Don’t Preorder Games

…unless it’s Fallout 4 for $42.14:

Life is kind of a grey area anyway.

Life is kind of a grey area anyway.

While my parsimony is well-established, sometimes you just have to spend more money to spend less, you know? It’s Bethesda, I already know there will be crippling, horrible bugs on Day 1 and likely heading into Day 14. It is known.

…but I also know myself. Even if by some miracle I avoid spoilers (assuming there are story elements worth spoiling), I know that every other game I play during Fallout 4’s release to distract me from having not purchased it will necessarily be diminished. “I could be playing Fallout 4 right now.” “Am I having more fun than I would playing Fallout 4?” Thus, to me, in certain specific situations, not preordering will end up costing me more: either by breaking down and purchasing at full price, or by losing the value of fun from an already purchased game. So not taking them up on this deal is like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Or maybe I just think ~$40 is a fair-enough price for this game and I don’t expect to be able to pay that amount two months after release.

…or maybe both. Yeah, probably both reasons.

Impression: the Witcher 3

The Witcher 3 is weird.

…what? You need more? Haven’t you played this game for 100+ hours already?

The weirdness comes from the juxtaposition of Witcher 3 (W3) getting some things outrageously, fantastically good, all while mired in mediocrity and out-right immersion-breaking shenanigans otherwise.

For example, the environment, the gritty, dirty, pustule side of medieval fantasy life is back with a vengeance and already a highlight of my Witcher experience yet again. When you walk around hearing peasants cough with genuine phlegm, it reminds you this isn’t Disneyland, this is real (fantasy) life. People lived in the muck, practically nobody has windows, of course they’d be walking around like diseased shit-bags. The entire Witcher series has always gotten this feeling down so well that every other medieval setting I have encountered since has felt like college freshmen at the Renaissance Festival in comparison.

Then you walk into an Inn and the barkeep is selling bottled water for 42g apiece:

Brought to you by Nestle.

Brought to you by Nestle.

In the panoply of absurd gameisms out there – having access to world-ending magical powers but being unable to open locked doors, etc – it might seem disingenuous to pick on W3’s Nestle-style gouging as immersion-breaking. But it is precisely the confluence of W3’s fantasy realism and its absurd gamey bits that make little details like this so prominent.

Playing on the next step above Normal-mode difficulty means that Geralt no longer gets healed by Meditating. Whereas you might have just chain-chugged Swallow potions in prior titles to beef up your passive regeneration, W3 has opted for the Skyrim-esque “scarf fifteen pieces of raw meat in the middle of combat” HP management system. Different consumables heal X amounts in Y amounts of time, so you typically need the best to survive.

And one of the best? You guessed it: plain ole H2O.

I haven’t cared more about water in any game since Fallout: New Vegas hardcore mode. Every time I rummage through a peasant hovel, stealing everything not bolted down, I do a fist pump every time I see a bottle of water. “Silver candle stick. Old bear hide. Ruby dust. Water… score! Time to fuck up some demons!”

I’m only halfway kidding.

Please live up to this.

Please live up to this.

Truly though, W3’s combat system reminds me of Blizzard’s game design philosophy between expansions: instead of simply fixing what was broken, CD Projekt RED decided to veer completely in a different direction… again.

The combat itself is fine, for the most part. What is different (again) this time around is consumable use. Potions are no longer limited by toxicity (Witcher 1) or preparation (Witcher 2), but rather by what amounts to “per encounter charges.” Craft the Swallow potion one time and you get 3 charges of it, which are automatically replenished by strong alcohol whenever you meditate for at least 1 hour. Craft every potion once, use them all in five minutes, and they all come back after meditation. I’m not really even convinced that any alcohol is actually being consumed to replenish the stock of potions.

While toxicity still exists, it is largely window-dressing considering how a single Swallow potion’s toxicity drops to zero before the potion’s effects even have time to wear off. And while the toxicity meter limits your ability to stack potion effects I guess, the Quick Use menu is limited to two items anyway (presumably to not blow the minds of unwashed console peasants). Decoctions represent longer-term buffs that fully use up your toxicity meter, but I’m not entirely convinced this move towards the trivialization of preparation was worth it. Witcher 2 went way, way too far the other direction – forcing you to use potions before you even knew combat was coming – but why the crazy swing the other direction? Pretty sad how much better the original Witcher feels in comparison.

In fact, that’s precisely where I am mentally every time I boot up the game. It looks amazing, sounds amazing, and generally feels amazing when playing in the moment. If you slow down a bit at all however, and the high-speed blur turns into a mishmash slurry of disparate game mechanics. I’m hoarding herbs and potions out of Witcher 1 habit while throwing back Honeycombs and Wolf Livers by the pound. I’m looting every building and outhouse in sight for crafting materials so I can craft low-level items outclassed by bandit drops so I can kill skull-level monsters guarding swords five levels below me. Random loot is random, but there comes a time when the designers need to put in some goddamn sanity checks, yeah? Sitting on the recipe for Enhanced Beast Oil for 10 hours while Googling where the hell regular Beast Oil is supposed to spawn is not my idea of good game design. Especially when the answer is a shrug.

So. Like I said: weird. Good, but weird.

But hey, Gwent is pretty cool. It’d be cooler if they actually let me have enough cards to make more than one faction deck after 25 hours, but it’s still fun.


For those who might be interested, here you go:

That should link you to a nigh-exhaustive list of all the anime (and manga) I have watched and remembered to write down over the years. While I will continue to actually write reviews in the future, I feel like that list will be good enough for a lot of those shows, especially the older ones. In other words, if we have similar interests and you want some recommendations, just sort the list by Score and work your way down.

As far as the scoring system itself, I had an internal rubric going, but I’m realizing that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of my head. For example, is Serial Experiments Lain really a 9, above even Death Note? Well, Lain blew my mind back 2002 when I watched it, so that’s how I remember it. Chances are Lain would score lower if I rewatched it, or if I watched it for the first time after having seen Death Note. So just keep that in mind.

In light of that, it’s best to read my scores this way:

  • 10-8: I really liked these shows, they made me feel something, go watch them.
  • 7-6: These deserve a spot on your queue, even if you don’t watch them immediately.
  • 5: It’s anime.
  • 4-1: I wouldn’t bother.

So there you go. If you have a similar list you would like to share, or notice some glaring omissions in my anime resume, feel free to post them in the comments below. I prefer shows that are on CrunchyRoll, but I have access to FUNimation and even for the older stuff.

This is Why I Steam

Saw that Witcher 3 was $27 on GMG. Bought it. Time to download & install.

Ehh... alright.

Ehh… alright.

Oh, right, this is a brave new DRM-free world in which I have to manually download and compile all my shit in 4 GB chunks. Let me get right on that, every 30-45 minutes, for the greater part of an afternoon.

Hey, finally done downloading. Now to just run the setup…

This is fine.

This is fine.

Okay, “Grand Old Games,” you win. I’ll download your Steam Galaxy client to get this sorted out. Oh, there is even an Import folder option, so I won’t have to redownload 33GB of files? That will certainly salvage my evening!

dot dot dot

dot dot dot

So here I sit, five hours later, starting the download from scratch within the Galaxy client and deleting 30+ GB of game files that would have instantly, invisibly worked on Steam ages ago. All to avoid some hypothetical apocalyptic scenario in which one of the most successful videogame companies and digital storefronts of all time shuts down the money-printing machines. Or my Steam account gets closed under mysterious circumstances and never gets sorted out. And, you know, my entire library of titles end up moving to GOG where I could have bought them in some parallel DRM-free world.

Competition is good though, right? Yeah, it’s worked out great when Mass Effect 3 is trapped on Origin and the goddamn DLC never goes on sale because EA doesn’t have the balls to reign in Bioware’s insane adherence to their arcade token currency. If ME3 were on Steam, we’d sure as shit have seen a dozen DLC sales by now. Or how Witcher 3 is requiring this nonsense, bringing up the total number of game launchers on my machine to 3-5, depending on if you count and uPlay or not.

Good thing we have all these launchers competing on sales though, right? Or wait, was that 3rd-party game sites selling Steam/GOG/whatever keys? I honestly don’t even remember the last time I bought a game within Steam, or any client. Why would I?

…well, now at 13.9% downloaded. Guess I’m going to have to find something else to do. GG GOG.

Game Dialog Choice

I’m still slowly working my way through Pillars of Eternity, but this is starting to irk me greatly:

Fine then.


Pillars is not, of course, the first game to tie your in-game dialog responses to statistics or skills. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas come immediately to my mind, for example. But on reflection, I don’t really like it in those games either. I find Pillars a bit worse in this regard though, due both to how much more difficult it is to actually raise your abilities, and how this game is supposed to be a spiritual successor to, you know, stuff like this:


and this:

Answer: Charisma 16

Answer: [Wisdom 18 Required]

Ironically, Plansescape Torment also required certain attributes to be above an arbitrary threshold to unlock dialog options, so perhaps it is not the best of examples.

Or maybe it is. After all, the attribute breakpoints were invisible.

And I guess that is what annoys me the most: I do not understand the point of showing me dialog options I can never select. I don’t care that the other options would have only increased my quest payout by 100 copper, or saved me from one additional encounter, or given me an extra potion.

As a designer, what are you trying to communicate to me? The fact that I made poor decisions on the character select screen hours before actually playing your game? Are you trying to signal that certain skills will be important in the future? If so, are you giving me any tools or resources to achieve those thresholds later? I mean, clearly I can do nothing about these forbidden choices in the middle of the conversion, or even after I reload the game really. Or am I supposed to simply keep this in mind for some hypothetical second playthrough?

Truth be told, I was a bit miffed back in the day once I realized that most of the best dialog options in Planescape Torment were locked behind Wisdom 18+. But the game never rubbed my face in it, or otherwise treated dialog so… gamey.

Speaking of which: why are we all tying dialog to abstract attributes in the first place? For roleplaying purposes? To cause players to handicap themselves with useless Feats/Skills/Talents so players can’t be good at fighting and not fighting? Just give me my dialog choices and let me work things out from there. Or don’t and just not tell me about it.

This middle way is the worst of all worlds.

Anime Reviews: Steins;Gate, Toradora!


Episodes: 1-24
Genre: Sci-Fi, Near Future, Drama


Steins;Gate is a gripping, emotional drama that also reminds me of why I hate time travel as a narrative mechanic so much. The anime follows the eccentric teenage “mad scientist” Rintaro Okabe and his two friends/Lab Members as they spend their days fighting the “Organization” and otherwise goofing around with gadgets. After going to a conference on Time Travel, Okabe encounters a woman stabbed and lying in a pool of blood. Shaken, he texts his friend about the incident while the Phone Microwave gadget was running… and his text arrives 5 days in the past, changing the future.

What is brilliant about this anime is exactly what I dislike about the conceptual narrative. The first half of the anime explores the nature and limitations of the “D-Mail” system – the ability to send a phone text to someone in the past – and each successful D-Mail permanently changes the world and resets everyone’s memories to match it… other than Okabe, who remembers everything. Later on, the anime darkens considerably once Okabe realizes the butterfly effects of all these changes and the seemingly inevitable future it portends. And that is the rub. Each time the world is changed, everything that happened previously ceases to be. Okabe (and you) remember that other world, but it’s irrelevant in a practical sense, erasing huge swaths of continuity and character development.

Make no mistake, Steins;Gate is a superb, shocking, draining anime and by far the best version of Time Travel I have encountered in fiction. I still hate Time Travel as a narrative mechanic though, and my attachment to the characters of Steins;Gate and their sacrifices (which are erased) only deepens my antipathy for it.

But if you have no issue with Time Travel? You should see this anime yesterday.


Episodes: 1-25
Genre: High school romantic comedy


In a nutshell, Toradora is a high school romantic comedy with enough dramatic elements and interesting characters to set it apart from what otherwise amounts to another entry in the busiest anime genre of all time. The show follows Ryuji, a high schooler who looks like a delinquent but is actually fairly sensitive and domestic, and his new neighbor Taiga, the short “palm-top tiger” with an even shorter temper. Once the two of them realize that they have crushes on the other’s best friend, they set differences aside while trying to set the other up with their crush. As you might expect, misadventures and misunderstandings abound.

Overall, I really enjoyed Toradora to the tune of crushing all 25 episodes across two days. As mentioned, there is enough drama and emotional scenes to set the anime apart from its peers, if the quirky characters did not do so already. And most importantly? There is actually catharsis by the end; this is no harem comedy in which nothing is resolved by the final credits.

Post-Game Depression

Have you ever finished beating a game, only to find yourself lacking all motivation to do anything else for days afterwards?

Yeah, that’s me right now.

In this particular case, the diagnosis is easy. The last game I played was Metal Gear Solid 5 on Sunday, two days ago. According to Steam, I logged 75 hours /played. The game was released on the 1st. I did not actually start playing until the next day, but that means I spent an average of 6.25 hours a day on this singular piece of entertainment. To speculate that there might be some sort of withdraw symptoms associated with such behavior is extremely fair.

It’s an interesting phenomenon to explore while mired deep in it. I knew it was coming with MGS 5, but I’ve experienced it even in games I haven’t mainlined to quite this degree. I’m even relatively certain why it happens: it comes from the sudden loss of a body of useful experience. Games are a system of rules and, over time, you come to absorb these rules into yourself in the form of knowledge and reflexes. You generally get better at the games you play. You understand them more. You begin to anticipate future actions. All useful things in the context of playing a particular game.

Then it ends.

All that gaming minutia forged in the fire of experience… becomes irrelevant. Sure, it will still be there for you should you ever turn the game on again. My memorization of all the pulls of every TBC heroic might come in handy should I reinstall WoW during a Timewalking weekend. But just like after a breakup, sometimes (most times) you just got to let things go. The memories will stay with you in all your new experiences, but the specific way their hand fit into yours will not. That special, secret knowledge no longer has an application, and your mind mourns as it reclaims the space.

I enjoy playing games and will continue to do so in the future. It is precisely the mechanic of learning new systems that I enjoy games so – finding the contours, the edge pieces, the optimization. I enjoy this in spite of knowing the inevitable end of this process, the returning to Square One with a new game and novel idiosyncrasies.

Titles comes and go, but the process, the root that generates joy, is eternal.

Still… the ennui inbetween, I could do without.

Review: Metal Gear Solid 5

Game: Metal Gear Solid 5: the Phantom Pain
Recommended price: $35
Metacritic Score: 96
Completion Time: 50+ hours
Buy If You Like: Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima, 3rd-person Far Cry

A serious game for serious people.

A serious game for serious people.

Metal Gear Solid 5 is one of the most engaging games I have ever played. The completion time up there is a general estimate, but I personally clocked in 75 hours before I reached the end. The core gameplay loop is incredibly tight, the visuals (with a GTX 970) are impossibly fantastic, and never before I have felt like such a badass, one-man infiltration army.

At the same time, I can empathize with those who feel this Kojima swan-song is the weakest entry in the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Or simply an incomplete game.

As you will undoubtedly see in the weeks and months to come, a lot of people were incredibly disappointed with… let’s just say Chapter 2. The “first Chapter” comprises what felt like was the entire game – it is almost an entirely self-contained 40+ hour narrative, with a capstone boss battle and rolling end credits. When I saw “Chapter 2” flash on the screen afterwards, I was legitimately surprised. “What?! There’s more? Wow!”

What becomes immediately clear across the half-dozen or so story missions though, is that Chapter 2 is more Epilogue than anything. Or, if I’m being honest, a desperate last-ditch attempt by Kojima to throw in plot material he wasn’t able to work into the main narrative before the release deadline. Which is really a goddamn shame, because Chapter 2 has some of the most emotional missions in the entire game.

The boss battles were a little weak, but no different than the other games.

The boss battles were a little weak, but no different than the other games IMO.

I am mentioning all of this at the beginning because it’s important to ask yourself what kind of gamer you are. If you are a diehard MGS/Kojima fan who bought into the trailer hype, you’ve memorized the lore, and are looking forward to having this 5th (and presumably last) game wrap everything up in a manner consistent with the other games… you will be disappointed.

The spectacle is there. The ridiculous plot points are there. The zany scope is there. What’s missing is at least one critical story mission (which was included as a video in the Collector’s Edition, but can also be viewed on Youtube) and some filler missions to coherently link together what exists in Chapter 2. This isn’t like the end of MGS 2 where you’re wondering what the hell just happened, or the 2nd disc of Xenogears when the team apparently ran out of money. The Chapter 2 missions feel like they were created first, and awaiting a context in which to place them later, but it never arrived.

Indeed, they are missions that in all likelihood should have been cut out altogether, until and unless they could be finished as DLC.

What's in the booooox?

What’s in the booooox?

On the other hand, if you are a gamer capable of enjoying a game for what it is, or otherwise have few expectations coming in, MGS 5 is going to blow your mind.

As I mentioned before, the core gameplay loop is incredibly tight. You might be tasked with rescuing a prisoner for example, but are otherwise left to your own devices (literally) as for how to accomplish that. Binoculars will tag enemies and allow you to track their movements through walls, so scouting is encouraged. Mother Base is always in need for more and better-skilled recruits, so tranquilizing and extracting enemies soldiers is encouraged. If you manage to get in close-quarters with the enemy, you can interrogate him into telling you where prisoners and resources are located, so getting real close to enemies is encouraged. It is a hell of a lot easier to do all of those things when the entire base isn’t trying to kill you, so stealth is encouraged.

Note how all of this is “encouraged” as opposed to being required. You can absolutely run and gun your way to S-rank level completion if that’s how you want to play. Or, you know, if someone raises the alarm when you’re 80% done with the mission every goddamn time and you can’t be asked to reset it yet again.

There have been some complaints for how much of the story was relegated to cassette tapes. As someone who attempted to complete MGS 4 before the release of this game, all I can say is: thank Christ. Having the plot mechanics tied to cassette tapes instead of the Codec system allows the player to A) listen to them at their leisure, including while on Side Missions, and B) opens up the ability to hear historical information, including conversations in which Big Boss was not present. Removing the Codec system might have contributed to the looser overall narrative of the game, but honestly I’d take that over the awkward, rambling Codecs of titles past.

Perfect grenade opportunity: ruined.

Perfect grenade opportunity: ruined.

Since I played this on the PC, I just want to take a moment to talk about my experience playing exclusively with the mouse & keyboard. For the most part, it worked well. The two specific issues you will encounter is with sneaking and throwing grenades. The default crouch speed is fast enough that guards can hear you with 5-10 meters, unless you hold down Ctrl, which is agonizingly slow; with a controller analog stick, you would be able to hit a sweet spot between the two speeds while remaining undetectable. That said, you can unlock a Sneaking Suit fairly early on that will allow you to move around a maximum Crouch speed with no issue. With grenades, there is an overhand and underhand throw option, supposedly determined by tapping the left-mouse button versus holding it down. After having enough perfect grenading opportunities foiled by this finicky detection system, I resorted to overhand throws always.

There are some additional mouse & keyboard unfriendliness in the many menus – mouse scroll doesn’t work, you need to press 1 & 3 to navigate menus, etc – but it’s not disruptive enough to forgo mouse aiming IMO.

In the final analysis, a day or two removed from the end of the game, I still feel like Metal Gear Solid 5 is an incredible experience. There are people out there with completely legitimate grievances with the game, both mechanically and narratively, and I empathize with them. At the same time, I feel less that MGS 5 “doesn’t fit in” with the rest of the series and more that the rest of the series would have been better off being more like MGS 5. You know, minus the rushed, unfinished nature of Chapter 2.

UI is the Window to a Game’s Soul

There is a lot to say about Metal Gear Solid 5 – or at least there would be if it were not consuming all my desire to do anything else – but today I wanted to talk about what it perhaps does best. Which is this:

No one expects noon infiltrations.

No one expects 3pm infiltrations.

Just look at that. Look at that and realize exactly how much you don’t see.

For comparison purposes, here is MGS4:

Like an eye full of sand.

Like an eye full of sand.

The narrative just writes itself, doesn’t it?

The elegance of the entire setup continues to blow my mind every time I play MGS5. Much as with MGS3 before it, removing the mini-map forces the player to redirect their attention to their surroundings. But in another design coup, MGS5 will give you the same functionality as an omniscient radar… provided you tag enemies with your binoculars. Just having that exist as a mechanic pushes players into wanting to scout bases ahead of time, without necessarily requiring them to do so. Which, of course, further immerses players into the game space as they try to determine where guards are likely to be, which approach has less coverage, where the escape routes are, and so on.

But more than that, the UI really speaks to what a given game is about. Is there tactical stealth in both examples above? Sure. But latter screenshot speaks of a game in which you need to manage health, psyche, stress levels, utility items with battery power, a back pocket filled with 8 different weapons (not pictured), and finally a mini-map in which you need to rectify advanced information about enemies with what you can actually see around you. Actually being stealthy is important, but it is only one of many concerns.

Now contrast that with the former. What is important there, based on the UI?


The definition of good UI is that which both accentuates player gameplay and does not detract from it. In many ways, I feel that the UI in Metal Gear Solid 5 takes it a step further in that it generates gameplay in a way that so many other similar games have tried and failed. And while MGS5 is not the first to use such a brilliant mechanic, this is the first game I have played in which everything just feels so right.

Impression: Metal Gear Solid 5

As it turns out, Metal Gear Solid 5: the Phantom Fulton is a lot of fun. Like, a lot lot.

The proper tone is set from the very beginning:

I've been playing 12 hours and I still don't know who's ass that is.

I’ve been playing 12 hours and I still don’t know who’s ass that is.

Like, it’s funny, right? But even crazier is when you think about A) who would come up with this, B) who would allow this to occur, and C) am I actually seeing this? I guess it’s tame in comparison to that one Raiden section in MGS2, but still! This is the sort of esoteric goofiness that is so endearing of Japanese videogames, and the Metal Gear Solid series specifically.

Also, holy shit, 60 FPS on super-max settings. My recently-acquired 970 is smoking this game so hard, it can apparently bump the resolution higher than my monitor can support, and then downscale it to 1080p to cram in more shinies.

Here is a picture of me kidnapping a puppy:

Seems to have recovered from the tranq dart I shot at her face.

Seems to have recovered from the tranq dart I shot at her face.

Analyzing my own experience playing this game has also been amusing. The MGS series has always had this weird dichotomy in which it gave you 30 weapons to play around with, but made you feel bad for using anything other than the tranq gun in every scenario. Now in MGS 5, they give you the same plethora of guns and frequently tell you to go nuts. Grenade launcher by the 5th mission? Go for it.

In spite of getting the OK for GTA-levels of mayhem though, I’m playing this game like Tenchu.

But if I kill them, I can't break their spirit and brainwash them to join my army...

But if I kill them, I can’t break their spirit and brainwash them to join my army…

It’s pretty clever design, I must say. Because while it is certainly worlds easier just sniping everyone from a million miles away, pretty much the entire reward structure of the game encourages sneaking and getting up close and personal. Since you are rebuilding Mother Base, you want to keep the place as fully stocked with brainwashed troops as possible. So instead of killing them, you can knock them out with tranq guns to the face and Fulton them out. But if you managed to sneak up on someone, you can interrogate them into putting resources and other goodies on your map, including diamonds which represent enough currency to make up ~10% of a research upgrade. Once you get the info, you are free to kill them or knock them out at your discretion.

I really do enjoy this sort of design tension, as it is all carrot and no stick. In a hurry? Blow them up. Want to actually play a stealth game? Go ahead and have all the rewards.

Best score I've gotten thus far.

Best score I’ve gotten thus far.

In any case, no doubt you will be hearing more about this game in the following week(s).


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