38 - Going Underground

Well I apologize for the lack of updates, but I have been doing pretty well. Christmas is coming and I finally get a nice (two day) vacation to relax and do whatever I want. In the mean time, I have been spreading myself a little thin game-wise by testing STALKER: Call of Pripyat and getting back into some games I have finished before such as Fallout 2 and Dark Souls. I have also picked up the THQ Humble Bundle to add to my list of games, but I am not too optimistic about Metro 2033 after my STALKER experience. Suffice it to say, I have plenty of games to keep me busy for a while.

So what’s up with STALKER?

Basically, I can’t get the game to work well enough for my schedule and sanity. The game looks great and runs pretty well while I am playing, but is extremely unstable when loading and unloading data. In my experience, the X-Ray engine crashed every time a map was unloaded, loaded, or reloaded after a death. Considering how threatening the game systems are and how painfully mortal the character is, this problem is a huge barrier for entry. I also experienced random crashes when just exiting to the menu making saves that are not quicksaves a dangerous prospect.

[The game looked better than it worked.]

I am very disappointed because STALKER was one of the games I was looking forward to playing the most. I completed the first game and played over thirty hours of Call of Pripyat a few years ago but never finished it. Dipping back into the game, I realized that I love it so much because it is not so much an FPS but a simulation. The game is based much more around dealing with its systems than finding stuff to shoot. It is one of my favorite set-ups for a game in which you are given a mission, dropped in the play area, and told “good luck”.

STALKER literally begins in the middle of the wilderness with nothing but a few rations, a rifle, a pistol, and some ammunition. It is up to the player to get to know the area, establish contact with other STALKERS, get some better equipment, and investigate some crashed helicopters. How it is done, when it is done, and even IF it is done is entirely up to the player. It is possible to get lost in the world and become a bandit who murders and steals from STALKERS who wandered to far from the base camp if you want to. The experience does a good job simulating what it is like being alone with no authority figure telling you what to do and it works very well. The game is brutal (in violence and difficulty) and bleak, but very deep in terms of things to explore in the world and things to do. I wish I could have taken the journey with you.

What I’ve been playing.

After listening to friends of the blog Watch Out forFireballs play the original Fallout, I was inspired to begin playing Fallout 2 again for probably the first time since I beat it in high school. When I wasn't feeling so well, I would always decide to begin with the first Fallout with the intention of finishing the entire series. Of course, this never happened and, even if I completed Fallout 1, I would not want to continue. Being more patient and ready to engage has been a treat. Even though I am still currently in the first major location, the small trapper town of Klamath, I am enjoying the game immensely. The vivid descriptions and humorous writing are excellent for filling in the holes left by low fidelity graphics. It is very similar to my experience of playing Planescape: Torment for the blog in which developers recognize the limitations of their technology and play to its strengths rather than trying to pull a smoke and mirrors act to cover them up. Hopefully, my gunslinging, fast talking gamblin’ ramblin’ man will be able to save his village and unlock other sinister mysteries that may threaten the post-nuclear American southwest before it's too late!

In addition to Fallout 2, I have started a new character in one of my favorite game releases of the last few years: Dark Souls. I’m sure all of you know about this difficult game, so I won’t harp on it too much other than to say it’s great to be treated with respect by a game. Much like STALKER, Dark Souls drops the player into the world, says “good luck, jerk”, and immediately begins to assault him or her. I finished the game before with a min-maxed build that makes the game relatively easier, but this time I am using a decidedly more challenging dexterity based build relying on avoidance and backstabs. Wish me luck!

What’s next?

Ah yes, what is next? I thought about making my own choice, but I decided to leave it up to the random number generator. I was pleasantly surprised:

Well, folks, just after traversing the Stygian Abyss in Ultima 4, it looks like I need to re-enter in Ultima Underworld. This is a huge blindspot in my backlog considering I’ve never played the game at all. I assume a lot has changed in the Abyss since I found the Codex of Infinite wisdom, so join me as I investigate what has happened.

And finally…

While the blog is growing slowly but surely, I would like to thank those who have helped and encouraged me. My good friend, Nathan Madison, has been a big encouragement for my writing and has recently published his own book: Anti-Foreign Imagery in American Pulps and Comic Books, 1920-1960. It is being published by McFarland Books and is well worth a look if you are interested in pulp fiction and classic comics. He continues to work tirelessly and I look forward to what he does next. (Watch out for those spiders in your comics, though, buddy.)

I also want to thank Kole Ross and Gary Butterfield of the Watch Out for Fireballs podcast, once again. They produce one of the highest quality video game podcasts I’ve listened to and are continuing to have great conversations about classic games. I encourage you to listen to their recent discussion of the original Fallout and other classic games on Itunes or Stitcher. I also HIGHLY recommend you check out the other shows on their network Duckfeed.tv: The Level is a round table modern video games discussion show, Those Damn Ross Kids which is a comedy podcast featuring brothers Kris and Kole Ross, as well as Gary Butterfield’s new show The Pitch in which he and his pal discuss cockamamie schemes for new products. While you are there, please be sure to listen to Gary’s Dead Idea Valhalla Podcast which was an inspiration for my openness in this blog. It’s a great show with good stories, comedy bits, and cool music to listen to.

Finally, be sure to check out the gaming community website CheerfulGhost.com. Jon Dodson has created a community where you can easily discuss the games you own with other players. Link your account to your Steam ID, Playstation 3 account, and XBOX account to have all your games added automatically! Part of the reason I started this blog was to start discussion about what I find interesting in games and this website is a great place to do the same.

I’ll see you next time when we venture into the Stygian Abyss in Ultima Underworld.

--Backlog Killer