Tag Archives: Gaming

May Vidya

“Stay busy at all costs! Don’t become bored!” This is one of my ‘rules’ I’ve been following when I decided to stop drinking. I’ll toss a list together whenever I get the motivation to do so, but this one I found is key to not drinking. Boredom leads to misery which leads to drinking. Obviously it’d be best to do something useful and productive to stay busy, but sometimes you need to do whatever you can to get by. When motivation is near zero, when your mood is trash, when you don’t want to actually do anything productive, what can you do? Video games!

So here’s a little bit about the three games I’ve been playing as I get back into sober swing of things.

Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal Space Program deserves it’s own post; it’s one of my all-time favorite games ever. As a kid I loved the Flight Simulator series, have always been passionate about spaceflight, and enjoyed building Legos. This game combines all three into a fun and accurate game about spaceflight. You build your own rockets/spaceplanes and explore the solar system; the only limit to what you can do is your own stubbornness and creativity. Kerbal Space Program also has a fairly accurate physics system; you really learn orbital mechanics in a hands-on way. Seriously, you’ll understand why we can only launch to Mars every two years, understand what the hell delta-v is, and learn the massive difference between orbital and sub-orbital flight, among a ton of other things.

Kerbal also has a way of keeping you playing even if you’re done with the game. It’s really easy to screw something up like running out of fuel or becoming stranded on another planet/moon which naturally leads to the inevitable rescue missions! No Kerbal left behind! There is no real need to rescue stranded Kerbals — they live forever — but something about fixing your screw-ups is immensely satisfying. So even if you’re done exploring the solar system there are usually a handful of Kerbals that you can rescue. Sometimes your rescue missions also get stranded meaning you need to rescue the rescue crew as well. Kerbal Space Program is rescue missions all the way down!

In my current game I have a crew of Kerbals stranded in a very high orbit around the sun. In terms of our real solar system, these Kerbals orbit between Mars and fucking Pluto — they’re way the fuck out there — and I just now got a rescue ship to them. They’ve only been in space for 70 years so I think they’re happy to see the rescue ship! Sadly the rescue ship doesn’t have enough fuel to make it back home, so I’ll have to piss away another 20 in-game years doing gravity assists until I can actually get them back to Kerbin, the home planet. After 100+ years in spae I’m sure my Kerbals will love to finally walk on the surface of the planet they call home. Those poor guys…

A bit about PS Now…

We somehow ended up with a PS Now subscription. It happened the way all things at our house happen; one of the kids wanted to play one of the PS Now games and only played it for a few days sticking me with a recurring $10 per month subscription charge. I figured since we had it maybe I should see what games are on there. I can always cancel if they don’t have anything.

PS Now, in case you’re not aware, is PlayStation’s game streaming service. You don’t download the games onto your PS4/5, you play them over the internet. This sounds like a great idea — you can play a fuckton of older games that you might’ve missed without purchasing them or storing them on a limited space hard drive — but has some glaring downsides. You might already be aware that latency comes into play here, and you’d be correct. By streaming the game, all information, button presses, audio, video, has to be sent over the internet. Can this even be done fast enough to yield a playable game?

No. At least not with our totally ass internet. I’m blaming Comcast again. Let’s say I want to open the menu on a game. I hit ‘O’. The signal goes to the PS4 via Bluetooth, via the PS4 to our Wi-Fi router, via the router to the modem and onto our ISP, then it gets sent to the PlayStation servers where the ‘O’ button press is actually received and processed. Shit happens there and the “opened menu” command gets passed right back along via the same path back to my TV. Sure the internet is fast, but even a few hundred millisecond delay is painful. PS Now works great if you can deal with the slight delay to everything. I could not imagine playing a Dark Souls-esque game via streaming though.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

Ace Combat 7 is a one of these PS Now games I’ve been playing. For some reason I’ve been wanting to play one of these shitty flying/shoot shit games for awhile and it scratches my itch well even if it isn’t realistic at all.

Not that I was expecting it to be realistic. I knew what I was getting myself into: a dramatic and chaotic shoot-airplanes-down game with zero realism to it. Sure the planes are real — you start with an F-16 — but beyond this the game is a joke. You have 70 missiles for some reason. Your radar only locks onto enemies within a few thousand feet (or meters, does it matter?) of them. Dogfights only happen at 5’000 feet. Hell, there isn’t even a button to retract your landing gear, it goes up automatically when you take off. Flaps, speed brakes, fuel management, what the hell are those things? There’s a ‘go fast’ button and a ‘slow down’ button. That’s all you need to fly a technologically complex fighter jet.

If you’re looking for an accurate combat flight simulator, don’t play Ace Combat 7. (I played Jane’s F-15 a long time ago. That game was accurate and therefore boring. You take off and fly for two hours before reaching your target. You lock onto airplanes 30 miles away and lob a missile at them. If you blow them up you don’t even notice anything beside the blip on your radar screen disappearing. Targeting a tank with a laser guided bomb is a pain in the ass. Most missions you get shot down by a surface-to-air missile because that’s what really fucking happens IRL.) If you want to pretend you’re a badass fighter jet pilot zipping around the sky with no regard for realism, go for it. It is a fun game, but please don’t sign up for the US Air Force after you play it for a few hours.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is the precursor to Skyrim and the sequel to Morrowind. Most people have played Skyrim and this was the sort-of-popular game that came before it. And Morrowind? One of my favorite games of all time. When Oblivion came out in 2006 I was super excited — finally a new Elder Scrolls game! — only to be sorely disappointed.

Oblivion is boring. Nearly everything about it is boring. I know I should consider it on its own merits but if the company that made Morrowind churned out shit-ass Oblivion how can you not be disappointed? I was also an angsty teenager so this transgression by Bethesda was especially egregious.

Morrowind has a varied and alien landscape, Oblivion is trees and mountains. Morrowind has a unique culture inspired by Eastern and Native Americans, Oblivion is Middle Ages 2.0. Morrowind had gameplay that could be used and abused, and you can’t even levitate in Oblivion! Morrowind had boring faction quests making you feel like some unknown piece of shit (which you were), in Oblivion you’re the hero of everyone you introduce yourself to. (Oblivion didn’t go as far as Fallout 4 or Skyrim though, thank God.) There are more examples but I need to stop otherwise I won’t play Oblivion anymore.

It’s actually fun though. I’m looking through some nostalgia goggles to be sure but Oblivion does have a few perks to it. Sure it’s shitty and boring, but in retrospect Oblivion pulls off questlines like no other Elder Scrolls game has. Morrowind’s faction quests were shitty and boring, and Skyrim’s a bit over the top (that whole you show up on day one and the entire group fucking loves you for some reason), but Oblivion hits that perfect middle ground. There’s good progression in the questlines of factions; you show up as a nobody and slowly turn into a somebody and it feels like you’re contributing something to the group. I also have fond memories of the daedric quests in Oblivion while not remembering any of them in Morrowind or Skyrim.

A big gripe though: PS Now fucking sucks. The slight delay makes combat in Oblivion nearly impossible. You slightly move the stick and it doesn’t register. You move the stick a bit more and your aiming cursor moves 45 degrees across the screen; try shooting a goblin with an arrow as he’s charging at you with those wonky controls and tell me how it works out. It doesn’t. Anything that requires precise aim, like bows, magic spells, and magic scrolls are nearly unusable. It seems I’ll have to have a melee build because when you’re smacking someone with a mace you don’t have to be as precise with your aiming!

As I write this I realize I haven’t played Oblivion in a week. Am I already burning out on it? Maybe. But maybe I’ll play it later today, we’ll see. If anything it feels like I should make a dedicated post on this game someday because there is a lot to bitch about and to praise. It’s a conflicting game to be sure.

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Goofing Around (In Video Games) Sucks

In my last post I mentioned that I 100%ed Super Mario 64. This is a heavily nostalgic game for me and countless others and while it hasn’t aged magnificently over the years it still remains a classic. It retains its charm and is still an enjoyable game to play if you can look past the shitty grafix from the late 90s. But I realized something upon completing the game that I didn’t realize before: Mario 64 is a really short game. Surely part of this is due to me having played it before, but I don’t think this has much to do with why it feels so short. It’s been so long since I played Mario 64 to completion I had almost forgotten where most of the stars were and had to “rediscover them” even if I had a vague hint of a memory where the star was. (I still remember the Turok master cheat code though: nthgthdgdcrtdtrk. Looks like something out of a Lovecraft story.) So while the game was easier than it was when I first played it, it wasn’t just a feat in repetition; I really had to discover the game all over again.

I found myself wondering how, as a kid, I was able to pour so much time into this game as I did. I was able to knock out all 120 stars within a week as an adult, and even if I had played the game before, I assume a new player could still beat the game quickly. It’s just not a long or complicated game. How did my childhood-self find this game so massive and consuming that I could literally play it for hours after school, day-after-day for months on end? Bowser had his ass kicked and I had all 120 stars, so what was I doing endlessly playing the game?

Outside of a few other minor things (being a bored kid, no internet, etc.), I assume it was because I dicked around in the game. I should explain that a bit more. This means that outside of the actual game-dictated challenges I would find other bullshit challenges to set for myself. It was total immersion in the world where you’re just playing around and having fun with the game itself. Grabbing the stars is what you’re supposed to do but dicking around is ignoring what you’re supposed to do to do random bullshit. Somehow kid-me excelled at this while adult-me is pretty terrible at it.

Bob-omb Battlefield

The first level, the iconic Bob-omb Battlefield, had a turtle whose shell you could ride like a skateboard. It was fun as hell to grab his shell and challenge yourself to do stupid shit with it: could you surf up to the top of the mountain without hitting anything and losing his shell? Could you use the shell to race Koopa the Quick? You could also grab the Wing Cap, jump into cannons, and fly around for the hell of it. Each level offered so much to do but only if you’re creative enough to play around with the game. This was even better if you had friends to play with. You could all take turns having races to the top of the Bob-omb mountain, or see who could get Baby Penguin to his mom is the fastest time possible (or who could drop him off the cliff in the most cruel/hilarious way). Your imagination was the only limit to the fun you could have in Mario 64 as well as any other game.

Shell surfin’. I crashed a few seconds after this attempting to make it to the top of the mountain.

Something changed because now I don’t have the time or patience to fuck around in video games. I don’t know if it’s adulthood itself or aspects of adulthood like having a job and a tighter schedule that changed things, but I find myself being very “goal oriented” when I play video games. It does take all the fun out of them too. I view the game as just that: a game. Games are now just a big and sometimes complex puzzle: you figure out what you need to do to achieve a goal and you do that. Find key, go to the next room. Kill enemies, get to the end of the level. Find enough moons to fight Bowser. Etc. It’s basic problem solving now: discover problem, research the problem, conquer the problem. Complete the quest and beat the game. And then onto the next game. It’s depressing.

Flyin’.

As I was writing this post, the word playing popped into my head. Dicking around in video games, as I’ve been explaining it, sounds a lot like playing. Kids will grab toys and play with them not for a purpose but just because. I even looked up the definition of the word play and guess what it is?

Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”

-The Damn Dictionary

So, fuck, it’s not that adult-me is overly goal-oriented or that kid-me was better at making up random shit to do, kid me was better at playing while adult me fucking sucks at it. Making this even worse is that when adult-me is “playing” video games, I’m probably not actually playing them. I’m always chasing a set of goals or in-game challenges and am not playing for the pure enjoyment or recreation of it. Or my personal enjoyment and recreation while playing a video game is in beating the game and not playing the game. Holy fuck, I didn’t think there’d be an epiphany in this post, but there it is. Kid-me played video games and adult-me beats video games.

This entire post reflects back on the last post about 100%ing Nintendo games. In that post I argued that Nintendo is kinda badass by not giving you any real rewards for going above-and-beyond in your video gaming duties. They rely on your own self-motivation to accomplish all of the extra bullshit you need to 100% one of their games. They’re going to give you the shit to do but not reward you for it. This post is sort of the same thing: to properly play a video game you also need to go outside of what the game itself gives you for goals/accomplishments and find your own way towards fun. This is the essence of playing — doing something for your own enjoyment with zero practical reason to motivate you — and is a huge reason why I enjoyed video games and could pour hours into them as a kid. I was playing and not simply trying to chase goals. As adult gamers we might become overly “goal-oriented” and miss the whole reason for playing a game: to have fun! But to have fun you need to be creative and do something for the sake of doing it, just like 100% video games entails. So the next time I play a video game I’m going to try to sit back, relax, and actually enjoy the experience instead of checking off a list of items that the game wants me to do. Being an adult is kinda shitty in case you didn’t know that yet.