Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Super ... Hot ....Super ...Hot ...Super ...Hot

I played a demo of Super Hot several years ago but I only got around to playing the full game recently. The full campaign took me just over four hours much of which was spent dying and restarting as I learned how to overcome each of the levels. There is an ongoing "endless" gameplay mode however for those who wish to keep playing.

Superhot is a shooter with a simple twist that completely turns the gameplay on its head. When you stand still the game time slows to a trickle but whenever you move time moves.  You can rotate your vision while time is slowed but moving, attacking or even picking up a weapon allows time to flow normally. It is not like bullet time in other games because when you move at normal speed just like everyone else. You cannot move faster than a speeding bullet. You can however use the frozen moment of time to predict exactly where that bullet will travel and to try an ensure you aren't there.

The main challenge of Super hot and its main learning curve is to stifle all of your natural gaming instincts honed over many years of playing other games. When an enemy appears in front of you and fires a gun your overwhelming instinct is to run for cover as quickly as you can. This will likely get you killed in Superhot as you blindly run into a bullet or another enemy. The correct play is to first do absolutely nothing. You stand still and time will freeze. Then you carefully look all around to gauge where the bullets will fly, where the enemies are and where the safest spot is likely to be. Then and only then you move one step at a time. After each step you freeze again to reassess. If you do this carefully and methodically you can pull off incredibly feats of ninjaesque prowess dodging bullets and slicing through multiple enemies when the footage is replayed in real time. Once you master this the game does become rather easy (hence the relatively short playtime) but I did find my natural instincts constantly trying to reassert themselves particularly during those later levels when the number of enemies ramps up. An additional body swap mechanic is introduced for the later levels which allows your to swap with any enemy instantly killing them. It allows for some extra puzzle complications.

Superhot has a beautiful blown out white aesthetic and it does have that terrific "gimmick" but the plot tacked onto it is rather weak in my opinion. There is a storyline of sorts involving some kind of 1980's era computer text that really didn't grab me. In fact I found the frequent cut scenes and plot exposition sequences tedious and would have been happier if they could have been skipped to get to the next level. The levels themselves are compelling however.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Humble Monthly 2017 review

Humble Monthly is generating a bit of press this month due to having CIV VI available at its lowest ever price. I have been a  subscriber since May 2016 so it is a good time to review my 2017 acquisitions from the Monthly. 

January 2017: Extensively played Neon Chrome.   Dabbled in Jotun
February 2017:Extensively played Steam World Heist. Dabbled in XCOM 2, Project Highrise
March 2017: Extensively played Total War Warhammer
April 2017: Extensively played Black Mesa.  Dabbled in The Witness
June 2017: No monthly games played
July 2017: No monthly games played
August 2017: Extensively played Overcooked
September 2017: No monthly games played
October 2017: No monthly games played
Nov 2017: Dabbled in The Elder Scrolls Online
Dec 2017: No monthly games played. 

This suggests a fairly good hit rate early on falling off entirely in the latter half of the year. The truth is that Total War Warhammer (which I got from the March Monthly) and its sequel (which was released in September) consumed almost all my available playing time from June onward. I still love the monthly bundle though. It satisfies any itch I have to indulge in loot boxes because I get my own loot box of games every month. It also solves the selection problem for me because I get a curated selection of games every month so there is always something there worth playing if I get bored. In fact Humble Monthly has totally changed my game purchasing habits. I still buy the occasional AAA title because they are less likely to turn up in a monthly but I don't buy indie or AA games any more. I feel a little bad about this but I just don't have time to play any more games and the good ones almost always turn up in the monthly bundle eventually. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Two games finished in one day !

Today was somewhat unusual in that I finished campaigns in two separate games: Total Warhammer 2 Lizard men campaign and Vanquish single player campaign. Of course I had played the majority of bot games over the last few weeks and it is just coincidence that I managed to finish them on the same day.

The Lizard-man campaign (Kroq Gar to be exact) is perhaps my favourite Total War campaign of all those I have played. I just love the tough Lizard units and big stompy dinosaurs are awesome. The Vortex campaign is much more story line focused than previous Total War games which is an great direction for the series to go in. You race other factions to take control of the vortex through a series of rituals which spawn increasingly challenging waves of Chaos and Skaven armies. The race is a bit artificial because apparently even if one of the other factions beats you to the final ritual you get a second chance to stop them in a fairly easy final battle. I guess Creative Assembly had to include this  get out of jail card to frustrating players who spend dozens of hours on a campaign only to lose at the very last hurdle. I am happy to say I won the race fair and square although the Dark Elves of Naggaroth were only three turns behind and the High Elves of Lothern were right on their heels. Through out the race I made several attempts to slow my enemies down by sending intervention armies to stop their rituals but enone of the 10,000 gold intervention armies achieved anything before being wiped out. I can't help wondering if the intervention army mechanic is deliberately crippled to ensure the race stays tight.

I have a soft spot for scifi shooters and Vanquish fits the bill nicely. You play an augmented soldier with an array of weapons and some cool bullet time abilities tasked with stopping some evil Russians from blowing up NewYork with a big space ray gun. The movement and shooting are all fine but the game has horrible quick time events at key moments during boss fights.On several occasions I survived a challenging fire fight only to die instantly because I didn't mash button "E" fast enough. For this reason I got completely stuck on the final boss fight because of one QTE. Today I switched to game controller for that QTE and found I can mash "X" on game pad faster than I can mash "E" on keyboard. I finally completed the game but I still really hate QTEs.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Total War Dinosaurs

I have been playing a lot of Total War Warhammer 2 and I am really enjoying Kroq Gar's Lizardmen vortex campaign.

As seems to be the case with every Total War game it took me a few false starts to find a rhythm.  Initially I started a Skaven Campaign but made some early strategic mistakes. I expanded too rapidly leading to problems with money and food supply and I wasted even more money on intervention armies.  Bankrupt and running out of food I have put that campaign on hold. I still love Skaven game play:  swarming enemies with cheap disposable units while pelting them from afar with magic and powerful artillery is very satisfying as is the ability to spawn clan rats(menace from below) behind enemy lines. I was able to pull off several heroic victories against impossible odds using spawned spawned clan rats before food shortages made this tactic un-affordable. I will definitely come back to the Skaven but I may start a fresh campaign.

Second attempt was a High Elf campaign. This went more smoothly but I didn't warm to them. I guess the snooty Elves annoy me and I am not a big fan of their ranged play style. The High Elves actually have some excellent if expensive melee units but High Elf game play is summed up for me by the fact that even their most popular infantry unit (Lothern Seaguard) is good at archery as well as melee.  On the other hand I do like their special mechanic that allows them to influence diplomatic standings. You can use this to secure trade agreements and alliances on your own behalf but perhaps even more interestingly you can use this to interfere with the relationships between third parties. This is definitely something I want to explore further.

My High Elf campaign was put aside when the Mortal Empires expansion came out and I started a new campaign with Volkmar Grim of the Empire on the expanded map. I had no intention of playing him beyond the first dozen turns or so but I did want to experience the huge World of Mortal Empires (which combines the maps of TWW I and TWWW II).

Returning to the Vortex I started a new campaign with Kroq Gar and his Last Defenders (Lizardmen) and I am absolutely loving it. Saurus Warriors are fantastic melee infantry and they are complemented by massive dinosaurs smashing into enemy lines. Even the lowly Skinks can help out by harassing the enemy and adding to the general hurt. Lizards have strong magic options as well although I have yet to properly explore the Slan Mage capabilities.

Lizards do have ranged units but these have very short range and are designed more for harassment than for winning archery battles. I am not too sure about the point of Lizard Artillery units yet. These are big guns mounted on top of dinosaurs. In the first instance the guns have shorter range than competing artillery and in the second instance they are mounted on top of dinosaurs. You can generally do more damage charging the dino in to smash enemies around than standing off firing the gun. Lizards do have two nice aerial terradon units however one with javelins and one with bombs.  These can be sometimes be used take out enemy artillery and to otherwise compensate for the lizards general lack of range.

Lizardmen and dinosaurs  have a habit of losing self control and running amok but this has advantages as well as disadvantages. Careful micromanagement goes out the window if half your army is on the rampage but as long as they are in the middle of a bunch of enemies when it happens the it can be useful because rampage seems to hold off units from breaking.

Lizardmen's unique gameplay mechanic is called the Geomatic web which gives extra bonuses for fully owned provinces. It does give great bonuses at higher levels but I don't find it as interesting to play with  as the Skaven or High Elf special mechanics. Nevertheless Lizardmen and their massive dinosaurs are still a really fun faction to play.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Thoughts about cryto-currency mining, gsync and buying a new graphics card

I built a new gaming PC about six months ago (Ryzen 5 1600) but I had a nasty shock when I went looking for a new graphics card. Crypto-currency miners were buying up graphics cards by the dozen to perform the hard sums needed to unlock virtual currency pushing prices for graming graphics cards through the roof. The €300 price bracket that I consider to be my comfort zone seems to be particularly affected with the result that there were no cards available in my price range that would give a reasonable upgrade over my three year old GTX 970.

Aside: Bitcoin was the fore runner and still the most widely known crypto-currency but this year a new player called Etherium seems to be demanding all attention. A key feature of Etherium is that it is resistant to mass extraction using customised chips called "Asics" and therefore requires actual GPUs for mining. It is my understanding that AMD Radeon architecture is the favourite for this process leading to complete lack of availability and sky high prices for cards such as the Radeon RX 580. Nvidia cards are less popular with miners but the lack of competition in the market place has ensured that the price of Nvidia cards remains high even on the second hand market. My gut feeling is that crypto-currency is a bubble waiting to burst. I believe this despite knowing someone who has made hundreds of thousands on an early bit coin investment. It seems to me that the majority of miners are just selling to themselves and to speculative investors. I suspect that like most bubbles a few insiders will make fortunes but most will lose their shirts.

Anyway rather than spend €400 on a graphics card I decided to spend slightly less than €400 on a new monitor instead and bought a Dell 2417DG monitor. The 2417DG has three features that make it a significant upgrade from what I was using previously: it has QHD resolution of 2560x1440, it has high refresh rate of up to 165Hz and it has gsync synchronisation. Gsync is the killer feature for me and it means that the refresh rate of the monitor dynamically adjusts to the frame rate being produced by the GPU. It is an absolute game changer (apologies for the unintended pun). Synchronising monitor and GPU refresh rates leads to a very smooth visuals with no tearing effect. My ageing GTX 970 is quite under-powered for this  QHD monitor. In graphically intensive games such as Witcher 3 and Total War Warhammer my frame rates drop to below 40 fps. This would be quite unpleasant with an old fixed refresh rate monitor but on the gsync monitor it looks butter smooth.

Buying a gsync monitor really did allow me to extend the useful life of my old graphics card but there are a couple of disadvantages. The first is the nagging feeling that I am not getting the most out of my lovely 165Hz monitor when my current graphics card struggles to get frame rates above 60fps in any modern game. The second issue is that buying a gsync monitor has locked me into Nvidia graphics for the foreseeable future because AMD cards use the similar but different Freesync technology. This is not a major issue today given the ridiculous pricing of AMD GPUs but it may be a problem in the future.

My cunning plan, as you may have guessed, was to rely on gsync technology to extend the life of my old GTX 970 while waiting for the crypto currency madness to pass. It was a good plan except for the weakness of human nature. Six months passed and GPU prices remained sky high. There is only so much browsing of Amazon, Ebay and pcpartpicker.com a human can endure. Last weekend I crumbled and bought a GTX 1080 for €460. This is more than I have ever paid for a graphics card and to be honest is a silly amount of money. The only justification I can give is that it should give me frame rates about twice what the old 970 could achieve and it didn't seem worth it to settle for anything less.

TLDR: I strongly recommend gsync (or presumably freesync) monitors and they can extend the useful life of an old graphics card by delivering smooth visuals even at low frame rates. They will only save you money however if you have strong willpower and can resist the impulse to buy a new graphics card as well.