Thursday, October 27, 2011

Off the List: Flashpoint, Season 2

So, uh, I seem to have a little bit of a Flashpoint problem. I whipped through Season 2 faster than I've gotten through pretty much any other TV series I've ever watched except the one season of The Shield I watched  nonstop with my buddy back when we were rooming together. I maintain that this is one of the finest shows I have ever encountered, and as good as Season 1 was, Season 2 is even better. I can't wait to see what they do with Season 3. I recommend this in the most enthusiastic and forceful way. The show is incredible. You should watch it.

RPG notes: A few spoilers, so watch the season and come back. Some nasty tricks for bombers show up in One Wrong Move (gluing the safety pin on a landmine) and Custody is an awesome study in plot twists. Mostly, though, it's just more of the same stuff I liked in Season 1. There is, however, one very important thing to take away from this season: the integration of Donna and Leah into the team. Gaming groups looking to add a new PC and wanting to avoid some of the usual pitfalls would do well to watch this season and observe how the team deliberately integrates the newcomers and intentionally draws them into the fold. You see a little of it with Sam at the beginning of Season 1, but episodes 11-18 with Leah being integrated work really well for showing a team bringing someone into the ranking in an intentional and welcoming way.

Addition: Flashpoint, Season 3. Like I'm gonna be able to help myself.

Some Great Previous Backlog Entries in the Steam Haloween Sale

Stuff that I've blogged about here that I'd recommend (links go to blog entries):

Others I haven't blogged about here that I'd recommend:

  • Borderlands Game of the Year Edition: $7.49 (Or if you really don't care about getting $40.00 of DLC for $2.50, you can get the regular edition for $4.99)
  • Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines: $4.99
  • Overlord Complete Pack: $4.99
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Bundle: $8.74
  • Bioshock: $4.99

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New PC

I just built, configured, and have been tweaking a new PC over the last couple of days. Well, not entirely new; I did reuse quite a few parts, but the CPU, motherboard, RAM, and primary hard drive are all significant upgrades. This isn't going to motivate me to clear some games or anything. Oh no. Where'd you get that idea? [End sarcasm here]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Unfinished: SpaceChem

When I originally saw the video for SpaceChem, I was intrigued. I also read some great industry press on it over at Rock, Paper Shotgun. So I did what I usually do, and picked it up when it went on sale, in this case this summer during the Steam summer sale. I found the game to be alternately extremely enjoyable and mind-bendingly hard, sometimes both at the same time. Unfortunately, at some point a few months back, I hit a wall that I can't seem to get past and the difficulty curve has overtaken my desire to finish the game. That does not, however, mean it's a bad game! I got plenty of enjoyment for my gaming dollar and am more than happy to have had that proverbial gaming dollar go to developers who made something so uniquely interesting and fun, even if I lack the resolve to play it to completion. (I am apparently in good company. Of all the people who have purchased the game on Steam, only 2% of them have finished it!) Despite having never finished it, I do recommend the game. If you get as much enjoyment out of it as I have, it'll be worth your money. Who knows, maybe unlike me, you'll have the ingenuity and resolve to finish it!

RPG notes: The SpaceChem reactors would feel right at home in any number of near- to moderate- future sci-fi settings, and in fact, the atomic-level synthetic chemistry feels like it would be a great addition to a posthuman space-faring setting like Eclipse Phase. The reactors and waldoes have a very "modern CPU architecture" feel to them to me, so their presence in a hard sci-fi setting wouldn't be jarring to me at all.

New Post Type: The Unfinished

I'm going to be adding a new type of post to this blog: "The Unfinished." I'm hoping to use it somewhat sparingly to discuss things that for whatever reason I can't or won't be finishing, but I still have an opinion on. As is usual, the first post of this new type will follow immediately after this one.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cleared: Flashpoint, Season 1

Netflix had been recommending Flashpoint to me for months, so I finally caved and gave an episode a try. It didn't take that long for me to watch the rest of the first season. Netflix's rating algorithms apparently know what they're doing, because this is quickly becoming one of my favorite shows ever. The show follows an elite police tactical team called the SRU (Strategic Response Unit) as they go about their business. And this is where what could easily be a straight-up action show gets really interesting. First of all, if this is what law enforcement in Canada is actually like, I envy the Canadians their police. The SRU members are, to a person, decent, honest, compassionate human beings. They take quite seriously their goal of using lethal force as a last resort and the show's realism comes not from depictions of corruption and brutality, but from the fact that often the "bad guys" in some of these high-stress situations aren't so bad at all (though sometimes they are) and that doing this sort of work is a really stressful job. Time and again, they demonstrate that their team has the resolve and skill to put people down permanently if they have to, but not the desire to do so. Team members routinely take risks with their own lives and safety to make sure everybody else gets out alive, but they're not reckless, either. The Strategic part of the team's name definitely applies. They work as a team, think things through, and try to make good judgment calls. The show is well-acted, well-directed, and well-written, and it's set up in Toronto, Ontario, which means that the locations are usually beautiful. In a way, this is kind of the antithesis of shows like The Shield. I really enjoy this one, and I plan to watch the other seasons. I know I recommend a lot of stuff on here, but I recommend this show especially strongly. If you have a Netflix subscription, just try a few episodes and see if you don't agree with me.

RPG notes: Unlike most of my RPG notes sections, this one is spoiler-free, so read away. First of all, if you have plans to put together a competent, effective and honest city watch or police force for some part of a homebrew setting, you could do a lot worse than to watch this for inspiration! The team also makes an interesting case for how not all people of the same "alignment" are cookie-cutter copies of each other. In D&D terms, the entire SRU is Lawful Good (with the possible exception of the sergeant who may be Neutral Good), but the way that manifests is different for each member. The show also provides a wonderful object lesson for demonstrating that winning doesn't always mean annihilating the opposition. It's been my experience that  lot of the time, PC parties view anything that raises a hand against them as an entity that has automatically forfeited its right to continued existence. Now, that works in some games, but not being able to just go scorched-earth and kill everything that opposes occasionally might be a good way to really stretch your players from time to time.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Some List Maintenance

I've been getting sloppy and just using the "Off the List" category for stuff that I don't just grab impulsively or see through circumstance instead of adding things to the list. Bad me. Time to update the list!

PC Games:

Avencast - removed
Capsized - removed
Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena - removed
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay - removed
Crusader: No Remorse - removed
Darkstar One - removed
Gothic II - removed
Hitman: Blood Money - removed
Section 8 - removed
Spacechem - removed

Batman: Arkham City - addition
Metal Brigade: Tactics - addition
Need For Speed: Undercover - addition

TV Series:
Flashpoint, Season 1 - addition

Eden Log - removed

Nonfiction Books:
A Theology of Inclusivism - addition
Black Gun, Silver Star -addition
The Primal Blueprint - addition

Off The List: Fable III

Steam had a fantastic sale on a game I'd been eyeing for a while, namely Fable III, this past weekend, so I picked it up. I played through it pretty quickly - the game had me hooked from fairly early on, and it helped that my wife enjoyed being a spectator to my in-game exploits. The game is probably described as an "accessible action RPG". The RPG elements aren't very crunchy, but there is substantial advancement opportunity. However, the only gear that matters is the character's weapon. This does, however, allow you to have a lot of fun mixing and matching various outfit components to achieve a unique look all your own, and given the vast number of outfits in the game, you certainly have the opportunity to do this! The gameplay itself is fun, if simple, and the storyline is a nice twist on the typical "save the world" plot. I've already played Fable: The Lost Chapters (the PC version of the original Fable) and this game makes me really want to play Fable II to see what bridged the gap between the two, but unless I get an Xbox 360, I'm out of luck - it was never released for the PC. The game deserves some points for mixing the Industrial Revolution with fantasy elements and pulling it off brilliantly. There's a lot fewer fantastical elements here than in the original Fable, but that seems appropriate. I'd recommend it; there's no denying the game's fun value.

RPG notes: Possible spoilers yadda yadda. Anyway, the plot of the game - depose a tyrant and take his throne, only to find out that he was being tyrannical to try and make his kingdom strong enough to fend off what's essentially a D&D-style Elder Evil made for an interesting twist. Confronting Logan produced a moment much like what new Presidents experience. They get sworn in, head up to the Oval Office for the first time, a CIA guy drops their first threat matrix on their desk, they take one look and instantly age two years. That theme, that only the very powerful know just how dangerous the world truly is, is something that would be great to play with in what Postcards from the Dungeon call an "Empire Building" game. In addition the fashion in the game world (which is a wide amalgamation of 18th and 19th century fashion) would also make a great source of inspiration for a steam fantasy setting. I know I'm going to poach ideas like a madman for my homebrew game world. Finally, if you're an "advance planning" sort of GM, I imagine most players would absolutely love something like the Road to Rule in this game, especially if it came with special rewards like it did in this game.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Off the List: Medal of Honor

I picked up Medal of Honor on sale for $5 from Direct2Drive a while back and just finished it recently. It's a good, solid military shooter. The plot jumps from a SEAL team to some Rangers to some Tier 1 operators and back several times and even to some Apache pilots. The story is solid and appropriately both grim and believable. There's no invasion of mainland America, no superweapons, nothing like that at all, just a bunch of vicious Taliban fighters and some Chechens backing them up. That leaves basically just the plot, which, as I mentioned, is fine, and the shooting, which is a fair bit better than fine. Without any fantastic elements, the game feels very grounded, and that made it very enjoyable. I don't think I'd have paid $50 for this, but it was certainly $5 well spent.

RPG notes: There's not too much here to point to for tabletop gaming, but there are a few things. First, the interwoven stories that affect each other in the same area were kind of cool. That's in no way unique to this game, but it was well-executed. Second, the game serves as a good reminder that one doesn't always need fantastic or speculative elements to make for a good story. Shooting it out on a mountain in Afghanistan was plenty fun. I didn't feel deprived for want of energy weapons, magic, or zombies. Finally, there were some great examples of just how much timing and stealth can change a situation in the game. Anybody playing a sneaky character should take particular note of the Tier 1 operator sections.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cleared: Predators

I'm actually crossing something off the list! Woohoo! *ahem* Anyway, I watched Predators the other night (got the disc from Netflix) and breathed a huge sigh or relief. Why relief? Because frankly everything involving the Alien and/or Predator IP for years (at least in movie form) has stunk, and this film decidedly did not. Interestingly, the title refers to the humans as much as the alien predators in this film, and that's the point. There are some names in here, and they do a good job, but Adrian Brody is the star of this and he does not disappoint. He pulls off a very convincing portrayal of a ruthless black ops merc that is just barely sympathetic enough to root for. His voice in particular lends itself well to the role. The movie is fast-paced, makes sense within its own conceits, and is generally a solid action sci-fi film. This is to Predator what Aliens is to Alien, and that is a very good thing, as well as being very high praise. If you liked anything previous with the Predator name on it, be sure to see this.

RPG notes: Once again, this is where I'm liable to spoil things, so you've been warned, danger, etc. The central concept of the film is a bunch of lethal, hard-as-nails killers being scooped up off of their planet and dropped in a "game preserve" to be hunted by Predators. This idea alone has plenty of game fodder bound up in it, and there's nothing that says all the champions must be from the same place, or even time. In a fantasy setting with multiple planes, for example, whatever force is pulling the deadliest warriors from wherever may grab angelic and demonic beings, powerful genies, etc. Also: there's nothing to say that they have to be assembled to be hunted or to fight each other, which is the next most common trope. Pulling a bunch of lethal warriors from out of various times/places/planes/planets seems like an excellent way to build a team that can defeat The Great Evil, and if you want to do a high-powered game, a fun change of pace for introducing a PC group to each other.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs passed away today. Now it bears mentioning that I'm no Apple fanboy. In fact, I look at them as the "honored opposition." But Steve Jobs has really helped form and shape the world I live in. GUIs, MP3 Players, Smartphones, Tablet PCs, Personal Computers, Mice, Pixar... ...none of these things would have become as widespread as they have as quickly as they have without Steve Jobs's influence. I respected him, and I acknowledge his genius. I was hoping he'd be around to keep Microsoft and Google sharp for many decades to come, and now he's gone. Rest in peace, Steve.