New Vegas: Via Crucis

Imagine a scene Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western: a man dragging a corpse along a road in the middle of a post-apocalyptic desert. A woman clad in power armour walks at his side, chattering about weather, food and the last Deathclaw they shot together. A sudden cut and you can see a sweating face of the man — who’s clearly in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Next scene: the couple and their mutilated baggage meet a military patrol under the wall of a civilian airport, which clearly had been turned into a military stronghold. The man gives the troopers a begging look while the carcass, wearing the same uniform as they are wearing, drags him down to the ground. The armed men pretend that he isn’t there. After a prolonged silence, he sighs and begins to walk away while his female companion stays back and enjoys a casual chat with the troopers.

The unfortunate couple (or trio, depending on how you look at it) is assaulted by a pack of ragged bandits. The man quickly drops his burden and reaches for his weapon. After a brief shoot out, everything is quiet. The tormented corpse has a few more bullet holes and after-laser burnings.

The funeral party finally reaches the gates of the encampment. He points at th corpse, but the chief guard simply shakes his head. The man freezes, then frowns and finally drops his hands.

A few quick shots showing the protagonists going back exactly the same way. Finally they arrive at the ruined outpost where they had picked up the corpse in the first place. Near to it, there’s a couple of soldiers waiting behind a barricade. They receive the corpse and put it behind the sandbags. Some words are exchanged. The stranger and his steel-wearing companion slowly walk towards the sunset. A final shot at his face, eyes closed, lip corners dropping. Then a big THE END and credits.

To sum it up, it was one of the strangest and most enjoyable quests I’ve ever finished in the Fallout series.

The real story is somewhat bland: a female NCR soldier asks you to find the remains of her husband who had been kidnapped by some raiders. The task is simple: find the cluster of ruined buildings they are hiding in, shoot or stab them, disarm some mines, get the trooper’s remnants. The interesting part begins now, because it’s an unmarked quest so you don’t get a marker on your map and must know your destination. It gets even better when you realise that you can’t just pick up the corpse and add it to your equipment. Instead, you are forced to drag it behind you using the Hold button. No fast travel allowed, of course.

Maybe this will sound ridiculous, but after a moment of frustration I began to have fun with this bugged quest. This was the moment I really realised that New Vegas is a masterpiece.

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Why?

It’s been more than three years. Maybe it’s time to answer the simple question: Why am I doing this?

This blog. What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing.

Or maybe it’s a bit more. The origins were humble: I created it to note down every game I managed to complete. And then I went down the slippery slope, because I thought that I may be a good idea to add a few screenshots which I found particularly memorable. Or beautiful, because such things¬†are possible in the video games world.

Then I decided that images may be not enough. Why not turn it into my personal sketchbook where I would write down my thoughts and impressions? Capture the precious moments when video games seem to be more than just a waste of time.

What can you expect?

A very personal take on the games I play. I don’t write reviews, but I rather like to write down what I think about the game I’m currently playing.

Genres? Most likely, you will find platformers, especially the cinematic subgenre, and cRPGs here. The former because as an abandoned child of the Amiga age, I feel very comfortable in 2D surroundings. The latter because as a hopeless fan of fantasy and SF books (although a very picky one) I like to wear somebody else’s skin. Usually, I avoid multiplayer shooters and big strategy games, but if the WW2-era Italian Army appears there, I’ll probably play it and write about how I’m delighted was.

Indie and experimental games are another thing in my book. From time to time I will an intricate and intriguing little thing on that wonderful site or even the good ole Newgrounds, play for a while, and then share my experience.

Generally, there’s no single factor deciding which game I choose. It may be a well-recognised classic or an obscure and perhaps mediocre title which captures my attention. Maybe it’s the soundtrack, or the particular setting, or the visual style, or maybe the game is just so silly that I’m tempted to try it. Be prepared for surprises.

Needless to say, I love interaction, even if this blog is supposed to be written mainly for the purpose of introspection. Comments? Criticism? Jokes? Mockery even? All are welcome. And if you just happen to have your own vidya blog, chances are that you’ll win over a faithful follower.

Weekly: Pale Grey Sky

As much as I love Roman numerals, it’s time to become more creative and try to invent titles for my weekly reports.

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This may sound really weird, but I discovered that GTA V is becoming one of my designated Autumn games, just like it was with San Andreas. When the landscape behind my windows looks like the set of a Tarkovsky’s film, I find it comforting to immerse myself in the twisted landscape of California, and even the violent action and crazy cults don’t spoil the mood. Fortunately, I finally managed to overcome my unhealthy perfectionism and actually began to enjoy the game after I gave up my obsession of finishing every mission with Gold rating — which is quite stressful, time-consuming and simply boring.

(maybe I should write an entire post about playing in Autumn. just give me some time)

Big things are happening! I finally returned to strategy games after a very long break. Again, it was a Steam sale which tempted me into buying Crusader Kings 2. My first playthrough is staying on the safe side and I’m playing the ruler of Iceland. Since I’m isolated from invaders, it plays like a family drama, finding a proper spouse for my child and fending off jealous courtiers being my jarl’s main concerns.

Goals: since I have a dozen of unfinished sketches in my virtual WordPress drawer, it’s time to finish and publish them before October 1. Wish me luck.

Back with a Bang (or rather a whimper)

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I LIVE

I DIE

I LIVE AGAIN

My WordPress dashboard tells me that I published the last post more than half a year ago, shortly after I bought my brand new, shining gaming rig. A very long period of silence followed. How to explain that? An abyss of confusion.

Playing on my old laptop gave me a very limited choice. Oldies or indies. Getting a PC more suitable for my favourite hobby made me think really hard about the concept of choice cost. Suddenly, a whole new galaxy was opened before me – and Steam sales certainly don’t help you to focus on a single target. Yeah, time to change my approach and avoid hoarding unfinished games in my library — which is, by the way, the most disgusting form of consumerism.

Mad Max

The best mediocre game I’ve ever played.

Sure, just like I mentioned in that post, all the reviews I’ve read before and during playing Mad Max were right. It’s flawed. A disappointment. And yet I consider it to be one of the best experiences in my lifetime of a vidya fan.

Sure, I can see the flaws mentioned by other reviewers. Gameplay is repetitive. There are no dialogue options and the text is scarce. Difficulty threshold is way too low and you ascend to the position of a wasteland demigod too soon. Maybe there are many other minor details which would make me criticise this game if I only were a professional reviewer?

Too bad I’m just myself. Someone who finds the weakest points of this game really appealing.

There is no such thing as repetitiveness when you’re impersonating Max Rockatansky in the middle of a wasteland. Everything, driving, fighting, exploration, is hypnotising — which would be hardly possible in another setting.

Verdun

Just a few heartbeats and shell explosions after I’ve entered my first battle, I meet a small team of professional and extremely polite German players who are ready to guide me, a complete Gr√ľnschnabel. Out of sudden, I have just found my regiment, the local equivalent of a standard multiplayer clan. The battle is finished and immediately after the new map loads, one of my new trench friends quotes a very gloomy German poem about dying in the trenches. Just a few seconds later I find myself lying on the bottom of a trench, covering from artillery barrage and looking at the uncanny depiction of a hole in human skull and a pulsating brain beneath it. Shivers.

Yeah, maybe I found a FPS shooter which I can enjoy playing online after all.

Goals for this month

Verdun: Reach player level 100

…and stop being such an embarrassment to my dear Kameraden. Seriously, some of them have reset their rank to plain zero since I’ve started playing the game in December.

Space Marine: win it for the Librarius

…finishing the game shouldn’t be a problem even on the hardest difficulty level. What really makes me excited is collecting the missing floating skulls – just because it made me leave the playthrough in the past. Funny, searching for them is far more frustrating than repeatedly dying after a close encounter with a Traitor Marine who still remembers the Heresy Era.

Sunless Sea: Finish it!

According to my Steam counter, it’s almost 700 hours spent on the Unterzee. No wonder I’m so lousy at finishing games. Besides, maybe Sunless Sky is still in development, but there is a fan-made spin-off to give a try to. Hurry up, Captain!

 

This Blog: Summaries.

Amazing! Extraordinary! I’ve actually managed to finish some games since the December. It’s only polite to write about it and feed my Just Finished category.

Constant Feature: Your weekly report

What I need is some discipline. Writing a report about my progress every week seems to be a good start. Of course, it should include noting down my thoughts and posting screenshots which are to brief or irrelevant to make an entire post. Since I do most of my playing on weekends, Monday is the best choice for such reports.

Avantgarde: The New Wave of Soviet Dubstep

In my first post about Soviet City I mentioned that there’s a painful dissonance between the game’s general theme and gameplay, and it’s soundtrack, at least to a person who understands Polish and the historical context behind the speech samples used in the game music. A folk song from the Kurpie region performed by an old lady, or the voice of a classic Polish poet reciting one of his work shouldn’t be used as a background for a game which protagonist is a ruthless official ruling a grimdark Soviet dystopia. Fortunately, Dawid Hallmann, the man behind the SC soundtrack, is of the same opinion and has recently started working on new dedicated music. The first song was published by him on YouTube today.

As the artist himself writes in a commentary below the clip, he’s curious if they’ll like the new song in the Russian embassy. Considering the reaction of Russian gamers on YT and Steam, I think they won’t be exactly happy about the change, but I think it’s a great improvement and hopefully we’ll see more of it soon.

Distraction: Fire Force

The WinUAE emulator has a stable place on my drive and its main purpose is proving me how worthless I am as a player. While returning to the games I played as a teenager is usually a blissful experience, more often than not it eventually becomes a dissapointment — either the game itself proves to be far less excellent than my nostalgia tell me, or my lack of skill and patience leads to frustration. Well, that’s the discreet charm of classic Amiga games! Unbalanced gameplay, lack of saving options, the endless struggle with the emulator configuration in order to match the particular game’s requirements and avoid a visit from the dreaded Meditating Guru… Nevertheless, sometimes I’m not able to resist the temptation and, against all odds, I return to the womb.

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The first moments after inserting the game disk into my virtual DF0: drive made my militarist’s heart skip. The intro sequence would be described as ‘minimalistic’ today, in the age of (faux)retro. A few close-ups of a soldier preparing his battle gear, without any background music, just with short, sharp sounds of a combat knife going into its sheat and a rifle magazine being loaded, were followed by a full size title screen depicting a sterotypical Vietnam-era hero clutching a blade in his clenched jaw, waist-deep in a nameless swamp. Then the screen went black and the drums, or should I rather write THE DRUMS, started beating. Even if it’s only a dozen seconds looped into infinity, the only piece of music heard in the game, it certainly gets the player into a proper mood.

By coincidence, I encountered Fire Force during my primary school years when I was an avid fan of Cat Branigan’s Wings over Vietnam series. If my memory serves me well, it was one of the first games I’ve ever played which had an explicitly military theme. Of course, I had played strategy and simulation games before, Falcon being one of the first games I’ve ever tried in my life, but this was a new experience. Technically, it was a platform game, or at least I would classify it as such with my limited knowledge formed by Super Mario Bros and more ‘mature’ titles like Another World. However, just like the air combat sims I already knew, it had such features like player roster, mission selection screen, precisely defined objectives, and many other novelties which made me, an ordinary boy in his early teen ages, feel really proud that I was playing something far more serious than another game about a cartoon character jumping on mushrooms and shooting bright stars.

 

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Suppressed SMGs? Puny hand grenades? No way, I’m taking some serious ordnance with me.

When I’m playing it again in 2016, I’m quite surprised to realise that Fire Force has some traits of a roguelike. Most levels are randomised to a certain extent, which is especially painful in the very first mission which main objective is to find and murder (‘eliminate’, in the modern newspeak) an enemy commander hiding inside a building. The problem is that there are four houses to search, the time limit leaves little room for errors, and with each new approach the baddie changes his location — a surprisingly realistic feature, because this is exactly the way a prominent enemy of an atomic superpower would behave in the real world.

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A merciless helicopter crew: they never get late, they’ll never wait even one minute

The other feature which makes Fire Force a distant cousin to ADOM is permadeath. The player’s status is saved after each mission and since it’s possible to prematurely finish the career by reaching the extraction zone just one minute too late, all too often I’m greeted with the roster screen showing my hero’s name with the grim KIA or MIA runes next to it. Of course, it’s childishly simple to cheat by using two separate savedisks, one of them being a literal Navy Seal graveyard, the other one serving as the Bit-and-Byte Hall of Glory.

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Everyone has his guilty pleasures and, I know this will sound horrible, I found it in slitting the throats of my hapless enemies. This was another trait remarkable for a game released in 1992: a killing technique of raw brutality, crawling or even running to close contact and butchering the foe. Of course, the whole gore exhibition was just a few frames of animation and a dozen of red pixels, but you can imagine how exciting it was for a teenager who hasn’t yet experienced Mortal Kombat or even Cannon Fodder.

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Despite the medals and the promised satisfaction, I still cannot bring myself to play Fire Force in a ‘serious’ way and finish it. Because I actually managed to finish the campaign and retire as a mentally scarred satisfied veteran during my first playthrough, more than a decade ago, the only proper way to enjoy it again would be to play it just like the makers wanted it, without using a spare virtual disk as a war cemetery for those unfortunates who missed the helicopter or stepped right into an anti-personnel mine. The thought of playing the campaign from the first scenario after each death isn’t exactly appealing to me, after all, so maybe I’ll just play it for the sport.

Blackout

Occassionally, it happens that I’m playing being extremely tired. Today is such a day and the following words are an attempt to describe this rare state of body and mind. The title is a reference to the book ‘Male Fantasies’ by Klaus Theweleit, an analysis of the masculine Fascist mentality in the interwar period.

Generally speaking, beginning a videogame session after a whole day overloaded with various types of activity, be it work, physical exercise or otherwise, feels like entering an altered state of consciousness. While normally I’m a man who could describe himself as having a certain kind of sensory oversensitivity, weariness and sleep deprivation completely change my gaming experience. First, I’m simply unable to focus on more complex tasks required in adventure or strategy games, which forces me to choose simpler (but not necessarily easier) genres like platformers and shooters. Second, the condition of having my senses temporarily numbed is sometimes an advantage, because it’s significantly harder to be discouraged from difficult, repetetive gameplay. Finally, this condition changes the way of experiencing gameplay. Instead of focusing on ‘winning’, or achieving arbitrary goals, and following the story and dialogue, I tend to immerse myself into the visuals and sounds, the result being literally hypnotical. The pleasure derived from learing an interesting plot and gaining achievements become almost irrelevant, instead the mind quietly enjoys dreamy, alien landscapes and electronic soundtrack music. This is a perfect time to return to old-school Amiga titles or maybe try a bizarre Ludlum Dare browser game.

While I’m fully aware that repeating this kind of alternate gaming experience more often than once in a month would ruin my health, the temptation to do it again returns surprisingly often.