Kemuel's Place

A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.

Category Archives: Musings

Maps, Mods, Mutators and Me, #1

Okay, so here’s something a bit different. The other night I stumbled across something buried amongst the oldest files on my external storage drive which made me feel like a kid again. Something I have been carefully copying from computer to computer for over a decade. It was an archive of dozens and dozens of old Nerf Arena maps and Unreal Tournament mods, downloaded by myself, sometime circa 1999-2002.

Tonight I want to revel in a little nostalgia, and give you a look into a lost world that I used to inhabit during some of my earliest days on the internet. Back when The Simpsons was still funny, my Neopets were still alive, and my most-visited webpage looked like this:

Planet Unreal's Mod Squad

Planet Unreal’s Mod Squad

Tonight I’m gonna ramble on a bit about various game mods, and how they were probably some of the most fun and interesting things I played during my early gaming days.

Originally I was just gonna write about the first Unreal Tournament, but thinking on it a little more yesterday I realised that I was just as deeply invested in the mod scene of Half-Life, and those of both games’ sequels, Unreal Tournament 2004 and Half-Life 2. I’ve tinkered with Jedi Knight II, Quake 3, Dawn of War, and plenty of other games too, most recently Skyrim, but I think the four games of those two series neatly bookend my experiences within what I’d call the golden age in the mid 00s. I have memories and experiences I’d like to recall and explore for all of them, and think I will probably do it in a post or two for each. Maybe one wandering around the scene itself, then another diving into my favourite parts of it.

UT99’s what I’ve been playing this weekend, what inspired me to get writing this, and what’s mostly filling my head right now, so that’s where I’ll start. Or at least, somewhere fairly near there. I’ll get to showing off some of the crazy mods themselves eventually, but it’ll be a meandering path on the way there. I wanna start off just recalling how I even ended up on the scene in the first place.


 

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A Wild and Starry Weekend, Second Part: Wildstar Itself

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There’s a base and probably rather reptilian part of my brain which is telling me that I need to preorder Wildstar. Soon, so I can get into the “headstart” early-access period. It’s the part that covets shiny things. Switches off when there’s too much talking. Wants to see arbitrary numbers on the screen get bigger. Doesn’t mind grinding fetch or kill-5 quests. Part of me enjoys, or at least derives satisfaction, from even the worst and most played-out tropes of massively-multiplayer online games, and it can be rather hard to ignore. Am I really enjoying the game, or am I just feeding a habit?

As I kinda rambled about in the last post, Wildstar is built on a foundation which more or less conforms to familiar MMO conventions, and it carries all the baggage that comes with it.

This time I’m gonna talk about all the rest, though. And there is quite a lot.

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A Wild and Starry Weekend, First Part: Me and MMORPGs

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I read up on how to take screenshots in Wildstar before writing this post and spent the better part of the afternoon running around mashing the Print Screen key only to find that it had done nothing and that no screenshots were being saved. So there aren’t any! Or, at least, only some boring ones I quickly grabbed by other means.

After signing up in the aftermath of Rezzed over a year ago, I finally got an invite to join the beta of Wildstar this weekend. I’d come away from my 30-minute demo with mixed impressions at the time, and was eager to play more to see how the classes and progression paths that actually interested me held up. The promise of plenty of stuff to do besides combat including the construction of settlements, interdependent crafting and other interesting social gubbins caught my attention, as did the apparent step away from some conventional MMO tropes. After maybe… 15 hours or so over the past three days, though, I’m still not entirely sure I know whether I like it.  Part of this is a sense that perhaps I’m over MMOs. That I’ve changed enough over the past decade that nothing’s ever going to capture my attention like Ryzom, or Final Fantasy XI, or Star Wars Galaxies did back when I was a teenager. I mean, I bounced off Guild Wars 2, and that was excellent, wasn’t it? Surely that’s gotta be me? Returning to the glory days of Galaxies last year using the fantastic SWG Emulator was a wonderful bit of nostalgia, but I’m not still playing it now.

Just saying that’s got me feeling tempted to go back again (and find a nice Tatooinian guild in need of a Tailor), but I doubt I’d stay particularly long.

Something’s definitely up, and I can’t tell whether it’s really with Wildstar or just me.

I was gonna just sit and try to give my impressions of the game, from the perspective of a lapsed MMO player looking for something new, but whilst writing this I realised it was taking me a long while to actually get to the point.

So, two parts, then!

I’m gonna get all the gas about why I’m not sure whether I like it or not out the way here, then go on to talk in a bit more depth about the game another time.

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Fighting Alone: Soul Calibur: Lost Swords

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So the next Soul Calibur game’s singleplayer only and free-to-play, huh? Gotta say I’m actually rather excited.


I’ve never really played fighting games with other people much, so having a solid Arcade mode and then plenty to do once you’ve finished it as every character has always been really important to me.


I absolutely loved the oddball adventure modes of Soul Calibur 2 and 3, which combined with the branching Arcade stories kept me playing long after I’d have otherwise gotten bored. Unlocking characters one by one? Alternate weapons with unique stats? Hidden character customisation pieces? Hell yes. Besides the hidden characters and alternate story endings in Guilty Gear X2 you even had EX and SP versions of each character to unlock through the Survival Mode, offering both subtly and vastly different stats and movesets for every member of the cast. Getting them for your strongest characters was relatively easy, but unlocking all of them? You’d need to practice.


I know there’s a greater demand these days for games to give you everything outright, so you can play with all their toys right off the bat, but I miss the sense of progress in fighting games. Tekken, Kensei, Bloody Roar and other games of that age would make you play with all the base characters to unlock the secret ones, slowly revealing the complete picture of their overlapping stories and relationships along the way. It gave you a reason to play characters you normally wouldn’t have cared about in order to complete everything. Fighting games haven’t completely abandoned the singleplayer stuff, and unlocking endings is still a thing, but it feels like there’s so much more of a focus on things like the training modes, scoreboards and online competitive play. All the stuff I don’t really care about, really.


Despite all the interesting character creation guff, Soul Calibur 5 was a massive disappointment compared to the old games. While the actual game mechanics might be the most polished and balanced yet, a really short story mode with fixed characters for each fight, only 5-stages in arcade mode with no plot development at all and no other special stuff besides a boss-rush mode just isn’t what I expect from the series. Even when I did try to venture online I couldn’t find any matches.


Hopefully Lost Swords isn’t gonna lay the free-to-play crap on too heavy, because there’s a lot of potential there. It feels a bit like the cuttings from Soul Calibur 5’s development could be being sold back to us bit by bit, but maybe I’m just being cynical. If they have avoided that, though, and have managed to recapture the spirit of the old games’ extra modes, I’ll be seriously happy.

The Dice of FTL

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Like a lot of people this past week or so, I’ve taken the release of the free patch for FTL: Faster Than Light as a barely-needed excuse to make the jump back in, racking up another few dozen hours’ play and sorting out some unfinished business.

When my attention to the basic game waned back at the start of 2013, drifting off to orbit some shiny new pretender, I had, at around80 hours playtime on the clock, all but one of the playable ships unlocked, and all but two alternate floorplans unlocked for the rest. This was despite only having beaten the game’s boss twice in total, in Easy mode, no less. Once to unlock the Alliance Cruiser, and once again to.. prove it wasn’t just a fluke? I’ve still not managed a third.

Some of this I can blame on my dogged pursuit of achievements to unlock the alternate floorplans, some on how I get excited and barf money at shopkeepers whenever a new weapon or ship system appears which I haven’t used before. I also have a terrible habit of forgetting to switch the oxygen back on. Or sometimes I’ll get a message from someone on Facebook and when I look back at the game, an airlock will be open and someone important will have died along with the invaders I was trying to flush. Occasionally it’ll feel like the game’s screwed me, like a type of ship’s shown up that I’m particularly ill-prepared to fight, or the randomly-stocked shops and encounters haven’t provided me with sufficient weaponry to spend my mounting piles of scrap metal on; but the more I play, and the better I get at efficiently visiting as many stars in a sector as possible, broadening my choices, the less this seems to occur.

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