With E3 2015 wrapping up a couple days ago, we’ve been seeing some pretty cool announcements coming from the electronic world over the past week. Some fantastic-looking new games, new systems, new gadgets. Nerdy fun to be had by all.
Just before E3, however, I got to have a bit of that fun for myself. Recently, Overkill Software had an event they called the Hype Train for their game, PayDay 2. This happened back in February/March, but you can still see some of the info from it here. This event effectively solidified Overkill/Starbreeze as my favorite gaming company around today. While studios like Electronic Arts are nickel-and-diming us gamers with in-game purchases, and a studio like Gearbox is suspected of plagiarism, it’s getting hard to tell who the good guys are in gaming. Overkill made that a little easier with the Hype Train. Here are the basics: Overkill set a list of goals to reach with corresponding PayDay-themed prizes. These goals were met by fans purchasing the game, DLCs, characters packs, etc. Anything at all PayDay-related that was purchased from their official outlets in this time period went toward the Hype Train. As prizes were unlocked, anyone with the game got access to these prizes. So even if you just had the base game, but didn’t or couldn’t buy anything during that time, you still got the Car Shop Heist and the Hoxton Revenge Heist. The way they went about this event was very cool in that it was obviously for the fans. Instead of just being out to make a quick buck, they promoted the game and the additions in a way that engaged the community, and rewarded fans. I’ve seen a few cynical groups of fans criticize the gaming company for involving money in the event at all, but that criticism seems extremely short-sighted. Of course a business has to make money in order to continue releasing their brand of awesome. At least in Overkill’s case, they did it in a way that really gave back to their fans and their community – and not just the factions that could pay for it at that particular time.
One of the prizes released during the Hype Train affected me, directly. There was a possibility that a prize would be unlocked where Overkill would fly 10 heisters to L.A. for a Pre-E3 event. I’ll be honest – the details were incredibly vague at the time, and whether it would even happen or not had not even been announced yet by the time you had to enter to win this prize. However, to enter, all you had to do was send Overkill a tweet during a certain time frame. What does one tweet cost you? Nothing. Nothing at all. I sent my tweet back in March, went about my life, and actually forgot about it.
That is until early June when I started getting messages from Overkill on twitter. When they first started trying to get my attention, they hadn’t yet told me I won the trip. I was mid-sentence in a conversation with my husband, and checked a notification on my phone. I trailed off in conversation, and my eyes got very big. My husband asked what was going on, and I responded with “SOMETHING IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.” A few minutes later, Almir Listo, producer of the PayDay franchise, let me know I had won, and asked if I’d be available to fly to L.A. in exactly one week. Naturally, I freaked out, put everything in life on hold, and went. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ve been a big fan of the PayDay games for a while at this point, but even bigger, I have grown to respect and love Overkill as a gaming company. PC Gaming is one of my biggest hobbies in life these days, and these guys were doing it right. I absolutely jumped at the chance to fly across the country and meet with them in person.
The following week was a blur of sustained excitement, and early on the Saturday morning following the announcement, I was on a plane. I arrived at the same time as several other heisters, and we instantly bonded. Everyone invited along, and everyone who met up with us from the studio were amazingly friendly and welcoming. We were all extremely excited.
We got to the hotel Overkill had us staying in – the Grafton on Sunset BLVD in West Hollywood. A beautiful hotel that was rock-themed, newly renovated, and in a great location. I walked with some of the other heisters to a nearby burger place, and had lunch. Afterwards, we were all in need of a nap – each of us had been traveling since early that morning, and were in for a long night ahead of us.
A few hours later, we were picked up in a limo, and given a tour of Hollywood before being dropped off at the event.
The party was at the Hollywood House of Blues. Technically, it was only half a block from our hotel, and we easily could have walked, but the limo ride was fun either way. There were 3 floors of drinks, food, music, fun people, games, and announcements. It was crazy. Immediately upon walking into the gate, I met Damion Poitier – the voice of Chains in the PayDay games. He was incredibly nice, and all for hanging with the fans. He also made the absolute best faces in all the pictures that were taken of him that night (see his twitter feed for more of these amazing faces). We also chatted with Eric Etebari, the voice of Dallas, throughout the night as well. In fact, every time we turned around, there was either Damion or Eric. I’m pretty sure they wanted to be BFFs, but were too shy to say so (right? RIGHT??).
We were also greeted by shambling zombies everywhere. Since this event was the launch party for Overkill’s The Walking Dead, they made a point to really put you in the mindset of hanging with zombies. Now – I organized a large-scale Zombie Walk for years. We had some incredible zombies over the years, but none with the constitution of these Walkers. Never once did I see a single zombie break character, even for a second. One in particular made a point to sneak up behind various party people, waiting just inches from the back of their heads to notice him. The reactions were priceless.
Overkill’s The Walking Dead was obviously a huge one. There are a couple other TWD games out right now, but they’re both completely story-driven, not shooters. Since the Left 4 Dead franchise, I think we here in the gaming community have been itching for an awesome, new zombie-themed shooter. We saw a bit of the gameplay and graphics from the new TWD game, and it’s looking pretty badass. And it looks like there will also be a little crossover from the PayDay franchise. The game doesn’t come out until next year, but I’m already psyched for it. You can watch the trailer for it, and find out more details here.
Next was the announcement of PayDay 2 coming to consoles. In fact, they had several machines set up with PayDay 2 loaded up to try it out. I’m not a big console person, myself, so I asked some of the other folks in my group how it held up in terms of a console shooter. Since they were all fans of the PayDay franchise on PC previously, they were able to definitely say that the translation from PC to console was very well done. The controls are intuitive, and the game played just as well on console. So if you’ve been wanting to play PayDay 2, but just aren’t into keyboards and mice, look forward to that release.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, we were surprised with the announcement of the StarVR system. This entire thing looks amazing. The StarVR system is Starbreeze’s answer to the recent Virtual Reality craze. It’s a headset that’s lighter than the Oculus, and instead of smaller circles to look through that are straight-ahead, the StarVR system has a wide screen that allows for peripheral vision. This may sound like a small difference in systems, but in reality, the way the StarVR is laid out allows you to really, and truly immerse yourself into the game much more than most other VR systems that are announced right now. Granted – the StarVR is still in process, as are many other virtual reality systems, and some changes and competitors may still arise. At the moment, though, it looks like Starbreeze is on the right path with this one. Here’s a Hands-on view from the E3 conference:
Overall, there were a ton of unexpected, and fantastic surprises at the Pre-E3 party. Friendships were forged, and a ridiculous amount of fun was had.
The next day, we had dinner plans with the Overkill gang, but were free until then. Some heisters explored Hollywood, some hung out at the hotel and gamed a bit. I had some friends in town, so I joined them for a killer waffle brunch. Then we were all given an address to meet up at.
The address led us to the historic Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and the shopping center behind it. It was a little bit confusing to know where we were going at first, but once we saw that there was a Dave & Busters, we all thought ‘of course they’re going to take a bunch of video game nerds to the gaming place.’ We were right – and thrilled to be.
We were joined by Almir Listo, Simon Viklund (who composes all of the music in the PayDay games), and Karl Lakner (art director for Overkill). A relaxing dinner with great conversation was followed by a lot of selfies and group pics. We all got the chance to really talk with these accomplished fellows one-on-one, and ask any burning, heisting questions we may have had.
However, at the end of it, not all of us were ready to call it quits. Almir had to leave us, but Simon and Karl were dead-set on seeing a movie. We walked over the Chinese Theater, and all grabbed tickets for Jurassic World, but still had a couple hours to kill, so we went back to D&B’s to play some games. I got to shoot ridiculous amounts of aliens and terminator-bots with Karl, and then even more dinosaurs with Simon. A few of the other Overkill guys joined us for the movie – and were more than happy to talk about the weapons, explosions, and landscapes they designed for the PayDay games, and what went into them. The gentlemen we got to meet from Overkill were easily some of the nicest, friendliest, and most welcoming people I’ve met in a long time.
The next morning, I flew the 7 hours back to my usual side of the country.
It was a crazy, jam-packed, exciting, whirlwind of a weekend that I never expected to happen.
I cannot thank the guys at Overkill, and especially Almir and Karl (who were both incredibly friendly and accommodating) enough for the experience. You guys made 10 little heisters’ lives incredibly bright for that weekend.
In case you haven’t heard the news, Harmonix announced today (at about 5:30 in the morning..) that they’re ready for their encore! The Rock Bands games 1-3 were once a staple in friendly-get-together fun for gamers for years. It seemed the project was all but abandoned after the market was a little too saturated with at-home music games a few years ago, but we’re very happy to hear it’s been revived!
The new game will be released for current gen consoles (PS4 and Xbox ONE), however the good news is that if you have an older gen console of the same type, your DLCs and previous game codes should work for the new game and new console. This will not work for changing platforms (ie: going from PS3 to the Xbox ONE), but that’s pretty understandable. Harmonix is also working with Mad Catz to get older instruments working with the new systems/game, but no promises have been made there yet.
They will be introducing new instruments for the new consoles. Details have not been formally announced yet, with the exception of a Penny Arcade-themed guitar. This special guitar will be available for pre-order if you visit the Harmonix booth at PAX East this weekend in person, and reserve it there. Info on the PAX East pre-order as well as general info on the RB4 announcement is available here:
If you’re not able to make it out to PAX East, but still want to be able to pre-order the game or get updates on release details, they have a handy sign up here (note: pricing has not been announced):
And lastly, they have released a FAQ on the new game here:
I don’t know about you guys, but I hope this means that Rock Band competitions will start popping up again. I will OWN that with Somebody to Love. And I think this accurate describes our excitement over the announcement:
A couple of weekends ago I had the great privilege of hanging out with the crew of the USS Loma Prieta (http://usslomaprieta.org/), a Star Trek-centered science fiction fan club based out of San Francisco. I attended their Battlestations event, which was a fundraiser for the club featuring game play of the Artemis star ship bridge simulator (http://www.artemis.eochu.com/
The event was held at WeWork Labs in SF, which was a nice space and perfectly suited to the event. The space allowed for two full Artemis crews to work together and co-op a mission. There was also a set up for a training bridge to help people new to the game get acquainted with the controls. The Artemis stations are very similar to the standard Star Trek bridge stations: Captain, helm, science, weapons, engineering, and communications. Each game takes 6 players on networked computers to work together with both their consoles and their physical communications to beat the game.
The simulation is awesome. That is actually the best word to describe it. Each console UI looks very different from the rest, and the game play itself is very realistic (based on my experiences as an actual starship captain). I suppose the next step in making it even more realistic would be to sync the Artemis game with a motion simulator under the bridge to simulate ship movement and enemy hits. Each crew member has a different, yet important job. Just like a real starship voyage, the crew is conducted by the captain.
One of the missions I played had my crew protecting our space stations from enemy attacks. I manned the communications station, and shouted incoming messages to the Captain through a microphone. I also participated in the Artemis version of Star Trek‘s “Kobayashi Maru” training exercise, which if you’re familiar with Star Trek, you will know is a no-win scenario. Needless to say, we didn’t win. My crew did last 7 minutes against the enemy ships, though!
The USS Loma Prieta puts on these events periodically for the public, but they also run Artemis sims as well as other Trek-related activities at their meetings. You can follow the USS Loma Prieta on Twitter at (https://twitter.com/
If you’re interested in the game but want to play at home or aren’t located in the Bay Area, you can purchase Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator for yourself! There is a free demo available on the Artemis website as well (http://www.artemis.eochu.com/
For the curious, here is a video from last year interviewing some of the USS Loma Prieta crew and showcasing some Artemis game play. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?
How many games do you have sitting your shelf that you’ve already played through, and barely even look at anymore? And how many games are there that you’ve been wanting to play – maybe even for years, you wanted to try some gambling games? Why not do it today and get your first coupon from BonusCode for free discounts. – but you just can’t justify the purchase of them, perhaps even because of the collection you already have? Of course you can trade in old games to corporate companies like GameStop or Best Buy, and even purchase used games. But let’s be honest.. that’s kind of a rip. They don’t give you much for your trade-in, and turn around and sell it as used for more than twice as much.
This is exactly the conundrum a group of gamers was discussing over at Reddit a while back, and developed it into a solution. Now, you can head over to 99gamers.com to trade your games one-on-one with other gamers, and receive and pay amounts much closer to the game’s value. Personally, I love this idea. It’s a process that’s been much-needed in the gaming community for quite a while, and it’s finally here. To hear more about the service, we recently contacted Brandon Kruzeniski of 99Gamers for some questions.
NiB- What is 99gamers.com?
BK- 99Gamers is a video game trading community. Members use 99Gamers as a platform to trade directly with each other. Members add their unwanted video games and sell them to other members for a virtual currency called ‘coins’ which are valued at $1 per coin. Members can then spend their earned coins on other games.
BK- I’m one of the founders of 99Gamers with the other being my brother Jon.
BK- I originally got the idea for a video game trading site when I came across a post on Reddit about how someone would shoot darts at their game collection to choose which game they would play next. I realized that this random person had a bunch of games that I would love to play but just haven’t had the chance to. I turned to my game collection and thought that this person would probably feel the same way about my game collection.
I was also tired of getting ripped off by GameStop, knowing they would turn around and sell the game for double the next day. I knew other video game trading sites existed, but none of them were what I wanted them to be.
I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested in something like this so I decided to post it to Reddit and see what the response was like. I was thinking maybe a few hundred people would see it and I’d be able to get some feedback on the idea, but within a few hours the post was at the top of r/gaming and even hit the front page for a while, resulting in thousands of signups. I then knew enough people felt the same way I did so I went forward with the site.
BK- First, we save people a lot of money. Trading on the site is completely free so you’ll really start to see the savings add up quickly. 99Gamers is built by gamers for gamers with the sole intention of getting more value out of your game collection. We are a platform for gamers to trade directly with each other so the middle man can be cut out. Many people feel like they get ripped off when using trade-in services so 99Gamers can be used as that alternative.
I’ve also found that because you have access to such a large game library you are more inclined to try out games you may have not given a chance before. You are then more likely to purchase the sequel when it comes out. For example I hadn’t played the Dead Space series yet but after getting the games through 99Gamers I ended up buying Dead Space 3 new.
BK- We haven’t received any backlash at all. We’re still fairly new and have been mostly underground so it’s doubtful they know about us yet.
BK- We came out of beta about two months ago and we’re starting to pick up momentum. Just last week, it was nine months since I originally posted about the idea on Reddit so I did a follow up post about our progress so far. We ended up hitting the front page again which resulted in us more than doubling our user base within 24 hours. We went from having 2,300 members to now almost 6,000.
BK- Yes, I believe it has been received quite well. Both Reddit posts reached the front page which shows many people share the same feelings of not wanting to get ripped off by trade-in offers. When members trade directly with one another games can be offered at a lower value and people tend to appreciate knowing that their games will be going to a good home.
BK- Assassin’s Creed III and Far Cry 3 have been popular over the last few months. Now that the new Tomb Raider is out it usually gets picked up quite quickly. Pokémon games are of course always popular as everyone loves playing them. I’ve found people will often buy every game in a series together. The Mass Effect series has been very popular in the past.
BK- I actually had a list of games I had wanted when I came up with the idea and wouldn’t allow myself to get them through anywhere but 99Gamers. A few I’ve gotten are Kingdom Hearts, Max Payne 3, Pokémon SoulSilver and Assassin’s Creed II. One that I hadn’t yet received was Just Cause 2 but after the Reddit post last week I managed to grab it and it’s now on its way!
BK- Up next we’ll be adding PC games and digital codes. The search, browse and profile pages are getting a much improved new look. These will help members discover new and interesting games faster.
Down the road we plan on adding consoles and gaming accessories into the mix as well as some more exciting features. Our main goal continues to make buying and selling games as easy as possible so our members can spend more time playing games.
You can visit 99Gamers here: http://99gamers.com – Hopefully you’ll find something you’ve been wanting. Let us know how it goes!
This is a follow up to my last WoW post about the upcoming Female Panderan Models. A few weeks ago, Blizzard finally released the Female Panderan model and they look amazing! All the images are from World of Warcraft.
They aren’t just skinny pandas, they resemble the Male Panderan, but still retain that female quality. It isn’t quite a male with a bow on its head, but it isn’t that far off either. Some people might not like the models, but then they don’t have to play them. With the beta getting into full swing more people can play with both Panderan models and find any bugs that might occur. This way the designers can make the models even better. And in a complete turn around, the female models seem to have better animations than the male models, which get stuck in the frame pose from time to time. It is usually the female models that have the most issues, so it’s nice to see that Blizzard must have worked hard at making the female models even better this time around.
Dominion is a game of chance, strategy and conquer published by Rio Grande Games. Dominion is a deck building card game where you create your own deck as you play. In Magic the Gathering, you begin the game with a deck that you have already created, while in a game like Munchkin you create your spread from a deck that everyone chooses from. In Dominion, each person starts with ten cards, and purchases from the decks that are available to others.
Confused? Actually it’s quite simple once you understand the mechanics of the game.
In the magical box, there are five main classes of cards:
VICTORY cards – These are signified by green embellishment and generally have no value during the game, but the point of the game is to end up with the largest amount of land.
TREASURE cards – These are signified by gold embellishment and are used during the buy phase of your turn. They typically generate coins to spend on other cards (and sometimes they have other effects).
ACTION cards – These are often signified by parchment white embellishment. These generate effects during a player’s turn offering them bonuses. Some also issue negative effects for the other players.
CURSE cards – These are signified by purple embellishment. A curse card during play is much like a Victory card, but it has a negative point value that counts against your final tally.
REACTION cards – These are often signified by blue embellishment and can be used outside of your turn in response to a certain event, like an attack.
So , Ali… How do you play the game?
Thank you for asking, internet stranger!
Before the game begins, there is a setup phase. In the base game, there are 25 of them. The card titles are Adventurer, Bureaucrat, Cellar, Chancellor, Chapel, Council Room, Feast, Festival, Gardens, Laboratory, Library, Market, Militia, Mine, Moat, Moneylender, Remodel, Smithy, Spy, Thief, Throne Room, Village, Witch, Woodcutter, and Workshop. You have ten of most cards and they are the cards you can purchase throughout the game to create your deck.
Only TEN of the Kingdom Cards are used during each game, so game can vary greatly on the cards chosen. Some people play where someone will select the cards, but we do it this way. There is a deck consisting of an extra “Kingdom Card”. We randomly select ten of those cards and they are placed on the table in addition to stacks of Victory cards and stacks of Treasure cards (of varying values/costs). These are the stacks that you will use to build your deck.
Each player starts with 3 Estates and 7 Copper. This is your starting “deck”. You shuffle the cards and draw five cards. The first player then gets to participate in the following steps for their turn:
1. ACTION: If you have an action card in your hand you choose to play it. It can give you a bonus or screw an opponent.
2. BUY: You start with one buy for your turn. If your ACTION gives you a bonus buy, you can buy two things. You use whatever Treasure cards you have in your hand (gold embellishments) to purchase a single card from any of the decks that you can afford. The purchase price of the card is located on the bottom left of each card. You don’t need to use all of your coins, nor do you need to use multiple buys if you are granted them.
3. CLEAN-UP: At the end of your turn, all cards in your hand (and purchased card) is placed into your face-up discard pile. You then draw five new cards from your deck.
The player on your left’s turn then begins. They have their action, buy, and clean-up rounds and then it continues to you.
When your deck is all facing upwards, you shuffle it and that becomes your deck. The first few turns consist of a lot of shuffling, but once you amass a sizeable deck each time you draw you get a hand that is customized to your own strategy.
The game is over two ways:
When the stack of the highest Victory card has been depleted (in the base game that is the Province card)
When a certain amount of stacks on the table have been depleted (it varies on the amount of players).
When gameplay ends, it is each players responsibility to separate the cards of their deck (to file away for another game) and count the Victory cards they have collected. The person with the highest score is the winner.
I understand that this seems like an extremely confusing game, but I have found it to be SO much easier to deal with than Munchkin. In Munchkin there is such a variety of cards it tends to be overwhelming. In Dominion it keeps the actual action cards to a minimum and allows you a better understanding/utilization of what is available.
The best part is that with 25 different cards available, there are so many permutations of what you could actually play. It keeps the game fresh and the cards work differently together so your strategy alters during the time you spend. Also, it’s easier to keep some of the more devious* players in check. When there are three hundred different cards, it’s hard to keep some people honest.
After you’ve gotten the hang of the base system of Dominion, you may even consider adding in the expansion sets.
Intrigue pulls in the seedier side of things with the addition of Baron, Bridge, Conspirator, Coppersmith, Courtyard, Duke, Great Hall, Harem, Ironworks, Masquerade, Mining Village, Minion, Nobles, Pawn, Saboteur, Scout, Secret Chamber, Shanty Town, Steward, Swindler, Torturer, Trading Post, Tribute, Upgrade, and Wishing Well.
Seaside lets you gets you waterlogged with the addition of Ambassador, Bazaar, Caravan, Cutpurse, Embargo, Explorer, Fishing Village, Ghost Ship, Haven, Island, Lighthouse, Lookout, Merchant Ship, Native Village, Navigator, Outpost, Pearl Diver, Pirate Ship, Salvager, Sea Hag, Smugglers, Tactician, Treasure Map, Treasury, Warehouse, and Wharf.
Alchemy lets you dabble in mixology with the addition of Alchemist, Apothecary, Apprentice, Familiar, Golem, Herbalist, Philosopher’s Stone, Possession, Scrying Pool, Transmute, University, and Vineyard.
Prosperity lets you get your greed on with the addition of Bank, Bishop, City, Contraband, Counting House, Expand, Forge, Goons, Grand Market, Hoard, King’s Court, Loan, Mint, Monument, Mountebank, Peddler, Quarry, Rabble, Royal Seal, Talisman, Trade Route, Vault, Venture, Watchtower, and Worker’s Village.
Cornucopia adds more variety with the addition of Fairgrounds, Farming Village, Fortune Teller, Hamlet, Harvest, Horn of Plenty, Horse Traders, Hunting Party, Jester, Menagerie, Remake, Tournament, and Young Witch
Hinterlands encourages your wanderlust with the addition of Border Village, Cache, Cartographer, Crossroads, Develop, Duchess, Embassy, Farmland, Fool’s Gold, Haggler, Highway, Ill-Gotten Gains, Inn, Jack of All Trades, Mandarin, Margrave, Noble Brigand, Nomad Camp, Oasis, Oracle, Scheme, Silk Road, Spice Merchant, Stables, Trader, and Tunnel.
Rio Grande Games will also be releasing a replacement pack (for when your regularly used cards get oogey) in March 2012, an expansion called Dark Ages in August 2012, and an expansion called The Guilds in Spring 2013. Visit their website here.
*Devious players aren’t bad people. Some people really take gaming seriously and always want to win so they operate differently.
Since it’s the Christmas season, and since Christmas is about sharing, I thought it would be nice to share two of my favorite Youtube channels with everyone. They are both focused (mainly) on gaming. Both channels have some swearing, so if you are sensitive to that, you should skip them. If you aren’t, you might like them! Give them a shot either way and see if they work for you.
First up is OMFGcata. It started out as a channel for commentary about the WoW Cataclysm Beta, but has since branched out into Minecraft, Skyrim, SWTOR Beta, Terraria, The Witcher 2 and more. The leading force behind the channel is Jesse Cox, a voice actor, but he has amassed other cohorts to enrich his channel. They include: Pride, Blondie, the whole Minecraft RPGMakers Crew, and many, many more.
Jesse has the habit of singing anything that comes into his head. He also has the habit of picking up anything he can in games (specifically Skyrim) and becoming overburdened. He plays through games how he normally would, if not filming, and not for fans, much to the annoyance of some viewers. Jesse does take suggestions and tips, but it never dictates his playthroughs.
The videos on OMFGcata are funny and entertaining, all one could ask for in a Youtube channel. Here’s a video of his latest Skyrim video:
The second channel is The Yogscast. It also started out with WoW videos, but has then branched out to encompass many other games including, Minecraft, Saints Row the Third, Heroes of Newerth, and more. The two main commentators are Simon and Lewis who fumble their way through many games. Occasionally accompanying them on adventures are Hannah (who has her own playthroughs on Yogscast 2), Peva, Tinman, Fumblemore, and many others.
They are best known for their Minecraft videos and especially their ongoing series, Shadow of Israphel, but many people found them because of WoW. Lewis and Simon used to make podcasts, but haven’t updated that in quite some time since they are very busy. Much like Jesse; Lewis and Simon tend to play games that they want to play, even when fans scream for more Minecraft.
Every video they make has something humorous happen, from Simon pushing Lewis into deep holes to the two men being scared by Creepers. Here’s their latest Advent Calendar video:
(Installment One in The OverLady’s ongoing review series on Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)
Waiting for the release of a new RPG is like waiting for the release of a new book the author take years to build. The author has perfected his/her craft and curated a loving readership.
While I fancy to use completely current comparisons (Which, in this case would be the ever-loved Harry Potter book series), an extremely beloved and more content-accurate comparison would be a combination of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and her Lives of the Mayfair Witches series. These books, besides being highly anticipated through every book by her loyal and loving readership, chronicled a carefully crafted and elaborate history of thousands of years. Most of Rice’s stories in these series took place between the 18th century and modern day, though entire chapters were often devoted to delving into ancient history and speculative lore of New Orleanean, French, Scottish, and Egyptian vampires and witches. As an historian by study, Rice’s tales wove an intoxicating mix of real-world history with her fanciful and lush imagination. The richness of her work was not for the feeble, as many of her books hit the 1,000 page mark with ease and grace. Much like these books, each Elder Scrolls game offers much of this richness in the world, the story, and most certainly the history… each touting at least hours of gameplay, depending on how thorough the player decides is necessary.
On November 11, 2011, Bethesda released Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which is probably fairly well-known by this point. With much of the hype and erratic anticipation of arguably any of the Harry Potter series, but with the specific history and richness within the pages of Anne Rice’s most famous series, Skyrim is already a new classic to the RPG repertoire. Regardless of the fact its kin (Oblivion and Morrowind) both won game of the year and Skyrim is already nominated once so far, it already wins game of my heart until Elder Scrolls VI comes out in the unforeseeable future.
Cracking into a new video game, especially one I know is going to leave me in a state of orgasmic shock every time I play, comes with a set of simple but necessary rituals I have developed over the years. Before settling in for hours of delicious gameplay, I must have things in order. I mustn’t have any unfinished chores. (Something which I believe has come with feeling responsible to my partner as well as exponential nagging guilt I would otherwise feel towards myself!) The only thing I should be getting up for, save emergencies, is the direst of bathroom trips.
As a firm believer in daily decadence, here is a general list of what I make my gaming nest out of– especially in the colder months:
Hot tisane? √
Full bottle of water? √
100% juice? √
Dried fruit? √
Apple or other fresh fruit? √
Quinoa or another super-yummy and equally healthy nom? √
Cozy & non-binding clothes? (Leggings/sweaters/soft ballet flats are my norm) √
At least one blanket for an unexpected chill? √
Heating pad on high for pre-emptive back care? (A true Pro-Tip from a seasoned gamer, trust me on this.) √
At least one lap-ready cat? (Note: any cuddly pet or partner will do wonderfully!) √
Optional item for the spry: Balance ball to sit on instead of the couch. No √ this round, my older cat punctured my last one!
***I will get a photo in the near-future of this ridiculous spread for everyone, but trust that a well-put-together gaming nest is essential for optimal gameplay and submersion into the world.***
The Lamentation (of this woman).
As I have since switched to MacBook after Oblivion came out and mostly have neglected upgrades to my desktop PC since Fallout 3, I decided on a first– playing and Elder Scrolls game on console! I was a bit worried about playing on Xbox 360, worry of a completely baseless and totally biased nature, of course. In any case I pre-ordered it through Amazon for the same store price and still got the cute map inside. It arrived in the morning right before I headed to work, where I got to agonize all day about it.
I actually only got to play for a couple hours as there were things to be done (Remember, loose ends equals silly amounts of guilt!) and of course prepping my costume bits for the Swashbuckler’s Ball the following night. Insert work all day Saturday & Sunday. I finally got to put in some time Sunday night and ALL of Monday… No, really! Approximately 12:35pm to 2:30am, save a couple hours of dining and partner face-time before he cuddled up with me and did homework while I played. Up to now, I would say I’ve amassed a modest 20 hours.
I am going to do my best to not recount an overview of the game, one can google that or check out the Skyrim wiki on Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls site. With that said, I will also do my best to give my take on it as both an astute gamer and Elder Scrolls fangirl.
Meet S’Leife DLeina, now level 11 Dunmer (Dark Elf to the layman) with a penchant for Alchemy, Sneaking, Light Armor, Smithing, Two-handed weapons (currently an Orcish warhammer), and most certainly collecting books. Check out her sexy Elven light armor, isn’t she a babe?!
For those of you who may have played past Elder Scrolls games, you probably also noticed the distinct lack of choices in the character creation menu. As someone who loves her detail, this was very disappointing to me. Oblivion had a near- Sims 3- level of character detail in the creation menu. I fucking loved that. I loved getting to pick and choose literally every physical characteristic of my new elf’s face… not to mention the ability to give my past Dunmers a luscious shade of lavender on their hair. On the flipside to this disappointment, I will acknowledge how awesome it is the elves look much less human. They look like, well- elves!
(I had a far-fetched aesthetic fantasy Skyrim would bring back the ability to layer clothing like in Morrowind… It’s still just a lofty dream!)
On the topic of choices, let’s talk about the lack of stats! On the main screen during gameplay, the only stats shown are your health/stamina/magicka bars, if they are less than 100% charged. There is no menu or ability to see how high your specific abilities are beyond while you are actively doing something. Oh, the computer keeps track so the end user doesn’t have to. I was really wary when I read about that as well as the open-ended nature of not having any classes.
The intent, which I think works extremely well, was to allow players to develop their characters more naturally without constraints. I am very much reminded of this strip from the web comic Stuff No One Told Me. By allowing the player to organically develop their character, they can sate all of their human curiosities while still continuing to progress in the game and evolve their character. Progression of stats and in turn, leveling, is done on a by-use basis instead of a “Oh I HAVE to go do this thing again, if I want to level, since I am stuck with these areas as my major focal points”. Wariness be gone, I think I love the classless system!
On a similar note, this lack of class system rigidity can achieve some fun combinations that definitely “break the rules” of traditional RPGs. Want to wear heavy armor but focus on alteration magicka? Do it! Oh, you like wielding bow & arrows, but love close-range attacks? DO BOTH!
I will wrap things up now, as I have been away from my game for a bit too long (:::reaches for paper bag to breathe in:::), but I will leave you with the following as a preview of what I will be talking about next time: NPCs! Dealing with them, living life, and manipulating them, alive or dead.
A few weeks ago, Blizzard, the maker of World of Warcraft, held Blizzcon to showcase all of their games; WoW, Diablo III and Starcraft II. They started off the con with information about their new WoW expansion, Mists of Pandaria. They showed off a lot of new things such as the new playable race, Pandaren, a new class, Monk, new mobs to fight, and new locations to explore. One thing they didn’t show off was the female model for the Pandaren.
There was a picture of a Pandaren with a bow on it’s head, and many people wouldn’t mind that being the female model for the new race, but I don’t know if that will happen. Apparently the creator of the Pandaren has always drawn females as Red Pandas. People fear that female Pandaren will be slimmed down to fall in line with the other female races.
Blizzard has changed female (and male!) models before. In the Alpha version of WoW, Troll females were just as hunched over as males and seemed to have more facial choices. For whatever reason, Blizzard decided to change the model into what is now used today. The female Troll model has limited facial options and many Trolls tend to look the same. There’s a video of the Alpha Troll model here. Below is an image of the current female Troll model.
They also seemed to have slightly altered the Tauren female model from the Alpha version. It doesn’t seem to be a huge change, like with the Troll females, but it’s still an odd change as the Alpha Tauren female looked fine. Here’s a video of all the Alpha models, Troll and Tauren included. Below is an image of the current female Tauren model.
As I said before, Blizzard even changed male models for Blood Elves back before Burning Crusade was released. The Beta male models were slim and not as muscular as the other male members of the Horde (minus the Forsaken). There were some complaints that the Beta models looked “too gay” or “too pretty”, this might not have been why the change was made, but no one knows for sure.
The latest model change came back before Cataclysm was released. The Worgen male and female models went through a lot of changes; from looking, some would say, more wolf like to becoming more feral. The female model came under the most fire as they lost a little of the muscle they had and didn’t really seem to match the male Worgen model. Here’s a video of the Alpha models. And below are images of the Alpha and current models.
It’s all personal preference and personal opinion on whether you like the old models or the current models better. I’m just hoping that the female Pandaren aren’t going to be too different from the male version.
The evening began with producer Eiji Aonuma addressing the audience, with the help of Nintendo’s translator, for he doesn’t speak very much English. He was very exuberant and excited that we were there to enjoy the evening, and that when they had had their first concert in Toyko, many people cried. So, he wished us to have a good time and hoped that we would cry as well; he wanted us all to have the same experience. He pointed to the screen behind him, mentioning how they’d be showing clips from the games, but there was ‘spoiler’ material in the clips, so if we hadn’t played the game, he was sorry. The audience had a hearty laugh at that. He said his farewell, and then left the stage.
When the conductor walked out onto the stage, I was ecstatic. It was a woman. Her name is Eimear Noone, and she’s amazing. It’s not very often that you see a woman conductor in front of an orchestra. Yes, there are women conductors in the choral field, but for every one woman conductor there are twenty men. Being the music geek that I am, this concert was already amazing, and the orchestra had yet to play a single note.
Ms. Noone had quite the stage presence. She introduced each piece to us, telling us where we would be going on our journey for the evening. What I found very fascinating was that the orchestra members all wore headsets. They were filming the concert for Nintendo to use for a variety of reasons.
The concert began with Hyrule’s Castle Theme from A Link to the Past. A lot of people consider this game to be one of the best Zelda’s games, as was made clear by the audience whenever a montage from that game would come up on the screen. Next, the orchestra played a beautiful rendition of Princess Zelda’s Theme from A Link to the Past as well. The next movement was what I had be most looking forward to, as it is the first Zelda game I ever played through its entirety – the symphonic suite for Wind Waker. One of my favorite pieces of music is ‘The Great Sea‘, and to hear it live had me openly weeping. It was amazing watching Link sail across the sea, hearing the music performed live. This is why I had waned to attend this concert so badly; this moment is what made it special.
Next, Ms. Noone took us through the entire orchestra, showcasing each section off by playing snippets of music from Ocarina of Time. Did you know that there are 19 ocarina melodies, but each of them use only the five notes of ‘Re-Fa-La-Ti-Re’? I didn’t. But I do now, thanks to the show’s program. After introducing each section, they brought it all together by the entire orchestra playing ‘Saria’s Song’, another one of my absolute favorites. Heck, it used to be a ringtone on my phone. The arrangement of the piece was wonderful, and everyone in the audience was tapping their foot along to the beat.
The orchestra then played Boss Battle Medley, which took various boss battle music from four of the Zelda games, while each boss fight was shown on the screen. Everyone cheered when each boss made an appearance. They then played The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Medley to end the first half of the concert.
The second half began with everyone’s favorite villain – Ganondorf. The orchestra played Ganondorf’s Theme from Ocarina of Time. What was really cool about this particular piece is that they used an organ (albeit through a keyboard, but hey, what can you do?), which brought chills to my body. Seeing Ganondorf play the organ on the screen, remembering how it sounded through my TV as I played on the Nintendo 64, then to hear it live? A fangirl’s dream come true.
The next piece was simply titled The Legend of Zelda: Selected Shorts Suite, where they played as many songs as they could from all the games. The piece that followed was one that I was praying they would play. The two pieces I had wanted to hear live were The Great Sea and then Gerudo’s Valley from Ocarina of Time. The arrangement for ‘Gerudo’s Valley’ was, simply put, astounding. I love the 64-bit version, as well as the string version that was produced a few years ago. But this? This was icing on the cake. To hear the horns blast the melody, as the orchestra accompanied them brought tears to my eyes. Again. Mr. Aonuma would be proud.
Hyrule Field from Ocarina of Time followed. On the screen behind the orchestra they showed Link as he traveled across the fields of Hyrule upon Epona’s — Link’s horse— back. Hearing the trumpets shine was a ton of fun. Ms. Noone then introduced us to the two harpists that sat on either side of her, as they began to play the Great Fairy’s Fountain Theme from A Link to the Past. The two women that played made the music sing, hearing them go back and forth was very cool. And no, they didn’t show anything of the Great Fairy fountain.
Having not played the game since it was released; it was a real joy to watch scenes from Twilight Princess for the next piece – Twilight Princess Symphonic Movement. The music in the game was incredible, as was the game itself. It was like I was remembering all over what a wonderful game it was just by the music. It’s funny how we can associate music from certain things (video games, movies, etc). Ms. Noone actually talked about that in one of her segues between pieces. As I listened to the medley, I remembered my reactions to certain parts.
The evening’s scheduled program ended with The Legend of Zelda Main Theme Medley. The audience cheered and hollered, asking for more. No one wanted to say goodbye to the orchestra just yet. Our hollers were heard, and then, the biggest surprise of the evening happened.
Koji Kondo, the composer of the Zelda music, came out on the stage. Everyone screamed, applauding loudly. He sat down at the piano and played Grandma’s Theme from Wind Waker. Watching his hands travel across the keys, knowing that this man was responsible for some of my favorite music in the world (video game or otherwise), made me cry. Again. Lots of tears left my eyes that night. As the song concluded everyone in the audience jumped to their feet. He then thanked everyone, in English, for coming to the concert. He quietly exited the stage, and Mr. Aonuma came back out and said that he had wished he could speak English like Koji, again making the audience laugh. He then informed us that we would be hearing the main theme from Skyway Sword, the Zelda game that is set for release on the 20th of November.
It was an amazing night. I am so thankful for being able to experience it. I know that when Skyway Sword is released, there will be a music cd to accompany it for the 25th anniversary. I’m hoping that this music cd will be what I got to hear live so all of you can listen to it. If you are a lover of video game music, it will be a must-have for your collection. This night will be something I will never forget.