58 – Giving up on KOTOR; Jade Empire and about 30 other games I’m playing

I have given up on KOTOR.

After much wrangling and finagling, I was able to get the damn thing to run vaguely reliably: In only 800×600 resolution, of course, and I was able to have the game maximized, and have it puttering along. Unfortunately, movie sequences required a resolution change, which crashed the game. An option to disable movies also crashed the game. And so my solution became to be to play the game in fullscreen, saving very often, getting to a movie, restarting the game in windowed mode, watching the movie, then maximizing.

One segment, however, involved several cutscenes and movies after a boss battle, and then an immediate cut to a turret sequence, which I immediately died on, and the most recent save file was right before the boss fight. And you know something, I just don’t have the fucking heart to try it again. It’s not KOTOR’s fault that it’s not working on my system, but I still don’t want to deal with how temperamental it is.

I have, in the meantime, been advised that KOTOR II is somewhat better and fine to jump straight into, and that KOTOR II is an even buggier mess that I should stay as far away from as possible.

So I have ended up playing Jade Empire, which I’ve played before and, after a few false starts, ended up loving. In a move which suggests Amanda Lange is right, as usual, I’m playing an evil–er, “Closed Fist”–character, which is a little harder than it seems. Partially it’s because there’s a lot of useful stuff for doing the Good–Open Palm–path, like it looks like more quests go to XP-giving completion–but partially it’s because you really do end up acting like a money-grubbing asshole. In true Bioware tradition, it isn’t quite good and evil, in theory, and the game does stress that it’s competing philosophies of motive rather than of end results: You can sabotage the dam because you’re being paid to, or because the resulting crisis will make the town stronger. But either way, the dam gets destroyed.

Of course, it’s still the early stages of the game: Right now you’re dealing with town disputes and local events, but by the end you’re given the opportunity to slay gods and bind souls, which come to think of it, the game does seem to pan out from the local to the celestial if I remember correctly. In terms of scope, I remember the first two chapters–I’m in chapter two at the moment–being the most open and sprawling, a bit in chapter 3 as well, and then the game becomes progressively linear. I don’t remember that being a bad thing: It’s, frankly, Just Enough Game–my final save file for my previous game is about 20 hours and I’ll probably end this a little closer to 15 or so. There’s been a lot of really long games I haven’t had the heart to finish lately so it’ll be nice to have something quick.

In terms of smaller games, I dug Andrew Shouldice’s Ludum Dare entry Our God Lives Underground, which is a very linear exploration game that I think totally nailed it–it’s basically a five minute trip somewhere claustrophobic, with a few very eerie moments. I had one of those nights last night where I was poking around the more avant corners o the exploration game scene. It’s a genre I always want to like–I love game environments–but I find so many of them to be…way too ponderous. It’s the walking speed, maybe. I’m a very fast walker in real life, and I hate when games walk slower than I do. Maybe it’s just my sense of aesthetics–like I always thought Proteus was extraordinarily ugly–or, I don’t know, I mean these things can get so goddamn pretentious sometimes, you know? OGLU is this streamlined, five-minute experience that more or less hits from the moment it begins, does what it does very intensely, and ends at the exact right moment.

Actually, I also ended up playing 9.03m thanks to indiegamestand, and I can’t say I necessarily liked 9.03m, because memento moris filled with somber piano music aren’t really my thing. But given the game’s subject matter–the victims of the Tsunami in Japan–I mean, it’s a very good memento mori filled with somber piano music. It’s really pretty to look at, and if I wasn’t exactly Overcome with Emotion from it, I Admire Its Technique.

But the reason I got 9.03 was as a tie-in for Space Budgie’s new game Glitchspace, which is goddamn wonderful–and apparently only in Alpha, which surprises me because, the bit I’ve played of it, at least, seems fairly well-done. Having done exactly no research on this–having literally found out it’s in alpha just this moment–I’m not sure how much is left, if this is just a couple of levels that I’ve got or what. But it’s a very…soothing puzzle game. Everything is just blocks and calm. The main gimmick is the ability to “reprogram” objects–each has logic behind it and you have to arrange things like “Collisions: False” to allow you to walk through walls, things like that. Um, I’m explaining it poorly, but I liked it. That it’s in alpha makes me worry they’re going to add a storyline to it, and the last thing I want for this game is to have a wisecracking narrator. Given that 9.03m made the very wise decision to exclude narration, I think I trust it.

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46

I have been playing Might and Magic to the exclusion of everything else for about two weeks now. Several bundles have happened, both GoG and Steam have had sales, and I’ve spent a few bucks on them, but it’s all counting as backlog. Half of the reason I haven’t written a word about it is because that’s time away from playing the game: The only reason I’m writing now is because I’m in New Jersey for Christmas and I didn’t bring my computer.

It’s, you know, funny that this year I got really into first-person draw-your-own-map games–if you were around during the summer, you probably read me rambling about Wizardry 6 and how much I absolutely loved that game. This is actually kind of a new territory for me. Other than Lands of Lore, I never got into first-person maze games–I always had trouble *seeing* it, and the discipline that Might and Magic requires would have been totally beyond me as a kid. My only experience with the series was a very little bit of time spent with Might and Magic II, which came with my family computer, and I think I played it once or twice and decided that it was boring.

Success in Might and Magic, more than anything else, requires absolute meticulousness. There are, apparently, a total of 55 separate 16X16 maps in the game. I’m being very organized with them–I’ve got separate paper-clipped sheaves with town maps, dungeon maps, overworld maps, and another with notes. There’s very little NPC interaction, which means that the scraps you do get–notes written on walls, cryptic lines occasional characters spout out–are all meaningful. Every single map square I have has a lot of cross-referenced notes. It comes in handy.

I decided to play Might and Magic because of the coverage in the blog The CRPG Addict, which I just started reading; it made the game seem somehow amazing, and since I already own the entire series–I picked it up at the GoG summer sale–I figured it was high time I give it a proper try. I’ve found almost a surprised note in most of everything I’ve read about the game–like, in forums and other blogs, so many people approach the game almost surprised that it’s held up: That Might and Magic is not only a playable but a quite good game seems almost unexpected.

But it’s an intensely respectful game, and in a year whose notable games included Bioshock Infinite (which was a series of vaguely-interactive cutscenes separated by hyperviolent dull shooty bits), Gone Home (which was a series of overwrought narrations in an environment which wasn’t quite interactive enough, and Proteus, which had no point whatsoever–in a year where those are some of the more talked-about games, it’s really nice and almost really sad that I’m going back to 1987 to find a game which likes me.

I mean in many ways Might and Magic is one of the few games I’ve ever played that doesn’t have a beginning–it has a middle and an ending, but once you create your characters you’re just dumped into the first town without any motivation or guidance. That first town isn’t even particularly special–a little easier monsters than the rest, maybe, but beyond that, I mean I’m a good 40 hours into the game and I still hang around that town a lot since it’s such a central area. Your motivation for questing, for playing the game, is the game itself–if you don’t see 55 blank maps and immediately feel the strongest desire to explore and fill all of them out, then you’re playing the wrong game. The manual notes that “combat is at the heart of Might and Magic”, but that’s a lie: Combat is fine (and, other than a crude drawing of one of the monsters at the beginning of combat, is handled exclusively through text, it’s a fairly distilled form of RPG combat), and there’s certainly a lot of it, but more than anything, it’s a cartography simulation.

You know, Wizardry 6 was more about inventory and key puzzles, and it was certainly about mapping out intricate structures; Might and Magic is more about its overworld–20 of those 55 maps are dedicated to the main world map, which is laid out in a very specific grid pattern, and for the most part, you’re just an explorer. You have very few explicit goals–a couple of quests given to you by various kings and things like that–but the rest of the game is so open and sprawling that the only way to avoid agoraphobia is to make up your own series of constantly shifting goals. I’m going to map this one square. I’m going to level up one character. I’m going to find this character that a note mentioned. What sticks out is that both Wizardry 6 and Might and Magic use the phrase “fantasy simulation” in their paratext. I think that’s pretty important. Might and Magic really is a computer system which is running this little world, and experimenting with it is the heat of the game. You think about how games like Sim City, beyond a couple of explicit scenario goals, are about poking around and figuring out stuff you want to do and then doing it. And while there’s a main quest, and he game does have an ending, for the most part it’s about going around, finding interesting stuff, and enjoying it. Rather than something like Skyrim, which was a cross between a Skinner box and a to-do list masquerading as a fantasy epic, Might and Magic ships with no goals and therefore manages to be a very personal experience. Playing Might and Magic becomes its own reward–I find it to be a very absorbing, mindful, intimate game and its genuine lack of impatience helps it to be a beautiful game.

God damn; I really want it to be Thursday so I can get back to playing it.