Category Archives: Commentary

Things I’ve Learned About Myself via Fallout 4

I have been playing Fallout 4 pretty much non-stop since last Tuesday, and in that time I have started recognizing a few things about myself and how I play the game. These are not perhaps grand, personal epiphanies caused by Fallout 4 – I have certainly seen the seeds germinating in other games – but there is something about this game that is causing them to be more noticeable than normal.

Voice Acting Makes Characters a Character

Generally speaking, I do not role-play RPGs. By which I mean, I do not construct a character that looks like me, and I do not make decisions based on what I would personally do in that situation. If anything, I role-play the character I am playing as themselves, or whatever idealized form seems more narratively interesting. Which, I suppose, is still technically role-playing, but nevermind.

This predilection means I don’t actually like Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas all that much from a narrative standpoint. In Fallout 3, you are a blank slate, literally controlling your character from birth to presumably mold him/her into something resembling you IRL. Which, personally, just always seems like an easy way to skip writing a convincing narrative. “Let the reader fill in the details.”

The protagonist of New Vegas had a backstory, but the implementation was even more discordant, as I noted in my review:

I wasn’t protecting my home, my family, nor was I my own person. I was… the Courier, a stranger in familiar skin, following a past everyone knows about but me.

Fallout 4 reminds me of what I already implicitly knew from Mass Effect: voice acting makes all the difference. Even when you still have the difficult choices to make, a well-delivered line can leave you with an impression of a character, and that impression can serve as your guide to who they “really” are.

Is voice-acting appropriate in every game? No. Does its presence often lead to more railroaded plots (due to the costs of recording twice as many lines)? Yes. But as someone who would rather experience plot vicariously rather than directly, it makes Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style choices a lot more bearable. The characters will tell you who they are.

Even Implied Romance Options Forces Me into Guy-Mode

The first character I created in Fallout 4 was, of course, Azuriel. As in, the wife. Played through the tutorial and even got all the way into Concord before something occurred to me. Could you romance companions in this game? As it turns out, you can.

I immediately rerolled as a dude.

It is a completely ridiculous reaction, but it happens every time in every game where romance is possible. Well, with one exception that proved the rule: I played a lady dwarf in Dragon Age: Origins several years ago. And it was awkward as fuck. Not that romance in any videogame isn’t generally awkward, but there is just something… maybe not immersion-breaking per se, but something personally off-putting about it that I can’t get over. Which makes my reaction to Fallout 4’s version of romance even more ridiculous, since you can romance any gender as any gender. But there it is.

I do plan to play the wife on my next “only pistols, no Power Armor, Renegade” style run though.

Change (in Formula) is Good

For the longest time growing up, I never really understood why all the Final Fantasy games had to have such radically different battle systems each time. Wasn’t FF7 good enough? Innovation, refinement, and so on are all worthy goals, but when you hit a certain plateau of elegance, why not just keep doing that thing?

Well… because then you have Fallout 4’s systems.

I grokked the entirety of Fallout 4 within the first hour or so of playing. The same strategies I’ve committed to muscle memory after hundreds of hours of Fallout 3 and New Vegas were immediately successful. Loot guns, leave the armor. Peek around corner, VATS, hide until AP regenerates. Food > Stimpacks unless you’re pressed for time. If things get dicey, break out the Pip-Boy to stop time and organize your equipment. Shoot X enemies in the face, shoot Y enemies in the legs.

While the out-of-VATS gunplay is much, much improved compared to the prior titles, Fallout 4 is basically Fallout 3/New Vegas all over again. The same tricks work.

As someone who enjoys optimizing the fun out of games, this has left me in a weird spot. All the optimization is basically done. I spent a rather absurd amount of time looking over the Perk tree and trying to figure out the best way to navigate it, but it almost seems meaningless at this point; not only am I near level 30 (and thus am actually hunting for Perks to still take), most of the Perks aren’t actually that good. And even if they were, there is no level cap, so in a sense it doesn’t matter. If I’m going to optimize anything, it’ll have to be a much narrower field, like getting an OP character between levels 2-10 or something.

I feel like the Witcher series has steadily gotten worse from a mechanics standpoint with each iteration, but at least it was different each time. The changes gave me something to mull over and marinate in my mind. And it seems like being able to do that, even if the underlying mechanics end up being worse, is still better than not having to do it at all.

Legendary Items are a Bad Idea

To an extent, I am still conflicted on this point.

Legendary items are cool, generally, in any game they are in. Their rarity gives designers the chance to introduce abilities that might be too powerful to be added to random loot. Legendaries can also facilitate character builds, and thus encourage additional playthroughs. Legendaries are fun in Borderlands, Diablo 3, and Fallout 4.

Legendaries also remove entire categories of loot drops, replacing them with nothing.

In Fallout 4, I have been using the Overseer’s Guardian for the last 30 or so hours of gameplay. The only way I could replace this weapon is if I encounter an even more ridiculous weapon that trivializes the game more than the Overseer’s Guardian already does. Which is sad, because not only does this make all the weapon drops I’ve encountered vendor trash, but it actually discourages me from experimenting with anything new.

For example, I finally saw a Gauss Rifle on a vendor just yesterday. I always enjoy Gauss Rifles in Fallout – mainly due to how cool they were in the movie Eraser (holy shit, 1996?!) – but it “only” deals 125 damage baseline. Even if I could mod the rifle for more damage, it seems unlikely that it’ll beat 137 damage x2 from a semi-automatic sniper rifle. “Maybe I’ll see a Legendary Gauss Rifle drop.”

As soon as that thought formed in my mind, I began massaging my temples. After all, this is the same game that hands out weapons like this:

Guess it's better than extra radiation damage.

Guess it’s better than extra radiation damage.

Maybe I’m less conflicted than I thought. Legendaries are a bad idea, even if I enjoy the existence of Legendary mobs in Fallout 4. The latter fills holes in the gameplay, whereas the Legendaries they drop create them.

Getting a Little Worried About Fallout 4

I must admit that I am getting a little worried about Fallout 4.

Everyone already knows there will be crippling, game-breaking bugs on Day 1. It took Bethesda nearly two weeks to make Fallout: New Vegas playable in an official capacity last time around, although there was a fan patch around Day 3. Bugs and such are not what I’m worried about. What I’m worried about is this:

Birth of a new meme.

Birth of a new meme.

It almost doesn’t even matter what Bethesda was going for anymore – this is on the level of “Press F to Pay Respects.” The T-shirts have already been made:

And I inexplicably want one.

And I inexplicably want one.

[Edited for clarity:]

It’s possible this “dialog diamond” has been known for a while, but this is the first I’ve seen of it. And I’m not sure I like it. Dialog has always been a big deal in the Fallout series, and I’m sure I am not the only one who has changed what they were going to say simply because a different response sounded better/was more humorous. Since the main character is voiced, perhaps this simplification was inevitable. But just look at your prior options in Fallout. Maybe your character will still say those things, but you may not know they will.

Now, Mass Effect more or less had the same deal and it turned out fine. More than fine, really, despite having this occasionally:

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions.

Regardless, the whole thing makes me nervous.

By the way, reading these Fallout 4 threads on Reddit have really opened my eyes to the apparent hilarity of LA Noir, which had a similar dialog style with sometimes shocking results.

What is somewhat more disconcerting though, are the lip syncing issues. I can’t actually link you the videos I was watching showing the lip syncing (or lack thereof), as they were taken down due to being leaks of unreleased content. I can, however, link to the official launch trailer. Which is perhaps the first launch trailer I have seen from any game that has had almost the complete opposite effect as what it should.

I say “almost” because I’m a huge sucker for post-apoc in general, and Fallout specifically. The series has always been one of the few that allows me to express my true desires to scavenge and hoard shiny things. In any other game, the idea of finding a random abandoned shack and having to search it for items I’m not likely to ever need simply sounds exhausting. In Fallout 3? That’s basically what I spent the entire game doing. And I loved it.

So… I’m conflicted. And probably better off hunkering down in a Vault for the next five days or so.

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.

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.

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.

Blaugust Clean-up

Thank god that’s over. Nothing quite like getting into the spirit of blogging by burning yourself out with thirty-one daily posts.

I’m halfway kidding.

It was a fun experiment, but I’m doubtful that I’ll participate next year. While there is still some possibility of long-tail shenanigans, my mid-month analysis seems correct:

The numbers, minus the numbers.

The numbers, minus the numbers.

In other words, in terms of pageviews and visitors, daily posting still resulted in 10% less views than the peak in May. Which, incidentally, was a month that saw eleven (11) posts. Perhaps that is not quite as fair a comparison given how August is certainly 16% higher than both June and July. Then again, I posted 11 and 13 times in those months, respectively. Talk about diminishing returns.

The thing that is up rather markedly are comments:

Probably the better blogging indicator.

Probably the better blogging indicator.

As I mused two weeks ago, I am not entirely sure whether the uptick in comments is due to the shotgun effect – more posts makes it more likely you post something people want to talk about – or from the nature of the Blaugust event itself, or a complete coincidence, or what. The thing I do know is that pageviews are one thing, but comments can actually challenge your arguments, change your worldview, and even comfort you with camaraderie. All things I definitely appreciate.

Not worth posting daily for that though, Christ.

Anyway, I have a birthday and Metal Gear Solid 5 to enjoy this week. So, see you… maybe Thursday. Or whenever the hell I feel like it.

*sigh* Feels good to say that again.

The Best of In An Age, Vol. 1

[Blaugust Day 31]

If you are looking for the best, most philosophical, endearing, poignant, expertly written posts for In An Age, then look no further.

That’s right, they appear here, at the top of, two or three times each week depending on when I feel like dropping epiphanous bombs. Subscribe or add to your RSS reader of your choice, and you’ll be notified every time the light shines forth from my bushel. Which, again, is all the goddamn time. Worst… bushel… ever.

If you’re not up for reading nearly 800 posts though, here are the Top 5, in no particular order:


This post is actually somewhat topical given how it was originally written about my feeling of “offness” whilst playing Guild Wars 2. The term “wirehead” has came to represent any game I play obsessively but ends up making me feel empty when I turn it off. Favorite line from the post: “Playing Guild Wars 2 feels like going to Disneyland ahead of the apocalypse.”


Despite the years, I still consider “entitlement” to a be a trigger word for me and a Godwin’s Law for videogame arguments generally. The best summation of my feeling on the word ended up coming from a more recent follow-up post: “When you use the word “entitlement” as a pejorative, all you are doing is asserting that someone has unreasonable expectations about something, without actually bothering to offer an argument or explanation as to why it is unreasonable.”

The Problem With F2P and Microtransactions

If there was one other  concept I wish the whole of the internet knew and understood, it is that of Consumer Surplus. While the F2P and microtransaction ship has long since sailed, the idea of Consumer Surplus is still useful in moderating the insanely anti-consumer sentiments that crop up in gaming discussions with disturbing regularity. This particular post isn’t the best one on the topic, but it’s the first, and it explains what Consumer Surplus is. For the others, just click on the Consumer Surplus tag.

My Issues with the Bioshock Infinite Plot

Oh man, Bioshock Infinite. It’s been over two years since I wrote that post, but I still stand by every argument made and presented. Simply put: if you liked Infinite’s plot, you’re wrong. Case closed.

Established Fact

Speaking of arguments, I’m still rather fond of this one. At the time, the internet was discussing why WoW was losing subscribers in Cataclysm despite the (established) fact that the actual cause was the increase in dungeon difficulty. Incidentally, I consider that post and a few others from that time period as the beginnings of my (one-sided) rivalry with SynCaine.


There you have it, the Top 5 posts from In An Age. While the newest amongst them is April 2013, my original list had at least 25 entries mostly pulled from the Philosophy category. In fact, that’s the place I recommend going to if you enjoy my writing at all and yet somehow have failed to keep current with my steady stream of genius. Priorities, people; work on them.


Enjoy Continue enjoying.

How Not to Get Money

[Blaugust Day 28]

Much like Steam before it, CrunchyRoll has completely supplanted any desire of mine to pirate its product – in this case, anime. It was really a combination of things, as it was getting annoying finding anime torrents with more than 4-5 seeders, having to download 10+ GB worth of show that you’re going to end up deleting anyway, bad fan subs, missing episodes, and so on.

#Firstworldpirateproblems, truly.

Then here came CrunchyRoll with streaming content, professional subbing, and even simulcasts if you wanted to pay for Premium. If you didn’t want to pay, you could still watch the shows of your choice, with ads. Ads which, incidentally, are completely blocked with AdBlockPlus such that they barely register as a flicker on the screen.

Originally, I think I was tricked into subscribing for CrunchyRoll Premium in that they were holding the final episode of the show I was watching hostage. It might have been legitimate, in that the show just ended in Japan, and Premium users get access to the latest episode at least a week before it goes “free.” Whatever the reason, I signed up for the “free trial” of Premium and then stayed subscribed ever since. I consider it a fairly good value overall, especially since I can watch everything in 1080p. You wouldn’t think resolution matters in hand-drawn content, but you would be surprised. Or maybe that was just me being surprised.

I usually watch 1-2 episodes of some random show or another during dinner, which means I can plow through an entire series in a week or two. This wasn’t a problem, until it kinda was: I had watched just about everything ever recommended to me… that plays on CrunchyRoll.

Now I wanted to watch Steins;Gate. Enter FUNimation:


Spoilers! …not really, this is episode 2.

Which, incidentally, plays anime through Hulu.

Have you ever been in a situation where a friend or coworker was really shit-talking someone bad, and you nod your head, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking “Surely some of that is exaggeration. Nobody is that awful.” And some time passes before you encounter that person, so you sorta forget about them. Then you finally meet them and realize “holy shit, they really are that awful! I regret everything!”

So, yeah, Hulu.

Are you serious?

Are you serious?

I heard Hulu was bad with ads, but my mind is still reeling from this encounter. I was trying to watch Steins;Gate, which is already hard enough to follow without two minutes, forty seconds of unskippable ads every four minutes of show. I understand that that’s “normal” television show content-to-ad ratios (22 min of show, 8 of ads), but that is also precisely why I don’t watch television. I have never bought cable my whole adult life and hopefully never will.

Really, you almost have to experience this abomination for yourself:

How about no?

How about no?

Apparently AdBlockPlus will block some ads but not others. I could not verify it for sure, but I’m also convinced that the timer resets sometimes when I’m Alt-Tabbed and it tries to cycle into another ad that it cannot display. At least, it certainly feels that way. Or perhaps I am so used to, you know, the internet that waiting 150 seconds for the content I want to load simply feels like an eternity.

Like CrunchyRoll, FUNimation has a Premium version that supposedly removes the ads. Given how much shit I’ve heard about Hulu, and how Hulu expressly states that “Some shows will still serve ads to subscribers,” I have little inclination to believe them.

So congrats, FUNimation/Hulu, for being goddamn annoying enough that this becomes a better alternative once again:

Just in time.

Just in time.

It took about 35 minutes to download that. Or about four episodes worth of Hulu advertising.

Adventures in Hardware Installation

[Blaugust Day 27]

Remember that GTX 970 card I ordered? It arrived Tuesday, but tonight was the first time I had a chance to dedicate to sweating bullets installing it. I’m not sweating because I’m nervous around electronics, I’m sweating because if something goes wrong, I’d be out a lot of money when alternatives were available. Plus, it’d be an embarrassing story, like failing your driver’s test 2-3 times when you’re the high school Valedictorian.

…you know, as a hypothetical example. I’d feel real bad for that guy person. If they existed.

In any case, I cracked open my PC case and started poking around:

That's right, I paid the extra ~$30 for professional cabling. 

That’s right, I paid the extra ~$30 for professional cabling.

The hardest part of the 560ti removal was the damned power cables. In addition to having some sort of devil-spawn locking mechanism, they felt like they were super-glued on the card. Worrying about static is one thing, but the true nightmare to me is all the wiggling, pushing, and (cringe) bending of hundred-dollar electronics that sometimes becomes necessary.

Unplug, damn you!

Unplug, damn you!

After much consternation, I managed to unseat the power cords. At which time I unboxed the GTX 970 with the care of holding some distant cousin’s infant that they just threw into your arms like some kind of crazy person. Here is a comparison shot:

A slight bit smaller.

A slight bit smaller.

Incidentally, that gross-looking stuff in the sink is dust from inside my computer case. While I do periodically clean with a can of compressed air, in my immense wisdom it appears that that cleaning never extended to the video card’s fans. Absolutely filthy, man. I’m surprised the card never burst into flame. Now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure how safe it was these last four years to have those dumb stickers stuck on the top of the circuitry. I had been assuming it was kosher since it came like that from the shop, but I never really did double-check…

Installing the 970 was pretty easy, by the way. Push it into the slot until it clicks, hand-tighten the case screw and then plug…

God. Dammit.

God. Dammit.

Turns out that when you upgrade to a smaller card, and the designers move the power plugs to the side for no discernible reason, you’re going to have a bad time.

So at this point, I start an increasingly desperate bid to cut the zip ties inside my case to free up more power cable slack so I can plug the damn thing in. First, kitchen scissors. Second, a sharp knife in a sawing motion. Third, the Swiss Army Knife I typically use to cut open packages. When that didn’t work, I tried the scissor attachment of the Swiss Army Knife. Success! I ended up having to cut through two zip ties to get enough slack to plug it in.

And here I am, having finished taking the card for a test drive:

I am speechless.

An actual comparison.

I feel better about this investment already.


[Blaugust Day 26]

Weirdly enough, I find myself back to playing Battlefield 4.

It all started when I was reading the comment section on a random Kotaku page, and someone mentioned that BF4 still had 100,000 people playing, whereas Battlefield: Hardline (the more recent game) had 15,000.

After looking it up myself, the numbers are indeed around those ballparks, but it’s a bit misleading:

As DLC, Hardline ain't doing bad.

Taken 8/25/15 at 10:30pm EST.

As DLC, Hardline ain’t doing bad. Then again, it ain’t DLC.

In any case, I had an itching for some shooting, so I queued up the Origin download, then the BF4 download, then the China Rising DLC download, then got in 5 minutes of gameplay before bed. The next few days after that though, I’d say I was back to my old pattern of soaking up my free-time with games that ultimately don’t matter. And I don’t like it/can’t get enough of it.

I know I’ve talked about it before in this space, but I have a huge love-hate relationship with these sort of games. By “these games” I mean games that are more entertainment than experiences. When I finish playing Battlefield 4, I awaken as from a fugue state, disorientated… and empty. I had fun in the moment, and the moment passed. Which is great if I were simply interested in killing time between meaningful activities, but I’m not. This is my life I’m whiling away. Surely there are better games for it? Games that leave you with something.

Sometimes I just don’t know. Metal Gear Solid 5 comes out in less than a week; I have not even started playing Metal Gear Solid 4. Not that they’re chronologically connected in any way, but still. I could be playing that! I should. I should be plowing through Pillars of Eternity for that matter. I actually am making more progress through that game, methodically, but progress just the same.

What is it about these sort of games – BF4, Civilization, roguelikes, etc – that simultaneously seduces and sickens me? Is it because they are more fun than “traditional” games? Is it because they are more approachable time-commitment-wise? Do I just secretly delight in frivolity? Or perhaps the cognitive dissonance stems entirely from my misplaced sanctimony for “real” games that “matter?”

I wish I had an answer. Because then I could just type that, and be back shooting faces in BF4.


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