Boomtown and Batman

WB has a good problem on their hands.  They have the best action melee combat system on market.  Spider-man comes close, but it’s movement based rather than physical.

If you’ve ever played a Batman game, you know what I mean.  Rarely are fights ever 1:1, instead it’s Batman vs 5-10 different goons, with different abilities.  At easier difficulty levels, you can just use your fists and generally get through.  Harder difficulties really do turn you into a walking swiss army knife of combat options.  You’re shooting batarangs, rope pulls, stuns, air attacks, flash bombs and a slew of other options.  While there’s an ideal path for each enemy type, odds are you surrounded by multiple and just creating your own dance of death.

Even goons with guns can be taken down with the right tools.  The last game in the series went a bit overboard on that, as you can’t really take out an entire squad of armed foes with your hands.  Still, the model works and it’s extremely fulfilling.

Shadow of Mordor takes this up another notch, what with the possession skill.  Most fights are against 20+ enemies, and it’s really not possible to take them all down without turning the odds in your favor.  You end up just dodging all over the place, like you’re high on sugar pops.  Still taking down an army, effectively solo, is a heck of a feeling.  Throw in a boss (or 3) and it’s a great endorphin rush.

Which brings me to Mad Max.  Early fights start off with 3-5 goons.  Then you get people who run at you.  Then some with shields.  Then some with weapons.  Then PILES of enemies at once.  There’s a gradual increase of difficulty as you go through, and in nearly all cases, it is predicated on your use of the Parry and Dodge buttons.  Parry yellow, Dodge red.  You can “move cancel” almost everything but a killer blow (ironically), so that makes for some stream of combat.  But there’s really no movement involved here – you just wait for people to attack, and hope they are near a wall for what is the only “invincible” takedown that doesn’t require a consumable.

You don’t really get more tools (shiv, shotgun), but you do get some interesting skills to help offset the enemies.  You can reverse parry an attack, using the enemy’s weapon against them.  You can break shields.  You can quickly execute.  Almost all of them require you to play defensively.

It’s an interesting twist, and one that has some merit.  The Dark Souls model of opportunistic attacks is certainly sound.  Mad Max uses a different toolkit to push that concept, and for the most part, it works.

 

 

Mad Max

This one has been on my wishlist for a while now.  I heard some great things about it but I’d had enough open world games to play at the time.  I’m getting emails every day now about some game on sale, so I figured I’d get a deal and give it a go.

I am a fan of the film series.  That helps tremendously here, because the game makes next to no effort to explain the setting.  Not that we generally play these games for their story settings.  I’m not quite far in, but the bits and pieces that have been presented so far fit in really well with the world-as-seen-on-film.  Considering it came out around the time of the 4th film (which is frikkin’ amazing), the tie-in is obvious and probably in the top-3 I’ve ever played.

Open-world games walk a very tight line.  You want tons of things to do, but you want them to be meaningful.  Ubisoft put in character levels to help justify the crazy padding in the Assassin’s Creed series.  Mad Max has a lot of events, but it does a decent job in making them both varied and useful.  The base camps you’re clearing are all unique, peppered with some bosses.  There are secrets to find in each as well.  There are sniper nests / totems to take down, but they are mostly drive-bys and easy enough to manage.  The “discovery the world” points are hot air ballons, and rather than just push a button, you need to go through some minor (different) steps to get the balloon in the air.

The rough spots deal with scrap collection, which may or may not contain a piece of a useful recipe.  Means you only need to do a handful per mini-zone.  The absolute worst part is the minesweeping portion, which requires you to use a specific car and travel to the world without getting into any combat.

Given the setting, there’s a LOT of driving.  Thankfully it plays wonderfully.  Each vehicle plays differently, and your main ride has enough gizmos to make combat entertaining. There are some Death Races as well, which unlock different vehicles.  It’s ok to start, but really shines when you upgrade the ammo for your Shotgun and can take out enemies with ease.  The hunting of convoys is especially fun, as you need to take down 4-8 vehicles to get a hood ornament from the leader.  You end up doing a ton of laps around an area, using every advantage you can to survive.  Tons of fun.  It’s a really good travel system, making the world feel big without it feeling like it’s just big to impress.

Hand to hand combat is pretty much the Batman games, minus the crazy acrobatics.  So yeah, gold standard there.

giphy

All the various activities help restore a local stronghold which provides boosts to your gameplay.  Either free healing, ammo, scrap (money) collection, or similar.  They also reduce the area’s threat, which unlocks upgrades for your car.  And raising your Legend status (character level) unless character upgrades.  So there’s some value in completing them, as much there is in doing the actual activity.

The downsides here are all nitpicky.  The minesweeping portion is horrible as you can only use 1 car, which has no upgrades, and you need to manually find the minefields.  Dodge and jump are realistic, meaning they don’t really move you that much.  It’s jarring and takes a fair amount of adjustment.  Collecting scrap I tedious (hold A to collect) and takes a stronghold upgrade to collect from destroyed vehicles.  But I am nitpicking here (except minesweeping, ugh).

I’ve unlocked the 2nd area (I think there are 4), I guess that makes it about 20% or so saying “complete”.  So more thoughts as I dig deeper.  What I’ve seen so far, yeah, I can see why this game was on many top 10 lists in 2015.  Probably would be in top 10 lists in 2020 too.

Building a New Routine

I’m used to working from home, at least in the concept of only me being at home.  The schedule works out, I’m on calls most of the day, and work gets done.  The office life is good too, as there’s a lot of social and serendipitous discussion.  I get a more horizontal view of everything that way, and the social links are great.  Each has an advantage.

Working from home with 2 kids and my wife is a different challenge.  If I was working “normal” hours, then it would be challenging but doable.  Now though, it’s 7 days a week of work.  It’s not balanced at all, and the kids need something to keep them from going crazy.  Wife too!

The 4 of us sat down on a Sunday and mapped out the weekday activities for the kids.  They are both in school, so they are used to 1hr blocks of activity.  They get math, language, art, science, social studies, and reading throughout the week.  There are free periods, lunch and breaks too.  So from 9am til about 3:30pm they are in school.  That works most of the time, but they still need some direction/help as well as the social aspects.  My wife works next to them, and she’s in a better situation to answer than I, but it’s still hard for her to get work done with interruptions.  Trying to sort that out.

Thankfully we had invested in learning material a ways back, and there are plenty of online tools we can use too.  They are both pretty good with computers, what with Google Classroom being used already.  I’m quite proud of them playing their part in this new normal.  We try to fit in some video chats with their friends/family every day so that they get some social bits still working.

Wife’s schedule is still being sorted out.  She’s a teacher, and personally calling each family to make sure they are OK and have what need to connect for learning tools.  At 15m per call…that takes days to get through.  After that, then it gets into building new plans for the classrooms.  There’s no real chance school comes back before the summer break… so as much prep work they can do now, the better off in the fall.  (Side note – hopefully this shakes up the teaching profession to the reality of 2020 kids.)

My routine is almost hermit like.  My first call only starts at 8:30, so I have time to take a coffee and catch up on the emails I’ve missed since the night before.  I’m on 6-10 calls a day, up til 4 or 5.  Then it’s catching up on the admin side of work, and emails / IM.  My last check in is around 10pm.  Then the groundhog day starts over.  I have a home gym, and can work out over lunch.  I make/help out with supper.  Then a few hours at night with the kids, before they head to bed.  I’m managing, but it’s not sustainable.

And on April 6th, I expect that in Canada most of my work is going to take the largest beating in history.  We’re already beating records left right and centre.  I’m betting on a 5000% increase on normal volume, since we were just short of 3500% on Monday.

Long story short, kids are doing better than expected, wife is adapting, and I’m surviving.  I have another 2 weeks of insane chaos to get through, and then things should “stabilize” in the sense of not having a new crisis develop.  Fingers crossed.

Stay sane folks!

Control – Foundation DLC

If you haven’t played Control yet, you should.  It’s a GotY caliber experience.  The first playthrough is a sensory experience, as the House is weird as all hell.  Figuring out how all the pieces fit together is awesome, and throwing stuff with telekenitic powers does not get old.  Clearing it all, I was really hoping for some DLC to expand on it all.

The Jukebox runs came out near the holidays.  Timed arena combat with some OK loot.  It was OK, but since loot isn’t exactly a driver in Control, there wasn’t a whole lot to replay through.  Foundation is a true DLC, expanding on the lore, the enemies, and the skill sets.

You need to have completed the main game to get into this content.  As much for the fact the story won’t make any sense if you don’t, as for the fact that the new enemies are quite difficult.  I died way more in this DLC than the main game.  Enemies have more HP, deal more damage, and are much more evasive.  More challenge is good, and it doesn’t feel cheap.

Two new skills, though they don’t have huge impacts on combat.  You can create stone, which is mostly for reaching new areas.  It can be used to create spikes, but the enemies have to be lured to the location.  You can also destroy stone, used to access new areas and crafting mats.  Used in combat, this can destroy floors, plummeting people to their death.  Which is a neat way to kill the final boss in 2 shots.

There are some additional levels to skills, just stat boosts.  Some new mods that tweak gameplay – I added a +hp when hitting with Launch.  That seems almost mandatory given the new combat difficulty.  Compared to the base game, you’re going to be using different weapon types more often.  The sniper and launcher modes are very useful now.  The SMG and shotgun are still useless.

control-the-foundation-review-1

It’s all 1 big zone, with 2 main environments to explore.  It’s more linear than the base game, and most of it is within tunnels.  They play with light/dark themes to add some stress to the game.  The TV sidequest in particular is done in pure darkness with a minor source of portable light.  The Film Camera sidequest is similar to the Ashtray maze, but due to the more precise platforming requirements, its a tad less fun than novel.

I won’t spoil the story.  The Board has issues, you get to read about how the House started, and some of the political bits.  I do wish there was more here though – Ash is a fascinating character.  It leaves enough breadcrumbs to sow some doubt as to how benevolent the Board is, which always struck me as odd in the base game.

The DLC as whole probably takes 4 hours to run though, side quests and all.  There’s 1 secret quest to collect some cat statues, and let me tell you that is one of the most obtuse puzzles I have ever seen.  One step is done in the complete dark – and I likely never would have found it without a reddit post.

The Foundation is a good DLC.  It’s more of Control, with a few minor tweaks.  It’s not an expansion.  I’d rather see a sequel than an expansion.  There are many veins that are present here.  For what it is, it works very well.  Highly recommended.

Darksiders Genesis

I’ve now played all the games in the Darksiders series, and I have to say it’s one of the more interesting ones out there.  The plot line deals with the 4 horsemen maintaining the balance between the forces of good and evil, with humans stuck somewhere in the middle.  Each game in the series emulates a particular genre, and focuses on a particular horseman.  For the most part, this works, but emulation is not replication.

The first game dealt with War and was in line with the Zelda series in terms of open world, unlocking skills, and world traversal.  It was the most puzzle focused of the series, and had the cleanest of plot lines.  Ironically, in terms of timelines, its the last one – setting the stage for all 4 horsemen to come out and play.

The second game dealt with Death and was a mashup of God of War’s combat with Diablo’s itemization.  Worked well enough, and the plot line really expanded on the world.

The third dealt with Fury and tried to be more like Dark Souls, but instead focused on parry attacks.  The world building was ok, Samael in particular was top notch, and the end scenario was unexpected given the character growth.  Looks amazing, but the gameplay got dry pretty quick.

Finally, the 4th game deals with Strife and is more in like with a twin-stick shooter (since Strife has guns).  Well, the game is actually a duo-game, since you can freely swap to War (melee focus) or play local coop.  There’s some exploring and puzzle work, and some backtracking if you want to unlock everything.  Even an arena mode to test your combat skills.

The only downside I have with this game is the locked in camera angle.  If you’ve played Diablo, you know that there are somethings that you simply cannot see due to the world geometry.  Which, fine in a 2D world (Diablo has no vertical portions).  Darksiders has a lot of vertical aspects, and some portions are really hard to figure out without trial and error.  Main game, no real issues.  Exploring the world, painful.  There’s one set of puzzles in the Void (SW portion) that requires accurate platform jumping and is so poorly executed that I’ve rarely been that frustrated.  We’re talking Tidus’ Chocobo Race in FFX levels of frustrating.  Thankfully, it only provides an achievement – entirely skippable.

The story line isn’t very good – you’re basically chasing Lucifer and aided by Samael along the way,  but never get to see behind the curtain as to why.  Meh.  The combat makes up for it, as it can be a ton of fun to take out wide piles of various enemies with your skills.  A fully upgrade Strife is a walking death dealer – and the arena really shows that off.  The bosses all have some interesting mechanics, though often pad the length with spawns of trash to clear.  Knowing when to dodge/parry is key to survive.

dsg9

The really interesting bit here is the skill orb system.  Enemies have a chance of dropping a skill orb, and the more orbs you get, the higher their level (up to 3).  There are ok skills and amazing skills.  +3% to special attacks is meh, but having chain explosions upon death of an enemy is like setting fireworks.  There’s a slotting mechanism too, where you only get the level bonus of the orb based on the slot.  So a level 3 orb in a level 1 slot only gets level 1 bonus.  Further, slots have a type (attack/wrath/health) which when matched with the right orb provides a % bonus to that stat.  That makes an insane difference.

By the end of the game I had a few decent skills, then I decided to clear out the arena levels (20 + 1 infinite).  Clearing that ended up maxing out most of my orbs so that by the time I was at the infinite stage, I felt like a god.  I really enjoyed the min/maxing portion – it didn’t feel tedious.  It would be something entirely for Diablo 4 to emulate this system – with some further refinement it would bridge the gap between Path of Exile’s massive tree and D3’s simplistic slotting.

The Darksiders series has never been a AAA series, and I am just fine with that.  Genesis does a solid job and providing non-stop fun, and that’s all that matters in the end.

Empathy for the Extraverts

Blogging moved down in priority these last few weeks.  I know it’s a good outlet, so I am getting back into that habit now.

Start with some interesting stats.  I work in an essential field, and it provides national services, which enable critical functions.  One of those functions’ peak consumption went from a value of 150,000 to 1.7m on Monday.  The expectation is that on April 6, that number will triple.  I’ve gone through crisis management in the past, the longest period was 6 months of pretty much 24/7 workload.  This is different – the impacts of not delivering are personal and in nearly all facets, of higher criticality.  tldr: appreciate the people that let you keep some sense of normal.  Garbage pickup, cellular networks, internet, health care, grocery clerks, and more.

Introvert Heaven

I’m a natural introvert, and I’ve learned how to manage that aspect in order to be social.  Quarantine is an introvert’s heaven, pretty much what they dream of.  You can work from home and provide a lot of value, manage your schedule, stay away from people, self-resource.  All great stuff.  Many introverts can fill in the social needs through calls/text/chat/video.  Not to say this isn’t a hard situation, but introverts certainly are best tooled to manage this.

Extrovert Troubles

In the general sense, extroverts need to be around other people.  They often struggle with working from home, so that isolation is really hitting them hard. Really hard.  Some of my friends are showing signs of depression now, and we’re barely 2 weeks into this mess.  There’s a loss of self-worth when the social aspect goes away.  Combined with the added stress of the world right now (health & finance)… it is really bad.

We’re taking all these large steps so that people do more than simply survive this period.

Simple Steps

In short, introverts need to teach extroverts some coping mechanisms.   There are dozens of things that we do that extroverts need to start doing.  Not all of it, but with enough options they’re bound to find something that works for them.  Maybe they pick up art, learn a new instrument or language.  Maybe they start writing.  Maybe they get board games going over video chat.  They need to find meaning and purpose in their days.

Introverts also need to come out of their shells and reach out.  Every day.  Make a point of having contact with other people (at least voice) multiple times a day.  Set up regular events with friends and family to have joint chats.  Let the other person talk as much as they need to.  Figure out if there’s a local / neighborhood “caremongering” group you can help with.  Even the tiniest of stones causes ripples felt miles away.

The Long Haul

Aside from the US president (which you know, wow), the world has accepted that we’re in this for a while.  A solid 6 weeks of lockdown, if things work out.  Aside from going to work, most people have never done something for 6 weeks straight.  This is the new normal.

To end, here’s a link to the John Hopkins Medical University’s COVD-19 global tracker.  One of the best sources of analytics possible.

It’s Only Crazy If You Let It

These past few weeks have been a rollercoaster of activities.  Hockey was full steam, across two teams.  More family activities now that Spring is here.  And work.  It’s end of our fiscal, a new financial model is being deployed, new authorities being granted – mostly a lot of paperwork and meetings.

But this health stuff.  Jeebers.  A lot of people at work were not paying attention, and this seems to have caught more than a few unawares.  The job I have supports key pieces that let a ton of people work remotely.  Snowdays, strikes, things of that nature usually push us to capacity.  But they are generally pretty rare, and localized.

Right now in Canada, we have an entire province on lockdown, and quite a few big cities.  So nearbouts 90% of my userbase, and pretty much my entire team.  Where we’d see spikes to say 30,000 – now we’re looking more like 300,000.  Fine enough.  Most of the pieces were built to work on agnostic networks (anywhere, anyplace, anytime).  Some require bums-in-seats to work, which is going to cause a lot of headaches.  Some support emergency health services… so that’s clearly top of pile.

Managing the regular workload + end of year workload + COVID19 prep work is bonkers.  Individual people are generally pretty good about it, but people, people suck.  One bad grape can ruin an entire bunch with stupid conspiracy theories, or irrational behaviors.

I have my own opinions about it, but the gist is that the people in charge of this here globe of ours are not dumb.  WHO is made of some of the brightest minds on the planet.  Governments are consulting like crazy, and not making decisions lightly.  (They may be lead by morons, but that’s over a beer or two.)  Everyone is acutely aware of the impacts of shutting down trade for a month.  Impacts that will be felt for 10+ years.  Making those calls is not easy, and it’s not simple.

For the next few weeks I’ll continue to work from home, same with the team.  Kids will be around for an extra break (some homeschooling will be needed).  And with every group activity cancelled and gathering spot closed, it’s going to be a lot of “back to basics” around the house.  Entirely manageable, and I’m quite looking forward to spending more time with the family.

Stay healthy.