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1  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: [PC]Cities: Skylines on: March 06, 2015, 06:17:25 PM
Damn you all, I broke down and preordered as well.
2  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: [PC]Cities: Skylines on: March 04, 2015, 05:39:11 PM
I am likewise following and very interested, but a little cautious, especially after the latest SimCity debacle.

I'm particularly interested in knowing how the simulation, traffic, and difficulty holds up as city size increases. So far, all the comments and Let's Play videos I've seen have dealt with small, starter communities where it's obviously pretty easy for things to go smoothly. If anyone sees anything that talks about the later parts of the game, I'd love a link.

- Ash
3  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: [PC/360/XB1/Ps3/Ps4] Dragon Age: Inquisition on: December 12, 2014, 02:46:28 PM

Quote from: Bullwinkle on December 12, 2014, 01:59:42 PM

I hit the research station first, every time, but from what I've read, there are a few valuables that are needed for quests later in the game, with no real indicator that they might be useful.

Huh. I'll have to watch out for that. I certainly hadn't noticed it but maybe I've just been selling all that stuff before it would be handy. Thanks for the tip.

- Ash
4  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: [PC/360/XB1/Ps3/Ps4] Dragon Age: Inquisition on: December 12, 2014, 12:57:29 PM

Quote from: Bullwinkle on December 12, 2014, 12:41:06 AM

Now I just stopped because the stupid inventory system led me into a trap.  I've been good about clearing out my common items I'm not using and equipping everybody when I come back to Haven (and heading to Haven when I discover it's getting full), but I've been warned not to get rid of "valuables" because a lot of them get used for side quests.

If it helps, the only "valuables" that have actual value, that I'm aware of, are the ones with a black-and-gold icon that are marked as "Creature Research Items". Those ones you can turn in to one the NPCs in town for extra info on / damage against particular enemy types. So as long as you do that before going to a vendor, you can auto-sell the remainder of your valuables each time you're at home.

- Ash
5  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: [PC/360/XB1/Ps3/Ps4] Dragon Age: Inquisition on: December 11, 2014, 06:17:49 PM
Cross posted from OO

Finished the game last night. Took me about 80 hours (without doing 2-3 whole areas and skipping a lot of the tertiary and collectible side quests). I am very happy to say that BioWare did not fuck it up this time. All of the things I was afraid of following their misadventures with Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 did not come to pass: areas were not repeated, the game did not feel rushed, and the ending was not a clusterfuck. My final thoughts:

Inquisition feels like a worthy successor to Origins. The game is long, its story is epic in scope and scale, and the world is packed with details to discover and lore to delve into. There are Codex entries on everything from individual Elven gods to the lyrics of a tavern song about whether or not Andraste kept a pet Mabari. Speaking of songs, your Inquisition has a minstrel, who has over twenty voiced songs that you can hear, if you choose to hang around your tavern often enough. There are areas that are given short shrift -- Val Royeaux, the capital of Orlais, is disappointingly tiny and underused, especially compared to how heavily they marketed the game as spanning both Fereldean and Orlais -- but on the whole this iteration of Thedas feels like a rich, fascinating world to explore once again.

Your companions are also excellent. You do have to choose to engage with them, however: if you don't bother to talk to them in camp, many of them will seem pretty flat and one-dimensional. If you do take the time to get to know them, most of them are very different from how they initially appear and are much more interesting for it. There is also a bug (or poor design choice?) limiting how often the passive, out-in-the-world companion banter fires, which hampers experiencing some great dialogue, but there seem to be workarounds at present. The conversation between your hulking Qunari warrior and your tiny Elven archer about the tactical advantages of him picking her up and throwing her into the middle of enemies at the start of a fight was a particular favourite: "the mayhem, Sera, think of the maaaayheeem!". The game also does a decent job of at least not forgetting about characters from the previous games: some will appear, some will be more important than others, and some will at least be part of War Table missions. This is clearly a standalone game (and BioWare clearly still hasn't come up with a brilliant solution for how to continue to use characters that some players may have killed off previously) but I felt like the game at least respected and acknowledged the world state I set up in the Keep beforehand.

The world is beautiful, with the new engine and console generation clearly allowing them to create much larger spaces than before. Despite the increase in geographic scale, they managed to maintain a hand-crafted feel, with unique details to almost every area and little sign of hastily repeated textures or other sloppy design. The areas are varied, with their own atmosphere and smaller narrative through-lines for each of them. Your home base is utterly fantastic and impressed me all the way to the end of the game, not only with how large it is (you have your own wine cellar!) but also with how coherent the space is: you can walk almost all the way around the walls, and buildings are as large on the outside as they are on the inside, without the game having to resort to loading screens or other cheats.

Although I have one major complaint about it, which I'll get to in a moment, I also found the combat generally enjoyable. It does more or less continue in the DA2 vein of leaning towards qualities like "visceral" and "action-packed", but those things can be fun. Big hits and dramatic effects and colourful explosions do make you feel like a badass. With the exception of the Rifts themselves, which have their own narratively-well-supported mechanic, the game almost entirely eschews DA2's nonsensical, frustrating multiple-waves-of-enemies approach (boss fights are the only place were additional enemies will spawn in mid-fight). Your companions will use their abilities and seem to do a decent-enough job, at least on normal (Cassandra as a tank held aggro well for me, for instance), although I wouldn't put the AI up for any awards.

The main plot is one of the game's weaker aspects. It certainly has some dramatic moments and set pieces, and it is entirely serviceable in terms of providing a purpose for your character and a point to playing, but it comprises a fairly small percentage of the game, it's pretty derivative of other RPGs and fantasy stories, and it's disappointingly linear towards the end. The structure of the story reminded me most of Mass Effect 2: there are a half dozen or so major plot missions, segregated from the rest of the game, interspersed between a much greater amount of companion-based content and free-form exploration. The plot is also fairly standard: "fantasy jackass seeks to use mystical doodad to destroy the world; only you can stop him!". The Rift concept, as has been pointed out, has been done multiple times before, including in Oblivion and, shockingly the MMO Rift. After the end of the first act, until which the game keeps you guessing a fair bit about what's going on (Who is the villain? Why do you have amnesia? Were you really sent by Andraste? Etc.), I also found the plot... straightforward. An enemy as powerful as this one is supposed to be should do more to counter your attempts to stop him. Instead, for the latter half-to-two-thirds of the game, he's more-or-less absent from most of the main missions, leaving you to defeat his flunkies and foil his plans with little to no pushback from him (I should note that this is in stark contrast to how actively and impressively pissed at you he is for the first part of the game).

This is BioWare's most cinematic storytelling yet. One particular sequence is strongly evocative of (and clearly inspired by) the Lord of the Rings movies. Most of the cutscenes during the main story are excellent and dramatic. A couple of things did disappoint me, though. For one, I am not a fan of the "simple conversation" system that they have been using since ME3, where minor dialogues occur with only a slight zoom-in and no detailed animations. It means that the conversations play out over an almost entirely static screen, which makes them feel boring, even if the dialogue itself is interesting (and the zoom-in itself isn't very well done; sometimes the camera would clip into a pillar or spin around behind another character, blocking most of my view for the entire conversation). For another, I found there to be surprising few tough choices in the game. There were several that felt like they might be important in a later game (i.e., I thought "I hope the Dragon Age Keep remembers that I did this") but there was little sign (with one notable exception!) of the sort of gut-wrenching decisions that DA:O or the Mass Effect games required you to make.

Ironically, the size of the game also contributed to a negative: some of the content just isn't interesting to me. There are two different types of collectible widgets scattered over every area. There are a handful of astronomy-based connect-the-dots puzzles in each area. I enjoyed the eventual mechanics of crafting but the MMO-style resource gathering from all over every map was a frustratingly inefficient time sink. And there are a multitude of insignificant side-quests ("oh please, great Inquisitor, take these flowers to my dead husband's grave, for I fear the roads are too dangerous for me to travel there myself these days!") that can take up a lot of your time, traipsing back and forth across the maps, if you let them. I skipped almost all of this stuff and still ended up with a playtime around 80 hours. I'm sure some people enjoy that stuff, and more power to them, but personally I feel like Bioware over-corrected from the complaints about the rushed, confined nature of Dragon Age 2: I could have done without shards, mosaics, or Astralarium puzzles if it had meant 2-3 more chapters to the main story, with a couple more good plot twists towards the end. There is also too much content for the levelling system: even with all the stuff I didn't do, I was Level 20 at the end of the game, with the final quest being "recommended" for Levels 16-19. I could easily imagine a completionist getting several more levels of experience out of the game and, thus, trivializing some of the content.

I was also disappointed at the lack of tactical aspects to the combat. The tactical camera is frustratingly limiting. The bosses are boringly, unengagingly MMO in their design: they all, invariably, have tons of hit points and are immune to all disabling effects, so the only tactics ever required are 1) keep Barriers on your meatshields, 2) avoid any AOE attacks or glowing shit on the ground and 3) attack for minutes on end until they eventually die. The actual Tactics interface from the first two Dragon Age games has also been horrifically simplified, rendering your ability to encourage teamwork between your companions (without having to manually and painstakingly micromanage every character in every battle) more or less non-existent. For example, you can tell your mage to "Prefer" the Barrier spell (which means they'll cast it as often as possible) but you cannot tell them to prioritize placing it on a specific companion or when someone's health falls to a particular point. I'm not sure I'd want to play this game on anything higher than normal, as I'm not sure the systems are there, either in terms of the interface or the mechanics, to make overcoming more challenging enemies rewarding rather than aggravating.

The game also has some bugs. A patch a couple of days ago was supposed to address some of the worst (such as the game screwing up your character's gender from the get-go, or switching your character's voice midway through the game) but it also introduced new issues, in a sadly typical, "we rushed this out the door and don't want to bother paying for a proper QA department" sort of way. I did encounter a handful of crashes over the course of my playthrough, maybe 5-10 over that 80 hours? The game is mercifully generous with the autosaving, but it was still annoying.

On the whole, I am very, very happy with Inquisition. I enjoyed it from start to finish, without feeling like the quality dropped off noticeably at any point. The elements that I did not like were not nearly prevalent or powerful enough to overcome those that I did enjoy. Fresh off an 80 hour playthrough, I am looking forward to starting a new game tonight, siding with different factions, playing with different companions, and exploring some of the zones I skipped over last time. Knowing myself, I don't know if I'll finish that playthrough (there's a good chance I'll get distracted somewhere before hour 160), but I'm still going to try.

- Ash
6  Non-Gaming / Off-Topic / Re: Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on: November 10, 2013, 12:06:51 AM

Quote from: Bullwinkle on November 09, 2013, 04:33:12 PM

Not this early, though.  She's barely a real character yet.  You have to build up love in the audience before you mercilessly rip their hearts out.

Both Buffy and Angel have early-in-season-one character deaths that are specifically intended to establish the "nobody is safe" rule. Joss is on record as liking that tactic.

- Ash
7  Non-Gaming / Off-Topic / Re: Gmail - WTF on: July 23, 2013, 07:58:10 PM
You can turn it off. Just disable the new secondary tabs / filters and you go back to having one normal inbox.

- Ash
8  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: What are you buying this week? (07/08) on: July 09, 2013, 07:33:01 PM
Civ 5: BNW.

- Ash
9  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Satellite Reign on: June 29, 2013, 11:05:29 AM
Definitely in.

- Ash
10  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: [PS3/360/PC] Remember Me on: June 05, 2013, 06:05:07 PM
Impressions, based on about 2.5 hours of play, through Episodes 0, 1 and 2 (out of seven, according to Steam), on PC (tl;dr: seems good, having fun, a few minor quibbles):

I'm digging the world building so far. The central conceit of commoditized memories and the Sensen devices that facilitate their sale / sharing seems well integrated into the world: memory addicts beg for a hit on street corners, there are "memory vending machines", for lack of a better term, lining the streets, etc. And there seems to be a decent amount of written lore and backstory (tied to the collectibles system, sadly). I'm reminded of Mass Effect's Codex in that regard.

The story also has potential. The set up has seemed pretty straightforward and cliched, granted (the game starts with you having amnesia and proceeds with you trying to remember yourself and your place in the world, which has been done many, many times before) but I've just reached a point where something I did had... wider consequences than I might have expected, and Nihlin has started to question some things, which suggests the possibility of a decently complex story to come.

The combat is pleasantly reminiscent of the Arkham games, so far, although not quite as good. Maybe it was just playing as The Goddamned Batman that made the combat in those games so good but my impression here is that, while the mechanics are very similar, Remember Me's combat is a little less visceral and the animations are a little less elegant (the Arkham games were memorable for me in large part because of how seamlessly the various moves interwove). The game is doing a good job of requiring me to use the abilities that I've "remembered", introducing new enemies and bosses at an appropriate pace to up the complexity of the gameplay without overwhelming me.

I like the idea of the combo-based system but I'm not sure about its implementation. There are a large number of individual combat moves (distinctly animated punches, kicks, and blocks), which are divided into categories: damage moves, health-regeneration moves, and cooldown-reduction moves. In practice, the only thing that seems to matter is the category. I haven't noticed combat playing out any differently whether I kick or punch, and all of the moves within a category seem functionally identical: every damage move has the same effect as every other damage move.

There's some platforming, which reminds me (most recently) of Tomb Raider. There's too much interface hand-holding here, however, with an orange arrow on-screen telling you where to jump or climb at pretty much every moment. It is also all very linear, with none of the larger explorable areas of TR. It can look nifty and does provide variety from the combat portions of the game but it feels too simplistic, so far.

I do find the camera to be locked a little too close to the action, and panning around the world seems oddly awkward with my mouse: horizontal panning seems fine, but trying to look significantly up or down seems sluggish). I've also had one CTD.

I'm certainly enjoying the game, so far, with the obvious huge caveat that early impressions here are especially meaningless, as games with this sort of narrative are largely made or broken at the back end: if the twists and resolution to come are compelling, I'll be impressed; if not, no amount of good first impressions will make up the difference.

- Ash
11  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: What are you buying this week? (06/03) on: June 03, 2013, 04:09:59 PM
Remember Me. I continue to cogitate on GRID 2 but will probably wait for a sale or more gaming time before picking it up.

- Ash
12  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: [PC] SimCity impressions on: March 08, 2013, 04:08:58 PM

Quote from: wonderpug on March 08, 2013, 03:57:27 PM

Do I actually see any of that money?  I can't find anything in my budget numbers that shows an income from anywhere other than my usual RCI.

I'm not playing the game yet but I think I read something -- on QT3, maybe? -- that some external stuff is paid in periodic lump sums, rather than hourly, and thus isn't reflected in your budget pages? Which seems like it would be opaque and confusing, but maybe that is what is going on? Or maybe some parts of the trade system are still broken?

- Ash
13  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: [PC] SimCity impressions on: March 08, 2013, 03:16:26 PM

Quote from: PR_GMR on March 08, 2013, 02:39:01 PM

How cool can cities be in this game? Here's a snapshot of a city from an Asian player in the Europe West 1 server (I believe). When I checked on the neighbor cities on my region, I had to take a snapshot of it. It's so impressive.

That is very nifty. Is there any way you can check the population of that city easily? I'm curious how efficient a layout like that is.

- Ash
14  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: The Weekend Playlist -- 3/8/13 on: March 08, 2013, 03:13:47 PM
Finish Tomb Raider. Will probably be done by Friday night or Saturday morning.

Finish Mass Effect 3: Citadel. Will hopefully be done that on Saturday.

Start SimCity, assuming the word around the internets is that the servers are stable by Sunday or so.

- Ash
15  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: [PC] SimCity impressions on: March 08, 2013, 01:40:30 PM

Quote from: CeeKay on March 08, 2013, 12:17:35 PM

if there is a queue or the game won't connect I just move on to something else.

I'm sorry, according to the Official Law of the Internet, when something like that happens, you are required to spend a minimum of two hours composing multiple irate and vitriolic posts explaining in graphic detail just what you'd do to the bodily orifices of any EA employees you might ever happen to meet.

This "I just move on" crap is entirely too anti-climactic and reasonable to be tolerated.

- Ash
16  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Tomb Raider on: March 07, 2013, 02:22:12 PM

Quote from: Teggy on March 07, 2013, 01:58:04 PM

Wow, they really botched the pc port:

(A whole bunch of camera effects are missing unless you play the game in windowed mode)

Huh. Most of the way through the game, I can't say I'd felt like anything was missing. I don't have any of those effects, either, but I still think the game looks really good.

- Ash
17  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Tomb Raider on: March 07, 2013, 03:33:16 AM

Quote from: Asharak on March 06, 2013, 08:04:49 PM

Quote from: metallicorphan on March 06, 2013, 07:49:49 PM

Good read Ash,when you say you have 26%,how long have you been playing for roughly?

6-8 hours, maybe? I'll check if there's an actual timer in the game (or just use Steam's) when I get home tonight and update if it's significantly different than that.

By way of an update, after playing tonight, Steam says I'm now at 10 hours played, my completion in the game is at 55%, and I feel like I'm probably through 80-90% of the main story. So I'd expect to finish the plot at 15 hours or less and 100% the game in 20 or so. That's shorter than I'd like, to be honest, but it's very high quality gaming time, however limited it is, so I'm not too unhappy about it.

- Ash
18  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Torment: Tides of Numenera on: March 06, 2013, 08:50:43 PM

Quote from: TiLT on March 06, 2013, 07:38:39 PM

I know I regret that I didn't donate more to certain Kickstarter campaigns where I realized only in hindsight how much I wanted the rewards.
Personally, I never want the extra rewards. Soundtracks, art books, paper manuals, maps, etc... are all of absolutely zero interest to me. One of the things I like the most about the current era of digital distribution is the lack of clutter. I love not having physical boxes and extraneous memorabilia strewn about the place or shoved into dusty corners.

I get that other people like those things and I have no problem with that. But, for me, all I want from any game is the game itself.

- Ash
19  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Tomb Raider on: March 06, 2013, 08:04:49 PM

Quote from: metallicorphan on March 06, 2013, 07:49:49 PM

Good read Ash,when you say you have 26%,how long have you been playing for roughly?

6-8 hours, maybe? I'll check if there's an actual timer in the game (or just use Steam's) when I get home tonight and update if it's significantly different than that.

with you saying you can come back later for collectables,does that mean this game is an open world game or you can replay earlier levels

There are some areas that are larger and more explorable and then some that are smaller and more confined or plot-centric. It feels very much like Arkham Asylum, if you've played that. The plot will move you through the island in a very guided fashion (there's none of a true open world game's "here's your objective but don't bother if you'd rather go fishing") but, as you progress, you'll discover various campsites that act as quick-travel locations that let you teleport between them at any point, so that you can go back to any part of the map later in the game.

- Ash
20  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Torment: Tides of Numenera on: March 06, 2013, 07:31:34 PM
Backed, for the $20, minimum-pledge-to-get-the-game amount. Which is not to say that I'm unenthusiastic about the concept, just that I don't see the need to spend more of my limited disposable income on a videogame than necessary, especially with the added risk of paying 1.5+ years before the game will be done.

- Ash
21  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Tomb Raider on: March 06, 2013, 07:26:05 PM
Cross posted at OO

I ended up having yesterday off from work (for reasons unrelated to the deluge of interesting games that were released), so I spent most of the day playing Tomb Raider. I played through 26% of the game, according to my save file, although I'm probably farther along in the plot than that, since I'm guessing that number include collectibles, etc. Impressions (playing on PC, most settings on Ultra, without TressFX):

Most generally, the gameplay reminds me of Assassin's Creed, the level design of the Arkham games (more Asylum than City) and the setting of Lost (note: I only watched the first season of Lost). These are good things and, overall, I'm very impressed with the game.

Unquestionably, the best part of the game so far is Lara herself. This is not the comically cleavaged caricature from the past, although the game still doesn't shy away from down-her-shirt camera angles, at times. Lara feels like a very believable and real character. Especially at the beginning, the game emphasizes just how cold, alone, hungry and scared Lara is, even as she pushes herself and is pushed by others to keep going. Her voice actress (Camilla Luddington, who can currently be seen on Grey's Anatomy) does excellent work here.

One narrative element that I'm really enjoying is that Lara is very much not in control. There's a level fairly early on where you're supposed to sneak your way past a bunch of enemies to escape from them but, even if you do it perfectly, the level ends with Lara being caught. There are other occasions, as well, where Lara's best efforts will not be enough to overcome the force of people and events that are much larger than her.

The early game, at least, also departs from its roots in that there have been no tombs. There are optional tombs, which are puzzle sections reminiscent of (but much shorter than) what you'd find in Assassin's Creed, but the main story has featured zero tomb raiding. I haven't minded this: the action gameplay is good and the island setting is complex and gorgeous, but I just didn't expect how above-ground it has been so far.

One aspect of the levels that feels very borrowed from the Arkham games are the collectibles: some are available immediately but others are "gated" by needing pieces of gear that you don't yet have (a stronger prybar, rope arrows, etc.) to reach, so that you have reason to return to the early areas and explore them more thoroughly later on. I really like this, as it means there are usually some collectibles to get each time you visit an area but you never feel overwhelmed by trying to search out dozens at once.

Some of the collectibles are also fairly critical to the mystery of the island and the backstories of the secondary characters. As such, they really shouldn't be missed. The island has a very layered history (I think I've found items hinting at events in three distinct time periods) and I've been very intrigued by the details that I've gleaned so far.

The main narrative is entirely linear so far. There have been no dialogue options or plot branches. There is not even an option to play lethally or non-lethally, as some areas require fighting and all of your weapons are fatal... some are just louder or messier than others. In a lot of places you do have some freedom to choose run-and-gun or more stealthy solutions but that's about it for player choice in the game.

I'm not terribly fond of how reliant the game is on QTEs, although this does abate somewhat after the introduction (I suppose they wanted to put a bunch there to introduce you to how they will work later). On the other hand, I've very much enjoyed the utter absence of "boss" fights so far (and in a couple of places, a QTE clearly took the place of where another game would have put a boss fight). I've had one fight that felt like a boss battle, against a type of opponent I'd never fought before, but the game nicely reminded me which of Lara's skills would help with defeating him and, once I got the hang of that, he didn't even need superhuman amounts of damage to take down.

The PC port seems pretty solid. I've only had one definite issue, with some of the scrolling in the map and collectibles screens (i.e., dragging a scrollbar of a list of collectibles also tries to move the map around).

That's about all I think of to mention for now. I'm looking forward to continuing the game when I get home tonight.

- Ash
22  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: What are you buying this week? (03/04) on: March 04, 2013, 04:03:31 PM
Tomb Raider
Mass Effect 3: Citadel DLC

Stupid crazy week. That much gaming will likely last me months (especially since I have a half dozen older games I still haven't played / finished).

- Ash
23  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: SimCity beta opens soon on: January 28, 2013, 01:19:13 AM

Quote from: Autistic Angel on January 26, 2013, 08:18:11 PM

I sincerely hope you follow up once you've spent more time with the game -- one of the things I'm worried about is the Sid Meier's Railroads! effect where a game seems really charming and approachable, but you dig a little deeper and discover it's also childishly simplistic.

Follow up impressions, as requested. I played two more hours. For the first of these, I played very slowly (i.e., with the game on pause a lot) as I explored some of the menus and played with curved roads and such. The second time, I went back to my simple and comfortable grid approach to city design and left the game on Cheetah speed as much as possible to see how far I could get (answer: just over 12K people in my city at the end of the hour).

I should mention that I'm even less impressed with EA's demo / "beta"-making skills at this point. First, there was a significant portion of Saturday afternoon where I couldn't log in at all. And second, it turns out that the demo has you play on the exact same map no matter how many times you play. I thought I just got unlucky with a particularly boring patch of ground the first time (totally flat, no rivers, just a little corner of water way away from the highway) but, no, that's apparently the map everyone is playing on this weekend.

The extra time with the game did reinforce my impression that there's plenty of basic SimCity gameplay here, in that there seems to be lots of variety in terms of things like parks (well over a dozen), mass transit options, etc. Educating your Sims involves grade schools, high schools, universities and libraries -- and in the case of the former (the only one unlocked in the beta), at least, there's plenty of nitty-gritty detail in terms of purchasing extra school buses and placing bus stops for it. I can't really comment on whether all those options affect the gameplay in significant or interesting ways, though, since the hour time limit prevented me from wanting to stop and poke at things too much and, obviously, from seeing how anything I did played out over the long term. I also had my impression of this really being SimRegion reinforced, as I noticed several advanced buildings that had prerequisites like "other building X already built in region".

As for whether the apparent depth masks an underlying simplicity or easily exploitable's still a possibility. Running at Cheetah in my last game, I did find myself making more money than I could spend. I ended my hour with almost $150K in the bank. This isn't necessarily a problem, of course: SimCity has always been a game where, if your city is well designed, you can just "let it run" and you will continue making money indefinitely. The fact that I could make that much money so soon, however, and on only my third time trying the game, might indicate that the game is more forgiving than it could be.

On the other hand, my girlfriend had a city basically wither and die, as all her Sims just up and left on her. The most concerning part about that was that she couldn't really figure out why it happened, which either indicates a UI that isn't informative enough about problems or that, when a new player is forced to rush through an hour of play, you tend to neglect things like what your advisers are saying or drilling down into the details of SimHappiness to find out why your Sims are behaving the way they are. Interestingly, I noticed what seemed like the start of a similar dip in my third game and was able to determine that a lot of my low-wealth Sims were unhappy about the number of deaths in my city...and so I expanded my clinic and ambulance capacity and the problem went away. So I take the fact that one person, at least, had a city fail as as sign that it is possible to lose.

I did start to feel a little constrained by the small individual zones by the end of my last game. Granted, I still hadn't filled the map and, granted, I'd only just started getting medium-density residential buildings, so I think there was still a lot of play left on that map. Building out is really only the first and easier part of a SimCity game; building up is the second and harder part: managing traffic and mass transit, educating your Sims and replacing your dirty, low-tech industries with better ones, etc. So while I'm not scared off by the small zones, I do wish the game had bigger ones.

I think that's about all I can really tell you based on approximately four hours with the game. I still think I'll buy it. I think I will avoid trying to play it, however, in the first week or so post-release, since I don't trust EA to manage their servers well enough to make that a pleasant experience. I clearly don't think it will be an unqualified success -- the always-online DRM and small zones seem like two significant marks against it that aren't going to go away -- but, for the most part, I was happy with what I saw this weekend.

- Ash
24  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: SimCity beta opens soon on: January 26, 2013, 07:55:16 PM
Cross posted from OO:

OK, played the beta (once through the tutorial and a full single hour of freeform play; I may try another hour later this weekend, time permitting). Thoughts:

First, I'm satisfied that they haven't mucked up the basics. The core gameplay and city services seem to all be there: police, fire, education, health, power, water, sewage, garbage disposal, mass transit, and parks. Not sure if I missed any there. Services like police, fire and health still work on the effective radius system (it might even be taking road size / layout into consideration, rather than a simple radius, although I wasn't sure about that).

One nice improvement is that, because most buildings are now somewhat upgradeable (i.e., more ambulance bays for your clinic or more classrooms for your grade school), there seems to be a choice between whether to build lots of unimproved buildings or focus on maximizing fewer of them. I haven't done the math on whether the game is well balanced between those two strategies, however.

I also didn't mind the simplification of managing power / water / sewage (i.e., you still need buildings to generate or eliminate the stuff but it all runs along your roads now, without the need to build separate power lines or sewage pipes). There still appear to be tradeoffs and considerations around pollution and property values in terms of where to place sewage outlets or garbage dumps, etc.

Another thing they've simplified is that you no longer zone density: you simply zone residential, commercial, or industrial and then what sort of structures are built is determined by the area. A zone is rated on two criteria: property value and density. I was able to increase property value very easily by providing service buildings: schools, police stations, etc. nearby, and had no difficulty getting medium-wealth buildings even within my sixty minute time limit. I didn't really figure out how to increase density. I'm not sure if that's just supposed to happen later, once a city has more than just a few thousand residents, or if I was missing something.

I didn't play with the aesthetics of urban planning due to the time constraints. I did notice that there seem to be useful road tools for different types of city layouts: you can build straight-line roads at any angle, or have curved roads, or use "perfect square" and "perfect circle" tools to quickly create pretty geometry. There is also quite a range of road types: small single-lane streets to high-volume avenues. Given that I was already starting to see some rush-hour congestion on my grid-based streets, it seems like traffic management may be a reasonably sophisticated part of the game, especially if you get mass transit involved as well as road scale. I don't think I even opened the parks menu to explore those options, so no comments about that yet.

All of the above contributed to my general impression that I think the game has a reasonable amount of depth. There are different types of pollution (ground, air, etc.) and wind direction can affect its spread; fire risk is affecting by things like uncollected garbage and the education level of your Sims; and there are graphs and overlays galore. One other simple indication that the game isn't too dumbed down is that it appears to be possible to maintain nine distinct tax rates at a time: one each for the low, middle and upper class segments of your residential, commercial and industrial zones. I would think that if "keep it simple, stupid" had snuck its way into the design philosophy, they would have pared those down a bit.

One thing that is definitely taking some adjustment (although I think I'm coming around to it) is their idea about cities existing within a region. An individual city zone is smaller than in previous games but each region will have multiple city zones. I have no doubt that the (stupid) impetus for this was primarily "multiplayer!" but it isn't unworkable in single player, either, since nothing stops you from controlling all of the zones in your region yourself.

The game thus encourages you to specialize each city to make the region work as a cohesive whole (I'm starting to think the game might have been better called SimRegion than SimCity), with one zone being maybe a sleepy commuter town, sending most of its residents to work in your heavy industrial zone or your commercial / high tech district. The integration within a region is much more extensive than in previous games: for example, in addition to buying or selling your power or garbage disposal and workers commuting between zones, emergency services such as fire and police can respond to calls in other zones, so the potential for interdependency is much greater. There is also a "global market" now. I haven't played with it, but my understanding is that, for example, even if your entire region doesn't have any coal, you can still build a coal power plant by purchasing coal from the market, with the price determined by how many other SimCity players are selling surplus coal versus how many are purchasing it.

And I suppose that the idea of an entirely self-sufficient city is somewhat fanciful these days, anyway: large power plants do serve entire regions, large cities ship their garbage off to other places, tourist hubs like Vegas thrive by profiting off visitors rather than locals, and so on.

Another reason they may have decided to prevent gigantic single cities and spread them across a "region" is that there's a lot more granular detail to the game: the game takes an extensive cue from the popularity of The Sims, in that every home has a named family in it, every (employed) Sim has a particular place that he works and therefore drives to and from every day (thus forming the basis for the traffic congestion model) and, if you click on them, each Sim will tell you in Simlish what's on their mind at the moment. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet. It's technically impressive, I suppose, and probably somewhat immersive. It was quite neat seeing an injury icon appear over one house and then watching the ambulance leave my clinic, go to that house, pick up the SimCitizen and bring him back for treatment.

The moronic elephant in the room is still the always-online deal, however. There's never going to be a game where I actually like that requirement. Especially since, these days, the majority of problems are usually server- rather than client-side: it's bad enough if I can't play because my internet connection is out (although I still should be able to, even if you want to lock me out of multiplayer or the global market at that point) but it's infinitely worse if I can't play a game I purchased because the publisher can't keep their servers up. And SimCity requires you to log in with EA every time you play and will not launch if it can't contact EA's servers. After finishing the tutorial part of this beta, I tried to start the freeform sixty-minute section and couldn't initially because they were having server issues. It only lasted a few minutes (and, granted, "beta") but, still: frustrating. I don't know if the online checks are only during log in, however, or whether it continues to check periodically / constantly as you play.

My other reservation after playing the beta is simply from the way it was restricted: by only allowing me to play small, start-up communities, I had no opportunity to explore how well the graphics engine or the interface or the simulation systems work on a fully developed, large-scale city / region. I don't know if the economics are well balanced, if traffic is an impossible-to-manage nightmare, or so forth. This close to a game's release, I'm...suspicious when a developer only wants to show off such a carefully controlled segment of their game. Are they hiding something about the rest of the game? If they're proud of it, why not show it off? This is an entirely hypothetical concern and not one that is going to keep me from buying the game but, especially with EA's track record, it's not something I can completely ignore.

Bottom line: the beta hasn't scared me away from the game and I'm probably even a little more optimistic than I was before playing it, since I feel reasonably confident that they haven't opted for a totally "streamlined" experience and since I have become more comfortable with the idea of somewhat smaller individual cities interacting within a region.

- Ash
25  Non-Gaming / Off-Topic / Re: [movie] Star Trek 2, AKA Star Trek Into Darkness on: December 18, 2012, 12:00:45 AM

Quote from: Bullwinkle on December 17, 2012, 11:27:42 PM

There are two screams.  The second one has a little bit more to it, though it's a bit of a stretch to say it's Kahn.

I had no idea what you were talking about, so I watched the trailer again. I had never even noticed the first scream. The second, longer, actually-seen scream is the one I still say sounds like nothing more than someone actually screaming.

The last line was not in the original trailer.  It was in the Japanese version of the original trailer, though, along with the hands at the end (which in my mind is a bigger hint tease than any dialogue).

Point. I had specifically watched the Japanese version of the first one and I had assumed everyone on a forum this geeky had too, since it was available so easily and the fact that it had extra footage was so quickly publicized. On the topic of the "hands":

Spoiler for Hiden:
I'm micro-analyzing here but, watching the hands scene again in this trailer, I think it's clear that Spock isn't the one who may be dying in that shot. He's standing on the far side on the far side of the glass, reaching down to touch the hand in the foreground -- and that's the person whose arm is horizontal, implying that they're on their knees. We don't actually know who that person is: it might be Kirk, who wore black a lot in the first movie, or even Cumberbatch's character, who wears black in the various trailer scenes (although why Spock would be consoling him is beyond me, as well). But I think Spock's posture by itself strongly implies that he isn't in ill health at that point.
- Ash
26  Non-Gaming / Off-Topic / Re: [movie] Star Trek 2, AKA Star Trek Into Darkness on: December 17, 2012, 10:54:22 PM

Quote from: Blackjack on December 17, 2012, 10:46:50 PM

Link was pulled due to copyright claim by Paramount. Any signs of an official link yet?

What am I today, your monkey?

- Ash

PS> Two thoughts on it: no, what "Carol Marcus" screams doesn't sound like "Khaaaan". It sounds like a scream. Which is usually the sound "aaaa". Which is contained in "Khaaaan". That is where the similarity ends. Second, the last line is not new. It was heard in the previous teaser. And while it may be a hint, it's no less obscure now than it was then. Personally, I think it's just meant to establish a humanizing motive for the movie's villainy (he's doing horrible things for his family, isn't he sweet?).
27  Non-Gaming / Off-Topic / Re: [movie] Star Trek 2, AKA Star Trek Into Darkness on: December 17, 2012, 05:34:53 PM

Quote from: Blackjack on December 15, 2012, 06:41:20 AM

If anybody saw the 9 minutes last night, give up the details already  icon_smile

Underwhelming. Spoiler-ridden synopsis:

Spoiler for Hiden:
The footage opens with a seemingly-random little girl in a hospital in London, dying of a seemingly-random illness (I'm not sure either the girl or the disease are named). Her doctors tell her father that there is nothing they can do. Her grief-stricken father is standing around when Benedict Cumberbatch comes up behind him and says, "I can save her". The father asks, "Who are you?" and the scene ends.

Cut to Kirk and McCoy, covered head to toe in very grey robes, running through a field of very red plants from some very yellow aliens. It's all very colourful. Apparently, this has something to do with a volcano on the aliens' planet about to explode and kill them all. Kirk and McCoy are in costume because the Prime Directive forbids them from letting the aliens know they're about save them from the volcano by using a shuttlecraft to lower Spock (in some spiffy thermal armour) into its core with a doodad to inertify the magmic reactions (not what they said, but it's Star Trek, so you get the idea). Based on the look of the place, it's also possible they were trying to destroy the One Ring.

Unfortunately, after lowering Spock into the volcano, the shuttlecraft can't handle the heat, so it gets out of the kitchen and leaves Spock stranded down there. The Enterprise can't use the transporters to beam him out because it's hiding in the ocean (best line of the footage is Scotty, as soon as you learn where the Enterprise is, speaking for the entire audience when he tells Kirk "do you have any idea how ridiculous it is to hide a starship underwater?") and all the interference from the volcano means they'd need a direct line of sight to beam him up, anyway...which they aren't supposed to do because the aliens who failed to notice the shuttlecraft would definitely notice the Enterprise floating over a giant volcano. Spock says that Kirk should leave him to die because the needs of many outweigh the needs of the few. Kirk asks McCoy what Spock would do if their positions were reversed, and McCoy tells him Spock would let Kirk die.

Oh no, it looks like Spock is going to die! End of preview.

My opinion of the preview, then: the second scene is mostly irrelevant. It had the feel of a throwaway scene just intended to give them some pretty visuals and Kirk-being-chased-by-aliens action at the beginning of the movie (and maybe parallel Spock's Kobiyashi Maru non-death from the beginning of Wrath of Khan). If Spock is going to die, I highly doubt it's going to happen in so meaningless a fashion as to save a nameless bunch of non-spacefaring aliens in the first nine minutes of the movie. The earlier, shorter scene with Cumberbatch is slightly more revelatory, since we now know he's playing a doctor (or at least a pseudo-medical professional who can get into hospitals). His identity remains unknown but the introduction argues strongly for a Eugenics Wars / augment type storyline in general, since he's presumably about to engage in some illicit medical practicing. Bottom line, the preview neither informed me significantly nor excited me about the movie. I remain excited in general, based on the quality of the last one, but I wouldn't rush out to an IMAX theatre just to see that preview.
- Ash
28  Non-Gaming / Off-Topic / Re: Blu-Ray Owners,Do You Still Buy DVDs? on: September 21, 2012, 11:37:16 PM

Quote from: Knightshade Dragon on September 21, 2012, 08:21:21 PM

Hey, when all of you folks start ditching your physical media, keep me in mind.   My library hungers to absorb yours into the collective....

"We will add your cassette- and disc-based distinctiveness to our own"?

- Ash
29  Gaming / Multiplayer Madness (MMO or otherwise) / Re: Guild Wars 2 on: September 14, 2012, 01:59:03 PM

Quote from: Toe on September 14, 2012, 01:10:48 PM

GW2 is even worse than most in that mobs are tougher and your DPS is lower.

FWIW, my L55ish Thief finds the underwater content easier than the...uh, overwater content. My impression had been that they'd taken pains to reduce the difficulty in underwater situations.

- Ash
30  Gaming / Multiplayer Madness (MMO or otherwise) / Re: Guild Wars 2 Names List on: August 24, 2012, 11:57:23 PM
31  Non-Gaming / Off-Topic / Re: 14 Dead -50 Wounded on: July 20, 2012, 01:52:57 PM
Sadly, it seems like Alfred was right: "He thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

- Ash
32  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Diablo III --Impressions start on page 36 -- on: June 13, 2012, 06:34:16 PM

Quote from: BuckeyeShane on June 13, 2012, 05:29:21 PM

What type of items (stat wise) should I be holding onto to sell on the RMAH?  It's hard for me to tell from just doing searches on the auction house as you can't see completed auctions.

+Vitality and at least one other primary attribute
+Resist gear (in particular +All Resist)
+Damage rings / amulets (although it's currently impossible to search for these properly, so their AH'ing value is minimal until that bug is fixed)
+Attack speed (which is basically +damage, of course) weapons, gloves, rings and amulets (I don't think it shows up on anything else)
+Crit Chance / Crit Damage
+Life on Hit (or other healing bonuses, but my sense is that +Life on Hit is currently more prized than the others)
+Sockets are always good, too -- especially on helms (for the +% life gem) or weapons (for the +damage ruby or +crit damage emerald)
+Reduced Level Requirement (primarily on L60 items, as this lets people below 60 use end-game quality gear, which gives you a much larger market to sell to)

Of course, just one of those things generally isn't enough to make an item AH-worthy, I find...but if it has two or three (or more) than it's worth considering. You also have to pay attention to the magnitude of the bonuses versus the item level: if the attribute bonuses are only +25 or something on a L50 item, it's trash regardless of whatever else it might have.

All of that said, I'm far from an expert at the game or the AH, so others may have better suggestions...

EDIT> Oh, and I forgot +Magic Find and +Gold Find, which are obviously popular things to have, although I've never searched for them on the AH myself, so I have no idea how much they're selling for.

- Ash
33  Non-Gaming / Off-Topic / Re: [movie] Star Trek 2 on: June 05, 2012, 09:54:47 PM

Quote from: Isgrimnur on June 05, 2012, 02:27:08 PM

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is the perfect example.  The trailer ruined every cool moment in the film. 

Also, the title. slywink

- Ash
34  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Diablo III screenshots/gameplay videos (try to avoid quest/story/boss spoilers) on: June 04, 2012, 01:14:30 PM

Quote from: Blackjack on June 03, 2012, 02:07:03 PM

Banner mania!

*This was imho the nicest set of customized banners I've seen. Gave me some dye color ideas. It's too bad we can't do a separate banner for each character. I assume maybe that would cause memory or server issues or something.

OMG, I made a screenshot (well, my banner did, and the backside of my Monk's left hip)! slywink

I agree about the banners-per-character, BTW. The one with the fist weapon in that picture is obviously for my Monk but I've been regretting that I can't do something different for my new DH (so far, I've just changed the colors a little and replaced the crossed-Diabo at the bottom with a couple quivers).

- Ash
35  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Diablo III on: May 14, 2012, 10:44:12 PM

Quote from: Gratch on May 14, 2012, 10:40:20 PM

I ordered a digital copy direct from Blizzard, and it's asking me for an activation key.  Where would I find this?

I haven't been able to find one yet, either; that said, the game installed fine and loaded to the login screen and let me watch the cinematics without actually asking for it (and my Bnet account page says Diablo 3 is "active" on my account), so I'm wondering/hoping the message about a key was just for people that might have grabbed the installer from somewhere without pre-ordering first.

- Ash
36  Gaming / Console / PC Gaming / Re: Diablo III on: May 14, 2012, 02:04:33 PM

Quote from: CeeKay on May 14, 2012, 08:25:18 AM

less than 24 hours......

Installer unlocks in less than one... slywink

- Ash
37  Non-Gaming / Off-Topic / Re: Alerts to Threats in Europe by John Cleese on: May 14, 2012, 01:14:32 AM

Quote from: Isgrimnur on May 13, 2012, 05:50:40 PM

Personally, my favorite was the bit about the Spanish submarines.


- Ash
38  Gaming / Multiplayer Madness (MMO or otherwise) / Re: Diablo III Battle.Net tags. on: May 13, 2012, 02:50:25 PM
39  Gaming / Multiplayer Madness (MMO or otherwise) / Re: Guild Wars 2 on: May 02, 2012, 12:01:05 PM

Quote from: Gryndyl on May 02, 2012, 07:19:42 AM

A note on ranger pets for those feeling they were dead all of the time: Are you aware that you can have two pets and swap between them just like you can with weapons?

I was aware of that, but I didn't figure out how to charm another pet (or rather, how simple it was to charm another pet) until I was almost done with the Ranger for the weekend, so I didn't get much benefit out of it. If I continue with the class next time, I'll definitely be seeing how much of a difference that makes.

- Ash
40  Gaming / Multiplayer Madness (MMO or otherwise) / Re: Guild Wars 2 on: May 01, 2012, 01:19:57 AM

Quote from: Harkonis on May 01, 2012, 01:07:19 AM

pets in general seemed to spend more time dead than alive in both pve and pvp

Yeah, my Ranger's initial pet seemed far too weak in initial PvE. Plus, since they don't actually die but just run back to your side when they run out of health, it took me quite a while to realize why it stopped helping me (i.e., because it needed reviving). I don't know if the other various obtainable pets are supposedly to be significantly different / better than the ones you can choose to begin with or are just cosmetic, and I imagine spending some trait points on your pet would help, but the fragility of my pet was a significant negative for me in playing a Ranger.

- Ash
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