Back to Skyrim

What is winter for? Many things, and one of them is playing Skyrim. Last year in January, I installed Skyrim Special Edition for the first time but quickly gave it up after repeatedly failing to configuring my favourite mods – besides I was busy playing Metro 2033 anyway. Come year 2019. At last, I managed to get the game running with the mods without crashing every second minute. Now, everything I needed was a proper winter weather outside to play with full immersion. Too bad it didn’t happen. Did I mention that I hate the climate change? Oh well.

Not that I’ll let it stop me. If I can’t play with a winter strom blasting outside my windows, I’ll do it with sunshine and birds singing. Spring or not, on this Labour Day of 2019 I’m starting a new playthrough. The main goal is to finally finish the main questline after the two failed attempts in the past. The secondary goal is to explore as much as possible, check out interesting mods, and just enjoy myself.

Meet Giovanni Renzi, my Imperial Dragonborn. To be honest, I didn’t think much about his background and the reason why he decided to cross the border and enter Skyrim. Maybe he was a farmer whose farm got destroyed by the war with the Aldmeri Dominion? A rank-and-file veteran of that war? A commoner without land or trade looking for a better life? Whatever his past was, I imagine him to be a generally decent if pragmatical person, as well as a loyal citizen of the Empire. This means that he will hate the Thalmor, won’t join Ulric, and will absolutely refuse to serve the Daedra or work for the Dark Brotherhood. Of course, there’s always the possibility that at one moment he will snap, say “I’ve seen enough” and join the dark side, just like my Courier Six did in New Vegas. We will see.

Mods, Blood Mods

Every Skyrim fan knows that playing the vanilla version is a very dull experience, so it’s obvious that I’ll have my favourite mods installed.

  • Frostfall – who cares about dragons and daedra when you can die in a sudden snowstorm, just because you forgot to chop some wood and your fingers are too numb to do it now. For me, I think this is an essential mod when playing Skyrim, and I was glad to find out that it’s grown bigger and more complex since my previous playthroughs.
  • Interesting NPCs – Wait, you’re saying I can meet NPCs who actually have something to say and don’t look like extras in a cheap theatre play? Again, I can’t imagine playing without this mod. It’s an impressive project with dozens of well-written, convincing characters, several companions and potential spouses, new locations and professional voice acting. Moreover, the people behind it didn’t have to bother abot ESPB ratings, so it finally introduces some risky themes, like various aspects of human (and inhuman) sexuality, making Skyrim a bit more of a Low Fantasy game and less a Sunday morning cartoon.
  • Cooking in Skyrim – finding new recipes for food and collecting rare ingredients has been my favourite in-game past time since Fallout 3. There are a few different mods for wannabe master chefs out there, but I’m picking up this one for starters, just because it adds some challenge: you can unlock recipes only when reaching a certain character level.
  • Darker Nights – playing Fallout 3 with pitch-black nights was surprisingly fun, so I want to do it again. And those chiaroscuro screenshots look great, too.
  • Friendlier Taverns – a small mod which improves the general look of inns, adds baking ovens and baths, and generally makes them feel really cozy.
  • Immersive Armors – another favourite modification I found during my previous attempts to beat Skyrim. Just as the name says, it adds an impressive selection of new armours to the game and manages to do it in a lore-friendly way.
  • SkyUI and Unofficial Patch – of course. I’m not a masochist.

Rules, Damn Rules

It’s a role-playing game, remember? Setting self-imposed challenges and keeping to them has always worked well for me as a way of suspending the disbelief and making the in-game world more believable. So, here’s a couple of them:

Religious – maybe he’s a Dragonborn, but he still follows the Path of the Gods. As a devout worshipper of the Imperial pantheon, Renzi will make regular offerings at the shrines (the type of offering depending on the deity), venerate the dead (which means absolute disdain for necromancers, and also taking care of human remains), hate the Daedra and their worshippers, and secretly worship Talos, which involves hating the Thalmor not-so-secretly.

Limited Saves – this means saving only when entering a new location or resting for a night. Now fights get more exciting, just because you don’t want to waste that hour of crawling through a Draugr necropolis for nothing, and you can train your self-restraint and patience (rage-quitting).

Hospitality Laws – when entering someone’s property, try to be respectable. If you’re picking their crops or just using their home as a shelter from the storm, be sure to leave a gift on the table. Another measure to make the Skyrim experience more immersive.

Real Time Activities – whether crafting, cooking, or putting up a tent, make sure to hit that Wait button.

And last but not least, I’ll focus on working on the two most important stats:

Deadline? No such thing this time, it’s never worked to me. There’s truth in the old saying that God laughs when you make plans. Still, I want to finish the game in a reasonable time so I can get back to New Vegas. Wish me luck.

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Dedicated to my backlog: Log 1932

Please, don’t tell me I’m always late to the party, I already know that. This blog has been on hiatus for months and now the time has come to make it alive again, all thanks to the wonderful Late Levels and Living Lightning crew and their #LoveYourBacklog week. The rules are few: a blogger has to look at their collection of unfinished games, have a moment of retrospection and answer a few questions on their blog. The event is supposed to finish on Sunday, so I better start writing right now.

Game most likely never to be played

Usually I’m very careful when buying games and I pick up the titles I’m pretty sure I will play sooner or later. However, a few positions in my Steam library are there just by accident. Some games were parts of bundles I bought during sales, others were available to add for free and I did just in case, even though I wouldn’t be interested in them. One example of this is Team Fortress 2. Sure, I’m being told it’s a real classic and fun to play, but I spend little tame in online games and prefer semi-realistic shooters like Verdun or Rising Storm 2 Vietnam anyway. In comparison with them, TF2 looks too cartoonish and wacky so it will probably remain locked in my own Steam dungeon forever, no regrets whatsoever.

Shortest game

12 is better than 6. According to the reviews, it’s a mediocre clone of Hotline Miami with little to none replayability. I still want to play it because of the setting and unique visuals, but I’ll do my best to finish it as simple as possible, because there are many better games waiting for me.

Longest game

A good friend of mine borrowed my his copy of Witcher 3 and it’s still waiting for its chance. Since I still have to finish my New Vegas, Fallout 4 and Skyrim playthroughs, poor Geralt will have to wait just a little more, but when I finally start it, I’m sure I’ll want to play it to the fullest, including all DLCs.

Game which has spent the longest time on the backlog

That must by Nethergate, an old and rather obscure cRPG made by Spiderweb Software studio, more known for their Avernum series. Long time ago, I played the demo version as a happy teenager and loved it for its story and setting mixing fantasy lore with historical events centered around a rebellion of native Britons against their Roman oppressors. To my shame, it was one of my first purchases on Steam but I’m still waiting for the proper moment to play it through. Maybe in March?

The person responsible for adding the most entries to my backlog

Many such people. I have the luck to have a few friends who still play video games, despite being Respectable Adult Citizens with Many Responsibilities, and are always ready to talk about them and give recommendations. The special award goes to That One Friend whose tastes are exactly the same as mine and who convinced me not just to buy some strategy or RPG games, but also provided some useful tips when I played them.

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All right, that’s it. If you’re reading this and are curious about the rest of my collection, feel free to click the picture above.

Thanks again to Kim and Ellen, this was fun and I can’t wait to do another challenge.

 

One Hour: Police Stories

“And remember – shooting first is not an option!”

When I played the demo version of Police Quest: SWAT 2 in my late teens, already a devoted fan of UFO: Enemy Unknown and Jagged Alliance 2, I was simply shocked. Wait, do you really want me to play a tactical game which doesn’t want me to kill every baddy if it’s possible to avoid it? Which actually punishes me for excessive use of force? And, the worst thing, it forces me to find the Golden Mean between effectiveness and frugality because police budget is strained to the limit? What an outrage.

 

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Definitely not an excessive use of force.

 

The first and only scenario available in the demo involved a typical hostage situation with a besieged bank full of terrorists, innocent civilians, and a ticking time bomb as a bonus. Since I was used to solving tactical problems with heavy plasma guns and mortar strikes, my first attempts to win would make Waco and Ruby Ridge pale in comparison. Slowly, painfully, I learned to act as a police officer, not a xenocidal commando or mercenary leader, and then a miracle happened. I actually managed to save the hostages and disarm the bomb without firing a single shot. My brilliant solution was to provide an escape car, as demanded by the villains, and place two officers right next to the bank’s main entrance. The terrorists then left the building in a file, without noticing my men at the door, and were promptly handcuffed one after another. Clearly, this was a result of a flawed AI, and definitely not my tactical genius, but the non-violent victory made me feel so great.

These sweet memories were one of the reasons to get interested in Police Stories after I watched the trailer. Another reason was, obviously, that it looked and felt like a total conversion of Hotline Miami – without flashing neons and ultra-violence, that is. Immediately, I started to follow the game on Steam, still in a very early stage. As always, I soon forgot that I did and Police Stories disappeared from my radar.

Until yesterday. Out of sudden, I got reminded that the game actually exists by a news article. Following the link, I found out that an early Alpha version is available the download. The few screenshots I saw looked too familiar to resists the temptation.

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After clicking through a few menu screens, I arrive at the scene of the crime with a bang, my huge armoured car crashing a few motorbikes. We’re at a biker bar taken over by some violent thugs and the first thing that captures my eye is a nice reference to the Sons of Anarchy. Now it’s time to knock at the door. “Hello, do you have time to talk about our Lord and Saviour, the Government”. The man behind the door isn’t interested. I’m too slow to pull the trigger and Officer Rimes lies down on the floor with a generous dose of lead in his belly. Yeah, this feels like Hotline Miami. Even the “R for Restart Level” button is there.

My further attempts to pass the level are more successful and soon it becomes clear that the similarity is superficial. Yes, death is very cheap but Rimes is not The Jacket. In Police Stories, both heroes move very slowly, and for good reasons, because they have to be really careful. Unlike the Devolver game, here the enemy is invisible until you enter a room and then you have very little time to assess the situation and take decision on how to act. The game punishes you for unauthorised use of force and you have to be sure that the evil guy really wants to shoot you to avoid a penalty, but even then you receive more points for arresting them – and the score required to play the second level is rather high.

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Above, I wrote that Police Stories caught my eye because it looks like Hotline Miami, but it’s not entirely true. Of course, the top-down view, detailed interiors and character design are clearly similar, but the colour palette is toned down and there are no image distortions to make it look like a VHS recording. Actually, it reminds me more of the adventure classic Dreamweb.

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Speaking of differences, it’s a police operation and not a war zone, so you can’t just pick up enemy weapons. Hitting someone with a gun butt is a viable option if you want them to surrender, but it’s quite risky too, so forget jumping at an armed enemy with bare fists like it sometimes happened in HL.

One of the most important things is that you’re not alone in this. There’s always your partner behind you and it’s possible to give him simple commands – basically, you can tell him to stay put, guard a corridor or handcuff someone.

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When I’m writing these words, Police Stories is still in early development. There’s is no plot or dialogue, the inventory screen is inactive and, sadly, there are only two available scenarios. The worst thing is that the AI really needs improvement, both the enemies who are too passive and the player’s sidekick who notoriously suffers from poor reflexes. Despite that, at the current stage, the game looks more than promising and I’m ready to pay for the beta version as soon as it is released on Steam.

If you feel that this may be your kind of game, and especially if you’re a fan of Hotline Miami just like me, you can download the alpha version here.

Distraction: Real Neat Blogger Award

Mainly due to my own laziness, I’ve kept this blog low-profile for years, so you can imagine my surprise when I found out that it was chosen by the invaluable halsdoll for something called the Real Neat Blogger Award. I don’t deserve this kind of honour, but thank you! It’s a welcome chance for some introspection and I love it. And yes, I know my answer comes late but having two jobs keeps me busy… All right, enough excuses.

Hey ho, let’s go, here are my answers:

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1. What is your earliest gaming memory?

It’s funny because I have two such memories and, no matter how hard I think, I cannot decide which one was really the first. What I do remember is that River Raid was the first game I’ve ever played when my Dad brought home a (somewhat battered) clone of Atari 2600 borrowed from one of his friends.

The second memory involves my first visit in a computer store. While Dad was busy talking with an employee, I noticed a kid sitting in front of a 286 PC and playing a game. I sat next to him on a free chair without saying anything and began to watch. At that time, I was really interested in military history, especially World War 2, so you can guess how amazed I was because said game was Wings of Fury. You know, a real F4U Corsair taking off from a carrier, bombing Japanese outposts and then trying to land in one piece. Despite my shyness, I finally asked the guy if he would let me play just for a short while… and he answered with a smirk and a brutal “No!”.

 

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*sigh*

 

Such was the end of my childhood innocence when I learned that some gamers can be real bastards.

2. When did you start blogging and why?

This blog was created in August 2015 and initially was meant to be an antidote to a personal flaw of mine. Since I rarely finish games and my backlog is constantly growing, I figured out it would be motivating to make a list of games I somehow completed. After a while, I found out that the blog is useful for roleplaying purposes and began to write about my fictional player characters, their personalities, goals, self-appointed challenges and restrictions, etc. Another step was to use it to capture fleeting gaming moments in screenshots and words, and generally ramble about the games I was playing. So here I am. It’s very far from perfection but my little WordPress corner has become an important part of my video games experience.

3. What feature do you wish any of your consoles had that they currently don’t?

I don’t own any consoles so I’ll just skip this question.

4. Name a movie that you wish had a video game made after it and what  developer would you want to make it and why?

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There are so many possible choices here. Sadly, halsdoll has already picked up one of my favourite films, Event Horizon, so I’ll have to improvise. How about the Ghibli classic Porco Rosso? It has everything I’d want from a video game. First, it’s the protagonist, a Great War ace pilot, who’s become shell-shocked by his experiences and turned into an anthropomorphic pig. Then it’s the setting, a magical realist version of post-WWI Italy with sky pirates and the Fascist government in the background. Not to mention all those finely drawn Italian planes and air combat. If I were a billionaire, I’d hire both Studio Ghibli and the team behind Beyond Good & Evil to create an open-world game being a spiritual sequel to the aforementioned masterpiece. In my vision, the gameplay would have a twist related to the main story with the government being the main antagonist, slowly limiting player’s freedom of movement and finally forcing them to either run away or die in a desperate last stand.

5. Do you have a games room/corner? If so, let us see it and show your favorite thing in there?

Nothing special here because I spend too much time playing games to care about secondary stuff like merchandise and collectibles. It’s just two shelves in one of my book cabinets with old game boxes and magazines.

6.  Do you have a child or a pet? Which character do you name it after?

Neither. If I ever have a child, he or she will have a traditional name, but I swear that one day I’ll visit a shelter and adopt a Dogmeat.

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7.  What keeps you going when gaming?

Curiosity. I’m always eager to see how the plot resolves, what kind of characters and enemies I meet on my way, what fancy weapons I will find. The other reason is the sense of accomplishment when I finish the game or at least beat a difficult boss or find all the gold stars.

Nominees:

Sorry, I’m posting it so late that it would be simply rude to nominate anyone but if you’re reading this and still want to participate, you have my personal approval.

Don’t forget to link to my blog if you do 😉

Again, thanks halsdoll!

Weekly: Springtime for Uncle Ho

My wonderful adventure in the post-nuclear Boston was suddenly interrupted by the sound of UH-1 helicopters blasting Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. That’s right, I entered April and the spring surrounded by burning napalm. Fire, walk with me.

 

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Source: fluxy.net

 

When doing some spring cleaning at my parents’ house during the Easter holidays, I found an unexpected treasure at the bottom of my old wardrobe. Lo and behold! A forgotten copy of Battlefield Vietnam. Since both I and my little brother used to be dedicated fans of the game, without much thinking I asked him if he’d like to revive the good old times and throw a mini-LAN party. His answer was more than enthusiastic.

After two evening sessions, each two or three hours long, I can tell that it’s an absolute classic. Obviously, the visual side looks very outdated 14 years after the game’s release, but the rest is still as great as I remember it. One of my favourite things about BF:V is that it finally fives some screen time to the South Vietnamese army and treats them fairly – something that I wish would happen more often in Western media tackling the subject of Vietnam War.

Now, the most important thing. Since it’s spring now, the temperatures are constantly rising and the concrete jungle I live in will feel like being in Saigon. Therefore, I officially announce that I’m opening the Vietnam War video games season. We’ll see whether I go back to classics like Vietcong or Men of Valor, or maybe try out something new like the strategy game Vietnam’65. In any case, I’ll surely write more about that.

 

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Source: TV Series Finale

 

I barely watch any TV shows these times, but I’ll definitely make an exception for The Terror recently released by AMC. I didn’t read the novel by Dan Simmons it’s based on, supposedly a bestseller, but it seems the closest thing we have to a film adaptation of Sunless Sea, a game I spent more than 700 delightful hours with. Sure, the show is not set in an alternative Victorian era where London was kidnapped by pointy-eared eldritch abominations, but it has Royal Navy exploring the northern wastes in search of another passage to the Pacific Ocean. Their adventures involve cold, darkness, cannibalism and a bit of supernatural, so it feels close enough. I deliberately won’t read anything about the historical events which served Mr Simmons as the background for the book’s plot. All I’ll do is to watch a few episodes, compare them with my (very rich) memories from the Neath, and maybe write a few words about it.

Weekly: Arstotzka Film Presents

For the past few weeks, I’ve mostly kept babbling about Fallout 4 and how much I’ve enjoyed playing it so far. Now it’s time to change it because a real miracle happened: a film adaptation of a video game which is more than decent.

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Disclaimer: since this is my first attempt to write a film review, you have to know that I’m not even trying to be objective. Not only because I love this game, but also because I’m biased against American film industry and culture in general while having a soft spot for Russian films.

Maybe it’s dangerous to use such big words in the age of post-sincerity, but Papers Please is a masterpiece for me and nothing will ever change my mind. When I learned that a short film based on Lucas Pope‘s game is about to be released, I felt mostly two emotions: awe and trembling. As a dedicated fan of his work, I was more than happy, but as a fan of video games in general, someone who watched Super Mario Bros. and Assassin’s Creed, I was also afraid of a disaster – after all, most films based on video games are forgettable crap. My anxiety dropped a little after further reading when I learned that the incoming short film was being made not by a big Hollywood studio but by a small Russian team lead by the director Nikita Ordynskiy.

Thus, when it was finally released on Steam, I pushed the ‘play’ button with a trembling finger…

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Due to its length, the film’s plot is simple. It starts with The Inspector arriving at work and having a short conversation with the guard Sergiu who asks him for a favor. Then the day starts and he has to process the people trying to cross the border, facing heartbreaking dilemmas, taking difficult decisions and paying the final price for them.

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Acting is convincing enough, and Igor Savochkin seems to have been born to play the main character with his sharp features and deep-set eyes. When he struggles to hide his conflicted emotions, it feels like looking at someone who desperately tries to get out of a very deep trap pit, but also reminds the viewer that The Inspector is as much an oppressor as a victim of Arstotzka‘s system – I’ve crossed a few Eastern European borders in my life and I remember the same stone-cold faces and piercing eyes of border officials checking my passport. Another remarkable role is played by Antonina Kravcova. If you’ve ever rejected Eliza in the original game, you’ll remember her sad eyes and resigned voice for long.

20180323232630_1.jpgAdmittedly, the film treats the source material seriously and only manages to capture its original tone but even incorporates the interface and mechanics, and does it seamlessly. The camera repeatedly zooms on the passports when The Inspector looks for discrepancies, at one point he receives a printed order from the Ministry (I swear, the dreaded printer sound made me jump) and, of course, there’s the ominous red stamp. Of course, there are minor alterations, for example the protagonist has a Makarov pistol instead of a rifle in his safe, but they don’t change the overall impression at all.

The only single criticism I can bring is the film’s duration, obviously. It should be at least one hour longer, with long shots and lots of silence, to match the game’s atmosphere and make the plot look less simplistic. Beside that, this is how an adaptation of a video game should look like and I can certainly recommend it to anyone, even they never played Papers, Please or even if they aren’t interested in video games at all. If you hear that your favorite game is being put on the silver screen, be sure to bomb the screenwriters and the director with links to Ordynskiy‘s film so they can learn how to get the job done.

Glory to the New Arstotzka!

(sorry, I had to finish the post like this)

Weekly: The Hero’s Return

An obvious fact: the Survival mode in Fallout 4 is there for immersion. One of the things I like about it is that it really makes you realise the importance of places like Diamond City or Goodneighbor. After all, they are the safe havens and beacons of civilisation amidst the ocean of chaos and violence which is the Commonwealth. But I wouldn’t have realised it without finishing a really funny but somewhat exhausting quest.

Supermutated spoilers below!

Meet the Silver Shroud, a comic book superhero from the age before the whole US-Chinese misunderstanding happened. When in Goodneighbor, you can meet Kent Connolly, a ghoul who has been Shroud‘s fan for the past 200 years and has is own radio station broadcasting episodes of the hero’s adventures. After a short conversation it becomes obvious that he wants to revive the legend – and the Lone Survivor is to play the main character. The first step is to obtain the Silver Shroud costume and his iconic weapon from the ruins of a comic book company. Then Kent, a trained radio technician, begins to transmit the names and locations of local villains who are in need of superhero treatment (which involves lots and lots of shooting). What is really interesting, when you confront the baddies, you can choose between having a conversation in your standard voice or impersonating the Shroud in a really hammy way. Eventually, after delivering justice to some lesser minions you have the chance to meet Sinjin, the supervillain. At this point, things got really interesting and led to a wonderful conclusion.

I returned to Goodneighbor after disposing of the last Sinji’s henchmen only to find out that Kent had been kidnapped. Since I really enjoyed the quest so far, I decided to do the hero part and immediately go out to rescue him. This required a rather long journey south and clearing several floors of an old hospital. The hard part began when I reached my target, Sinji and his gang of goons, holding Kent at gunpoint. Without boring you with the details, I can just say that killing the former and saving the latter required a lot of reloads and experimenting with Charisma-enhancing drugs. Seriously, it was the most frustrating experience in my Fallout 4 experience so far. Needless to say, in the end, the hero saved the day.

 

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The hero. The villain. The author.

 

Then the wonderful thing happened. It was late in the night on both sides of my PC screen. The Silver Shroud finally got back to Diamond City, wounded, tired, hungry, sick, suffering from radiation – and wasn’t feeling much better than him, minus a few gunshot wounds. After crossing the city gate, we both saw this…

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…at the first moment, I didn’t really realise what was happening, but I quickly checked the in-game date on my Pipboy. 25 Dec 2287. After surviving a difficult and demanding adventure, I (we?) can finally sit down, rest and have a deathclaw steak for Christmas supper.

Hey, the game even dropped a Christmas gift on me. Here’s what I found on a Legendary Raider‘s corpse shortly before getting back home.

 

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The Ultimate Weapon.

 

True catharsis. The perfect union between the player and his alter ego. You play games for moments like this.

Maybe Fallout 4 isn’t a bad RPG after all.