Steam Summer Sale Conclusion
Jun30

Steam Summer Sale Conclusion

Work has been totally crazy for the past couple of weeks and it looks to be continuing for at least the next few. Unfortunately when my day job gets intense I quickly lose both the time and the creative oomph to write blog posts, so expect light coverage for the next little while.

I managed to make out pretty well in the Steam Sale, with a final total of 9 games for just under $50. A big part of that number was a willingness to deal with the rotten UI and dig up indie classics. I bought five games on the last day of the sale for $20, none of which showed up on the front page in any way. There are still good games to be had during a sale, but Steam sure makes it a pain to find them. Anyway, on to the list!

Tomb Raider – $4.99
Many people whose opinions I respect said this was great, plus I like buying games with leading ladies. Am I eager to play it? Mmmmmmmm, maybe. I’m not necessarily an action game kinda gal, and apparently this has a lot of Quick Time Events. But hey, $5!

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – $2.99
I have heard wonderful things about this game! It’s sort of.. co-op with yourself. You control both brothers at once using the thumbsticks on your USB controller. I suspect it has a sad ending, but I’ll play it anyway.

Banished – $9.99
In retrospect I probably could have waited until this was closer to $5 in a future sale, but that’s a Steam Sale for ya. Banished is a “hard mode” city simulator. Citizens, prepare to starve!

Transistor OST 300x300 Steam Summer Sale Conclusion

Transistor – $14.99
Mine! For some reason $15 is my happy place for new games. When Transistor was released last month at $20 I made a face and decided to wait, but it was an easy decision to pick it up during the sale. This is probably the game I will play first of all the ones I just bought.

Organ Trail: Director’s Cut – $2.99
Sort of a novelty game, this is the classic Oregon Trail set in the zombie apocalypse. Am I going to spend hours playing this? No. But will I get $3 of entertainment out of naming my companions after real life friends and then giggling when they die of dysentary? Oh hell yes.

System Shock 2 – $3.99
Not an indie game, but a classic one! Created by Ken Levine and Irrational Games before Bioshock existed, this is considered to be a great old creepy space game. I’ll start this once I finish KotOR. (PS: Syp is playing through System Shock 2 right now and blogging about it.)

Cook, Serve, Delicious! – $3.99
This game was all the rage amongst bloggers about six months ago and it seems right up my alley. CSD is a combination of obvservational skill and fast fingers, and I am sure I will play the hell out of it.

Gunpoint – $4.99
I played this game originally at PAX Prime 2013, and oddly enough I wasn’t terribly impressed with it at the time. I think I was wrong though — the gameplay seems to combine stealth and puzzle solving in a way that is very appealing and I’m looking forward to giving it another shot.

pamplemousse 500x375 Steam Summer Sale Conclusion

Dominique Pamplemousse – $3.49
The official website describes this game as “a unique and offbeat stop motion animated detective adventure game about gender and the economy” and apparently there is also singing. Someone on Steam gave it the dreaded “walking simulator” tag which pretty much guaranteed that I would buy it just to make a point. I suspect this title is more Art than Game, but so what.

So how did you do in the sale?

Guest Post: Ode to WildStar Mount Flair
Jun25

Guest Post: Ode to WildStar Mount Flair

This post was written by guildie and occasional Cat Context guest Vajra (aka LoFi in WildStar). Thanks, Vajra!

You’ve been playing Wildstar for a few weeks now, and you’re starting to feel like you’ve made your character truly your own. Your armor is dyed and painstakingly color coordinated. Your house is decorated to look like some sort of crazy outerspace jungle gym, and the neighbor requests come by the droves. You’ve got it all figured out, right? Then someone zooms by on a motorcycle with a giant, rotating disco ball on the nose and shelves of steaming ramen hanging off the sides, and your mind is blown. Customizable mounts are a thing now. You just got Wildstar’d.

Apparently Carbine felt that individual customization options in MMOs were lackluster up until now, because Wildstar lets you add a personal touch to just about everything – your character, your gear, your outfit, your house and even, as it turns out, your mount. Every mount in the game has options to add cosmetic gubbins to it, the most visible examples being the various hoverboards: those colorful floating skateboards have decorative struts, stabilizing fins, and wings that can be tacked on for a heap of gold or Renown. But that’s just the start — the tip of the space iceberg, so to speak.

800px Trask Mount with Ramen Flair 500x364 Guest Post: Ode to WildStar Mount Flair

Ramen Delivery Service flair! Image from jabbithole.com

The ground mounts available at level 14 are where the really crazy after-market customizations can be found. They have an intimidating variety of cosmetic options, some of which you can buy right from the vendor that sells you the mounts – put brightly colored bunny-ears on your ride, or a brain in a jar, or just some extra armor plating to make yourself look extra tough. But the mount flair you find at the capitol city vendors? Those are just a small sample.

Want to hang thumping boomboxes off the sides of your crazy space motorcycle? You can do that. How about a suite of sensors and holographic readouts that make your mount look like a mobile command post? You can do that, too. How about giant gold exhaust pipes shaped like fearsome (and curvaceous) swordmaidens? You got it, cupcake.

While they don’t add any gameplay advantage (except possibly stunning enemies into submission in PvP with the glorious, glorious bling on your tricked out ride), the mount customization options give you a reason to keep speeding around on your ground mount long after you’ve gotten access to a hoverboard – and to keep doing group content. A number of the mount flair sets only drop in dungeons, or must be bought for obscene amounts of Renown, which requires grouping to earn. For the Path fans, each of the four paths has a themed set of mount flair that unlocks as you gain path levels as well. My Engineer – a Soldier – can look forward to strapping bulging packs of guns, swords and explosives all over her motorcycle, until it resembles a rolling ammo dump. An ammo dump with a giant disco ball on it. Because reasons.

While not every set of flair items visually “clicks” with every mount – a woolie mount with screens seemingly impaled on its flanks with metal brackets can be wince-inducing – there are enough different sets that every player should be able to find some mount customization items that fit their personal style and ride of choice. It’s a great addition to a game that already bristles with a fearsome array of ways to make your character unique – and really, really flash.

Building a Better Steam Sale
Jun24

Building a Better Steam Sale

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m sort of underwhelmed by the Summer Steam Sale this year. I know it’s fashionable now to point at our own enthusiastic consumerism during past sales as the problem but I actually think that Steam is as much to blame for the current sale malaise as we are.

I mean yes, we have all bought a lot of games over the past 5 years of sales. In some cases we have bought more games than we could ever play in our lifetimes. (I was inordinately pleased yesterday when the Steam Calculator told me that I’ve played 56% of the games in my library. That’s over half! I am some kind of game playing wizard!)

And I think I’m just part of the general trend when I say that my tolerance for high prices on new titles has been whittled away by seeing today’s $60 releases become tomorrow’s $5 specials. I’ll shell out for the pleasure of being part of an MMO launch, but otherwise any game over $15 inspires much soul searching before purchase.

So sure, part of the current malaise is our own damn fault. We delved too greedily and too deep, and even declaring — as I did last year — that I am not buying any (non-MMO) games between Steam Sales hasn’t really brought the magic back. But a huge part of the problem I think is that Steam is having a merchandising crisis.

There are so many games on the service, and more are added every day. Bloggers and YouTubers who were dedicated to covering every Greenlight title have had to give up and resort to highlights. By May, more games were added to the service in 2014 than in the entirety of 2013!

graph2 500x320 Building a Better Steam Sale

And in this brave new world of thousands and thousands of games, what do the daily sales bring us? Skyrim. Again. I find it hard to believe that there a gamer in the world who thinks they would enjoy Skyrim but hasn’t bought for $5 yet.

Steam is kind of a victim of their own success when it comes to merchandising. (A victim with huge piles of cash, but still.) Valve has always very strongly resisted taking any kind of editorial control over their selection, preferring to put tools in the hands of the users and developers, and while I understand why they have taken this approach it essentially means that there are tens if not hundreds of games that I would enjoy but will never see.

I appreciate that the sale has to put up big name blockbusters for both financial reasons and public perception, but I would love to see more effort made to dig up lesser known treasures for the front page. Torchlight II is a great game, but it’s also been in every seasonal sale for the past two years.

I could even possibly be coerced into doing my own digging for treasure through the deep Steam library, if their service wasn’t so difficult to use. Lists of games under a category are given a tiny part of the screen and will only show 10 titles at a time without coaxing. And if you go visit a game page on the list and then hit your back button your pagination is lost and you have to flip through tens of titles again to find where you were! There’s also no indication in the list of quality, whether it’s a Metacritic score or even just a list of player-generated tags.

To be fair complaining about mismanaged Steam Sales is pretty much the height of first world problems, but I think a few changes on Valve’s end could bring back some of the old sale magic. Put more lesser known titles in the Daily Deals, make it easier to find games I might like to play in the “back catalogue”, and STOP PUTTING SKYRIM ON THE FRONT PAGE.

Thank you.

PS: So far I’ve bought Tomb Raider for $5 and Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons for $3.

Friday Five: 5 reasons you should watch Running Man (TV show)
Jun20

Friday Five: 5 reasons you should watch Running Man (TV show)

Ever since I started exploring the world of South Korean television last year, I admit to occasionally boring my friends with it. They’re patient, particularly the Weekday IRC Crew (represent!), but I can feel eyes glossing over whenever I start talking about that drama where the leads swap bodies or the latest double-crossing in The Genius. Yes, yes, Liore. We know.

But put all that aside for a moment while I tell you about a television show that has become one of my favorite shows ever, and one that I have already watched for literally hundreds of hours. That show.. is variety show Running Man.

runningman 500x286 Friday Five: 5 reasons you should watch Running Man (TV show)

Each week on Running Man the 7 stars (8 in the early days) and a few celebrity guests are given challenges, and inevitably have to try and eliminate each other by tearing off nametags stuck to the back of their shirts. The challenges vary wildly between shows, from speed-eating a firey octopus dish to building a cardboard boat and rowing across the Han River to a rock paper scissors showdown on a train where the loser gets left at the next station.

Why do I love this show so much? Read on!

1) Everyone is happy!
Man, I know it makes me a sap but sometimes I really enjoy watching people be kind and awesome to each other. The team dynamic on Running Man is amazing, and even when they “double cross” their teammates it’s clearly all in good fun.

2) It makes me laugh.
Look, I enjoy bleak television and movies a lot, but even I like to just chill out sometimes. It is rare for an episode of Running Man to not make me tear up with laughter at least once. Yes, it’s a show aimed at children as much as at adults, but sometimes a little wholesome laughter is good for the soul, or something like that.

3) The celebrity guests are in on the fun.
Running Man is a very popular show and they get some pretty big names as guests, particularly from the K-Pop scene. And these huge stars are mostly just as good natured and up for some fun as the hosts! There is something sort of sweet about seeing members of Super Junior or Girls Generation gamely get into competitive hula hooping or whatever.

4) I can learn a bit about another culture.
I have been known to say in the past that you can learn a lot about a country by watching its reality television. It’s a pretty superficial glance, of course, but it can be an interesting “inside” look. (I am admittedly a foreign reality show junkie and will watch everything from Africa’s Next Top Model to MasterChef New Zealand.) Watching a ton of Running Man has taught me a bit about South Korean culture, like when to use honorifics in speech or that tteokbokki is the most popular late night street food (and is delicious).

5) The shows are available via streaming and the subtitles are top notch.
As mentioned above, I’ve watched a lot of non-English television and the group that subtitles Running Man is hands down the best I’ve seen. (And they’re volunteers! Thank you iSubs!) The idioms are all translated in an expressive way for English-speaking audiences, and many episodes even include notes for the vast collection of musical queues the show uses. And forget torrents — all 200 (and counting) episodes are available through online streaming in HD, thanks to dedicated fans.

So if you want to give Running Man a shot, you could start with the very first episode in my link just above. It’s a good introduction to the cast, but keep in mind that just like any show the pilot is a little rocky while people find their feet. I think for new watchers I would also recommend #60, called “The Tru-Gary Show” (yes, that is supposed to be like the “The Truman Show”), where Gary thinks he is the spy but in fact everyone else is secretly in on the joke. Or #74, when each of the cast gets a special “super power”!

Basically what I’m saying is: Running Man is awesome and you probably should watch it.

WildStar: Housing for People Who Don’t Like Housing (and those who do)

Earlier this week on Inventory Full Bhagpuss identified me as possibly “the most space-happy of all [bloggers]“. It’s a fair cop, but let the record show that I regret nothing! Nothing!

In all honesty as much as I always enjoy dabbling in different games I also feel happiest when I have a “home” MMO. RIFT filled that spot for me for a few years until the one-two punch of the mediocre Storm Legion expansion and switch to free-to-play, and since then despite quite enjoying a sojurn into Pandaria I haven’t felt at home anywhere in a while.

Guild Wars 2 wasn’t my thing, nor was Neverwinter, nor Elder Scrolls, nor pretty much any other new MMO from the last few years. This WildStar game though, this could be my new home. Maybe. We’ll see.

Anyway, let’s talk about housing. Or to be more precise, let’s talk about why you should care about housing even though you couldn’t give a flip about agonizing over virtual couch placement.

And I don’t mean that harshly — there has been a lot of opposition from both MMO devs and players to the idea of housing over the years, and I get it. They don’t boost your stats, they don’t drop epics, they don’t make you a more awesome player-killing machine, so why care?

Well, let’s see why WildStar wants you to care:

Gold
A tier 2 or epic tier resource plug on your lot can generate a lot of ore or wood or whatever that can then be sold on the Commodity Broker. But what’s better than one resource plug? Neighbor resource plugs! In my guild most people have set their resources to split 50/50 between land owner and harvester, so before I log off at night I do a rotation of mines and woody areas. I get a nice pile of materials for the day, and in turn the next time I log on I find stacks of stuff in my mailbox from when guildies harvested my plugs.

Recently someone with only tier 1 rune gathering skill came in possession of an epic-tier rune harvesting plug. He was too low to use it himself, but he planted the plug with 50/50 sharing and now gets a portion of the expensive resource while taking his time levelling up his own skill.

Dungeons and Telegraphs
While they’re a very small taste of what you can find in one of the real dungeons, players will occasionally encounter mini-dungeon plugs for their housing plot. These often involve a section with goofy but fun temporary weapons, a jumping puzzle, and a boss with a lot of telegraphs.

Speaking of telegraphs, there’s also a practice plug that challenges players to survive a series of crazy telegraphs for three minutes. The rewards are mostly décor, so perhaps not that interesting to some players, but the challenge is real and it’s a great way to practice and show off your skills. (I still haven’t managed to finish it.)

Optimizing Downtime
Min-maxing for fighting mobs is great, but what about optimizing the time in between battles? Sure, you could just hearth back to your faction’s main city, but they’re huge and confusing. Instead, just go home!

The home portal in WildStar is set up so you can visit your house and then teleport right back to where you were. Once you’re at your house, you can also visit your neighbors.

Arolaide, for example, has no idea where to find a mailbox in the main city of Thayd, because she just goes to our fellow guildie Ryven’s plot and uses his when she needs one. In the middle of nowhere with full bags? I port home and then hop over to Angelnorn’s plot to use her vending machine. Stop running forever to get back out to the quests in the middle of a zone, and just go use the Galeras zone portal on Hamilburg’s plot!

Even if you don’t care about playing interior decorator, games like WildStar are proving that player housing can have benefits for everyone, from the most casual to the most serious player.

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