61 – Planescape Torment club?, Zest update, Gothic II

So I’ve never played Planescape Torment because I’m obviously a terrible person. I didn’t play a lot of CRPGs growing up–missed Ultima entirely, played and hated Might and Magic II, didn’t play Fallout till college, have never gotten past chapter 1 in Baldur’s Gate. Weird, because I can tell you pretty much everything about every JRPG released in the states till about two years ago. Torment is one of those big holes in my gaming life: I’ve played through a chunk of it, but it’s such a big Thing in some ways that I’m nervous to approach it.

Well, I’ve reinstalled the game and I’m going to be playing it in the next couple of months, and based on some preliminary talk on Twitter, it seems like there’s a lot of people who’d be interested in some kind of Book Club thing. Now, I don’t know quite what form this should take. I don’t want to do the “okay let’s all play this much of the game this week and all discuss it”, particularly because it seems like one of those sprawling RPGs that isn’t conducive to that sort of thing. Maybe it would be enough to just encourage a ton of people to play and write about this game on their own blogs and we can link each other. Perhaps Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance could be convinced to give up some real estate in his forum for discussion.

Either way, if you’re interested–let’s say July-ish?–let me know, and if you’ve got an idea about how this thing could work, please, I’m all ears!

–In Zest news, the basic flow of the game has been outlined. The flow of the game is going to consist of  about a half dozen “time blocks”, each of which essentially has a different “deck” associated with it. The player’s stats influence a degree of randomness–we’ve actually been throwing out the tern “narrative roguelike” to describe the basic feel. My current goal is to come up with a couple dozen basic cards in all the separate categories; once that’s done, I’m handing it off to Lectronice and PaperBlurt who will respectively finish programming the card system and come up with some preliminary CSS. I’m shooting for a hundred cards int he final version–like TWEEZER, I want it to be a game that encourages many very short play sessions. We’re targeting an early July release–that’s part of the reason I’d like to do Planescape around them–so watch this space.

–Again, for a game with comparatively few verbs and stats, there’s a lot to learn in Gothic II. I keep learning new tricks for playing it–where I need to stand in order to pull certain enemies, the timing on how to chain certain attacks, what stats I need to increase to effectively kill things–and there’s plenty more. I still haven’t begun to figure out whether there’s a more efficient way to buy and sell things.

At this point I’ve done a broad survey of the bulk of the island–there’s a lot of stuff I certainly haven’t found, and I’ve only really seen the surface of most of it, but I’ve been, at some point, on every corner of the map, even if there’s only about a quarter of the game I’m able to navigate without trouble. What keeps striking me is I’m just on the first *chapter*.  There’s a lot to see and do in this game, and not all of it consists of doing quests–again, it’s the kind of game that’s rewarding just to poke around in.

–My save–which I’m going to get to as soon as I finish typing this post and will play until it’s time to go to work, I love this fucking game–has me in the middle of an area I have never been to in the middle of the night. Night is scary–or, rather, it’s more threatening than the rest of the game is, and the rest of the game is pretty threatening. While I wouldn’t say Gothic ever becomes a horror game, the sense of vulnerability never quite goes away. The game is like Dark Souls–I’m sorry, I’m sorry!–in that even beginning-of-game enemies can kill you at any point if you’re being too cocky. ANd while Dark Souls has much better creature design, there’s something hilarious about how my Gothic II character ran, panicked, from two chickens–who never fucking give up pursuing and who run fast–and accidentally pulled aggro from two boars, only to run headfirst into a lizard who killed him instantly. Props to the sound department, too: Each enemy has its own cry, and usually–there are a ton of trees–you end up hearing them long before you see them, and so it’s one of those games where the second you hear an animal howling at you, you either relax, though not completely, and maneuver into a position where you can be at the advantage, or you realize there’s two of them and you can’t take on two of them, or it’s something you’ve never heard before and you just run the fuck away.

57 – KOTOR, Pt 1

Knights of the Old Republic is proving to be a little difficult to love. Largely this is the result of bugginess: For whatever reason, the game doesn’t play nicely on modern systems, and it doesn’t have the advantage of ten years of patches like Bloodlines did. It took three separate configuration sessions to figure out how to get the game running in fullscreen mode. (Which is a necessity for me: I don’t know how people play games in windowed mode without inadvertently clicking outside the window into other applications every 30 seconds, and that’s not even taking into consideration that the edges of my desktop background–a picture of Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and RuPaul holding a crying Francis Bean–poke through, utterly ruining any immersion the game has.)

But KOTOR is having some of the same issues that the first Mass Effect had for me, which is that after a really exciting initial mission, you’re umped into a boring planet and doing some beginner, kind of uninteresting quests. I’m an unusual-planets and weird alien species guy. When I think of Star Wars, I think about Dagobah and Endor and the Cantina and all of that; KOTOR, after a well-done tutorial sequence where you’re on a ship that’s being attacked–after, essentially, a recreation of the opening scene from the original Star Wars–you’re placed on a sprawling city planet. I know that Bioware loves it some cities. I’m assured that if I ever make it to the part of Baldur’s Gate where I make it to Baldur’s Gate, I’ll enjoy myself there. I appreciated the idea of what they were trying to do with Kirkwall in Dragon Age II. But Taris–the main city where you find yourself at the beginning of KOTOR–is one of those Star Wars-y cities with all white, clinical walls, and it’s, frankly, not much to look at. There’s an Undercity where the poor live, forever blocked from seeing the sun–but a series of graphical glitches make that area difficult to navigate (and kinda crashy), and, frankly, Final Fantasy VII did the atmosphere of that concept a lot better.

It might partially be coming off of Bloodlines, I’ll admit that. Bloodlines was only a year after KOTOR–they’re more or less contemporaries. I enjoyed exploring its hubs in a way that I am not enjoying Taris.

Well I am sticking with it, if only for Bioware’s reputation and the fact that I’m enjoying it enough–after all, Jade Empire had an extremely dull opening sequence that I played through twice and abandoned before finally muscling through and finding it was an absolutely wonderful game. The storyline is good so far–it is, in its way, fulfilling that little-boy need to pretend to be a Jedi from time to time. I know the major Twist to the game, and it’s nice seeing the foreshadowing starting from pretty much the beginning. I don’t love the character development system–there are too few skills and I am unclear how I should be diversifying them–I’m frankly using the Autolevel option for my other party members because I don’t quite care enough to think about how I want to build them. Combat is decent–and yet so far I haven’t noticed any better results from manually controlling my characters as opposed to letting the AI take over.

I mean, the game needs to open up, and I’m closing in on the end of this first planet. Give me someplace more rural and adventuresome next, and I think it’ll be enjoyable. I hear you get to go to the Wookkiee planet, and I’m cool with that. It’s just the kind of game I’ve been playing for 5 hours and am still kind of waiting for it to start, and that’s, obviously, Bad. The slow boil doesn’t always work.