Zinedine Zidane Riding a Vespa Scooter Through Hammerfell [Guest Blog]

  06:37:21 pm, by Cactus   , 831 words  
Viewed 24573 times since 19/04/10
Categories: Welcome

Today's guest blog is by none other than long-time blog correspondent, r  . And an update, believe it or not, I've got my own blog planned to write. Crazy, right? I got the idea after reading the previous guest blog I posted and some of the comments about how people view Morrowind having played Oblivion first, and I think I have a unique take on that idea.
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The title of this blog is what you could consider an unlikely scenario in the Elder Scrolls universe. There are many others - Martin Septim raising from the grave and professing a fondness for cannibalism. A congestion charge being introduced in the Imperial City Market. Raminus Polus running into the Bravil branch of the Fighters' Guild in nothing but a pink bra and shouting "Celery!". The Ministry of Truth falling to the ground and wiping out Vvardenfell in a cataclysmic explosion. The Argonians invading Morrowind. Sadly, I'm not making the last two up. Greg Keyes made them up. Now, in my fanfictions I've had some pretty crazy scenarios - civilisation dying out on Vvardenfell after the rise and fall of the Sixth House, a plot by several Daedra Lords to destroy Nirn completely and something involving the Dwarves and a parallel universe that I haven't finished writing yet. But I make a point of coming up with scenarios that could realistically happen.

If you want to read that Elder Scrolls book that's come out I suggest you stop reading this now, because the rest of the article will be a mixture of spoilers and very bad reviews. This is indeed the backstory to The Infernal City, a story about a floating island whose shadow causes the dead to rise from their graves. As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, the backstory is simply not canon to everything that has happened so far in Tamriel's history. And since this is an official Bethesda publication, this nonsense is what's officially going to happen in Tamriel in the next few years. Firstly, there's a new Emperor with a stupid name like Sillius Soddus or Biggus Dickus or something like that. How exactly did he come to power? Emperors are supposed to come from a dynasty that has united the people and created the empire that they rule over. Chancellor Ocato can't just walk up to the nearest slightly regal-looking bloke and say "You'll do". And you thought Gordon Brown had an easy rise to power.

Then we have the business of the Ministry of Truth, freed from the grasp of Vivec, falling from the heavens (which if you go to where it is now, works out as a distance of about 50 feet) causing an impact so large that it makes a royal mess of Vvardenfell and most of mainland Morrowind. Now - there are two scenarios that could have happened here, according to my limited knowledge of physics. First, when the golden floating one froze the meteorite it lost all of its momentum. This means that if it then resumed its fall it would be falling a short distance from a position of rest, and would therefore make a mess of the Temple and that's about it. Second, Vivec stopped the meteorite in such a way that it retained its momentum, and would hurtle into the city at about the same speed as the lunatic in the Ford Transit who nearly ran me off the road yesterday. This would indeed cause a sizeable crater, which would probably make a good mess of Vvardenfell, bearing in mind that most of their population are located in and around Vivec. But it would of course kick up an enormous cloud of dust, water vapour and crumbled masonry which would block out the sun for a few weeks and probably kill everyone else too. At least this would give Umbriel plenty of dead people to resurrect, I suppose.

The last bit of lunacy is the Argonians deciding to break out the pointy sticks and conquer Morrowind. I'm sure that they are a bit bitter towards the Dark Elves for the aeons of slavery they've had to put up with, but could a race of primitive tribal reptilians who are used to fighting a guerrilla war in swamps realistically take on a race of adept and adaptable warriors who would probably run them through straight away with vastly superior weapons? As I said on the forum, this is a bit like a load of remote African tribes getting a bit hot-headed about the slave trade and deciding to take on the USA. I'm surprised that this book was allowed by Bethesda to be published. I imagine that if Jane Austen had followed the line "The Harrington-Smythes retired to the drawing room for a glass of brandy" with "Then a bunch of killer martians invaded with zap-guns" her publisher would not have been particularly impressed.

And to add insult to injury I've read the first few chapters of the book and they're rubbish.

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My Other Games

  08:57:36 am, by   , 674 words  
Viewed 15218 times since 11/04/10
Categories: Games

In addition to Dragon Age: Origins, I've been playing a few other things. Steam is a useful service, but it's downright evil when it comes to ways of separating you from your cash, and I've played several things I wouldn't have touched if they hadn't been on special offer.

Space Trader: Merchant Marine
This is one that I might have bought. I love space trading games with a passion that's faintly disturbing. This comes from a misspent youth playing the best game ever written, Elite, on my ZX Spectrum trying to beat all my friends in the race to become Elite. Since then I've also managed to spend far too much time on games like X3: Terran Conflict, which almost but not quite recapture that old joy.

Space Trader... doesn't even come close. The trading section is fairly well done and - at first - the combat sections are pretty good too. The trouble is that what starts as optional combat that's over fairly quickly soon becomes (essentially) mandatory and hugely time-consuming. I only played it for about 2 1/2 hours, but then it only cost £1.19 so I don't feel too bad about it.

Tropico 3 - Steam Special Edition
Think Sim City in Paradise and you get the idea. You have to build up your tropical island from a few rusty shacks into a sprawling Caribbean resort with expensive housing and thriving industry as well as making it a must-visit tourist destination. The trouble is that the local political situation isn't very stable and there might be a revolution. Or your army might rebel.

It's not as good as the Sim City games though. Each campaign is time-limited so you don't get to enjoy your city - it's a rush to complete it and meet whatever arbitrary objective you've been set. It also means that after a while, each game takes on a sense of inevitability. Build houses. Build school. Build clinic. Build logging camp. Etc. The only variation lies in an island's resources - does it have any trees to cut down or will you have to farm papaya? It kept me amused for some time and I'll probably go back to it at some point, but it's probably not for most people.

R.U.S.E. Beta
I got this because Steam made it available without me asking and because it was free. Since then I've seen a lot of hype about it and many people hailing it as a wonderful game.

Why?

It's not bad but if you strip away the pretty graphics it's just a real-time strategy with the ability to hide stuff and fake other stuff. For instance, you can use the fake attack ruse or fake an armor factory. Well any decent strategy player uses fake attacks anyway, and the Allies in the original Command and Conquer could create fake buildings so it's hardly a new idea.

Maybe it's just the beta. There's only one map and it's too small but other, larger, maps will make an appearance in the final version. I doubt I'll be bothering though.

Bob Came in Pieces
The plot for this little gem is pretty standard. Your spaceship has been stranded on a planet and you need to get spare parts to repair it. I've never played anything that does it so well though.

Your craft can be reconfigured using parts that you find scattered around the landscape. You may need to push something on the other side of a hole too narrow to pass through, for instance, so you have to string several long thin parts together. Or you need to hit an object really hard so you can add loads of rockets to one side of your ship to make it go faster.

Each level has a unique theme with puzzles to solve, some of which are very inventive and some of which are incredibly frustrating. Once you've completed a level you can try to do it again, faster, to unlock various achievements.

This is a brilliant, inventive game. I really recommend it.

In Defence of Dragon Age

  08:23:10 am, by   , 448 words  
Viewed 6947 times since 11/04/10
Categories: Games

I just read Dave's comments about Dragon Age and since my Internet connection seems a bit better today, I thought I'd add my own thoughts.

The comment about cutscenes and dialogue resonated with me because I had exactly the same thoughts when I started playing the game. The game seemed to involve large amounts of watching the screen separated by short periods of looking for things to click on. Later, this became large amounts of watching the screen separated by short periods of running around holding the TAB key down because I finally discovered that it showed me what was clickable. I played for about half an hour and then quit because I was feeling annoyed with it. The game seemed linear and dull compared to other RPGs.

The next day, I got the "I payed £30 for this thing so I'm damn well going to play it" feeling and reloaded. After a while a strange thing happened... I actually started to like it. Fast forward to the current and the Steam community page informs me that I've logged 136.9 hours playing it - including time spent on Dragon Age - The Awakening, for which I shelled out another £20. Given that I also bought the DLC, what changed my mind?

First, the combat. At first it seemed fiddly and annoying and, having had my backside spanked solidly by the darkspawn several times, difficult. Once I got the hang of it and stopped throwing all my characters into the fray whether they could handle it or not, it became lots of fun: which spell to use next; had my uber-attack become available again? Some might argue that a combat system which requires you to press pause all the time isn't very good, but I've always been more into strategy than action games so it worked for me.

Second, the story. It's well-written and succeeds in drawing you in.

Third, the other NPCs. They all have their own stories and after a while I genuinely felt warmly towards them.

Fourth, the voice acting. It's only when you see other games do it so well that you appreciate just how bad the Oblivion voice acting is. Not all of it's perfect, but it beats "You know, I saw your fight against the Gray Prince" into a bloody pulp.

Finally, I realised that it's not TES. This may sound obvious, but I often go into RPGs expecting Morrowind or Oblivion and that's not fair. When I started judging DAO on its own merits, I quickly decided that it's a good game.

I won't be spending as much time on it as I did with MW or OB, but I'm definitely glad I bought it.

Playing Games: Better Late Than Never Edition

  09:16:51 pm, by Daveh   , 840 words  
Viewed 4709 times since 04/05/10
Categories: Games

I'll start this long delayed blog update with another update on the games I've found myself playing in the past month or two:

  • Dragon Age -- This was in an earlier edition where I was trying (and failing) to play it on my laptop. Thanks to the wonder of Steam I reinstalled the game on my considerably more powerful desktop and attempted to start over. For some reason I didn't get very far before succumbing to boredom and moving on to something else. Perhaps it was replaying the start of the game over again, even though there were some differences playing as another race/class. Part of my lack of enjoyment comes from the feeling that I was watching more of the game than actually playing it. I don't necessarily mind well placed cut scenes or dialogs but I play games to actually play the game not spend five minutes listening to some NPC expound on the details of the last 100 years of history in an imaginary universe. I've never been one to really enjoy the lore of any game, just point my sword in the way the bad guy and let fate sort it out.

    This is one of those games I might pick up in a few years and end up enjoying but for now it will have to wait on my virtual bookshelf.

  • Fate -- I picked this up while traveling as it sounded like a decent Diablo-esque game that I could run on my laptop. Unfortunately, the game disappointed me from a general lack of "polish".

  • Torchlight -- This appears to be almost identical to Fate at first glance but while the game play is almost identical Torchlight has a much better finished feel to it and is overall much more enjoyable. It is so fun I caught myself thinking about installing it on my desktop despite having other games to play and finish.
  • Mass Effect 2 -- Although this game suffers a little from the "too many cut scenes" that I disliked Dragon Age for I enjoyed it much more overall. Its been a while since I had fun in a Sci-Fi action/rpg and the game doesn't disappoint for the most part. The strongest irk I have for the game is how the planet scanning and resource acquisition works. Its not really a bad idea but the "scanning" implementation could have been made better a number of ways and more fun as a result. My work and hobby of working with visualizing large sets of complex data (well, relatively large/complex I suppose) has me thinking of a half-dozen better ways to do it and almost has me looking to see if there is an editor available for the game (almost...).

    Although I have been recently sidetracked by the next game I fully intend to pick ME2 up again and finish it soon.

  • Mount and Blade: Warband -- When I was looking for a new game last month I avoided the original "Mount and Blade" game due to the relatively poor reviews from the various game sites and picked up ME2 instead (of which I don't regret). Last weekend, however, I noted a new standalone "expansion" available on Steam, although it is not an expansion so why it is labeled as such I can only guess. Reading some reviews I found that although the "official" game reviews were low (6-7ish/10) the "user" game reviews were relatively high (8-9ish/10) and the game actually sounded like something I'd enjoy. A long weekend and too many late night game playing hours later and it turned out I was correct.

    The "official" reviews are pretty much right in many of their opinions. The game's graphics are relatively poor compared to today's blockbuster games (not too bad though) and the overall game "polish" is low (probably the more serious charge). Fortunately, I've never been one to judge a game solely by how it looks. Graphics are great but it is the really the freedom, depth and complexity of the game play that attracts me. This explains my love of games like Dwarf Fortress and text MUDs which essentially have no graphics.

    What the official reviews seem to miss, but the user reviews get, is the game's freedom and depth. To a certain extent the world is open to play however you wish, much like Oblivion was. You are free to play as a "good guy" and take sides with a kingdom fighting and defending for them or take the "less good" path and attack caravans and villages. So far I haven't been able to play too much with the game's depth and get into advanced warfare or politics but I've seen the various options available to me should I have will and time to pursue them.

    For all that I like about the game play there are many things I dislike. Overall the game feels unfinished or underdeveloped in many areas that could have made it even better. I may well cover these in a subsequent blog article.

Another Blog I Didn't Write.

  10:16:46 pm, by Cactus   , 1270 words  
Viewed 10668 times since 04/04/10
Categories: Welcome

I seem incapable of writing for myself, it seems. *sigh* I'll try and change that as soon as I can. In the mean time, yet another guest blog, this time by newcomer Tom10320. Oh and guess what! It's NOT Morrowind-focused this time!! Enjoy.
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I’ve spent today in anticipation of writing this entry playing Morrowind, getting some experience on the prequel to Oblivion that I feel has gathered much more dust on my shelf than it deserves. And you know what? I couldn’t. In fact, I spent more time fiddling around with the Morrowind Graphics Extender trying to get HDR, SM 3.0 water and infinite view distance to work than actually playing the game. I succeeded of course, but that’s not the point. Morrowind just doesn’t feel right when I play it. I’m pretty sure that that’s because Oblivion has been getting in my way.

I first rejected Oblivion in December of 2006, dismissing it as ‘too much like Baldur’s Gate’. What I had seen from my brief glance at the back of the tattered-looking case was an RPG with too much colour and smarminess that would never run on my PC. And what the hell was that on the front? I replaced the box and went to try HMV. I was perfectly happy in my own little world for the next year after that. I never gave the game a second thought, patiently playing Unreal and Age of Empires on my (then) year-old PC.

So in December of 2007 I was rather disappointed to find that tattered-looking box in amongst my pile of loot. Still, better not make a scene, I thought. And I can’t argue – it’s on PS3. So after lunch, where I was stuffed with turkey, along with what felt like Georgia and most of Russia on the side, I snuck upstairs while the adults were moaning about next year’s Christmas and slipped the disk into the drive.

I was not prepared for the role-playing experience that befell me.

I spent the first three hours of my Oblivion career in shock, wandering about the City Isle (as I had not yet discovered fast-travel, which, while widely despised, was to become my best friend) and marvelling at the graphics, at how no two people were the same, at the rippling water, and at the Imperial Palace. All the while my TV sat making a beeping noise that for some reason only occurred while playing Oblivion. I was to listen to it for another 1200 hours, not that I knew it yet. I went on a killing spree in the Market District, looted the guards for their armour, wondered why ‘Methredhel’ could not be killed with my iron warhammer. A feeling, one that I’ve always wanted to explain but couldn’t, came over me during my first few hours of Oblivion, one that I have never had since. It was enjoyment, the knowledge that I was playing a damn good game.

Over time, I became used to things. The fast-travel, the levelling. I enjoyed hunting bandits and marauders for their high-level armour; I didn’t care that level-scaling was kicking in one bit. The moment I found my first Orcish cuirass was one of my best ever – I was to wear it for hours and hours, through the entire Main Quest. I was almost in tears when I sold it.

In August 2008, I noticed that Oblivion was the fourth in the series, so I went on the internet and found the first three. Great, I thought, more fun! I couldn’t find the first two for love nor money, so I went hunting for the enigmatic ‘Morrowind’. After 600 Oblivion hours, I had become well aware of ES lore, and wished to explore further.

Mistake.

Morrowind was nothing that I expected in any way. The visuals were dated. No fast-travel. My weapon never hit anything. The movement, dear Lord, was so painfully SLOW. And strangely enough, I missed level-scaling. Well, it was embarrassing getting owned by a Khajiit with an iron dagger while I stood in a full suit of steel armour. It went back on the shelf and I concentrated on Shivering Isles for a while. I forgot about anything except the shiny, easy-to-pick-up glory of Oblivion.

I soon realised that something was lacking in my experience. At first I thought that the giant mushrooms of the Shivering Isles were inciting some kind of random emotional response within me, as the last place I visited in Morrowind happened to be Sadrith Mora. But then I realised my problem. I was bored. I didn’t care for retrieval/dungeon crawl/assassination quests any longer. It was time I turned to one of the great loves of my Unreal world: mods.

I thought vanilla Oblivion was a good game. After finding a PC copy of Oblivion on eBay for about £10 and installing a select few mods onto my ageing, creaking computer, I discovered that it just couldn’t get any better. Texture packs, weapons and creatures to name but a few ran straight off the Nexus and into my Data folder with such speed that I forgot where I was going for a while. The mods alone added another 100-200 hours of playtime onto my already bloated Oblivion career. But yet something was still missing, and I began to think again about that nagging number ‘4’ on the title screen of Oblivion. Why did people love Morrowind so much when it was, for want of a better word, awful?

I considered digging back in to the Ashlands for a while, but a quick glance at the fog that prevented me from seeing my iron sabre in front of my tower shield quashed any thought of that. The brainwashing put upon me by Oblivion’s eye-burning HDR saw to that. I continued to believe that Oblivion was superior just because it had reflective water.

And so I lived in my own quiet little world for another year or so. I got a new PC, and Oblivion came back with a vengeance after a brief spate of Fallout-mania resulting in my admittance to the ‘UESP School of magic’. I never glanced twice at the weird star/moon icon. That is, until I wrote this.

Getting the chance to think about Oblivion made me realise something. I was doing it in the wrong order, wasn’t I? Through no fault of my own, I became a console gamer, attracted to large buttons, quest markers, 10-minute tutorials and simple combat, simply because that was what I saw first. But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t have the patience for Morrowind, hence my love of fast travel. I like my swords to hit when I swing. I like the simplicity that masks Oblivion’s huge and complex world.

This perhaps highlights why I just could not bring myself to even try to get to Balmora without a 13-cell view distance, animated grass and blurred distant statics. I couldn’t accept the gameplay without the visuals, and now that I have those, I’m beginning to understand the infatuation. But I won’t be joining those legions of fans, simply because I’ve had Oblivion around me for so long that I can’t imagine life without it.

I guess I’m just different, at least at the UESP. But I love Oblivion over Morrowind: a brainwashed, console-driven love, fuelled by HDR, temptation of instant transport and easy loot, but a love nonetheless. And something like that can’t be taken away.