.

So yeah, a light day gaming wise, but today is looking promising. D&D, Animal Crossing Easter event, maybe finish up Shenmue 1, and try out a new early access Steam game called The Coin Game. It's an "arcade simulator" where you walk around playing crane machines, Stacker, etc. Not hard to see why a proxy of real life would appeal to me during times like these.


Monday, March 30, 2020

Blapril - Day 2: More Animal Crossing and Dungeons & Dragons

Today was our first real D&D session. Like many first sessions, it was all role play and no combat. Our adventure is taking us to a jungle along the Sword Coast, although we started the session in Baldur's Gate. At least I think I have the geography right. I know all these proper nouns by reputation, but I've never really played a D&D session or video game in these worlds. My only other D&D campaign took place in what seemed to be a generic setting. If I've played a D&D video game, I don't remember it, although looking at my game libraries I seem to own plenty of them. 

Anyways, we spent our two hours filling out the flavor aspects of our character, going over some of the technical aspects of the Fantasy Grounds Unity program, and setting our story in motion. Our party formed when we each individually answered the ad of a well known wizard. It seems there is a MacGuffin in a jungle that keeps people from resurrecting the dead. Consider how inexperienced we are in playing D&D, this might become a practical problem for us. Either way, we are teleported to a port town I can't remember the name of and then set off to the local tavern to find a guide.

I decided to throw some spanners in the works for RP purposes. My character doesn't drink and doesn't approve of those who do. He's also very evasive about spending money. Both are a bit out of character for a noble. There's obvious reasons behind both of these traits but I'm trying to slow play it and let the other players deal with those potential storyline threads as they wish. This is my first time taking RP seriously, so I don't know if I'm helping the session along or just being annoying.

As a side note, Fantasy Grounds Unity let's me use the /ooc command in the chat box. It's a dumb little thing, but reminds me of older MMOs who also have the same chat channel. MMOs take so many ideas from D&D, and here's a slice of D&D that's taking the idea from them. /camp does not begin slowly logging me out though.

Animal Crossing continues. I've made myself a little checklist of 'chores' to get through everyday. My goal is to move the 'storyline' along and unlock all of the features of my island while buying out all of the vendors everyday to increase the size of my catalog. I'm slowly saving up to pay off the second house expansion, which is 198,000 bells.

Today I unlocked the campsite. If I recall from the 3DS version of the game, this unlocks Amiibo functionality. I own every AC Amiibo figure and not a small portion of the AC Amiibo cards. I also want to unlock Scoot for my village. Scoot is the duck in my avatar for both Blogger and Wordpress.

I played several hours of a casual game called Faerie Solitaire Harvest, a sequel to the original Faerie Solitaire. They're not solitaire in the Microsoft Solitaire sense of things, but closer to puzzle matching games. They have a nominal story, progression, talent trees, things to unlock, etc. I tag these kinds of games on Steam as 'Busy Hands'. They don't require overly much concentration and can be played in a Windowed mode. It's literally just a game to keep my hands busy as I'll plow through my RSS feed every morning. The 50% off sale for the game was timed nicely, as my blog feeds have runneth over as a result of Blapril.

It's nice to see so many people blogging once more. I know it's a smaller number of people than during Blaugust, but I bet more people will stick with it during this event, if for no other reason than a lot of us don't have much else to do.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Blapril - Day 1: Animal Crossing and Dungeons & Dragons

This first day of Blapril has arrived and it's a good time for it. All the days these past two weeks have begun to blend together. It's a bit gauche to complain of boredom in a time when many would only wish they were bored, but it's the hand I've been dealt and it's the one I'll have to play.

Today was session 0 of the first Dungeons & Dragons campaign I've played in 4 years. It's functionally the second campaign I've been part of overall.

There have been some changes in four years. We're running D&D 5th Edition instead of 3.5, we're running only three party members instead of four, and of course the campaign is being run online instead of on my dining room table.

We ran into any number of technical hurdles this session, not the least which was Fantasy Ground's servers being down for the first two hours. We're using the Fantasy Ground Unity software, which is in beta, so trouble was expected anyhow. When we were able to get in, it seemed mostly functional. I like how the D&D Handbook, as well as all the other purchased supplemental material is seamlessly worked into the UI. If you're not sure what a feat on your character sheet does you can just mouse over it and get the explanation. A pretty useful bit of tech for someone who understand the D&D broad strokes, but not necessarily the actual execution. I do enjoy having the physical books, D&D material are fascinating reads whether you actually play or not. But not having to break out the tomes of law in the middle of a game session will keep play smooth and more focused on the role play.

With the server troubles, only our DM was able to log into our session. Discord's screen sharing feature, which was recently made available to all because of the Corona outbreak, came in clutch. We were able to build all of our characters live as the DM filled out our character sheets for us. I'll be playing a sword-and-board fighter with a noble background. The DM's girlfriend will be playing a Bard from the College of Glamour but with a mysterious past. Mrs. Everwake will be a Cleric following the goddess of agriculture.

Because of the self-sequestration, I've been subject to any number of teleconferencing software and am genuinely impressed by just how well Discord handles any number of needs. Having to dig out my copies of Google Hangouts and Skype have shown just how far we've come in this regard. Gaming communication on the computer has come a long ways in general. I never particularly hated using Roger Wilco or Ventrillo back in the day, but it would be hard to go back to such crude interfaces or having to rent servers today.

Animal Crossing continues on. I'm purposely not trying to munchkin my experience and have been playing pretty casually overall. Maybe an hour or two a day. I get my town center to today, which I know brings back Isabelle but I'm not sure what else. I've been focusing my energies and my Bells to populate my catalog. I'll leave the decorating of my house and island until I have more pieces to work with. I've played most iterations of AC since the GameCube edition, so this is all old hat to me. It's a visit to an old stomping ground during trying times.

Playing everyday does make me yearn for a vacation to a tropical island in my real life. For now my digital village will do.



Thursday, March 26, 2020

Genshin Impact - How many times can I say Breath of the Wild?

Like most beta invites that arrive in my inbox, I don't think I signed up for the closed beta of Genshin Impact. (It's possible that I did and just don't remember it.) But it arrived at a good moment as I obviously have nothing but free time right now. At first, it seems to be another generic anime-esque MMO offering that I would otherwise ignore. But having played it for a couple of hours it really is quite different. Well different from a generic MMO. In fact it's not an MMO at all. It's a rip off of Breath of the Wild. A fairly stylish looking one though.

The words 'Tap to Begin' are rarely a good sign for a PC game's quality.

It really is anime Breath of the Wild. The main difference is that Genshin Impact actually uses anti-aliasing and Breath of the Wild doesn't drop to single digit frame rates in the open world. It's closed beta so maybe they will get that bit sorted before launch, but nothing should ever chug on my RTX 2080.



I do think the combat feels a little better here than in BotW. Perhaps I'm more comfortable with keyboard and mouse controls. It doesn't have Nintendo's newest addiction, weapons that break every minute, so you can actually play the game without fumbling through the menus all the time.

(RANT ALERT: I HATE, HATE, HATE this constantly breaking weapons nonsense in BotW and Animal Crossing. This "feature" is a gigantic hassle that exists only to make the developer's lives easier. A developer can promote using a variety of weapons the same way Doom does it, by making certain weapons effective against certain types of enemies and in certain types of situations. You can stimulate an economy by making a large variety of interesting weapons, tools, and objects that you genuinely want to craft. But that's hard to do and taking away something you already have is much easier. If you don't mind it now, you're going to hate this stuff too when every game developer is copying it into their games in 5 years.)

In-game cinematic. Everything here is genuinely reachable.

It has the same cooking and crafting features that BotW does. It has the same endless gathering of materials that BotW does. It has the same interminable walking about that BotW does. It has everything that BotW does. Where it stands out is the inclusion of little things: hotkey special attacks, multiple party members that you can switch to at anytime, and an actual level system. I don't know if there are enough ideas here to separate it from BotW, but for anyone who just wants something to play between BotW and BotW 2 then you have your game.


The UI gets a bit buys at times.

Now that I know it's a single player game, I'm going to stop playing it and just wait for a full release. It's something to keep an eye on, but I suspect I may wait for it to go on deep discount instead of pre-ordering. I didn't love Breath of the Wild for any number of reasons and I have my doubts if I can take the overly cutesy anime aesthetic for long periods of time.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Phantasy Star Online 2 and Some Troubleshooting

Taking screenshots on the Xbox One is an awful experience. You have to press the big 'X' in the middle of the controller (I think it's called the guide button), and then press Y. This is in contrast to the PS4, Switch, and PC where it just takes a quick button press. And then actually getting a hold of the pictures is a pain in the butt. I can access my Xbox Activity Feed through a browser and see every screenshot that I took. But I can't right-click my own images to save them. It's like a crappy mid-2000s bit of JavaScript that disables right-clicking to protect their images. Except they're not Microsoft's images, they're mine!

Trying to share the images through the Xbox console app via Twitter causes a confirm prompt to pop up. Except that immediately closes itself before I have a chance to do anything. I have a bunch of screenshots on this device and absolutely no way of doing anything useful with them.

Then I found a feature hidden in the depths of the Xbox console itself to manually upload each screenshot to OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage product. This would actually work out just fine. If it actually ever uploaded my screenshots.


Did I mention the several seconds of stuttering lag the console makes whenever I take a screenshot? If the budget mobile phone that is the Switch can handle this without a fuss I really think the Xbox One S should do better. Maybe it's just certain games that cause it to lag out, but surely taking a screenshot can't be that taxing to the entire system.

You would think a software company like Microsoft would have had the ability to do something as basic as screenshotting and then sending those screenshots somewhere useful. Maybe if they weren't committed to changing the Xbox's home screen every two weeks they could get some of the basic features working better.

UPDATE: But alas, I have done it. Despite Microsoft's best efforts I have managed to download my own screenshots. The key is the Xbox Activity Feed that I can access via my browser. While the website won't let me right-click my own screenshots, I can use Firefox's built in 'Page Info' feature to scrape all the media off a page into a list of URLs. From there, I can pick out my screenshots from the various HTML flotsam, copy their URL into another tab, and then right-click and save them to my screenshots folder. Of course, it saves the screenshots in some obscure photo format that I then need to manually convert to .png. Jokes on you Microsoft, I'll turn your console's disaster of a UI into a serviceable piece of software yet.

Anyhow, on to the actual game.

I had somewhat played Phantasy Star Online back in the halcyon days of the Dreamcast. I say somewhat, because, as my friends enjoyed playing with one another on their broadband connections, I was stuck playing the single player version because of my 28k modem connection. PSO as single player is not a particularly thrilling experience. Take the controls of the first 20 levels of EQ1, combine them with the cramped, linear maps of the early 2000s and then repeat the exact same process for an interminable grind.

So I walk into PSO2 with more of a meta-nostalgia. I like the Phantasy Star aesthetic as a whole. It's a mix of high fantasy and sci-fi that is probably super common in the MMO space, but not one I experience all that often.


Graphics wise there isn't much to get excited over. The game is originally from 2012 and it looks like it. Some scenes look like they've been redone with contemporary anti-aliasing, others very much do not. Perhaps things would come together a bit nicer if I owned a Xbox One X, but that's not a purchase I'm going to make this late in the console cycle.

The first hour or two of gameplay are exactly as I always envisioned it. Lock on to targets with 'Lb". 'X' button for normal attack and 'Y' button for a power attack. Try to time your attacks when you see a red circle around your character to do higher damage. Dodge or block with 'Rb'. You can change the attacks available to you mid-combat but changing your 'palette' to a different set of two attacks, or by switching to a different weapon and getting another set of two attacks. It sorta works like the Guild Wars 2 combat system, but much less robust.


I'm playing as a robot, because why play as a human if you can choose to not. I'm playing as a female robot because apparently robots have a gender in the Phantasy Star world. I'm also playing as a female because PSO2 continues the long and grand tradition of featuring robust character creation tools that nonetheless make all the male characters look like tools.

Playing an MMO on a controller still feels limiting to me. The game itself is obviously designed with a controller in mind, so the gameplay feels perfectly fine. But there is a zero chance I ever chat with somebody using the software keyboard. It's just too cumbersome. If I stick with PSO2 I'll see if I can connect a Bluetooth keyboard to the Xbox One.


The story is some hand-wavy nonsense. We are a member of a military/expeditionary force called the ARKs. We go to some planet, the universe's bad guys are also there. we beat them up, we return, a vague cut scene alluding to us being a chosen one, yadda yadda.



It's nothing I wasn't expecting. It's an iteration of PSO1 and doesn't seem to be trying much harder than that. Which is fine, I wasn't deluged with 8 years of added gameplay features and events on my first log in. It's a gussied up button masher in the skeleton of an MMO and that has it's place.

Not sure if I'll log in again. It does require an Xbox Live Gold subscription which is a hard sell when I don't play other multiplayer games on my Xbox. But maybe Microsoft can throw some money Sega's way and also get this as part of the PC version of Xbox Game Pass. That's would be a great deal.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Animal Crossing is an MMO

How long does it take a self-proclaimed introvert to lose their mind in self-quarantine?

Nine days.

While Everdog and the Mrs. are taking naps, I'm running circles into the living room carpet. I may be an introvert, but I do have an agreed upon truce with the sun. I like walking outdoors. It's about the only thing I like to do outdoors. Normally that wouldn't be a problem even in our current Corona'd state: I live in a rural area where there's nobody walking around outside even in safer times.

The weather, however, has not been cooperating. We are in the Minnesota 'Fool's Spring' where after a brief respite from winter we have once again plunged backed into the sub zero (-18 C) temperatures. Combine that with another generous layering of snow and a jaunty hike has been out of the question.

(This hasn't stopped everyone in our community. We woke up this morning to find our driveway plowed of snow. We suspect it was one of our elderly neighbors. How he managed to do this without us hearing the roar of his mower is beyond either of us. That said, I obviously want to thank him, but I don't have his phone number, and with the virus' affect on the elderly I'm hesitant to meet him directly. I've settled on handwriting a thank you note and mailing it to him. Hopefully, we'll meet up after this is all done for a pint.)

I'm slowly but surely playing through EQ2 in the background, but my desire to actual talk about it has been negligible. It has the gameplay that I'm looking forward to right now, but there isn't much to say about the 15 year old content that I'm playing through right now. I'm on the final disc of Shenmue as well. But that game is even older than EQ2.

The release of Animal Crossing has obviously come at a quite fortuitous time. As far as I'm concerned this particular iteration of AC is an MMO. It's missing some standard features obviously: the closest thing to combat is whacking your villagers with a bug net.  If you think about it, it sort of plays like a survival-crafting game, which I consider a spiritual successor to the MMO genre. It's admittedly light on the 'survival' aspect of it (although getting stung twice by bees will respawn you back at your house). But the crafting, decorating, exploring, trading, and social aspects are all here.


You could argue that these features were always present in the Animal Crossing games. But the addition of quests/objectives/whatever-you-want-to-call-its in the form of Nook Miles brings the franchise's focus into sharp relief. We are doing chores to grind multiple forms of currency, gathering materials to unlock end game features, running errands for clothing, and earning reputation among multiple NPCs. We are a 40-man raid away from being World of Warcraft.

But is AC a proper MMO? More specifically, is it massively multiplayer? At first glance no. But there's real economic benefits to keeping a huge friend's list. Selling each island's unique fruit is a huge boon for cash. Furniture and clothing is randomized each day for each player. Additionally, I'm already seeing communities pop up again to take advantage of the game's clothing and furniture editors. The decorating community in AC is every bit as real as the one in EQ2.



Even if most player's don't max out their Switch's friend list with fruit trading pals, it's still there for the hardcore to take advantage of. And that's the reality of most MMOs these days. Most players are going to play solo and casually. Occasionally, they take advantage of social features to play with their friends, or form a temporary alliance with strangers. It's not a good way to meet groups of people, but most MMOs at this point haven't been good at that for a long while now.

If nothing else, it's scratching that MMO itch for me now. I'm slowly grinding away with my gathering, crafting, and 'questing' to slowly unlock more and more features. It puts the good stuff in my brain during a time when I'm trying to keep bad stuff from my lungs. It's taken the parts I like about MMOs and hasn't burdened itself with bits that don't suit it.

Although I wouldn't say no to some open world Animal Crossing PvP.

Monday, March 16, 2020

PC Gamer Demo Discs

It's nostalgia week at the EverFortress. This was not a planned event but more of a welcome surprise. I'm working through both Shenmue and my small PS1 collection at the moment, but something more exciting arrived via mail.


123 PC Gamer demo discs from June 2002 to September 2011. There's a couple extra discs in there as well, plus some non-PC Gamer discs I'll get to at a later date. On the surface, demo discs aren't generally that interesting. But they do make for a great time capsule of what was cool and interesting at the time, something I think we often don't remember as well as we think we do.

Now, I would have loved to get my hands on discs from the 90s. Not only is that more in line with what my nostalgia pines for, but the discs used to be games in and of themselves. In the 2000s, the demo discs came with a Flash launcher that really just doubled as a fancy way to get to the files on the disc themselves. The launcher doesn't work on modern machines more often than not, so I end up using Windows Explorer to get to the good bits anyhow. In the 90s the disc game were straight up mini-Adventure games, requiring you to play through some small amount of gameplay to get to some of the content on the disc, plus some Easter Eggs if you clicked around long enough. These gameplay bits usually had a surprising amount of FMV work, and usually featured the magazine's mascot, Coconut Monkey.

The batch of games also came with two slightly earlier discs than the June 2002 to September 2011 span: Holiday 2001 and February 2002. Since our current month sucks, let's focus on a December in 2001. Let's pop the first disc in.

PC Gamer Demo Disc 7.10 - Holiday 2001



I mentioned that the launcher aspect of the demo disc launcher doesn't work, but surprisingly it still loads no problem. I had to go find my USB-connected disc drive out of the tech closet. Lord of the Rings Online was in there, I have no idea why. The .exe autoruns with no issue on Windows 10 so props to Microsoft for keeping that seamless. Take that in contrast to Apple who just killed 32-bit programs on their OS recently.


Anyhow, let's take a look at what's actually on the disc.



Aliens vs. Predator 2 Multiplayer Demo 1.0.9.1


Well here's a logo that brings back some Nostalgic memories:
 

You may be as shocked as I am to learn that I couldn't find a single active server. In fact, just clicking on the menu item to launch a search for servers freezes the whole game. Maybe I was a bit premature with my praise on compatibility.

What does work is LAN play. Unfortunately, Mrs. Everwake, my video game lab monkey partner and love of my life, is leaving for a work trip so I'm stuck blowing myself up with grenades.


It does have that lovely early 2000s FPS vibe: dark, gritty, sci-fi, and industrial. I feel nostalgic for it now but I remember being a bit tired of the sameness back in the day.


I remember playing through Alien vs. Predator (1999) back in the day, but only the single player. I don't remember anything about this particular release; in fact, I usually forget about this series all together. But there always seems to be a new release coming out and the list of games in the series on Wikipedia seems to agree with me.



Either way, if plays anything like the other games in the series, multiplayer is asymmetric with marines being week but having numbers, radars, and stealth detection to try and kill both the Aliens and the Predator. I have to presume their is no DRM on the demo version of this game, so maybe I can talk some friends into playing a couple rounds with me later in the week.

Lineage: The Bloodpledge


Lineage shut down back in 2011 so obviously I'm not expecting this game to work, but it's fun sometimes to see just how far into the setup process I can go. For those not in the know, Lineage was an MMO Diablo-like that seemed super popular in South Korea but maybe less so in America. Syp from MassivelyOP has a Game Archaeologist article on it for full details.


Nothing much to see here. The game installs but then tries to update immediately.

We might be waiting a long time.

The 'Fiction" button disappointingly is just a hyperlink to a long gone website that redirects to NCSoft's home page. Shame.

Ghost Recon
So during installation, the Install Wizard offered to download the Ubi.com launcher, which I presume was an Ubisoft launcher that predated UPlay. It wouldn't let me sign for an account so I have no way of getting past the log in screen with it. 

Ghost Recon is one of those games that I think I've played. It's a franchise that is both ubiquitous and generic at the same time. There is always a Ghost Recon game, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you what the current one is called.

For some reason I couldn't get my screenshot software to work with the demo. Also the game sucks. It's basically Rainbow Six: realistic third-person shooting game where getting shot once pretty much means you're dead. You control a team and focus more on strategy and tactics rather than gibbing your opponent. I like the formula in Rainbow Six, where you are typically breaching small interior spaces and the game plays out more like a puzzle game. Ghost Recon tends to focus on large outdoor spaces where you need to discern the brown pixel of a terrorist from the slightly browner pixel of the distant hill or you die immediately. Pass.

Tennis Masters Series
I have never heard of this game in all my life. Also, the demo is apparently limited to 15 days or 20 total starts, which is a restriction I don't ever remember on a game demo before. Considering your limited to one game type, on one surface, with the same two people, hardly seems necessary.

But yeah its tennis. You move with the arrow keys and swing with ... 'I'. I don't know why they picked that key but okay. It's fine, it's not better than, say, Virtua Tennis, but maybe this was the best tennis game available on PC at the time. Who knows, and frankly, who cares.

Decent enough graphics for 2001 though.

That's all for the demos, but there's a bunch of other weird stuff on here.

700 hours of Earthlink 
An American ISP that is apparently still alive and well, although I have no idea what parts of the country they actually service. I also think they mostly do dial-up modem connections. Getting my Dreamcast online would actually be easier done with a dial-up connection, I wonder if I can still redeem this offer.

I am the administrator.
No combination of comparability tweaking will get me pass this prompt. Alas, I am not administrator enough to join the Earthlink ranks.

Coconut Monkey Fan Art
There are 14 pictures of Coconut Monkey fan 'art'.


I suspect they simply uploaded anything that was submitted. I don't remember how easy to use Photoshop was back in 2001, but I suspect it could create work a little better than this.

GameSpy
Now this feels properly nostalgic. The GameSpy software which mostly acted as convenient way to connect players online through supported games. Something we expect our launchers to do fairly seamlessly now.

Between GameSpy and the Ubi.com launcher, I'm beginning to think there was always a glut of launchers that nobody asked for as various players in the industry attempted to make themselves the "platform" for PC gaming. Time is a flat circle.

It takes a bit of setup but the program does run.






Of course, GameSpy as a service was shut down in 2014 and any game that relied on it for multiplayer stopped working. Some games got ported over to other matchmaking tools (like Steam) but most did not. The screenshot above is the server browser for Half-Life. I remember specifically using the GameSpy server browser for Battlefield 2, and when it was taken offline it became a huge deal. You can still play BF2 by manually putting in IP addresses of the handful of servers that still exist, but it's not as intuitive as GameSpy was.

Along with Ventrillo and XFire, I keep executables of GameSpy on an external hard drive and often reinstall them on new computers. I don't know why. Probably because I'm secretly 800 years old and unable to let go of a time when I actually had a social life.

Wallpapers
Although I use Wallpaper Engine for my desktop decorating needs, I'm pretty tempted to grab the lot of wallpapers from these demo discs put them in a slideshow. I've been toying with the idea of figuring out how to hook up an old 4:3 monitor I have to my modern computer, and maybe this is the reason that finally convinces me to do that. I've put all the wallpapers from this disc at the end of the post. Keep in mind that they are in 1024 x 768 resolution. I've not actually heard of some of these games, like Duality, Kyrne, or Midgard.

WinZip
I don't know why there is a trial version of WinZip here, but okay.

WinAmp Skin
This is a PC Gamer WinAmp skin. Remember how I said I was secretly 800 years old? I still use WinAmp. Granted, not as much as I use YouTube Music or Spotify, but I do still genuinely use it to play my ripped CDs and the occasional Internet Radio binge.


The skin only half works, the extended library panel, which I suspect was included in a later release of WinAmp, still uses my default skin. Also, the PC Gamer skin is ugly anyhow, even adjusting for a turn of the millenia aesthetic. Also, please ignore the Windows XP background, because I am, again, 800 years old.

Mods
There's a couple of mods here:

  • Max Payne Kung Fu
  • Max Payne Matrix Lobby 
It doesn't get much more 2001 than that. I distinctly remember playing the Max Payne Matrix Lobby mod on a friend's PC back in junior high. Like the titles says, it recreates the lobby scene from the Matrix movie. Since Max Payne was all about slow-motion 'bullet time' shootouts in kinda sorta worked. This was considered a peak of the modding scene if I remember correctly. Unfortunately, my copy of Max Payne is the PS2 version, so I have no way of trying this out at the moment.
 
Patches
There's also a bunch of patches for the likes of Half-Life, Warcraft 3, etc. Nothing you couldn't get off the official websites (or FileFront). But for my 28k modem self, the only way I had to patch my games was either these demo discs or asking my more broadband-fortune friends to burn me a disc with the patch on it.

In Conclusion
I have no plans on going this far in detail on every disc; it wouldn't be fun and nobody wants to read that. But I do enjoy the nostalgic frission I'm getting going through these things. I might collect some of the more interesting bits I find into a weekly best-of post.

If anyone wants any of the files these demo discs contain, just let me know. I'm certain a lot of this is already on the Internet somewhere but I doubt all of it is. I was also surprised to find that the CDs themselves were not uploaded to a place like archive.org, so perhaps I should use this Corona virus enforced alone time for some historical preservation work.



Duality

Duality

Grand Theft Auto III

Kyrne

Mafia

Midgard

Myth 3: The Wolf Age

Soul Reaver 2

Tomb Raider 5: Chronicles
 



Sunday, March 15, 2020

Return to Shenmue and Spinning my Wheels

Well this is normally where I would say "look at how much time I'll have for video games now that we're all practicing social isolation", but that would imply I ever left the house in the first place. I do feel less guilty about being an asocial blob now that it's the responsible thing to do. I suppose that's a silver lining.

Most motorsport racing on TV has been cancelled, leaving me with a void I was not expecting. I decided to race the Formula 1 season myself in F1 2019, but actually ran into problems calibrating my racing wheel to the game. My wheel can be turned 900 degrees, or roughly 2.5 half times to the left or right. Real life Formula 1 steering wheels tend only turn only 360 degrees. A big steering wheel with a huge turning radius is great if your a long haul trucker moving several tons at highway speeds. It's a also a good way to develop wrist cramps if you attempt to do this with a twitchy race car that weighs as much as me after a good meal. I think I've figured out the calibration settings I need to get that fixed, but I'll need to do some more testing tonight.

Impromptu nostalgia week continues unabated in the Palace de Everwake. I'm currently replaying Shenmue for the umpteenth time. I had actually 100% the game on the PS4 as little as 4 months ago, but my console has developed a tendency to corrupt it's "database". I don't really know what the "database" is that it's referring to, but at some point it erased every save that I had on the machine. And apparently cloud saves are only a thing if you subscribe to PlayStation Plus, which I don't. And since once can transfer their Shenmue saves to Shenmue 2 I was a bit annoyed by all this.

(I don't want to purchase another PS4 with the PS5, and it's rumored backwards compatibility, coming out in the Fall.)

One of the Humble Monthlies had Shenmue 1 & 2 for the PC included in a month where I already had a bunch of duplicates, so I ended up the Steam version that I'm playing now. Boy is the version of the game buggy. The game really struggles in cut scenes where it jumps from a 16:9 ratio, back to a 4:3 ratio, and then back again to a 16:9 ratio. I know the PC version was even worse at launch but there are still audio issues that I'm encountering every now and then. I also don't feel there is much advantage to playing on my high-end PC versus my base model PS4. The game does support 4K but the 2000-era textures tend to look worse for it. The game also seems locked to 30fps so there's no real advantage there. I've pushed the Super Sampling up to max but it doesn't seem to have any effect outside of causing frame rate drops at select moments.

Shenmue is very much a detective game where the main gameplay loop is talking to NPCs and showing up to events at the right time of day. So once you already know the game, playthroughs go through pretty quickly. This is probably the 4th time that I've played through the game: twice on the original Dreamcast, one on PS4, and this current run on PC. I've never made it particularly far through Shenmue 2 and I don't currently own Shenmue 3. I also want to play through several of the Yakuza games that I consider the spiritual successors to Shenmue. I'm hoping that by the time I make it through all of these titles, Shenmue 3 will be released on Steam and I can continue to ignore the Epic Games launcher in my taskbar.

I haven't thought too hard about it, but returning to an old open-world game probably makes sense. I was really looking forward to doing some traveling, possibly in Japan, this spring. With that on the back burner until possibly the fall or later, digital recreations are going to have to do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Long Time, No See

It happens every year. The chirping of birds, warmer weather, and the sunnier days. My holiday related video game binge comes to an end and makes way for spring. My willingness to goes outside cuts deep into my video game playing.

Not ideal for a video game-oriented blog.

But that's okay. Mrs. Everwake and I have been enjoying the rare bit of good March weather for Minnesota. Granted, good spring weather in Minnesota means a wind chill of 25F (-4C) instead of -25F (-32C) but we will take what we can get.

We visited Winnipeg, Canada over the weekend. Or as I've taken to insistently calling it, "The Peg". The only thing we had solidly planned was a trip to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, which seems to be a big deal to the people who know such things. We stayed in a downtown loft through AirBnB that was located maybe a 3 minute walk from the Ballet. You couldn't ask for a better location.

The ballet was named Moulin Rogue, but apparently wasn't based off the movie, it just licenses the name from the French cabaret. Mrs. Everwake enjoyed it, but I had trouble getting into it. Didn't help that I was still fighting a hangover. The ballet had enjoyable bits, but I'm not into the "core" of ballet. It's like playing a video game with good cinematics or writing, but you don't enjoy the core gameplay loop. There was a lot of "filler" dancing that didn't seem to move the story forward any, it was just dancing for dancing's sake. Or maybe not and I'm just ballet-ignorant. Either way, it was fine, but I'm not in a hurry to go back. I'd group ballet with NASCAR and soccer, things that seem more fun to do than to watch.

Other than that, we mostly walked around and enjoyed the restaurants, bars, architecture, and sights that we don't have access to in our small town. That's my favorite part of any vacation, the wandering about. The food and drink was generally not great, my usual instincts apparently don't work in Canada. There is a Spanish tapas place that we go to every time we are in town and it was solid. It also caused aforementioned hangover. It'll be a sad day if it ever shuts down.



Spring has also stirred up the feelings of hiking yet again. Having moved from a big city to a small town, my opportunities for walking about have been greatly diminished. We do however have access to a properly maintained 50 mile (80km) bit of hiking trail called the Agassiz Recreational Trail. My goal this spring is to hike the entire length over the course of two days.

I'll need to get my back into fighting shape so I've been taking small walks in both my boots and with weight in my backpack to gradually work myself up. My next goal is to walk the dedicated trails in neighboring Grand Forks, North Dakota for about 2-4 hours, and then take the first leg of the Agassiz trail the next weekend, which takes about 8 hours.

I'm also going to need some new equipment. I'm going to need lightweight camping gear, but I will also need a new backpack. I'm using a literal bookbag at the moment. And while it's waterproof and comfortable, my back isn't going to survive 30-40 pounds of gear on my shoulders. A properly fitted backpack will put that weight on my hips. I might accompany the Mrs. to the Twin Cities and seek out an REI to get outfitted.



Actual video game playing has been light, but I did manage to beat one game in the past week. Through our travels, we have been listening a podcast called Potterless. A man who has never read the Harry Potter series goes chapter by chapter with a different guest and recaps and comments on the series. It's basically an audio book club. It's pretty decent and a welcome relief from my wife's usual onslaught of 'true crime' podcasts.


It got me thinking of the Harry Potter game of our youth, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the PlayStation 1, which I had conveniently bought over Christmas while visiting the parents.

I kinda knew it sucked back when I played it as a kid and it's only gotten worse as an adult. It's only about 4 hours but seems so much longer. The story line is nonsensical, it follows the books for the first cut scene and then careens off to do it's own thing. Like jumping rivers of lava to get a plant seed. Or racing Peeves for the Invisibility cloak. Or fighting turtles who fart fire at you. You know, those beloved moments of the book.

It's a 3D platformer without a jump button and controls just as badly as a budget PS1 title would be expected to. Contemporary reviews pointed out how ugly the game was at the time and I certainly have to agree. I wish I had the capability of getting screenshots from my PS2 because some of these faces are doozies.

I think the Harry Potter games improve in quality somewhat as the series goes along, although they are all made by EA so I have some doubts. After beating the game, I've moved on to completing another PS1 title from my youth, Brave Fencer Musashi, although it's been hard as nails thus far so we'll so how far I get into it.

That said, the "spring" weather is proving closer to a "fool's spring", as the weather is now calling for several days of snow later in the week. So I might get a chance to finish it after all.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Backlogging - Killzone: Shadow Fall

Every time I tried to play Everquest 2 this weekend the game either froze at the character select screen or crashed while loading into a new zone. That's not very conductive to leveling up my crafters, which was my game plan.

My hand forced, I switched gears to a different gaming project: clearing out my console gaming backlog before the new round of consoles release in the fall. This isn't a strictly necessary exercise. If the rumors hold true then both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X will both have some degree of backwards compatibility. But I'm running into the problem of physical space for both consoles and games. It's probably about high time I start actually playing through some of these things and maybe purge anything I've decided I'm not in love with. It is almost time for spring cleaning after all and it can't hurt to get a jump start on it.

I have this thing where I like to play games in chronological order. Firstly, it helps take some of the decision paralysis out of deciding what to play. Just pick some parameters and then pick the first game on the list. I use GameFAQs for this usually. The advanced search feature let's me pick different parameters and then order the list by release date. Secondly, I like watching games evolve over the years and watch developers steal each other ideas and hopefully improve upon them. It's the stuffy English major in me, I tend to view art as creators having a conversation with both the audience and amongst other creators.

Anyhow, I'm only interested in playing console exclusives right now. My desktop is far more powerful than my base model PS4 or Xbox One S, so if I have the choice I'd rather play a game on PC. The PlayStation 4 was already conveniently setup next to my desktop because of my racing rig, so I went with that instead of the Xbox. The first exclusive launch title by alphabetical order was...:

Killzone: Shadow Fall
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: November 15, 2013 (NA)

There's no two ways about it: this is a pretty looking game. I have apparently not been giving this generation's consoles enough credit because the vistas and environments in Killzone are damn impressive. Especially for a launch game that only used half the system's available memory because they were working with dev kits that only had 4GB of RAM instead of the 8GB that the PS4 shipped with.

This is less true of things when you get up close. There are some ugly textures here and there, particularly near the end of the game where a developer's efforts always seem to lessen under the presumption that most players won't actually get that far.  The game also retains that "chunky" face on NPCs that most seventh generation games had. It's not Oblivion bad, but the NPC you tag along with the second half of the game looks like took some bad bee stings to the noggin.

If your game doesn't do faces particularly well, maybe don't have cut scenes that highlight that.

This was the biggest PS4 exclusive on launch, so Guerilla Games were clearly under orders to make the game look as pretty as possible. Unfortunately, the overdid it a bit. On some of the more wide open levels, there is so much foliage that actually finding enemies or objectives because tedious. 

The core gameplay loop is fairly simple. First you scan an area to get X-ray vision of all the enemies and objectives in an area, then use your drone to provide a distraction while you flank the enemy and shoot them dead. Occasionally, you get an enemy type that needs to be stunlocked by your drone. Sometimes you need to do basic puzzle solving. The gameplay isn't terribly deep, but for a 10 hour or so campaign it doesn't overstay it's welcome too much.

The gun play is decent. I feel like in the post-Destiny world every shooter wants to pad out it's run time by making every enemy take entire clips to kill and Killzone mostly avoids that. (It pads its length by having unskippable scenes of your character very slowly riding elevators or conveyor belts. Very, very slowly.) Even with my potato aim on a controller I was able to kill enemies fairly decisively.

The gun variety is incredibly poor. There is a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a rail gun, a Gatling gun, and 4-5 different assault rifles with next to no differences between them. I don't know why there are so many assault rifles in this game. They may have slightly different zoom or power, but they are more or less indistinguishable. Maybe it makes sense in the multiplayer, but it serves no purpose in the single player.

I was surprised by how much narrative there is in the game. I was also very surprised by how much I really needed to have played the previous Killzone games in order to understand the plot to this one. I picked up the first Killzone game for $5 this weekend, so maybe I'll start playing through the series soon. The quality of the story is fine. It's a war movie but in space. There's a lot of "big reveals" that were probably pretty cool to people with an understanding of previous games. The story line did get confusing in parts. There is some incredibly poor audio mixing in the game, where background noise is louder than the dialog, resulting in me missing out on important story information. I didn't even realized I had traveled to another planet at one point until I read the story line summary on Wikipedia after I had finished the game. It also does that annoying thing every fantasy or Sci-Fi work does where they name drop a bunch of proper nouns and expect me to actually keep tracking of all of it. It was cool when Tolkien did it. Nobody is doing it for generic shooter #75,648.

All in all, it was fine. It would be a rental if that was still a thing. On 'The Grand Everwake Scale of Reviewing Things'. It was a 3/5. It was slightly above average. If you are a hardcore shooter fan and don't mind playing with a controller then it's worth the $10 or so it goes for used. For most people its probably a pass.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Everquest 2: The Enchanted Lands

A work project from hell combined with actual socializing have conspired to keep me from playing video games.

I've never cared for this being an adult thing.

The work project itself wasn't really the problem. Unclear expectations from the client led to a lot of staring at the screen and wondering what in the hell I should be doing.

Thankfully I had the good sense to charge by the hour on this one.

Last weekend was also Valentine's Day. Which is also Mrs. Everwake's birthday. And the anniversary of our first date. And her work's rescheduled Christmas party.

I did find the time to get some gaming in. More particularly I bought a dedicated frame for my racing wheel and pedals.


The racing wheel itself works on a clamp system, and the only piece of furniture I had in the house that fit with these clamps was the wife's desk for her computer. Obnoxiously, she insists on using her computer so playing Gran Turismo required the setting up of the hardware every single time.

The rig alleviates the need for this. Now I just have to slide it's bulk slightly to the right to line up with my computer's monitors and away we go. It's pretty much a perfect solution. Except it seems to collect an extraordinary amount of dog hair. I don't know why.

The culprit.
As a result, I did Gran Turismo Sport's version of their "license tests". In the series, these tests are a series of challenges that teach one the basics of how to drive a fast car. They always start with obnoxiously easy tests such as accelerating in a straight line and then breaking. But by the end they are usually the hardest challenges I've ever experienced in a video game.

GT Sport's version of these license tests are far from the hair pulling difficulty of games past. Since this was a niche release meant to focus on online racing I can sort of see why it wasn't made a priority. But really, if more people had to go through a significant challenge on how to actually drive their car, then maybe online racing wouldn't be the clown show it currently is.

Either way, the last test still took about 15 tries for me successfully gold medal, but the deed was done.


The achievement says that 9.7% of players have got all gold on these tests. I thought that number seemed high but it makes sense. It is easier than games past. Additionally, this game was not well received on release, and was probably only bought by diehards. I don't think a game that featured almost exclusively online competitive racing on release attracted a lot of the mainstream crowd, especially since "realistic" racing games are a dime a dozen these days.

I haven't made it very far in my Everquest journeys. Working from home means that procrastination is my number one enemy, and MMOs are just too good a vector for that.

I did knock out the Enchanted Lands, an original zone that only covers the 5 levels, 30-35. I think it's better for that however. Previous zones were way too reliant on grinding placeholder mobs and stupid amounts of traveling to pad out game time. The Enchanted Lands isn't too much smaller than the Commonlands and Antonica, but is able to rely a bit more on actual gameplay because of it. It does feel like maybe the zone was simply rushed at released. Most of the questing is concentrated to about half the zones. The northern half is barely used at all. It's fully populated with mobs but there aren't many quests. I wonder what led to that.

This is the first weekend in a while in which I can play games guilt free. It's also shaping up to be one of the first weekends with a wind chill above 'doesn't hurt to go outside'. I might dig out a little spot on the back porch and play Switch outside just because I can.