On Re-Releases

Blaugust Post #21

Grandia 2 came out on PC this week. The publisher is GungHo, better known for Puzzle & Dragons (I have no idea how they got the license). From all reports the quality of the port is passable, but I’m really kind of excited by what this represents. It’s the most recent example of a Japanese publisher digging out of their back catalog and putting games on the PC. I’m not sure which company started this (although I suspect Square’s desire to get all versions of Final Fantasy on everything helped), but it’s becoming a lot more common, and it’s a chance for people like myself to check out classics that were missed.


I was always told that PC games aren’t big in japan, except for Visual Novels. Consoles have traditionally been the place for JRPGs especially, except for the brief experiment Square tried with FF7 and FF8. The next example I can find is Square again, as they released The Last Remnant on Steam in 2009. This was the first game I encountered that fought very hard against being controlled with a mouse and keyboard, and so I didn’t play much of it (I still haven’t finished it). With a controller, I know people who prefer that version over the original (which was released for the XBox 360, a console I did not own until years later). Capcom noticed the PC Market a year later; Namco got in on the game in 2012. The Carpe Fulgur games (Recettear, Chantelise) opened up the doors for Japanese indies to see western release.


The funny part about that is that visual novels are starting to come over too. Our Game of the Month for Aggrochat is Hatoful Boyfriend, and there are lots of others on Steam at the moment. The world is flat indeed.

On Origin

Blaugust Post #20

The Multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 is very good. That almost makes up for the fact that Origin is intensely frustrating to deal with. We spent a larger amount of time on Thursday trying to get into the game than actually playing it, because a bug that’s been around for months is apparently not fixed, and hit me.

Thanks, Thalen.
Thanks, Thalen.

I understand it…

The oft-quoted number is that Steam takes a 30% cut of everything sold on their store. I’ve heard rumors that that number is no longer accurate, but even if it is, it’s understandable that companies might want a part of that slice of the pie back. EA was the first company I can think of the entirely break ties with Valve (which is kind of ironic after they published Portal 2 on consoles). Ubisoft followed with UPlay, but that seems to be less relevant as time goes on. EA actually has releases big enough that they can maintain Origin independently. They’ve actually done some things on Origin that I would say work better than Steam, as they had an actual functional return policy first, and their customer service is very good. I haven’t had to deal with Steam’s customer service, but from what I hear it’s generally pretty awful.

If you say so.
If you say so.

…But I don’t have to like it

The actual origin client itself is pretty terrible. The in-game overlay had a nice UI, but it’s been broken for (apparently) several months. It’s allegedly fixed in the beta release, but not for me. (In addition, despite not working, having it enabled makes my game crash.) As mentioned, there’s also that issue with the friends list. Unfortunately, the only thing I can really do here is vote with my wallet, and while EA continues to make excellent games like this, I’m afraid I’m stuck voting for something I don’t like.

Kind of like a real election.

On Running, Continued

Blaugust Post #19


Shadowrun: Hong Kong came out yesterday. It’s the third Shadowrun game to come out of Harebrained Schemes since the Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter. For those who are not familiar, Shadowrun Returns was one of the first games to actually release from the big Kickstarter blitz in 2012. The Kickstarter promised 2 campaigns, and the game released in 2013 with the first one, Dead Man’s Switch. The second, Dragonfall, released as an expansion in early 2014. It got a standalone Director’s Cut release later in the year, with an updated engine. We played Dragonfall for Aggrochat Game Club.

Dragonfall seemed to be a product of having about the same amount of time to make a story+art as they had to make a story+art+engine for Dead Man’s Switch. More effort is devoted to characterization, you have a standard team, and it’s quite a bit longer. Generally speaking we seemed to like it, although if you’re going to play it for yourself, listen to the podcast afterwards, it’s full of spoilers.

Once More, With Feeling

Shadowrun: Hong Kong had its own Kickstarter, and I guess experience pays off. It released exactly when planned, which is nearly unheard of for Kickstarter games so far. I haven’t yet played it, but even starting it reveals that production values are quite a bit higher this time around. The character models are much higher resolution, the UI is cleaner, and it even starts with a voice acted cutscene. (Although I didn’t find any options for subtitles. Baby steps…) I’m currently in the middle of another RPG so I probably won’t get to this immediately, but I’m really looking forward to giving this a shot. Maybe I won’t play a troll adept who cuts things in half with a sword this time?

Seems Unlikely.
Seems Unlikely.

On Red And Blue

Blaugust Post #18

I have to give the Mass Effect series credit for being the first series I played where the morality system isn’t choosing between “Be a Good Guy” or “Kick Puppies”. (Neverwinter Nights and other D&D-based games have been really bad about that, as is Knights of the Old Republic) In Mass effect you’re always the good guy, you might just be a bit of an asshole about it. (You might also kick some puppies.) For those unfamiliar, Mass Effect tracks your decisions as either “Paragon” or “Renegade”, where Paragon is “Compassionate and Heroic” and Renegade is “Apathetic and Ruthless”. These aren’t directly opposed, so you can have a high score in both, depending on your actions.

The red one has a star, so it must be better.
The red one has a star, so it must be better.

In Mass Effect 1, these scores determine how many points you can put into Charm/Intimidate, and the resulting value of your Charm/Intimidate skill is what gives you access to particular conversation options. Mass Effect 2 got rid of the Charm/Intimidate skills, in favor of an alternate approach.

The Great Mistake

Mass Effect 2 decided to use your Paragon/Renegade values directly to determine your effective charm/intimidate values. Because Mass Effect 2 is very non-linear, the values required aren’t static. Instead, they’re a percentage of the total number of paragon/renegade points available in the areas you’ve been to. The problem here is that while your scores aren’t mutually exclusive, most of your actions are. Unless you go very hard toward one or the other, you’re likely to find that you can’t pass either Paragon or Renegade checks near the end of the game. (A particularly difficult one is sorting out an argument between two party members, and it’s hard to have this happen any time other than near the very end of the game.)

Playing the game without being entirely dedicated toward either red or blue feels more natural to me, and ME2 punishes you for it. Importing a character from ME1 mitigates this somewhat, as you start with a moderately large bonus to your meters based (roughly) on what they were at the end of ME1. This helps a lot, but isn’t a perfect solution.

What Aria wants

Building a Reputation

Mass Effect 3 throws a decent chunk of that out. There’s still no individual charm/intimidate skill, but instead a statistic called “reputation”. Paragon and Renegade are tracked on the same bar, and the total is your reputation. There are also completely unaligned “reputation” points that extend the bar, but preserve your paragon/renegade ratio. Your available choices depend on how much reputation you have. I feel like this is a much improved situation compared to ME2, because your ability to impress people depends, more than anything else, on how much you’ve done. Choosing the “nice” options doesn’t later lock you out of the “jerk” options. This is important, because some people are absolutely worth being a jerk to.

Ambassador Udina

And what fun is it if you can’t indulge, sometimes?

On Chick Corea

Blaugust Post #17

Four Job Fiesta 2015

The 2015 Final Fantasy Five Four Job Fiesta has about 2 weeks remaining. So far I know that Kodra has finished, (and started a second run).

Tam has also finished.

I’ve also turned in a #victory, and I’m also trying to get another round in before it’s over.

Certain other people started, but have not yet finished. So, how are things going for the rest of you? There’s still plenty of time to beat the game between now and the end of the month. As far as fundraising goes, the event has already exceeded expectations twice. As a reminder, more money goes to charity if you report your win to @AggroChat. Good luck!

On Unexpected Surprises

Blaugust Post #16

First things first, this post will contain extremely minor spoilers for Mass Effect 2, and large spoilers for Mass Effect 1. ME1 came out 8 years ago, so I’m not exactly going to step lightly, this warning is all you get.

Yesterday I beat Mass Effect 1. If you know what you’re doing, it’s about 15-20 hours long, depending on how many elevators you take and how many sidequests you do. (If you want one of the squadmember achievements or the completionist achievement, expect to extend this to 30+.) I like it, but it’s really my least favorite of the three. One of the major reasons for this is the way powers work in Mass Effect 1: Each power has an independent cooldown ranging from 30 seconds to multiple minutes. Mass Effect 2 dramatically reduced the cooldown on individual powers, most of them are under 10 seconds, but all powers now have a shared cooldown. For power-spamming classes like Adepts or Engineers, this changes how they play dramatically. (It does decrease those classes alpha-striking potential, however.)


On the other hand, Saren is a better villain than anything in the later games, although Harbinger’s taunting certainly makes an impression in ME2. Even though he’s under control of the real big bad (Sovereign), he provides a face to what you’re searching for. He’s even a moderately difficult boss fight on Virmire, although I’ve never fought him in the citadel. (I have no idea what the Charm/Intimidate Threshold for skipping that encounter is. Since it’s at the end of the game, I’ve never been without at least one of them at 10.)

Mass Effect 2

New Game++

So this brings me to Mass Effect 2. Normally, your choices in the game allow you to pick up select powers from your squad for your own, whether this really makes sense or not. (It doesn’t make much sense for a non-biotic to have Slam, for instance.) One of the bonuses on starting a new game is immediate access to one of these powers of your choice at the start of the game. It’s my personal opinion that some of them aren’t balanced for this, but it’s kind of a nice bonus for repeat playthroughs. Id’ completely forgotten about this, and now I have an engineer with Shredder Ammo, which does a large amount of bonus damage against targets with no armor/shields. Engineers specialize in stripping armor and shields, so I suspect this will go pretty well.

On Illusion of Choice

Blaugust Post #15

After writing about the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, I had a strong urge to go back and play Mass Effect 3 all the way through again. Really, what this meant is that I had a strong urge to play the entire Mass Effect trilogy again, because the second and third games make really awkward assumptions if you don’t import a save file. Because I said I hadn’t, I’m playing as a Soldier, but I think I’ll probably play 2 and 3 as an Engineer (which is the other class I’ve never played through any of the games). My only regret so far is that playing as a Soldier makes Wrex largely redundant, and he’s probably my favorite party member.

Meeting Wrex

A Dirty Trick

I’ve heard it said that Mass Effect 1 is the best RPG in the series (even from people who don’t consider it the best game in the series), and while I don’t really agree, it’s certainly the most traditional. Your conversation options depend on the skill points you spend in Charm/Intimidate (and it’s also traditional enough that investing in both is a trap). Locked items and even how well you can shoot your weapon are also controlled by skill investments. You can equip a weapon that you have no skills for, but don’t expect to hit anything with it. None of this applies to the following games: Mass Effect 2 entirely limited weapons by class, and Mass Effect 3 went with a system where your class just determines how much weight you can carry (but all classes use all weapons equally well).

One of the other things is that Mass Effect 1 gives you the conversation wheel a lot more often than either of the following two games, creating the impression that is has more choices. Realistically, ME1 is playing a grand trick on its players, although you’re really only likely to notice it if you play the game more than once (or specifically replay a scene while giving different answers). In a lot of cases, multiple options on the wheel will lead to the exact same voiced line. It will almost always be a line generic enough to “fit” whatever summary the wheel presented, and the only difference is player interpretation.

It was the Mining Laser

Maybe Not so Dirty

Mass Effect 2 and 3 abandon this idea, in favor of just giving you the line, which generally makes conversations flow better. ME3 goes farther than ME2 in this sense, and also occasionally gives you a line based on your Paragon/Renegade scores. In the end of things, I’m not sure which is better. I personally prefer Mass Effect 2’s approach, where you only get a conversation branch for actual line differences. Appearances are important in games, and maybe some well-placed illusions are called for.

On Tam’s 11 Questions

Blaugust Post #14

I realize this isn’t how this is supposed to work, but I found his pretty thought-provoking.

1. What is the best spell to cast?
If I were to be practical, a healing spell, but that’s boring. My actual answer is Shapechange. I feel like there are a lot of problems that have easy solutions if you can turn into a dragon, you just need to watch out for hero-types that get the wrong ideas.

2. What food item(s) from a game do you want to eat above any others?
Dirge’s Kickin’ Chimaerok Chops seem like something that has to be tried. It took me a lot of work to get the recipe for those, and chimaeroks went nearly extinct with the Cataclysm, making this an incredibly rare delicacy. The only part that bothers me is that it requires Goblin Rocket Fuel.

3. You’ve got an infinite supply of one consumable, and can never carry any others. Which consumable do you choose?
Teleport Scrolls seem like they would be handy, especially if it’s one of the types that lets you go to any familiar place, not just somewhere you mark as “home”.


4. You have to choose a race and class that you’re never played seriously before. What do you pick?
I pretty much only play humans in games where there are no other options at all, and I tend not to play straightforward mage-types, but I really don’t see either of these changing anytime soon. I haven’t really ever played Orcs, so I might give something like an Orc Bard a shot.

5. What game did you think you would hate but actually loved?
It took a lot of convincing to get me to play the first Borderlands, as it released when I was in a state of thinking I hated First-Person Shooters. (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 came out the same year, and I wasn’t a fan of that series.) Borderlands was amusing, and fun to play, and the wide variety of weapons made it awesome for me (even if Vladov is the best manufacturer). Co-op also helped in a big way.

6. What game did you think you would love but actually hated?
Darkest Dungeon. This seemed like it should be the kind of game that I liked, being a party-based roguelike with a unique art style, but I couldn’t stand actually playing it. In addition to my other problems with it, it bothers me on a few levels that characters develop mental afflictions from stress.

7. Pick a zone from any game to live in. Why?
I’d probably get annoyed by the elves eventually, but Gridania seems like it would be a pretty nice place to be. It’s nice and foresty without being quite as potentially lethal as the non-city shroud zones.


8. You can excise one class from every future game. Which? Why?
I believe Thalen and Tam are correct in identifying that Warriors are an issue, but I think the class that needs to go is Barbarian/Berserker because classes like that limit what warriors can do. Making a class that is “like warrior, but gets mad” doesn’t do anyone any favors, just give warriors actual options, one of which might include “gets mad”.

9. What’s your favorite story?
The Odyssey. This is one of the few pieces of classic literature that High School English didn’t make me hate.

10. What hobby does no one (yet) know you have?
A few people do know this, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it to a wider audience. I’m a bit of a musician and played trombone throughout most of high school and all of college. I’m currently in a location where practicing that is something that just isn’t going to happen, and I’m (slowly) learning to play bass.

11. What’s your favorite secret shame?
I have a general fondness for musicals. I have the soundtracks to several (including Rent, Wicked, and Starlight Express) in my music library. This has resulted in some really odd reactions from roommates and family members.

12. Why can’t Ashgar count to 11?
I’m a programmer, and off-by-one errors are one of the 2 hard things in computer science.


On Comic Market

Blaugust Post #13

Starting today (August 14), the 88th semi-annual Comiket starts in Tokyo. This event, held twice a year in August and December, is one of the major times that Japanese indie games release, and this one looks to be no different. Edelweiss (The developers of Astebreed) put together a trailer of all of the games at this summer’s Comiket; it’s over an hour long. Astebreed itself came out at Comiket 83, about 3 years ago.

Japanese media has a bit of a different relationship with fan works than American media tends to, with games and other media based on preexisting characters existing in a sort of “official unofficial” state. I mention this because the start of that video is about 15 minutes of games using the characters from the Touhou series, itself an example of a Doujin title. The “team” behind the Touhou series, Team Shanghai Alice, is really just one person. The next main game in that series is also coming out at Comiket.

Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom
To go along with this, Steam is having a sale this week on a variety of games out of Comiket in years past. It’s also worth mentioning that Playism tends to pick these up earlier, and is even responsible for bringing some of them to Steam. It’s currently the only place you can pick up an actual Touhou game without importing (it’s still in Japanese). Prior to digital distribution, there was almost no way for most of the games shown to cross the Pacific, as actual physical CDs are sold at Comiket. Mostly this has meant piracy is the only way people get to play, but I’m hoping the modern internet can change that. After all, more people are lazy than cheap.

On Class Selection

Blaugust Post #12

Q: You can excise one class from every future game. Which? Why?

A: Warrior. Replace with something more interesting than ‘guy who hits people with sharp objects’.

Thalen wrote the above this morning, and it inspired this post. A while back, the developers of Mass Effect revealed various statistics about how people play their games. (Some spoilers for ME3 at that link.) It turns out that a very large number of people play the game as the basic Soldier, which was somewhat disappointing to me. In a game that has 6 class options with varying unique abilities, the one that “just shoots people” struck me as utterly boring. It remains one of two classes I haven’t played a Mass Effect game as (at least single-player).

Unexpected Brilliance

Mass Effect 3 wasn’t just a single player game; it has one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve ever played. It wasn’t quite so good at launch, but by the time I actually got into the game a year later, they’d added so much to the multiplayer that it was nearly unrecognizable. You have the same selection of classes from the main game, with a stripped down selection of abilities at the start (and honestly I don’t think I like most of the starting ability sets). What later patches brought was the ability to unlock additional characters with varied power sets. They’re still divided into Soldier, Engineer, etc., but some of them are different races with different strengths and weaknesses, and even the human unlockables tend to be pretty non-standard. The differences are pretty extreme in some cases, with the N7 Shadow infiltrator having a shadowstep and being more about murder with a sword than a sniper rifle (although it can do that too).

This brings me to my earlier point: Some of the soldiers in the multiplayer bring variety and interest to what would otherwise be the most boring class. (They’re still the class about shooting things.) There are two variations on slow, unstoppable powerhouse types in the Geth Juggernaut and the N7 Destroyer. The Juggernaut is large and slow with well above average health and shields, but comes with an immunity to instant kills and the highly damaging Siege Pulse power . The Destroyer is a mobile weapons platform, with the ability to slow its own movement in tradeoff for increased damage and accuracy, while also launching homing missiles at things that come too close. At the other end of the spectrum is the jetpack-equipped Turian Havok, capable of using its stimulant pack ability to run around the battlefield faster than any class that can’t teleport (i.e. the aforementioned Shadow and almost all of the Vanguards).

Lessons to Learn

I feel like certain other games are learning from examples like this. D&D5 comes to mind immediately, with subclass-like options for all of the base classes. Even Fighters get in on the game, with options I’m going to call “Standard”, “Battlemages are fun”, and “I liked 4e’s Warlord”. (On a semi-related note, there are a bunch of ways to make a character that can both hit things and cast spells, which one is primary mostly depends on what class you’re using to start.) I’d kind of like it if other games could use a bit of this, and make the “basics” not always so basic.