The last day of the year was also the last day of the Steam sale, 12 days of hemorrhaging wallets and, new this year, holiday-themed achievements. Every day brought new ones for various games and completing them won you coupons and contest entries.
Achievements are usually pretty worthless and sometimes they make you want to break things with your face, but other times games do it right and they can be fun. I really didn’t give a flying fart about trying to achieve them for the sake of achieving them; to me this was the perfect opportunity to finally try the many games sitting untouched in my Steam library, many of which got there via the Humble Bundle or Indie Royale. So I sought out the achievements for the games I already owned, and it led me to try a lot of games throughout the last week.
Here are the ones, all from 2011, that I cannot stop playing and wholeheartedly recommend.
Atom Zombie Smasher
I think I summed it up pretty well in my ravings on Twitter about it. It’s the lovechild of Quintin Tarantino and an Atari, a fine example of how a game’s art can elevate it from a great game to something special. Its 1960s zombie apocalypse frames numerous quick and bizarre comics about a small cast of characters, thrown at you in random order and leaving you baffled and amused. The music is nonstop go-go surfer something-or-other and drives you between each part of the game, making it hard to stop between each mission’s phases.
The graphics are, yes, tiny squares on a city map. The zombies are purple dots and the humans are yellow; the yellow dots flash red and turn purple when they touch a purple dot. There’s something amazing watching them though. When you see that the city’s remaining population is 1, but can’t find the yellow dot. Then you see it, one person zooming down a street, frantic and erratic, not stopping when they turn the corner into a cluster of purple. Or two yellow dots, moving together toward the helicopter’s landing zone, purple coming from both ends, and making it just in time. Two evacuees are hardly significant as far as your score goes, but dammit you’re cheering for them.
I can’t stop playing this game. (By the way it has a demo.)
There’s a silly thread on the Steam forums titled “Republicans need not apply,” complaining that this game takes for granted the liberal propaganda about global warming and all that. You know, ways in which the world might actually end. It’s ironic, considering that every other game in which the world is going end has fictional scenarios. Perhaps a series like Sid Meier’s Civilization—in which diplomacy and alliances are virtually useless, war is rewarded greatest, and environment and welfare are an afterthought—might better suit the isolationist, exceptionalist, xenophobic worldviews most republicans express.
Still, that has nothing to do with this game, because you’re not going to play it because it tickles your leftist fancies. You’re going to play it because it is an unrelenting and unforgiving game that fills you with excitement and dread every time you hit that End Turn button. You feel like you’re doing things right, but you know things are going to go wrong every chance they get. You can only do so much per turn; you can fix short-term problems, but how much can you sacrifice from your long-terms, game-winning goals?
I tried this again for the first time. I started a while ago, liked it, but wasn’t hooked. It wasn’t till after I got the holiday achievement (which is basically beating level 2-4) and moved on to the next level that I felt the glory of devising and correcting and finally finding a solution. It’s a beautiful thing when you get it to work. The fact that you can watch your system work at any speed just lets you fully indulge in the awe and pride. Holy hell this game makes you think.
The video below is the game’s how-to intro. Watch it for a feel of how it works, then go play the demo!
This is my favorite Halloween tradition. Since I was a tiny, I have watched the Dr. Seuss Halloween special, “Halloween Is Grinch Night” (1977), nearly every year. I feel intensely nostalgic when I watch it, but it’s undeniably worth watching at any age—for the first time or the six hundred and sixtieth time. It seriously freaked me out as a kid, but the more I grow up, the scarier it gets.
From my experience of making everyone at Halloween parties watch it, “Grinch Night” is often overlooked and unknown. That’s sad because it’s a strange and fantastic cartoon and I love it. Also, it’s responsible for the line, “It’s a wonderful night for eyebrows.” It’s embedded from the youtubes below, so indulge yourself, and I want to hear your thoughts about it.
As a kid, the highlight was, of course, the monster montage. I mean, it’s an excuse for Seuss to draw lots of monsters—what’s not to like? Two of them have always been creepiest, both static shots: the flashlight people and the black bird man. Nowadays its the scenes framing the “First-Class Grinching” that I appreciate. The scene before, where the Grinch invites Euchariah up to the Paraphernalia Wagon, always gives me chills. The eerie music adds to the buildup as Euchariah climbs those odd pegs that pop out of the wagon, and Euchariah’s willingness to be scared. I can’t help but watch that part wide-eyed and grinning.
The other thing I love about this cartoon is the odd, respectful antagonism between Euchariah and the Grinch. Maybe it’s because the Grinch is the main character in his own right, which allows him more sympathy from the viewer. The way they talk to each other is so unlike what I’m used to seeing in kids’ shows. Of course they’re enemies, and it’s pretty clear who’s trying to hurt the other, but Euchariah faces the Grinch on a thoughtful, humanitarian level. If you’re at all familiar with Dr. Seuss’s work, you know that politics are just as important in his work as rhyming and bizarre creatures. The overtones in “Grinch Night” are pretty hard to miss, and more than likely you’ll see the Grinch as a stand-in for various people and movements throughout history. That makes it all the more peculiar to see Euchariah confronting the Grinch with (what I take to be) respect for the Grinch’s humanity, rather than demonizing him.
When confronting the harmful words and actions of others, it’s important to hold onto the rights that make your society worth defending. That’s what Euchariah means to me.
The term “dead money” is also used in a derogatory sense to refer to money put in the pot by players who are still legally eligible to win it, but who are unlikely to do so because they are unskilled, increasing the expected return of other players. This can also be applied to the player himself: “Let’s invite John every week; he’s dead money”. The term “dead money” also applies in tournaments, when many casual players enter events with virtually no chance of winning.
I spent the past week playing only one game—”Dead Money,” the first DLC for Fallout: New Vegas. The premise is equal parts Ocean’s 11 and Saw: You wake up alone in a ghost town with an explosive collar around your neck. You are told by a hologram that there are 3 other people whose collars are linked to yours—if someone dies, all the collars explode. The four of you are going to break into the Sierra Madre Casino.
That’s all I’ll say about the story, except to say that I loved it. The companions have very detailed personalities and backstories, which makes them actually interesting to talk to and get to know. The plot has a lot of layers and ties into the rest of the game. The conclusion is satisfying and lays on some heavy foreshadowing.
The gameplay is tons of fun too. There’s emphasis on environmental hazards: a poisonous red cloud drains your health when you enter it and radios interfere with your collar, triggering their explosives after a few seconds. The cloud and radios limit where you can go and keep you on your toes; there are ways to mitigate each, but not both at once. The radios were particularly effective in making things tense. As you walk through the broken buildings, you hear white noise and garbled speech—then your collar starts beeping in warning and you run around, frantically looking for a radio to shoot before your head explodes. Quite a few times I ran into traps or enemies while looking for radios. Given that radios are a central part to the aesthetic and gameplay of the series as a whole, this twist on the radios is a highlight of “Dead Money.”
These environmental hazards—which also include deadly and invulnerable holographic guards—are encountered one at a time earlier on as you learn how to deal with them. In the final stages they are thrown together to make some very challenging areas to navigate. In this way, the levels seem thoughtfully designed; they reminded me of Portal. The Villa is also effectively laid out, with the fountain as the central hub, always accessible from the many districts of the Villa you explore.
Then there are the enemies, the ghosts. Very creepy. Hit hard too and are tough to kill. A few times I took a critical hit to the head and had to fight with a concussion and almost no hit points. But by taking it slowly and making sure I always got the first shot, their weakness was easily exploitable. The fact that they can return if not properly dealt with makes you more aware of how many there are and where they are, because each has to ultimately be accounted for. That and their deadliness mean it takes more thought into surviving them, compared to more common click-on-them-to-make-them-die1 baddies.
It was fun. It was memorable. I picked up poker chips off the floor obsessively, with careless disregard for toxic clouds or headsploding radios. I got rich.
Anna, of all people, asked me if I was going to write a weekly post about what I’ve been playing. I didn’t think she cared, this being mostly about games and all. She says it’s nice reading about what I do at this computer every evening.
It’s mostly been Guild Wars. I spent the week working through the new Winds of Change content.
(For those who don’t follow Guild Wars, ArenaNet has been creating content called Guild Wars Beyond, which along with three novels, bridges the 250-year gap between GW and the upcoming Guild Wars 2.1 War in Kryta wrapped up the story for the first GW campaign, Prophesies, while Winds of Change continues the story of Factions. How cool is it that after 6 years, ArenaNet is still releasing new (and really fun and challenging) content for this game?)
I’ve heard very mixed reviews of WoC. One flavor of review says it’s tedious and repetitive, and I might agree if it weren’t for the fact we’re fighting the afflicted. You see (and I think I’m in the minority when I say this), I love Factions and I love Kaineng City. The vastness of its labyrinth of walls really amazes me. And for such a large population to be crammed into this crowded and filthy place… it makes the afflicted quite appropriate monsters to fight here. They’ve always been one of my favorite groups to fight; they’re creepy, dangerous, and there’s always lots of them. They’ve always offered a versatile challenge, both for new Factions characters with limited skills and for fully decked-out characters.
As for WoC itself (part 1 at least). It was tons of fun. I played through on my ritualist, using a Soul Twisting build or variations of Signet of Spirits (Restoration, Spirit Leech Aura, or spirit spamming) (I hate using SoS builds, you have little control and you do nothing; leave it to the heroes). Some of the battles were an absolute mess. I played on hard mode and the afflicted, now with meta builds, hit pretty hard. Still, they were no match for my meta builds.
Now that part 1 is done, the afflicted are cleansed from the city (they don’t appear anymore in the explorable areas) and the Ministry of Purity isn’t looking so pure anymore (surprise surprise). I’m actually kind of moved by the thought that the afflicted are gone. No doubt something more sinister will take their place. My reward for all this? Now my ritualist has two fans. Not all that useful, but quite pretty.
Also been playing The Longest Journey, which has been on my list since reading about how it’s the namesake for the awesome Border House blog. I’m partway through Chapter 2. I like April’s voice. She sounds like Swoopy. I enjoy point-and-click adventure games like this, but sadly I tend to play them as fallbacks when I get bored with other games.
I read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s (author of Let the Right One In) Handling the Undead. You’d expect it to be a zombie version of LtROI, and it mostly is. In this one, the dead come back to life and are for the most part benign, but their loved ones have to figure out what to do with them, much like the French film Les Revenants. It’s set in modern-day Stockholm, so like in LtROI, the social and economic landscape of Sweden makes up a large part of the setting. And also like in LtROI, it’s the people who are the real monsters. It’s much tamer than LtROI, and much less gruesome. It’s still very dark and disturbing though. (I told myself not to spend this whole time comparing it to LtROI. Shit.)
And I watched the 5th and 6th Harry Potter movies. After being really upset with how bad the 4th movie was, I swore off any further HP movies. But the internet is once again full of all things Rowling, and I was constantly reminded of how awesome Snape is, and with Anna’s encouragement, I was tempted to watch the later films in hope that they portrayed him right. They were good. Gonna watch 7.1 and then see 7.2 with some friends. (Actually I was very impressed with the films. Unlike the earlier ones, stuff actually happens within the scenes—the characters act like people—rather than each movie being more like a checklist. The climax of 6 lacked all the the nuance of the book, but that’s okay.)
See what I did there? “250-year gap between GW and GW2.” Har har. [↩]
Here’s a radical fucking idea. If I’m about to say some stuff in twitter that will take 3 or more posts, why not put it on the blog. Shyea I know right?
We watched Jurassic Park 2 (aka The Lost World: Jurassic Park) again. Hadn’t seen it since high school. I didn’t remember it being that good, and it isn’t. I read the book before it came out and that definitely gave it a bad flavor on release. Weren’t there chameleon dinosaurs in the book?
One thing that makes the first Jurassic Park great, aside from the obvious, is Hammond. He’s not quite the villain, but he’s the one responsible and his flaws are front and center throughout the movie. He’s greedy, he abuses power, he dreams too big. And he’s not killed off in the name of contrived justice, like his counterpart in the second movie. Hammond is left to live with his regret, but he doesn’t apologize for his flaws. One day his tombstone will read, “Fuck you all. I made dinosaurs.”
The other odd thing I like about the first is that the humans don’t kill any dinosaurs, to the best of my memory. They kill a raptor in 2; but at least it’s the teenage girl who does it, not any of the 50 men with giant guns. That’s badass.
PS The movie is watchable thanks to Jeff Goldblum.
PPS In high school we read Frankenstein and the teacher was talking about watching one of the movies. I raised my hand and asked if we could just watch Jurassic Park instead. He nodded slowly and smiled. It was my finest moment.