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Gaming, Tech, Nerd Stuff. Also there's a cartoon.

Category: Gaming

19 May

Gaming Gutcheck: Injustice 2

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Fighting games are notorious for being in the realm of those with ‘l33t skillz’. As the kids say. Said. 10 years ago. Anyway. I am definitely *not* of of them. As a result the world of fighting games has always been at arm’s length, an impenetrable bubble. What little time I did spend with them was one of the Soul Calibur games — I don’t even remember which one but probably PS/2 era — with friends on the couch and adult beverages.

What I know of myself and the way I play games means I will always be *mostly* a button-masher, but with a few nods towards intention, and that’s why I was pleased to find that Injustice 2 can be a fighting game for people like me.

I can’t quite pin down what compelled me to pick it up — the praise for it in the games media was certainly a factor, but the combination of superheroes and welcoming to new & low skill players was a real draw.

As an illustration of just how bad I am at these games, I had serious trouble even getting through the tutorial. Some of the advanced moves appear to require more fingers than I possess. In the heat of battle any info about combos/defense/offence just flies out of my brain and I just press the offense and hope I luck my way into a win.

Even on Easy I was having trouble clearing the first couple of fights but then I saw the “Very Easy” setting and it got a lot better. I don’t know if I’m imagining things but I think the AI may be adaptive to your skill level. Sometimes if I was having trouble in a fight, after a couple of losses I feel like the AI was learning my panicky patterns and letting me score some hits, which is great for people like me. Nothing is worse than banging your head against a wall in a game, but I feel like Injustice 2 wants to let everyone play it, regardless of skill.

While I’m mostly Marvel-centric these days I will always have a place in my heart for the DC roster, and the wacky over-the-top version of the world that Injustice 2 inhabits helps elevate the characters out of the grimdark swamp DC has been mired in.

The loot/level mechanic is extremely appealing to a RPG fan like myself. While there is a heavy sniff of “loot box microtransaction” here, I don’t feel it’s too heavy-handed and isn’t required to enjoy what the game has to offer.

Next time we podcast I plan on getting the lads on the couch for some local multiplayer, which I think is where the game will really shine. More on that when the time comes. On the whole I’m glad I picked it up. If there’s ever a fighting game that could be my onramp to the genre, this is likely it.

Incidentally if you’re like me and have been intimidated by the world of fighting games, friend of Operation PUG Real Soviet Bear and collaborator Colin Dettmar have the podcast series Neutral Game specifically to demystify and help introduce people to the genre. Their intro episode embedded below.

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24 Apr

The Andromeda Chronicles Vol 3: A New Hope

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This is a spoiler-free article, so feel free to read on.

At 36 hours I completed the main story of Mass Effect: Andromeda. This is worth nothing because I very rarely finish any game. It’s widely known in dev circles that most people who buy a game will never finish it, and I am definitely in that category. It’s a testament to how much I ended up liking the characters and world that it compelled me to keep going and see it through to the end.

It’s also worth noting that your experience of the game largely depends on the dialog choices you make. We no longer have the blunt-force Paragon/Renegade moral choices of previous Mass Effect games, but instead your responses are nuanced to personality: logical, emotional, casual, professional, and of course the inevitable romance options.

In my playthrough Ryder was kind, helpful and sympathetic, and that is one of the things that kept me engaged. As a result the story was largely about hope, cooperation and understanding, and bold determination to meet challenges.

Still Life with Sympathy and an Assault Rifle

All along the way my journey in MEA was a story of optimism, but optimism born from making difficult choices in a harsh reality. As a player you are presented with choices that will give you quick benefits for morally questionable actions, or deferred gratification for long-term growth. I always chose the latter, and as a result friendships and alliances grew strong and healthy.

This theme is what kept me engaged, to the point that any technical issues — and there are plenty — were completely overshadowed by my emotional involvement. Much like we had to do in video games of previous years, the world was so tantalizing that my own imagination could smooth over any visual crudeness.

That’s not to say everything is wonderful. Many of the side-quests don’t ever come to a satisfying conclusion, but just end without feeling like they are connected to the rest of the world. Several times I wasn’t even sure that a quest was over because the conclusion was so anticlimactic. That’s to be expected, but it did feel odd.

However there are also small touches that work well. The new vehicle is quite fun to zoom around in, particularly after a few upgrades. As is to be expected in a more action-focussed game, the Nomad is unlike the Mako of ME1. This thing can move. And you can get some pretty snazzy paint jobs.

Go fast space buggy!

In the end, my enjoyment subverted my original intention of these articles to track changes in the game as patches come out. Despite the fact that I have completed the story I am still at only 66% completion so I can go back and still have plenty to do, and there should be more good character moments with loyalty mission so I expect I’ll return to it.

It’s been a genuine pleasant surprise, and cements even more my feeling that one needs to take both gaming press and the reaction of the meme-hungry Internet masses with a few dozen grains of salt. Being willing to accept a game on it’s own terms and let it show you what it is ends up being a richer experience all around.

Ryder. Our only hope.

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14 Apr

The Andromeda Chronicles Vol 2: Easy Ryder

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This one is spoiler-free, so read on gentle viewers.

According to my latest save file I’m 26 hours into the game and 46% completed the story. I had fully intended these articles to happen a little more frequently as I progress, but against all expectations the game got its hooks into me.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the animation jank. I touched on this before so I don’t want to belabour the point. We’ve all seen the gifs. We know the jank is real. We will probably never know the reasons the game was released in this state, but as always it has everything to do with time and budget constraints, and not “incompetence” on the part of developers.

After having spent a considerable amount of time with it now, I almost feel that the game is a victim of its long development cycle. If this game had been released 5 years ago, we wouldn’t have had nearly the uproar over the animations that we’ve seen. ME:A presentation as a whole feels a bit like a relic of the past, like the game fell out of a time hole from the early 2000’s. That doesn’t excuse the bugs, but I have to say that being aware of the issues going in has allowed me to dismiss it and move on. Ultimately the animation jank became a minor tarnish in a much larger game, easily overlooked.

It can also look damn pretty

Now to the more important part: the story.

I’ll preface this by saying that prior to this I held no great affection for the previous Mass Effect games. I played ME1 but didn’t finish it, played ME2 all the way and quite enjoyed it, and never touched ME3 due to the cloud of fan backlash that lay over it (which I may go back and revisit after this). Many reviewers have complained that the story just wasn’t grabbing them like the original Mass Effect; that it feels like a pale imitation, trying to recapture the essence of the previous games and never quite hitting the mark.

I suspect the difference is much like the rift between fans of the original Star Trek and the new “Kelvin timeline” of the modern films. There is a tonal shift that doesn’t click with fans of the original. As a lifelong Star Wars fan I can totally empathize with being thrown off by such a shift.

Coming at it from the perspective of someone not really attached to the previous games, I’m finding it to be wholly engaging and endearing. No question it takes a while to find its feet — getting this story going is like pushing a car out of the mud — but once it does I’m finding myself more & more invested in this world and these characters.

The biggest reason that it keeps pulling me back is I genuinely *like* the character of Ryder (Karen in my case). She feels well-rounded, hopeful yet struggling with a world she doesn’t quite understand. There is nothing that turns me off a game like a protagonist I can’t empathize with. I still struggle trying to play the otherwise excellent Witcher 3 because I just don’t like Geralt as person. However Ryder and her interactions with her crew & the world feel real, a mix of confusion, resolve, and complex emotions. Conflicts feel justified. Friendships feel genuine.

That’s not to say all of the characters are fantastic or well-rounded. Like any sci-fi franchise, ME:A has it’s share of tired tropes. The main villain is a forgettable amalgam of mustache-twirling evil, and some of your crew (mostly the dudebros) are as thin and forgettable as vaseline on white bread. Those things don’t detract from the game at all, thankfully. The Big Bad simply becomes the motivating force, and the forgettable crewmates are easily avoided in favor of the colourful and interesting ones (Vetra and Drack are my usual picks).

Mostly it’s the small interjections that work very well. The game is definitely more action-focused than previous titles, so some of the characterizations are delivered through small snippets of dialog. These are lines that either work or don’t based on their delivery, and thankfully the voice actor for Ryder (Fryda Wolff in the case of female Ryder) is spot-on. At one point in a side mission (no spoilers) she finds out she’s been double crossed by both sides and exclaims “Is *everyone* on this planet a lying asshole?” with such exasperation and conviction I genuinely laughed out loud.

“Is EVERYONE on this planet a lying asshole?” — Karen Ryder née Babbage

Now that I’m at the half-way mark I may break for a bit and wait for the next big patch to drop so I can start making comparisons, but it’s going to be difficult to stay away now that I’m so invested in the story. I have yet to dive into multiplayer but I’m intrigued how it’s integrated into the Strike Team missions in the main game, so maybe that will be something to tide me over.

With all the bad press and negativity surrounding the game I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I am. There is definitely room for it to fall off the rails in the second half, but at the moment, assuming one can overlook the sub-par animation, I’m finding it a game worth my time.

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8 Apr

The Andromeda Chronicles Vol 1: Thawing Out

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If experience has taught me anything it’s that the games I enjoy are often those that the prominent games media aren’t crazy about.

I’m sure a large part of this is due to the fundamental difference in how a journalist and a regular consumer plays games. Journalists need to get through a game as quickly as possible and move on to the next title, while consumers tend to play fewer games for longer periods. There is value in each approach, but in the end the perspective is different.

And so we come to this: Mass Effect Andromeda.

We all know the situation by now: Mass Effect Andromeda has some serious issues with its animations. There are noticeable bugs. There are issues with its presentation of LGBTQ characters. Other than the infamous furor around No Man’s Sky, I can’t recall any game in recent history that was received with such sadistic glee over its problems.

I kept wondering if there was more to the story. As our own Batphantom talks about in PUGCast 34, the reception has been widely disproportionate to the actual game itself. To be clear: the issues are real. The jank is real. The animation and writing issues are real, and much like Scumm_boy points out in that podcast episode, that is more than enough to cool any enthusiasm for the game, and justifiably so.

And yet I found myself wondering what my reaction would be. Of course I’d seen the gif storm of wonky animations and T-pose bugs. I also read the excellent feedback on what went wrong with the animations from an actual industry professional, and understood the challenges. Being very familiar with animation processes myself, when I saw the first gifs coming out I knew exactly what I was looking at: automated systems, which are absolutely necessary for a work of this scope. You cannot compare these types of animations to something like a Pixar film or even Uncharted. Totally different animals.

That’s not to let them off the hook: many other games of similar scale who use automated systems don’t have these problems. The characters in Mafia 3 or Watch_dogs 2 turn in decent performances despite using similar techniques. But understanding both the technical issues and how things work in a massive developer like EA/Bioware makes me less inclined to get out the torches and pitchforks just yet.

Bioware has stated that they have heard the feedback and will be making efforts to improve things in the coming months. How much can they really improve? How committed are they to fixing it? What will the game look like in 6 months?

As we have seen with No Man’s Sky, it’s possible to drastically change and improve a game post-launch, when the hype has cooled and the games media has moved on to the next product cycle. And yet games of this size don’t end just because they’re not on the front page of Kotaku any more. Look at the list of games being streamed on Twitch: only a small handful of recent releases are talked about in the games press, but those are games being played by millions of people.

So I’m diving in. I’m starting to play Mass Effect Andromeda now, before the big patches, and will be writing a series of these longform articles to talk about the current and changing state of the game. These aren’t going to be hot takes, but I hope they will be thoughtful, measured commentary on an interesting phenomenon in current gaming history. I’m going to give my honest reactions as I work through the game, slowly, taking time to consider its steps and mis-steps.

We don’t really do written game reviews at Operation PUG — the world doesn’t need yet another Giant Bomb-wannabe. This is the sort of thing I think we can do well, since we are a small hobbyist site who aren’t tied to product cycles. We’re not out for clicks and views. Our audience is small, and I think appreciates a more introspective approach.

Next time: Meet Pathfinder Karen Ryder née Babbage.

Because Karen is my avatar in every game now

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20 Dec

Jamie plays Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One VR Mission

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…and is a traitor to The Rebellion.

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28 Nov

No Man’s Sky Moment

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The Foundation Update… is actually kinda neat. Just one small moment from my first day with the new patch.

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10 Nov

Brief Note

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Hi all.

We at O:P are a small hobbyist site. We don’t have the resources (yet) to do a lot of outreach and grow our audience, but for those of you — mostly friends and family — who do check in I wanted to post something about the U.S. election.

I know some of our readers/podcast listeners are from the U.S., and moreover what happens there tends to affect everyone. This election in particular has, for many reasons, been felt more than any other I can recall.

I could write a lengthy piece but I think it would just get lost in the background noise. Let me just say that on behalf of Operation PUG, we stand firmly as allies with marginalized people. I think the valuable conversations around this new era will benefit from nuance so I will try to refrain from hyperbole, but I just wanted to be clear once again. We are pro-diversity, pro-human rights, pro-equality. That may get us labelled as “Social Justice Warriors” by some. Speaking only for myself, that’s fine with me.

I can’t put it any better than Austin Walker of Waypoint, so I urge you to click over and read and/or listen to his statement. Everything Mr Walker says about Waypoint’s agenda, goes for us here at Operation PUG as well.

Be safe. Be hopeful. We have your back.

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6 Nov

Gaming Gutcheck — Titanfall 2

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So, speaking as someone who didn’t end up playing much of the original Titanfall (I picked it up after the multiplayer craze died down, and there was no single-player mode to speak of) I really wasn’t super into Titanfall 2 pre-launch. It was something that was coming, and the trailer looked good, but I didn’t have that connection.

Did I mention that it looks great?

The level design is extremely varied and looks great

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4 Nov

Gaming Gutcheck — Tethered (PSVR)

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When you think VR, anything first-person seems like the obvious application. After all, the whole *point* of VR is to feel like you’re actually immersed in an environment, rather than viewing it through a flat window.

The biggest surprise for me has been how well third-person works in VR. Without a doubt the biggest sleeper hit of the PlaystationVR lineup has been the Robot Rescue minigame in PlayroomVR. It’s so innovative and enjoyable that there are user-generated petitions to have Sony develop it into it’s own standalone title, and I would welcome that.

In the meantime enter Tethered, built specifically for PlaystationVR. It’s a God Sim very much in the vein of Black & White, from which it takes much inspiration.

PSVR games don't make great screenshots.

PSVR games don’t make great screenshots.


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1 Nov

Gaming Gutcheck: Elder Scrolls Online – One Tamriel

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Ever since I Beta’d Everquest, MMOs have been a staple of my gaming activity. Despite the fact that I mostly solo, there’s something about the nature of a vast, living world that I find far more satisfying than any single-player, offline experience. I almost always have at least one active account on some MMO that I at least poke at constantly. MMOs are the background noise and foundation of every other gaming thing I do.

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24 Oct

PUGCast Bonus Video

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Jamie tries PlayStationVR for the first time and dives into Face Pong.

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