Life is…Strange. Ohhhhhhhh!

I thought it would merit a blog post in itself since I’ve played the entire episodic narrative, Life is Strange. After a long 6 months since I bought episodes 1-5 on Steam, recently I finally put aside some time from work to play. All this time avoiding spoilers I can put in a review down without ruining any plot lines and there are a bunch of plot lines.

Developed by DONTNOD and published by Square Enix, you play as Maxine Caulfield who has travelled to Oregon to attend Blackwell Academy in hopes of being a photographer. Within the first month of settling in, you have premonitions of a tornado. You have 5 days to prevent it happening. Along the way of trying to save the seaside town of Arcadia Bay, you make friends both old and new.

You play in the third person in a narrative where each episode is a day until the end. As you play choices from the previous episodes can effect the story and how it will culminate. The art for the game does exude something resembling of water colours which exemplifies focus on the story while delivering a detailed (but not too detailed) atmosphere. The entire game is littered with story devices which opens the player to character development outside of Max’s journal. If you are an empathic gamer, you will find yourself thinking about these little bits of information as you interact with other characters and help make decisions throughout the game. The voice acting in itself is very professional and does feel very natural and fluid with each choice. The character animation is nothing impressive, there are parts where characters would just talk and wouldn’t necessarily interact with each other. Felt more like talking heads on the news than a theatrical performance. Definitely something work improving is the motion capture to let these characters interact with the space around than standing there and have it be consistent. Max’s time travelling provides a good plot device to allow the player to change their answer if they think their choice is undesirable considering most choices aren’t described fully. Usually the game will give your an explicit choice of actions or a vague noun like “Nathan” or “Joyce” and hope that choice is what you are thinking it would be what is summed in a few words. It makes a logical choice to have the choices concise but a bit more description would be helpful. Then again the time travelling ability really solves all that.

Thematically, the game is about choices. Choices everywhere and if you aren’t tainted by spoilers, these choices are interesting because they carry weight through the game and changes up what you can say and do. The developers seemed to explore the idea of choice in terms of a social sense with moral implications. Choices which challenge vices and virtues, needs and wants, truth and the perception of truth; the does give some good examples of philosophical dilemmas which defines our humanity. Who said video games can’t teach your anything?

If you haven’t decided to get Life is Strange yet and you want to play it, I would recommend getting all the episodes in one package. For the value of a movie ticket and popcorn (like 25 dollars-ish),  you get about 22 hours of content (That’s on my count, experience may vary). As much as the first episode is thorough in giving you a preview of things to come, the main attraction is a story which a game can only deliver. There are some faults in quality such as some bugs and some dialogue which fell flat because of the animation. It’s a good play with achievements which can be completed (for you perfectionists out there). In the end after I made all the choices and comparing similarities with my personal life, the title is indeed exclaims a truth. Life is strange, so very strange.

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First 12 hours Windows 10

Yesterday, I finally dipped my toe in the most recent develop with Windows. I decided to install Windows 10 to give it shot. Since my desktop is still my gaming and recording PC, I’m not willing to lose data over something I’m not certain of; so I chose my laptop that’s good for nothing but the Internet and doing blogs.

Like with Windows 7 when I upgraded from XP, the installation of fairly straightforward with little input from me. Then the one and continuing obstacle comes to me; upon being asked to create an account, the system allows me to connect online using my Microsoft account. Innocuous at first, I hesitantly put in my log in information. Definitely the first time looking at the innovations from Windows 8 and 8.1 and coming from Windows 7, Win 10 looks very impressive and fresh. The desktop design remains very familiar, much like a signature of the brand. Along with the translucent and bold contemporary design, it feels very new as if the developers want to be away from their predecessors while maintaining functionality. Opening up the Start menu, I encountered the same layout with a small added addition; tiles that was previous implemented in the Windows 8 series. Tiles that worked more like a glorified icon which can stream a service, such as the current weather conditions and who is sending you tweets on their Twitter app. Much like mobile phones, I was surprised Windows now has an app store where I can purchase applications. I’ll talk more later after this, but overall it looks very vacant in terms of actual apps. For me as a transitioning Windows user, I can see some similarities to other operating systems.

Of all the features I have a problem with, I’ll start with the user friendliness of the entire interface. Yes, the entire interface. The problem I have is I’m well use to using scrolling to move up and down lists. At the moment, I have to use arrow keys to move through these lists as well as options. I do like I don’t necessarily need to use my trackpad to navigate, as a internet laptop I’m use to scrolling and tapping with my pad. Next is the difficulty to find settings and options through its supposed straightforward interface. Every is so simplified to the point where there are some things I want to turn off but would turn off other things. Aside from a “settings” visible at the Start button, it took me some doing to produce the old Control Panel which I’m well versed in using. If anything, this Settings button is superfluous to what the Control Panel can do. Onto the apps and the app store, the system will automatically install some applications like Skype, a mail client and other proprietaries from Microsoft. After peaking through these apps, there are many others I can download which surpass the usefulness. The applications I would like on there is not even on there. At the time of this post, I use Tweetdeck while there is an application to display it’s streaming capabilities. Though nifty as this Twitter application is, it’s space in my hard drive to load the interface while Tweetdeck is done all online. Meaning I don’t have to load it and I can do much more than just view and write tweets. We’re not even in the store yet, but it’s more frustrating than you think.

The store does contain a lot of games and applications at my finger tips; but as I browse through the catalog, I started to look into the sizes of these “apps”. Most of the applications are about 14KB to about 10MB which in this day in age seems small for apps. The largest are the games but for the most I’ve seen, most hover around 20 KB. From what I remember, a shortcut on your desktop is somewhere around the same size as well which makes me wonder if this should even be called an “app store”. Along with these, some of the titles do give away what they’re intended for; mostly to promote a website or periodical. Which makes me wonder if these are just glorified bookmarks; in which case, it’s not innovated but more of a waste of space. Perhaps in time, they would moderate and regulate the store but it does seem more of a grab for an audience and competing with these false bits of hope.

Performance is another problem I have with it. I understand my laptop is aging and it could be edging off the minimum requirements. Compared to old reliable Windows 7, she’s a bit hefty and slow. Loading and shutting down is slow as well as initializing a program. It could be the fact it’s new so it’s creating temporary files for indexing. It could be the fact some of the apps are continually requesting updates. In which case, it’s a poor excuse to trade off performance for convenience. The app store is also nothing new to desktop PC as some Linux distributions do have their own stores where actual programs are placed to download. Which makes Windows 10’s store worse than Blackberry’s app store in my opinion even though not many user use their products by comparison.

As a technological society, we are pushing towards a more mobile world. It doesn’t really mean we are readily connected, just means we want to carry a silicon and plastic brick everywhere we go. Agreeable some places have cheaper internet, but the majority of the world is still catching up. In an operating system, it’s not about being cutting edge and well known; to me, I need something light and fast that supports my needs and not the needs of the company. Even at a $100 and over price tag, it should offer piece of mind as well as in-depth customization. Though simplicity can help a beginner; I feel a bit outed by the next generation of Windows users because they want everything at a click of an icon.

Into Indies

At the moment on my YouTube channel, I have played a couple indie games but I never really just picked something up to just display it. Recently, I thought I would use IndieDB to help me find some games to make short playthroughs. As a starter, I have downloaded TubeStar.

TubeStar is a parody to making videos on YouTube and “simulates” being a YouTuber. I wouldn’t be so sure what that would actually be like but I thought I would give it a shot. Though there is a bunch of games out there so why would I pick something so obscure? Simply, I picked one at random I can download and gave it a shot. From the recorded gameplay footage, I somewhat regret my decision. It was very dull to say the least and the gameplay was not compelling.

Lessons learned from this little let’s play recording session? First would be to read about the game, then download it to play a bit to see if it’s compelling or has something worth showing. Secondly, compelling gameplay; honestly I got kind fo bored halfway through the game. Most definitely trust my ADHD-meter for interesting games. Last point to make would be pick from genres I would enjoy and not through a mystery bag system.  

So the first indie lets play on my channel is a semi-success, but I’ll let the viewer make that count. Until then, I’m sticking to my laggy playthrough of The Dead Linger. 

“It’s going somewhere…” – Star Trek Online, Season 9

The last week, season 9 for Star Trek Online has come out on its Holodeck server. This means I get to check out what’s new and the challenge to unfold for a Starfleet captain. To start it off the developers have provided a review of what the universe has been through since the game’s conception.

Story in short so far, Klingon’s are suspicious of everyone and started to wage war against the Federation. Romulus is destroyed by it’s own supernova star, thus ending the Romulan Star Empire. The Borg returned in their attempt to take the Alpha Quadrant. The Jem’Hadar provide a friendly reminder the Gamma Quadrant is still dominated by the Dominion. The Undine have been undermining the superpowers to dismantle them. Within the conflicts from the past, the Federation and Klingon look forward to the future. The Federation and the Klingon Empire forge a “no touching” alliance to hold off the Borg and assist in the resettlement of the former inhabitants of the Hobus star. In the Tau Dewa sector in the former Romulan territory, Romulans and Remans have created the New Romulan Republic. Learning from past mistakes of the clandestine Tal Shiar, the Republic work toward establishing a new homeworld and to create a future for the Romulan people based on unity and cooperation. Recently, the Romulan, Federation and Klingon alliance has found an Iconian gateway which lead to the discovery of a another gateway which lead to a Dyson Sphere in the Delta Quadrant. At the same moment, the Voth have taken interest with the Sphere, specifically the Sphere’s Omega particle technology. Old enemies are united to enter the year of 2410. And yes, it took 8 seasons for the year to change once unlike the TV series.

The dubbed features for this content update is mostly visual changes to Starfleet’s Earth Spacedock and character customization additions, introduction of the Undine as the main protagonist for this season and instances and missions associated with it. First thing I did once the patch was install was examine the visuals. At first the patch pushed the graphics up to display the new aesthetics of the characters. Once I was loaded in the game, I set a course right for Spacedock. Coming out of warp above Earth, it was indeed different. The ships moving to and form the drydocks and the station seems to be lively. Upon docking, it was definitely a new sight and definitive change in the colour palette. In short, I’ve spent a long play session just looking at every decal, object and NPC in the changed social zone. Apparently they have added a reason why the zone layout has changed. To avoid spoilers, please play it for yourself. In short, we the players lose a little to gain some different. Like the exteriors, the zone is lively with NPC’s and have much of a shopping mall feel when it comes to the item NPC’s. If the item and exchange area feels like a mall, then the ship interaction NPC’s is the information desk. Aside from the tall ceiling and open space, it’s easier to navigate and feels less crowded unless you walk into the high traffic area.

To the story content, the Borg missions have changed to include a prelude to the Undine storyline. The missions feel long which can be good and bad. Good being it feels like an episode, the bad is the voiceover gets interrupted by accident in certain areas. Double upside, the Borg storyline no longer feels out of place and supplemental. Now the bulk, the Undine story.

To avoid spoilers in short, the action is intense and the story is an obvious changer.  It takes away from classic games concepts and maintains the feel of the Trek intensity once enveloped in the series. This is the season where there are no exclusive additions in fleets but a lot of additions to hold people over until new episodes are released such as the Voth Zone in the Solanae Sphere being overrun with Undine.

Change in the reputation mechanics does make it way easier and less of a grind. First off, main rep projects are separated in two; 20 hour dailies and 1 hour hourly projects. Each of the projects reward a box containing a random object from the project’s store. Also it seems, the project item sets are more linear to be easier to find and redeem which results in making missing set pieces a bit impossible to receive unless you have the project queued prior to the update. Overall, it allows the content to be easier to experience and less of a time gate.

Lastly the Undine STF of two space and one ground 5-man instance. The ground mission is part combat and part detective work. You figure out who on Bajor is an Undine spy and rid the city of Hathon from the Undine spy network. One of the space instances is assault against the planet killer shipyards in fluidic space. The other instance is a counter-offensive above some of major species’ homeworlds. This instance requires attacking on 3 lanes and destroy 2 fluidic rifts. If this idea sounds similar then yup, it’s that kind of game; great way to suck the DOTA crowd.

It’s a balance in art and content changes which slowly advances the storyline. There are small bugs at the moment of this post but negligible. Of the start, season 9 of STO is a good start; the only surprise would be fulfilling season unlike the last few seasons which were devoid of episodic content.

Sphere of Influence – Prelude to Season 8

Hopefully not just one episode to open up this can of worms, Star Trek Online this past week has been revving up for their 8th season instalment continuing the franchise’s epic. This prelude covering the introduction to a new enemy as well as introduction of a new ship available through the fleet system mechanic.

The mission is available to players from level 10 and onward, which takes you in the depths of New Romulus to bring you to speed with the reactivation of an ancient Iconian gateway designed to take people from one place to another. As the ambassador of your faction’s delegation; the Romulan Republic, Klingon Defence Force or Starfleet, you are tasked to oversee the researcher’s work to reactivate the gateway. As power begins to breathe life back into this ancient device, something goes terribly wrong forcing the only escape through the gateway. You find yourself stranded in a room with survivors of the disaster to only find a dastardly plot be afoot. Along with you for the ride is Ambassador Worf voiced by Michael Dorn as you find out who might be behind this facility and its purpose.

Highly attentive to detail, I found a few errors in the script writing; just spelling errors. However very little can diminish the plot in bridging the story to the new content. At first I must admit, there wasn’t much in terms of new mechanics or graphics excluding new textures and Iconian technology in the form of hostile drones. Upon exiting the second map, leads you into a large surveillance room which I found to be very eerie yet spectacular. As you move platform to platform, the scenery changes depicting the worlds each platform describes. The last platform provides a “Simon says” like prompt in the mission does give some sense of urgency even though there were no necessary threats. Aside from the necessary pathway to take to the final platform, the side platforms provide additional information, if not cryptic, about the Iconians. The last transition before the space combat begins seems to be really rushed piece since it so happens to be identified as a bridge and the game puts you in command of an old carrier  loaded out with some heavy weapons and unique skills. Though it doesn’t necessary connect the episode to the main content of the Dyson Sphere, perhaps it is an indicator of the constructors of the structure and perhaps the reason why the Voth are occupying it. Without much context, I must say Sphere of Influence is much of a cliff hanger as you step into the last gateway at the end of the surveillance room.

For extra goodies, here’s some easter eggs I found:

  1. By walking off the main path, you can obtain very rare Swarmer hangar pets. Just go through every console off of every branch. Once you got the 4th auxiliary console, head back to the previous. You get 2 per console and 6 in total. Note: this item can be equipped on the new Obelisk class carriers only.
  2. In in gateway chamber when the researcher asks for the power variances, there are two number references significant to the entire franchise. One of the variances is “47” while the last two numbers when added is also 47.
  3. The commander that dies on the examination table is a red shirt. Reference to the original series.
  4. When Captain Shon is attacked, he’s wearing a yellow shirt. Possible reference to Voyager in which the Voth are introduced.

Overall the episode provides a diverse mix of in depth story and ever evolving gameplay to entice the generational demographic, either new to the franchise or veterans of the saga. For the moment it breathes new life to the game regardless of the upcoming gameplay problems when introducing new items or mechanics to the game. Where there’s new content, there’s always bugs.

Gone Home Review (And spoilers…lots of spoilers)

I just spent a good three hours playing this game and I’m in such a euphoric mood that I must share it with you. Every inch of the story and every bit I got out of it. From it being a game and it being an artistic piece narrative storytelling. Do note, loads of spoilers but I’ll let you know when to stop reading.

The premise of the game is that you are the protagonist coming home from gallivanting across Europe. As you arrive to this beautiful mansion, you are no greeted by a welcoming party but the eerie pattering of rain and thunder outside the covered porch. You must go inside and find out what happened to everyone. The game is non-combat and very explorative so be ready to put on your thinking caps and figure out what’s going on.

The game style is very simple with a first person experience. A fixed inventory for quest items and a map that opens up as you explore the level. The physics are fairly realistic with objects colliding with the player and other objects. While we’re on the subject of realism, the lighting enhanced the spooky feeling inside the mansion. The randomly generated lighting made me jump a few times considering it felt like a stereotypical horror flick. The sound effects were accurate to every squeak and thud while the voice acting made the story very believable as though the characters were having a conversation with you.

The storyline is set in 1995 which spans throughout the game which addresses some issues still relevant in today’s society and culture. It’s very down to earth and homely but doesn’t necessarily come out so exploring the level does gain the player perspective and hints to the reality of the situation.

As a FPS gamer, I feel very conflicted when it came to playing this since I wasn’t so sure if I was going to be scared or curious for most of the time. There were times when I felt like I didn’t want to read and just “win” the game; however I recommend to read and do everything after the first playthrough to fulfill the story and not the goal. As a bibliophilic noob, it was very thought provoking and engaging where everything must be read and done to get the full picture. Definitely the experience was unique for me for it was not much of a puzzler or a shooter, it was indeed uniquely adventure.

What did I really think? Well, this is where the spoilers come in. You already been warned, don’t be surprised.

Here are the spoilers! Spoilers in bound!

The narrative is Katie is coming home from a vacation in Europe to only arrive in a middle of a thunder storm to an empty mansion owned by her father, Terrence Greenbriar. The story opens up to another protagonist named Samantha which is followed throughout the game as voiceover journal entries addressed to Katie. As you progress through the game, you discover activities conducted by Samantha and her parents. Such as a slow separation between Jan (her mother) and Terry leading to an affair, the ghost investigation of the former owner and the developing love story between Lonnie DeSoto and Samantha. As the story progresses, the characters slowly fall apart as you read through documents and letters. Her parents drift away emotionally and intimately seen by the self help books laying around their bedroom and the unopened condom in the drawer. Journal entries of the trials and tribulations of the lesbian sister as she tries to come out to her distressed parents and to herself.

As the player travels through the level, the stories is slowly realized as not a first person narrative but a second person narrative through Sam which redirects Kate’s homecoming to a story about teen gender realization within a homophobic culture. Since Kate cannot change the past, she experiences it presently through Sam’s journal as well as letter to her mother and father. In an non-dramatic way, it was foreshadowed by the family portrait in the foyer as Kate and Sam look very similar which could be intentional to indicate the narrative shifts between Kate to Sam. As Kate discovers, everything seems to develop a conflict at the same time. She learns Sam becomes very lonely to only fall in love with Lonnie and whether or not Sam is sure about the emotions she is development. While at the very same time, their parents slowly drift apart as her father receives a lot of bad news about a lot of publishing deals resorting him to be very distant to his wife and possibly developing a tendency to drink. This is speculative on the fact that a rejection letter from the publisher is found in the den along with empty shot glasses and an empty rack of liquor. Due to her husband’s drinking habit, she takes on additional roles as a forest conservationist which results into her having a small affair with a co-worker named Richard.

In the end, it climaxes to a cryptic entry of Sam which sounds like she has given up hope as Lonnie tells her she is going away with the military, which leaves her in a depressed state that can sound just depressive or even suicidal. Her parents resolve their conflict through couples counselling around their anniversary which is ironically why they left the house. As before Lonnie leaves they say good bye to the ghost of Mr. Masan, Sam and her lover lay in the attic for one last intimate night before she leaves. In a few entries, she mentions she woke up in the middle of the night in the attic and she received a call to pick up Lonnie as she got off the bus. Saying she couldn’t go forward with joining the army and wanted to be with Sam. Thus Sam leaving the home and running away with Lonnie.

Though all human characters are presented chronologically, the developers left plot devices early in the game to maintain the mood of a stereotypical haunted house. For example the raspy telephone message on answering machine. As well as introducing additional characters through photos such as the obituary article of Oscar Masan and the JROTC photograph of Lonnie in the first hallway, as well introducing the main characters through the family portrait. The log book of the paranormal investigation also foreshadows future locations where Kate will travel past such as the attic and the basement while maintaining a false plot of a haunted house. other examples such as the dictation from Sam where she’s called “the Psycho House Girl”, “blood” in the bathtub and the malfunctioning lights to reinforce the haunted house motif and the horror game genre. The mansion itself is a character containing all the characters held within, the house seems very Victorian with each room trying to tell a small fragment of the entire story as well as using the objects within to provide character development and depth without a need of a narrative. The bedrooms are very prime examples of this. The parents bedrooms is representative of a conservative couple with growing conflict with hidden literature under Jan’s side of the bed. Sam’s bedroom is representative of an average teenage girl’s room with feminine colours like light blues and pink with a sense of innocence with the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. Her budding maturity with her relationship with Lonnie can be seen with objects belonging to Lonnie such as a document and a cassette which foreshadows her growing interest. Her room also conflicts with the stereotypic teenage girl with masculine objects like a skull and crossbones (pirate flag) and her obsession with videos to even writing down Street Fighter combos on paper. A bit further, Kate discovers Sam’s growing sexual identity through the adult magazines found in the locker in her room. The most peculiar is Kate’s room which is boxed up and her belongings in the closet and in the basement later on. Since the room is no decorated, it is to safe to assume her parents regarded her as the normal daughter as well as a budding athlete by the trophies in the foyer. While the basement articles indicate Kate is straightforward and above average in school. Which is dualistic to Sam since the assignment of the female reproductive cycle is identical but Sam was pretty creative in her answer but only receiving an average grade of C minus.

Though that isn’t the first time the player encounters duality. Aside from the visual light and darkness, the player through Kate’s perspective see the duality of liberalism and conservatism between sibling and parent. While Sam stands firmly as lesbian, her parents deject this epiphany as just a phase in adolescent development. She also begins to express more openly her music rather than containing her personality represented by her room. As she creates this space where it is a hybrid between herself and Lonnie. Within this room, it contained music she enjoys and contains music interests shared between Sam and Lonnie which contrasts to her brightly painted bedroom. The room in the basement also has a sense of two people where Sam and Lonnie shared an intimate moment while her bedroom contained the innocence of herself.

That’s my take on it; play the game if you really want to get your own take on it. Until next time, love yourself and love each other.

Cubed Mania (Cube World alpha Review)

It seems more and more I’m getting back to my roots to 16 bit and 8 bit graphical games. Recently I got my hands onto the alpha test of Cube World. Though at the moment I’ve explored through the single player and I have not got into the multiplayer.

At the beginning when I start up the game, I am introduced to a 3D rendering of the in-game environment. Which seems less noisy and bring back to something reminiscent to old blocky RPG games from Zelda with simple tiles as well as it’s RPG element with various monsters and bosses in gameplay. The environment features a bit of random generation based on a numerical seed. In sort when you create a world, you can put down a random number and it will do its thing to seed the world. The character creation is simple through a set of types of body parts. Along with the character creation screen, you choose out of 4 classes which also restricts the weapons and armour. Which also at the moment restricts what materials you need to create armour. Good time to get into the mechanics.

In the alpha version at the moment, you can explore the world and participate in random quests in killing monsters marked on the map. The map displays the kingdom and the explored areas visited. Within each kingdom that I’ve noticed is that it contains one city which sells separate set of items from other cities while maintaining the 3 other mechanics available in each city. In these cities you have particular areas to let you trade, craft and get pets while the fourth district in the city seems more for switching subclasses; two for each of the 4 main classes. Crafting seems pretty straight forward from what I’ve experienced in Runes Of Magic where you gather your resources and go to a certain place to craft it. Same with food which heals health over time; which potions do as well without but with higher heals over time while not needing a place to craft. Pet however gets a tad technical which requires killing a bunch of mobs for pet food and feeding it to a certain mob. Wait! Here’s a really weird and complicated part. From the wiki pages I’ve managed to flip though to figure out how to get pets, certain kind of mobs will drop certain kinds of human food; mostly desserts. Unlike Star Trek Online, the frequent game I play, all pets can fight and some you can ride as long as you have the skill.

At the moment at this iteration, the game is fairly repetitive. It’s a slash and kill, open world adventure game.  With these random dungeon quests provides a small layer of non-linear play where you run through a dungeon and kill a boss. I haven’t tried the multiplayer since it is mostly like Minecraft where you have to find an IP address and hope in directly (If anyone wants to send an invite to their server, feel free to comment to this with a server IP). The current redeeming quality to the game compared to something closely comparable is the hang-gliding, boating and mounts through pets. The game size also might entice people to carry the client around to join from different computers. If I could recommend it, this would be partly recommendable if you are into the open-world aspect or just a casual player looking for something a bit halfway of nothing serious to something that can be ridiculously time-consuming. For not much story, content and gameplay; it returns with an open cubed world which is worth a small peak.