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Panic, sheer bloody panic

I am officially terrified. It took me a couple of days to realize it, but I am.

Two days ago I executed the next step in my grand plan to never have to work a regular day job ever again, and sent off my story-in-progress to be read by someone that isn't a) me or b) sharing a bed with me every night. My own opinion on the story has fluctuated wildly, of course, but towards the end I was pretty well pleased by it. I have spent the last several weeks devouring blogs of literary agents to study up on how to actually get published, and prepared mentally for the unavoidable pile of rejection letters.

And then I ate half a biscuit and suddenly realized that these people that are about to read my story* may not like it.

(On a sidenote, we just had an earthquake. Small, but the second one this week. Awesomesauce.)

And then what? A regular job for the rest of my life, that's what. I appreciate the practicality of having a regular job - I'm just not a fan. I've yet to find a job that doesn't bore me after the first couple of weeks, and while this does in no way make me unique, I was rather banking on being one of those lucky few who can actually make a living on something they do enjoy, and have enjoyed for... *counts the years* ... Well, no need to get mathematical, but for most of my life. It took me a while to get to the point where I felt that making a living as a writer was actually a realistic notion, and I don't particularly want to go back to not thinking I'm good enough.

On the other hand - I really don't want to spend the rest of my life wondering whether I'm good enough either. And when I think about it, it's actually pretty damn exciting. I'm kind of looking forward to querying and receiving rejections, in a gleefully sadomasochistic way. Despite the terror and creeping half-suspicion that my test readers will wonder what the hell this crap is, I can't help feeling a teensy bit optimistic. I'm sure the Powers That Be wouldn't let me get over my crippling insecurities and put myself out there, only to beat me down again with a brutal "nope, turns out after all you really do suck".

The cynical part of me suspects they definitely would, on account of being mean sons-of-bitches with a nasty sense of humor. In which case I say, bring it on. I once beat someone up for stealing my hat - I can certainly beat someone up for stealing my career dreams.

So to make it easier on everyone, test readers, just like my story, will you? ... Pretty please?

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* I don't like calling it a "nov*l" yet. It feels jinxy.

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Dec. 6th, 2011

While a big fan of the Assassin's Creed series, I really wasn't expecting much from Assassin's Creed: Revelations. The setting didn't particularly interest me, and I felt that Ezio, while a great character, had run his course (metaphorically and literally). Contrary to my habit, I actually saw one of the trailers* and was not impressed. Not that it was bad - it just didn't stand out enough to pique my interest. Nonetheless, I pre-ordered the collector's edition because a) I'm selfish and wanted to play it before my boyfriend did, b) it included the dungeon of Vlad Tepes,** and c) the game came out on the 15th, the same day I got my first salary on the new job. Coincidence? I think not.

So I got it and played it. I was not disappointed. Nor, unfortunately, was I pleasantly surprised. Ezio was in great shape, as always, despite a few muttered grunts of pain. It's still fun to run over rooftops and kill guards in interesting and stylish ways. But that was pretty much it. Somehow I got the impression that the developers got so carried away with new mini-games and features that they forgot about the main story, and just bunged something in at the last moment.

In retrospect, I'm not even sure who the bad guy was, or what my grudge with him was. The mini-games, particularly the micro-management of the assassins in other cities, tended to overshadow the main quest to the point where it felt like that was the secondary quest. I swear to Those That Came Before, no one around the Mediterranean was able to do anything without Ezio's personal involvement. Templars invading our town? Well, our five assassin dens here couldn't possibly put up resistance until Ezio tells us it's alright. And it never bloody ended. It would have been much more bearable if, say, once the Assassins were in 100% control, they would be capable to keep it that way, without my having to tell them every five minutes to get their assasses out of their dens and get things done. Geez, I didn't sign up for a management sim - I'm only here to kill people.

Then there was the new tower defense mini-game. It didn't intrude too much on your regular gaming time, if you took a few minor precautions, but that's about the kindest thing I can say about it. I actually liked the sequences where you got to do something a little different - like being dragged behind the cart - but the tower defense was too elaborate for a one-shot scenario, and not interesting enough to do over and over again.

On the whole, the latest installment felt much simpler than the previous ones. The various guilds (thieves, mercenaries and cour-- sorry, romani) might as well have been cut - I hardly found any use for them this time around. The bombs wasn't a bad addition, but I think the developers had a lot more fun developing them than I had using them. There hardly ever seemed to be any point to being overly elaborate or elegant - just jump in there and kill everything that moves, there's a good boy, and by the way, here's a stern rebuke for killing a civilian that wandered right into the battle, please don't do it again. The setting, while gorgeous as usual, felt at the same time limited (just the one town, really? Cappadocia hardly counts) and too open (everything except one area unlocked from the start? But... but... what's there to look forward to in the upcoming sequences??).

Aside from that, it was simple in terms of ease too. I'm not a good gamer. Really, I'm not. Enthusiastic, yes, and I'm good at using my brains, but I suck at actual playing. If the engine permitted it, I'd sooner stab myself than someone else. In my sessions, Ezio frequently walks around with bruised knees and a nosebleed, because I tend to misjudge the length of a jump or randomly change direction just before the jump. In AC:R, I got 100% sync on the first attempt for nearly every sequence (without even trying) and collected all the single-player Achievements without breaking a sweat (or a controller, or inconveniently placed window). It shouldn't be that way. Not with me.

And I really missed the horses.

I'm still going to get the next AC, of course, because I'm a sucker like that. And besides: I enjoyed it, vaguely, for the most part. I particularly liked the bits with Altaïr, who in some ways is the most interesting of the thus far introduced protagonists (with Ezio coming in second, and Desmond way, way down at the bottom - although he is improving).

Next up: L.A. Noire.

Also my own mod, which I'm working on whenever I have a moment. It needs a new name, since I tweaked the main story just enough to invalidate the title I had picked out. Which is fine, because I never really liked that title, and I'm convinced that's what's been holding me back. A project doesn't feel real until it has a fitting name.



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* I was tricked.
** I'm a fan.

Oct. 12th, 2011

I'm rapidly approaching the age where it's time to renew my driver's license for the first time. In other words, I've been driving for quite a few years. I have driven cars of different sizes and makes and types. I have never, ever caused/caused to cause/nearly caused an accident. Then I started playing Mafia II, and I'm lucky if I can turn a corner without putting a bump in the car or break down a street light.

I never played the first Mafia, but I got the sequel because when I bought my second Xbox 360 there was this "get one of these games at half price" deal, and Mafia II was the only game that a) I didn't already own and b) I felt remotely willing to play. Besides, I live with a Sicilian. I feel I should know about these things.

Well, I started playing it back then, and I didn't dislike it or anything, but my interest sort of drifted away somewhere in the beginning of chapter 2. Months later, I found myself unemployed* and came to the reluctant conclusion that rather than splashing my hard-earned savings on new games, I could play all those unfinished titles I have lying around. So in went Mafia II again, and this time I finished it, not without difficulty.

It's not a bad game, by any means. I want to make that clear first, so you don't get the wrong idea while I spend the next few paragraphs moaning and bitching about it and pointing out exactly all the things it did wrong.

Spoiler-free(ish) rant on Mafia IICollapse )

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Mass Effect 2 keeps surprising me. After grabbing the class-specific achievements, I'm only missing one non-DLC achievement: the one for finishing the game on Insanity difficulty. I'm well aware that I'm not a good player when it comes to, you know, the actual playing bits. I'm impatient, I have a tendency to pick powers and feats based on how much I like their names, and I approach strategy the way Jack the Ripper approached his victims.*


So when I started a new game on Insanity difficulty, I didn't really expect to play for long. I did finish the first Mass Effect on Insanity, but then I imported a character I had already finished the game with, meaning that I started out on level 45 or so. That helps immensely. I would have done the same with ME2, except that I have only ever finished that game with a female Shepard and at the point where I started my Insanity run, I had just run Fem!Shep through ME1 twice, plus a good chunk of ME2 - in other words, I was sick to death of her. Therefore, I imported my Renegade Hellhound Shepard from ME1, starting out at a modest level 3, cranked it up to Insanity and threw myself into the game.

And enjoyed it.

That came as something of a shock. Usually I start out at normal difficulty, but if I get bored (which happens very soon) or frustrated (which happens sooner) with a battle, I move down the difficulty, at least for that battle. Now I keep catching myself enjoying the challenge of having to discover the best way of dealing with a battle, and using powers and weapons I've never bothered with before. It does get frustrating at times,** but it never occurs to me to quit playing or change the difficulty. It's tough, but manageable. But there are two things that seriously piss me off.

First: Shepard. The man is dumber than a bottle of water. He'll cheerfully stand up in the middle of a shootout (particularly if the screen is flaring viciously red to denote that he's half an inch from death), either with no command at all from my side, or simply because I tried to do something as harmless as opening the power wheel. He stands around looking stupid when he's being assaulted from three sides, regardless of which buttons I press. He ducks down when I tell him to jump over. It's possible that it's simply more noticeable because of the higher difficulty, but I don't recall any of my previous Sheps acting this way. It's a bit disheartening to feel that you would do better if you didn't have your main character to deal with.

Second: gratuitious save blocks. By this I mean forcing the player through HUGE chunks of gameplay without giving them a chance to save - and for no particular reason. I'd like to illustrate this problem with a dialogue.

Me: "Oki, we finished this battle, can I save now?"
Game: "No."
Me: "Err... but there are no enemies nearby, and we're standing in a perfectly ordinary area. There's no reason I shouldn't be able to save."
Game: "... What's your point?"
Me: "That... I should be able to save."
Game: "Well, you can't."
Me: "Why not?"
Game: "You just can't, alright?! What is WITH this third degree! I say you can't save, you can't save! Do I need a flippin' reason for EVERYTHING!? Just leave me alone! *slams door*"

I'm pretty sure these save blocks didn't occur in lower difficulties, because it would have bugged me much sooner if it did. I'm a save junkie - if there's free saving in game, I save every two minutes and at least twice just after finishing a battle. I realize that Insanity is supposed to be challenging, and I'm totally onboard with that. But the thing is, that randomly removing the save function doesn't make it more challenging - it just makes it totally fucking annoying. Instead of having to replay a short section because I messed up, I have to replay a long section, often several times. It's so utterly pointless and doesn't add anything to the game. It's just pointless padding, making a section last an hour when it could have been over in ten minutes. Seeing as how I've already finished ME2, I'm not terribly interested in spending more time than necessary on it and I certainly find no enjoyment in replaying the same series of ten battles ten times just because I made a mistake in the last one and I'm not allowed to save between each.

Shame on you, BioWare.



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* Enthusiastically, but the end result is just a bloody mess.
** Especially the time when it took me nearly forty minutes to get through a certain battle, and between the point where I finally made it and the point where I made a new save, Hellhound stepped on the one pixel in the area that lifted him two meters in the air and left him there, no matter what buttons I pressed. That made me swear a bit.


Unemployment has a number of drawbacks and a few advantages. One advantage is that you have all the time in the world to play video games. This is mostly balanced out by the drawback of not having a lot of money to spend on new games. I've been so stingy that, it just hit me, I can't even remember the last time I bought a game. That's a bit disturbing. But, not having any income whatsoever at the moment and no idea when this will change, I'm a bit wary of spending a good chunk of my savings on a game I'm not really, really sure I'll like. So what's a gamer geek to do?

Two things have helped me through this rough period. 1) Digging out those old games I have lying about and never finished.* 2) Replaying the games I have to grab more Achievements. The latter has showed a new side of me. Six months ago I never would have played a game simply for the sake of Achievements - I like Achievements, and I greatly look forward to every ploppy sound telling me I got a new one, but I don't adapt my playing style to Achievement grabbing. At least that's how it used to be. Now, unemployment has turned me into an Achievement whore.

It started with Assassin's Creed. After finishing Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood, I was in Assassin's Creed abstinence, and decided I'd give the first game another go - I'd started it, once, long time ago, and dropped almost immediately. After I finished it I found, to my dismay, that I was only missing two Achievements; the one for having all the conversations with Lucy and the one for killing all the Templars.** Both of them were perfectly doable, so I thought, "what the heck", and replayed the entire friggin' game to get those two friggin' Achievements.***

Mission accomplished. And that's when I started wondering if I had more games for which I might attain that elusive 100%. I did. And now, I've found, I can't stop playing a game as long as there are Achievements that I feel even remotely capable of taking. Fortunately, I'm a pretty lousy player and realize my limitations, so I'm not going to waste time on trying to get 100% completion in Red Dead Redemption - there's simply no way I'll be able to complete all the ambient challenges and play Liar's Dice without losing a single die and whatnot. That, however, is a small comfort, since many of the Achievements I miss are such that I feel I can take them, but I'll need to replay the whole or most of a game to get them.

The latest offender is Mass Effect. I played it twice, back to back, in the last couple of weeks, just to get the Achievements for using Engineer and Adept abilities a certain number of times (I always played the Soldier class before). Well, when I had the Achievements, I was close enough to finishing the game that I figured I might as well, so I could import my Shepardesses**** to Mass Effect 2 and grab the class-specific Achievements for that game too. So that's at least two playthroughs, plus one more to get the Achievement for finishing the game on Insanity (I'll need an imported have-already-finished-the-game-once level 30 Shepard for that, I fear - like I said, I'm a pretty lousy player). And I have to buy DLC I don't really want to get the coveted 100%.

Achievement addiction - it can happen to anyone.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, I find myself rather enjoying Mass Effect 2. I had convinced myself I hated the new combat system, but I caught myself having fun ducking for cover and coming up to squeeze of a few shots into an unsuspecting opponents only to dive down again. It helps if you think of them as wild west-style shootouts, and I love wild west-style shootouts.

I still hate Miranda, though. And Jack. And feel no affection whatsoever for most of the new NPCs. The ones that tagged along from the first Mass Effect are still the awesomest.

***

As soon as I finish ME2, though, I'll go back to working on my NWN mod. Promise. Honest, I will.



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* Generally followed by the realization there was a reason I never finished them.
** The latter entirely due to a glitch - I had killed them all, but one wasn't added to the counter - which only made it more frustrating.
*** Anyone who has done the same knows why skippable cutscenes are a blessing.
**** I made my Adept a Paragon and the Engineer a Renegade. I named the Paragon Indigo with no intention of symbolism whatsoever, but once I spotted it, I decided to go with it and called the Renegade Crimson.
I named my new gaming computer "Witcher". I put in my pre-order with GOG half a year ago and confirmed it the minute they let me. When I happened to find myself in Milan on the day of release, I hi-jacked my Gracious Host's computer and Collector's Edition and threw myself into into the game. Damn shame I didn't enjoy it one bit.

I wanted to like it. Gods, did I ever want to like it. Unfortunately, I really, really didn't. I feel like I should have liked it, and I'm not sure why I didn't. I only finished it because the above-mentioned Gracious Host asked me to - he likes my snarky tweets. But I couldn't even find much to snark about.

The Witcher 2, and a bit on Assassin's Creed IICollapse )

At the moment I have no income whatsoever, and no prospect of getting an income any time soon, on account of every employer in the world hates my guts and won't even get near enough my application to read the return-email address and send a "thanks, but you're not exactly what we're looking for at the moment". So naturally I had to go and splash out on supercool gaming computer. It's not my fault, really. My laptop started making random strained noises. I can get a hint, so Lappy got its way and has been semi-retired, in favor of a desktop computer - something I haven't had in a very long time and didn't realize how much I missed until I got one. For added fun, I bought it in parts and put it together myself.*

I'm incredibly pleased with the result. The sheer joy of a smooth, fast computer is something no gamer should be denied. I celebrated by getting my third copy of The Witcher from the too-awesome-for words GOG.** I only ever played this game on a decidedly sub-spec computer, which meant running every graphic setting to the bottom and still experiencing severe lag and go-make-a-sandwich-while-you-wait load times. Now everything is on best settings, and it's BEAUTIFUL. I'm discovering things I never saw before. Grass moving! Frogs jumping by the water! Hair on Geralt's chest!***

But I didn't come here to praise (although gods know GOG deserves it). When I went through N4G this morning as usual, two articles stood out, and I am now going to complain about each in order.

First this: http://www.computerandvideogames.com/301118/news/the-darkness-2-to-star-nolan-north/

I generally avoid reading about games I intend to play - I get just enough info to decide whether I want to play it or not, and then I stay the hell away from spoilers, previews, hints, screenshots and trailers. That's because I want to base my impression on the game itself, not on pre-release material. I want to be completely surprised regarding characters, story and whatnot. I do intend to play The Darkness 2, because I loved the first one, but I couldn't help reading this article, seeing as how the headline made me (almost literally) scream out, "No!" and I had to find out if this was fact or simply a malicious rumor. It's not that I mind Nolan North. His voice work was one of few things I actually liked in Uncharted. But he is NOT Jackie. Not even a little bit. Kirk Acevedo nailed the voice in the first game, and no one but him should ever be allowed to voice Jackie. If they decide to make a live action The Darkness movie, no one but him should be allowed to play Jackie.

The second article was this: http://www.nowgamer.com/news/5783/mass-effect-3-going-after-uncharted-gears-of-war

Quote: "... the development team [of Mass Effect 3] are aiming to be 'a "Best in Class" third-person shooter'..." Close quote. So I guess now they're not even pretending that Mass Effect is a role-playing game anymore. I vaguely recall that at one point I defended the RPG factor of the Mass Effect series. Now I really wish I could remember what arguments I used. I enjoyed the first Mass Effect - the RPG elements weren't... shall we say, obvious, but it didn't stop me from having tons of fun with the game. I was utterly disappointed by Mass Effect 2. The "improvements" over ME apparently included removing every last shred of RPG elements and "streamlining" the story to the point where it was a string of loyalty missions leading up to a shoddy climax that suddenly recalled there was a main plot to experience.

I'm not saying that BioWare has to make RPGs all the time, even if that's where they (used to) shine, but if you're going to strip a game of RPGing, then don't bloody promote it as an RPG. The more I think about ME2, the less I like it. I still have some achievements to grab, but the mere idea of firing the game up again disgusts me.

Of course, this won't stop me from playing ME3.****



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* That is, my dad put it together while I was hovering nearby, occasionally holding a screw or moving a box out of the way.

** My third copy overall. Not my third copy from GOG.
*** The last one alone made the computer purchase totally worth it.
**** Playing, mind. I'm not going to buy it. Thank goodness for gamer geeky partners who are actually looking forward to ME3 and will buy it no matter what.
I hardly ever watch TV, partly because there's very little, if anything, that interests me (i.e. reality shows, reruns of shows I didn't like in the first place, and ridiculous amounts of commercials that try to make me buy stuff I don't need with insultingly simple means) and partly because... actually I forgot the other part while I was complaining about the commercials. Bottom line: I don't watch TV. But sometimes I find a series I like and follow that through other means. Right now it's the brilliant mystery/murder/comedy series Castle. I've been chomping through the first two seasons like that shark went through swimmers (until they got a bigger boat).

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why I like this show. You could talk at length about the subtle comedy, the wonderful chemistry between characters, the chance to exercise my mind and challenge myself to solve the case before the main characters do (usually I do), but in the end it all boils down to this: I want to be Castle when I grow up. I mean, except for the part where he's a man and has a kid. But the rest, heck, I wants. The whole famous author bit, with a comfortable amount of money* and connections in every obscure profession that you can call upon for research... I'd even like to write autographs. I just need to change my name first - mine doesn't do for pretty autographs.

My point here was supposed to be that yesterday I saw the first episode of the series that I really, really disliked. I might go so far to say I hated it, because, well, I did. It was episode 3x11, "Nikki Heat", in which Castle meets Natalie Rhodes, the actress that's supposed to play the lead in the movie of his book. I could barely even make it through the episode. Every now and then I uttered a "Come ON!" through gritted teeth** and had to take a short break before I could go on watching. It wasn't until this morning that it hit me why I hated it so much, but now it makes perfect sense.

Natalie Rhodes, the actress, was a RAGING Mary Sue. She had all the hallmarks:

* Incredibly beautiful (or so it was claimed. Personally I didn't agree, but I hardly ever do)
* People fell out of character to accommodate her (Detective Beckett HATED having Castle following her around in the beginning - with Natalie Rhodes, it was all smiles and sunshine)
* She picked up new talents in a very short time
* She inexplicably succeeded with tasks that professionals failed at (Talking down someone attempting a suicide? Det. Beckett, who has throughout 2,5 seasons proved to be an excellent detective who has a way with people, couldn't do it. In steps Natalie Sue, and takes care of it easily.)
* At the end, everyone, EVERYONE, regardless of what they thought of her before, and ESPECIALLY the ones that didn't like her, had come round and were now head over heels with her.
I have this thing about Mary Sue characters. I've written quite a few of them in my day, when I was around 8 years old. Now I'm slightly wiser, rather a lot older*** and I obsessively check my characters to avoid the dreaded Mary Sueness. People are welcome to like my characters, hell, I'm thrilled if they do. But damned if I'm going to TELL them that they like my characters. I think that's what bothers me most about Mary Sues. You're presented with a character and told that "everyone loves this person, including you". Uh-uh, no, I damn well DON'T. I'm contrary like that - I'm not going to do or think or feel anything because someone tells me to (but I'm rather likely to do or think or feel the exact opposite, out of sheer stubbornheadedness). If you want me to like a character, tell me more about him or her, then I will tell you if you managed to make him/her likeable. Saying that "a lot people that came across Marion Sun found her attractive" is fine; do NOT say "Marion Sue was stunningly gorgeous". You can tell me what other creations of yours think of your main character, but you can't tell me what I should think about him/her.
I really had to get that off my chest.




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* Yes, we know, money doesn't buy happiness. But lack of money doesn't make anyone feel sorry and drop happiness on your lap out of pity.
** I would have shouted it, but it was late at night and people were asleep.
*** My brain melted those two together, so at first I wrote "slightly wilder". That may very well be true too.


Last night I dreamed that I found a secret bonus chapter in Dragon Age II, where you played as the Warden from Dragon Age: Origins. I don't remember much about it, except that my lady Warden had, inexplicably, changed to a brutally ugly hairstyle, but I was terribly disappointed to wake up and realize it wasn't real.

By now I have played DAII three times, from start to finish, and it was incredibly depressing to see how extremely similar all three playthroughs were, even though I used different classes, genders and personality types. Not that I didn't enjoy the game, because I did (evidently - you don't play through a game three times, back to back, if you don't really enjoy it), but it could have been so much more. Was it a good game? Sure. A worthy follow-up to DA:O? Not so much. If you want to know why, do feel free to continue to the rant. It's all spoiler-free, don't worry.

Rant behind cutCollapse )
 

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I finally got my hands on Dragon Age II, and I'm doing a sort of on-the-fly review over at Twitter. Head on over! Sign up as a follower! Argue my points! Or don't, if you don't give a hoot what I think about the game.

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