Monthly Archives: May 2014

Am Playing: Bioshock 2

Today in Bioshock 2: Who keeps a cat in a bird cage, and other questions raised by Rapture.

cat in a cage

As I started Bioshock up yesterday, I was still feeling pretty conflicted about Grace Holloway. To recap, she’s the jazz singer ostracized and blacklisted by Ryan in Rapture’s heyday for singing protest songs. She’s befriended by mad ole Doctor Lamb, and eventually given guardianship of Lamb’s daugher, Eleanor. Grace is barren and madly wants to be a mother, so she takes to this like a dragon to gold. Naturally, then, she despises me — Big Daddy Project Delta, who was once Eleanor’s companion. Grace isn’t a splicer, and she’s not really all that insane. In fact, she’s nearly sympathetic. Except.

Except, as she whips up the post-Ryan-Rapture “Family” (read:splicers) against me, she harps on the fact that I’m out to kill their precious babies. This is a pretty cunning move, actually, because some of the female splicers do still initially react to a big daddy with a little sister as some sort of molester level monster. Only, after that, they do try to TEAR THE CHILD APART for ADAM. And therein lies the rub! Because Grace isn’t insane. She knows what the splicers want to do to little sisters. And Big Daddies stop that from happening. Which means that somewhere in her soul she believes death for little sisters is preferable to a life as mindless ADAM mining machines.

These pictures of surface life made me sad.

These pictures of surface life made me sad.

It’s probably a fair assessment — life as a little sister is no good. But it discounts the idea of redemption. I suppose Grace doesn’t know about Dr. Tenebaum, or if she does it makes sense that she wouldn’t trust her. After all, Tenebaum CREATED little sisters, so why trust her to save them? But my knee jerk reaction is to despise Grace for what could be some massive delusions.

Not creepy. Not creepy at all.

Not creepy. Not creepy at all.

At any rate, while going mad listening to the big-sister-music-bug (wherein the Big Sister warning music plays on loop in Pauper’s Drop), I go searching for the key so I can leave behind this splicer infested hellhole. As far as horrifying places in Rapture go, this is pretty low on the list. Sure, there are some hanging people in some of the ruined hotel rooms, and sure, there are some mad splicers pretending to be dead (my least favorite kind) but there are far fewer cult altars and torture scenes and insane doctors waiting in the fog than in other parts of the city, so overall it’s a win.

This pageboy had some unfortunate mutations

This pageboy had some unfortunate mutations

There are a few interesting journals along the way. In one, you learn that there’s a needle (EVE, perhaps?) scheme going on where every part hopes to cheat another party. Pretty sure there’s some major plot information here: whatever mutation is causing this madness, it would be easy to see it coming from infected needles, spread by careless packers after some quick cash.

trouble brewing

Also, Grace’s hideyhole is behind her own private apartment. There are some journals left behind by a growing Eleanor who is growing more and more impatient with her mother’s prohibition on interacting with common folks, who Eleanor calls Dog-Eaters. It’s the first time I can remember hearing this terms, and I’m curious about what it means. Eleanor is developing a crush on one of them, any how.eleanors room

And then there’s Grace, having a breakdown in her journal over Eleanor being missing. THIS is what swayed me in my final decision in Pauper’s Drop. For better or worse, Grace loves Eleanor, and in her Dr. Lamb influenced mind, she is doing the best she can for her. So when I found her in her little hideyhole and she told me to kill her, I walked away. (Lamb was TOTALLY unimpressed by this and snarkily informed me that planting doubt in Grace’s mind wasn’t going to change HERS).

grace sorry

By the way, Sinclair speaks up on behalf of Grace before I go in — he reminds me that what I do is totally my decision, and that he wouldn’t blame me for killing her, but… I ALMOST am starting to like Sinclair. Nearly. But not really.

sinclair

Grace redeemed and the key in hand, I skeedadle out of there. The splicers were setting up machines to destroy me, the bastards, so I took every back route I knew to find my way out and back to the train. But JUST IN CASE you thought things would go smoothly, no. It’s time to meet the next insane cast member in this house of horrors, Father Wales. We are introduced by a MISSLE that he shoots at my train. What a dick.

I’ll talk more about him when I finish this level, but let’s just take a look at what’s going on in the very first level of Siren Alley.

I THINK that's an altar dedicated to the killer of Andrew Ryan (aka, my character in Bioshock 1)

I THINK that’s an altar dedicated to the killer of Andrew Ryan (aka, my character in Bioshock 1)

Honestly Father Wales. I get it. Ryan's Herod. I SEE.

Honestly Father Wales. The religious symbolism is going a bit overboard. Ryan’s like Herod?

Um.

Um.

UM.

UM.

I can’t wait to meet him and see more of his insanity.

Limbo death count…unpublishable.

I tried a little experiment this weekend. I decided to keep track of how often I died in Limbo, which yes I am STILL playing because I have to rage quit after about 20 deaths in ten minutes. Limbo. NOT my wheelhouse. On the other hand, I am fairly sure it’s improving my reflexes — I made a spectacular jump on my first time through a level because I just sensed I’d have to.

 

Freaking Limbo. By the way, 20 deaths in ten minutes is not an exaggeration. I am SURE I would be better at it on the computer (these are the things I tell myself).

 

A weekend of solitude has done wonders for my mood and my productivity, which in turn has done a lot for my desire to play video games again. I did NOT end up having to work on Sunday, so aside from chores and some dog walking I got a lot of decompress time. And, I’m not going to lie, a big chunk of this blog is a bit of an ego stroke for me. Not in the sense of oh look, what a good gamer I am — in fact, I feel the opposite most of the time. More in the sense that I like writing and, uh, like reading what I’ve written.

 

So, back to the daily grind! I already spent about an hour in Rapture wanting to wail at the music (chasing down Grace Holloway) (JESUS those STRINGS what the hell Bioshock). Frozen  Thursdays returns this week again and so does some more Wildstar. Hopefully there’ll be some Worms or other steam games with those guys too. Yay, energy!

It’s the start of the season

Which is my excuse for not really having gamed, thought, moved or written for about two weeks. Here’s what’s on my mind.

If I ever told my 16 year old self

that I’d be over the moon at the possibility of walking to a store instead of driving, I’dve done what 16 year olds do: rolled my eyes scornfully. But the cape has a lousy infrastructure for almost everything, and that includes pedestrians. In Dennis, Old Bass River Road and Setucket Road are both crawling with walkers and runners and bikers because they are some of the few places with sidewalks.

There are tradeoffs. We have amazing amounts of trail lands available — I have been cycling between the Indian Lands, Harwich’s Bell Neck Preserve and Crow’s Pasture, but that’s only scratching the surface of what’s available (there are at least two 20+ acre parcels within a five minute drive of my door). But car reliance isn’t ideal, and it’s certainly not ideal for me. When I was 16, Jenna and I walked EVERYWHERE. Half the time we didn’t wait for a bus because it would take longer than just WALKING. I like walking! I like walking TO places. It’s so satisfying, even if (especially here) people look at you like you’re completely insane for not driving.

Someday I’d like to explore all the walking trails on the Cape, starting at Race Point and moving on down. Just, not in summer. However, summer or not, I’m thrilled to be walking to Whole Foods most days — I CAN WALK TO LUNCH. I can WALK. TO LUNCH.

IMG_0191

Meanwhile,

as I walk I’m continuing to slog through my media backlog, which has me listening (relistening) to Cabin Pressure. I first heard it back when series 2 was just coming out. I had seen someone (maybe Not Martha?) recommend it and ask for other good suggestions for radio shows. I picked it up because British and Funny is my wheelhouse. This is before Sherlock (or at least before I watched Sherlock) so I found it charming for reasons that didn’t involve listening to Benedict Cumberbatch talk. Now, of course, I’m charmed for those reasons AND listening to Benedict Cumberbatch talk. It’s such a fantastically well done show. John Finnemore is a very, very talented writer and also hilarious. I sometimes find myself singing “here I am don’t tread on me” under my breath… Arthur is easily the best part of the whole show (BC’s voice notwithstanding).

IMG_0229

 

It’s very comforting to listen to.

IMG_0201

 

It’s been a very quiet day. It’s supposed to rain this afternoon which actually is good news because the paths will be abandoned. Rain isn’t so bad on a walk, it is nice and cool and I …

 

When I’ve been walking lately I’ve been thinking about a certain Cape Cod weather that goes right to my soul. I can’t pinpoint why, only that more than a hot summer day, more than crows and birds in the morning, more than low tide, this atmosphere leaves me feeling grounded and nostalgic. It’s grey — definitely has to be grey. Humid, but chilly. Windy. And late afternoon. Fog is a definite plus.

 

I think it’s because a lot of summer days on the Cape end that way, the ocean cooling down the air. So I remember coming inside after a long day, out at the beach or just running around my grandparent’s pond, and the lights would be on and everyone would be exhausted, settling down with movies and books and staking out a free chair or spot on the rug, and the doors would still be open and the ceiling fan on, and everything would feel a little chilly, a little damp…

IMG_0611

And then I’d go to bed, in the basement peach room where everything was a little musty, and I’d lie on the bed and still feel like I was floating on the waves or rocking in the hammock every time I closed my eyes, my body remembering what it was like. And the basement was almost always cool but the windows would be open anyway, and I’d listen to the dock clink a little ways off, and voices float out of the open windows upstairs.

 

So when I walk through the woods and the air is cool and damp and the wind is blowing and the skies are grey, I get a little shiver of memory.

Am Playing: Worms

Worms is like the stages of grief personified.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Many stages in one picture.

Denial:

It wasn’t me that just tossed that holy hand grenade, it was Pilo. Go after her.

Anger:

Did you seriously just throw a farting old lady at me, Payback? You will pay.

Bargaining:

Hey, friend, you don’t need to do this. Wait. Jordan. I’m your buddy. What are you doing with that baseball bat?

 

Depression:

I only have one worm left. How did this happen? We started so well. I have no hope of winning.

Acceptance:

If I’m going down, I’ll take you all with me. Bastards.

Diablo’s been fun, but I was starting to get a bit bored with it. I get the allure — the excitement of seeing a big orange pillar from the sky — but I found myself not even engaged enough to change my spec up when I got an amazing weapon. Diablo’s story is excellent, the game play fantastic and the stress relief practically astronomical. But, I wasn’t feeling it anymore, and thus was thrilled when Payback texted that we were going to play Worms instead for a night. A change of pace was just right.

Also, nice Discworld reference, devs.

 

discworld

Meanwhile,

Baxter and I trotted through Crow’s Pasture again on Monday. This is currently my favorite walk, because it feels like a moment frozen in time. You can’t really hear the road from there, unlike either of my other wood walks. And you walk through the marsh and it feels like it could be the 19th century. The woods are crisscrossed by old stone walls and fallen trees, silvery on the side of the path. Snakes and small rodents rustle in the weeds, and seabirds and songbirds rustle in the trees. Quivet Neck is one of the loveliest places on the Cape, and Dennis is lucky that their conservation department has worked so hard to keep pieces of it completely pristine.

IMG_1113IMG_1118

It felt good to have a quiet weekend after the whirlwind of many weeks. Even though I just got back from vacation, a few days of work erased any lingering relaxation and brought me right back to reality. It was a good weekend to keep it quiet, to enjoy the lovely weather, to sit on the deck and watch the orioles in the peach tree flirt.

IMG_0174 IMG_0177

Am Playing: Interplanetary

So this is embarrassing: I broke my mouse playing Diablo. I mean, it’s not all that surprising — it’s a four year old, much beloved mouse that has not been gently used, but I feel a little bereft about it. Poor little mouse. I hardly knew you, and off you go to the recycling heap.

Anyway, that made things a little complicated for Frozen Thursday, which is back. No longer frozen, but back. I couldn’t play any game that required right clicks, which is most of them. Choo suggested Interplanetary, which he’s been talking up. I was reluctant, right? I have this lingering feeling that I hate strategy games, even though I had that whole epiphany about Civ. It doesn’t require a whole lot of right clicks, though, and it’s turn based so I wouldn’t have any pressure.

overview

I loved it. It’s an early access game available on Steam for $9, and it feels a bit Civ like. You start the game on a planet in a solar system. My planet was a bit mars like, and Choo’s was very earth like. The tracks (inner/outer) don’t really matter — it seemed to take about the same time for both of us to lap the sun. As a side note, I seriously recommend against staring into the in game sun. It’s no bueno for the eyes.

Your planet comes equipped with five cities. You need to protect those cities, and take down your opponents’  cities. Resources consist of Energy (building and powering weapons), Material (building) and Intelligence (information on your opponents city). Like civ, there are tech trees that you fill in based on your play style. As far as I could tell, there’s only one way to win (annihilation) so I initially was dismissive of the defense and intelligence tech trees. I eventually realized how wrong I was.

There aren’t a plethora of buildings that are available to you, and certainly not initially. You can have mines to bring material in,  solar power plants to power things, rail guns for offense and kinetic defenses for, um, defense. As you explore your tech trees, you can add things like nuclear power, lasers (SOLAR lasers!), missiles, etc. It’s the lasers and missiles that made me realize just how valuable intelligence (and thus counter-intelligence) is — intelligence lets you track down the buildings on your enemy’s planet, so you can guide your missiles and lasers appropriately. I can tell you from experience that firing a laser blind is practically useless and not worth the energy. You might get lucky, but it feels a bit like the first round of Battleship. (hey speaking of battleship, remember how they made a movie about that game? I’m now wondering exactly what kind of awful story they built to make that happen. Did you have submarine commanders in a control room firing blindly on some sort of map? I don’t care enough to look it up, though).

Energy renews every turn (how much you get is determined by the number of plants you have) but material only builds based on your mines. And your planet has a finite amount of material, so building smart & using energy wisely is pretty key. As you gain more weapons, you have to start balancing building new things, repairs from enemy damage, and energy to power your own attacks. Late game, it seemed to make the most sense to not bother repairing damaged mines, and I sacrificed a few kinetic defenses here and there.

Obviously, you need a little bit more complexity than this to make it a fun game. And that’s where firing comes in. When you fire, you do so from the overview as in the screenshot above. See those other planets and also the sun? You have to route around those and their gravitational pull. Add to that the fact that your planet is constantly revolving (in multiple directions) and sometimes you’re stuck trying to fire a missile around your own planet, across the sun and onto the other planet. Which is also still moving on its path, so you have to lead your attack to where you think the planet WILL be. Likewise, you have to think about where you’re going to place your next weapon based on what side of your planet will be showing and will give you your best shot of hitting your enemy.

DESTRUCTIONStill, this is a fun moment.

You lose when your population hits zero and you have no cities left. A good rail gun attack will kill as many as 500,000,000 people, so basically you are a horrible, horrible person. There’s no feeling good about yourself in this game. I was shocked at the joy my citizens showed at our victory. Like, they should be beaten down and miserable. TRILLIONS OF PEOPLE HAVE DIED you monsters. (Population rebuilds over time, and one of the techs gives you a boost to population growth).

Victory

I won, but it was either luck or Choo let me win. PROBABLY the latter. But I had a blast, and it was another gentle reminder that I DO like turn based strategy. Sheesh.

 

Obligatory Vacation Post

I took the red eye home from California yesterday.

Somewhere around Detroit I turned off the sitcoms I had going on the in-seat tv and lifted the window shade (it was dark, wouldn’t annoy my seatmate) and stared out at the sea of lights beneath me. Travelling at night is always a bit melancholy, and since this past sun soaked week had been such an escape from reality, it was hitting me harder than normal. The National were singing in my ear

It takes an ocean not to break

and I was arguing with myself about a good attitude. After all, I had a week to decompress. I should be relaxed.

IMG_0141 IMG_0143 IMG_0142

 

As we started out descent into Boston and got through the cloud layer, I looked at the state laying itself out below me. I love Massachussetts. I love Boston. But it’s not full spring yet, and everything was a bit brown and dingy, spotted here and there with innumerable lakes and ponds. I could see the spread of the bays and the Atlantic beyond. The sun was just rising, and I looked down and just felt a bit lost. I’m sure, had I managed to sleep on the flight, I would have been greeting the sight with a happy heart.

But this is what I left behind.

IMG_0066

The pool I spent every morning at

IMG_0095

Mountains! and the beautiful beautiful california flowers

IMG_0119

Hill walk in Ventura

IMG_0125

Look who I found!

IMG_0112

Santa Barbara botanical gardens

IMG_0097

Lavender

IMG_0096

Mountains and ocean in the same view. My heart went pitta pat

IMG_0071

I seriously couldn’t get enough of them.

IMG_0113

Redwoods!

IMG_0101

Chorizo street tacos

IMG_0117

Scenic highway

IMG_0126

Oh hai, Ojai!

IMG_0136

The books I read

Basically in nearly every way it was a perfect vacation. There was a heat wave, and that’s all anyone could talk about. 90s during the day, 50s at night. EVERYONE at every store we went to was so happy. “I think it’s easier to be happy in California,” my sister said. Probably. People seemed to love their jobs, from waiters to cashiers. I contrasted it unfavorably with the Cape where people are exhausted in the high season and depressed in the off.

How could I not be equally happy? I spent my mornings walking and smelling the jasmine and the citrus trees, and then I’d decamp to the pool and read and sun myself in fifteen minute increments (my winter treated New England skin was not ready for California sun). The afternoons were made for the lanai, sipping sodas with ice and lemon and reading more. At night we did things like have authentic mexican food, go on hill walks, eat out with Sarah’s friends. We went to the Apple store in Santa Barbara, where I could look at everything with a critical and knowing eye (I do enjoy looking at things with a critical and knowing eye!) and also to the botanical gardens where I could see redwoods for the first time, even if they weren’t as tall as their redwood forest cousins. Who could hold onto a bad mood?

So I watched the sunrise and told myself to be grateful and not to be so negative and that lasted for about as long as it took to get off the plane. I slept most of the day away yesterday, to my annoyance. I slept an hour when I got home, then I took the dog for a decent walk. Then I came home and sat on the deck, annoyed that I had to wear a sweatshirt to stay warm. Then I sat down to read my email and I fell asleep again. And then I woke up and ate dinner and fell asleep again. I woke up this morning a bit less logy and a bit more cheerful. The sun is shining, trees are flowering, and things are going to be ok.

Once I shake off the small bit of jet lag that’s settled on my shoulders, I’ll be back to game posts. I had thoughts while I was there about playing and writing about the iOS games that I had, but when it came right down to it I just didn’t have the drive. I was determined to use this vacation to relax, and that meant not doing things I didn’t feel like doing.

Back to top