Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

A few years ago somebody must have said, “What would a child friendly shooter by Nintendo be like?” and thus we have Splatoon.  Then somebody, possibly the same weirdo who wanted a Nintendo shooter game, must have said, “What would a child friendly X-Com by Nintendo be like?” and thus we have Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.  And it’s really good.

 

I don’t know much about Rabbids but I know a butt-ton about the Super Mario universe.  Watching the two interact is pretty dang fun.

 

Basically it’s a turn based, top down, grid layout, tactical strategy game.  You have three characters on your team and there’s a bunch of enemies depending on the level.  You move Mario to a position on the map, maybe behind cover for added defense or up on higher terrain to improve damage, then you have him shoot an enemy with his gun (yeah, it’s weird that Mario has a gun, even though it’s a cartoonish silly gun) and lastly you may choose to have him activate a special ability.  Then you do the same with your other two characters (two Rabbids cos playing as Luigi and Princess Peach at first but you unlock more characters as you play).  Then the enemies have their turn.  Round and round you go until everybody on one teams dies.  But because it’s kid friendly nobody really dies.  After you defeat them the enemy Rabbids just come to their senses and stop being evil.  And when they run out of hit points Mario and the rest of Team Good Guys just become dazed and sort of take a nap on the battlefield.  It’s the least violent a tactical war game could possibly be.

 

Mario hiding behind half cover shooting an enemy, exactly like X-Com!

What’s surprising is that it’s much deeper than I expected.  Your characters have a skill tree that they can level up.  There are weapons for each character to unlock with special abilities as well as lots of characters themselves to be found.  The enemies have special moves too like one large Rabbid enemy charges directly at whomever shoots them the moment they get shot (instead of just waiting for their turn).  So you have to strategically surround them with characters who can keep pulling the Rabbid back and forth in such a way that he never reaches anybody.  There’s even boss battles with unique mechanics.  The maps don’t repeat, each is unique and most have the terrain laid out in a way that’s impactfull and interesting.  Luigi is basically a sniper which I didn’t expect to see in this game at all.  Despite the fluff there’s a real good strategy game in there.

 

Luigi is a sniper, that’s awesome but also kinda weird.

 

It has a fun cast of characters.  The Rabbids, characters from a series of games I don’t know much about, are basically insane.  They are funny, but also mischievous, and not terribly bright.  The interactions between the Rabbids and classic Mario characters are pretty cute.  Toad and Toadette are also there, getting lost like they do.  And it features lots of classic Mario characters and enemies like Chain-Chomps and even Donkey Kong.  Although Donkey Kong is a giant Rabbid who likes bananas now.  It’s all very light hearted and funny.

 

Rabbid Kong, just like the classic arcade game from my youth.

 

So basically we haven’t found a game genre yet that can’t be Nintendo-ified.

The Point

 

I play a lot of Sandbox Games.  Minecraft being the most popular example.  But when non-sandbox gamers hear about Minecraft they usually say something like, “What’s the point of that?”

 

Fun?

 

I get it.  We often play games that you can eventually win.  Or MMO’s that, even if you never beat the game, you can gain levels or beat a hard dungeon or get a cool piece of gear and say, “I accomplished this!!!”  Or we play competitive games like Heroes of the Storm or Overwatch where the point is to win as many times as you can against the best players you can.  Or we play clicker games where … well the goals is to make the numbers get bigger.  And actually aren’t most of our games about making the numbers get bigger?

 

The point of most games is to accomplish a goal.  My favorite game at the moment is Zelda Breath Of The Wild (the best Zelda maybe EVER) and the point of that game is to kill Gannon.  Now that goal is vague, you can play a loooooong time before ever fighting Gannon.  But you can also skip almost all of the game and kill him right away.   There are speed runs of people doing that in less than 1 hour.  I mean they start a new game, wake up naked in the shrine of resurrection, and are killing Gannon one hour later.  That’s amazing!  That’s a challenge and it’s a goal they set for themselves.  But for me what’s great about Zelda BotW is that there’s a huge world to explore and exploring it is FUN.  That’s why I’m in there, that’s what I enjoy, exploring the world.  And once I win the game, hopefully after finding close to 100% of the neat things, I’ll move on to other games.

 

So when someone hears I play Minecraft, or Kerbal Space Program or Farming Simulator and they ask, “What’s the point?”  I know what they mean.  They like to have goals to work towards.  In a sandbox game you aren’t explicitly given a goal by the game.  You make up your own and I love that.  I like getting into Minecraft and thinking about what I want to do and then doing it.  When games tell me what to do, for example when WoW gives me a quest, sometimes I think, “I don’t want to do that.  I have an idea of my own that I like better.”  Kerbal has a mode that gives you “missions” that are basically quests, they tell you what goals to pursue.  I never play that mode.  If I feel like building a colony on Mars (called Duna in Kerbal) then that’s what I’m going to do!  If I wanted somebody telling me I can’t build a Mars colony I’d work for the real NASA.

 

On the other hand I understand why people enjoy being given a quest, goal or point.  People like having direction, they enjoy a narrative or simply knowing what they’re supposed to be doing.  Have you ever watched someone play Minecraft who doesn’t like sandbox games?  The first thing they say is, “What am I supposed to do?”   And if you answer, “Whatever you want!” they just quit the game.  That’s not fun for them.  What they want is a goal to work towards and to achieve.  Solving problems and accomplishing goals and making progression is part of the fun for them.  And sometimes for me too.  As long as the task being given is enjoyable then it’s still fun.  Again, the point isn’t actually to do whatever task the game is giving you it’s just to have fun.  And the goals and quests are supposed to be a way to facilitate fun for people who like that sort of structure.  You could argue the point is to beat the game or finish the quest or whatever but really the point is still to just have fun.

 

Whether a person likes open sandbox games or games with strict goals and progression probably says a lot about their psychology.

 

It goes beyond video games of course.  What’s the point of building Lego’s or collecting Funko Pops or painting WarHammer models or watching TV or reading books or playing golf or any of our other hobbies?  The point of any and all recreation is to enjoy the experience and to be revitalized in your mind and body.  To rest and prepare yourself for your work or whatever challenges you face in life.  If your recreation has any point beyond your personal enjoyment then you’re doing it wrong.

 

Who Am I Talking Too?

My dog always has to go outside when I play Heroes Of The Storm with my friends.  At first I thought I just noticed it more when playing online because of the inconvenience of telling everybody, “AFK doggy BIO.” in voice chat and then leaving for a while as I take her outside.  But I’m starting to think that she actually wants to go outside more often when I’m playing online.  Or at least I think she really comes over and stares at me more.

 

Action shot of her staring at me while I’m online gaming, doesn’t it look like she wants something?

 

Ordinarily when she needs to go potty she comes over to where I am in the house and just kind of stares at me for a bit.  So when she stares at me as I game I assume she needs out.  But sometimes while I’m gaming she’ll come over and stare at me thirty minutes after she was just out.  That’s statistically unusual for her.  So what gives?

 

Staring at me doesn’t necessarily mean she needs to do her business.  If I’m eating for example it just means she wants some of my food.  And other times she just wants to be petted and then she’ll wander off and go to sleep.  So what if the staring during Heroes of the Storm is something else, besides begging for food or attention or needing to water the lawn?

 

I’m starting to think it’s because I’m on voice chat.  I wonder if she’s just confused about why I’m talking out loud when nobody else is home.  She must think I’m going completely insane!  Maybe she wonders if I’m talking to her, and she’s staring at me trying to figure out what I want her to do.  She’s like, “I’m right here, why are you telling me to ‘push top lane’, whatever that means?”

 

I’m going to continue to take her outside when she stares at me because if I’m wrong and she does need to ‘start streaming’ I want her to do it outside.  But maybe after the third Doggy Bio Break in one gaming session I’ll wait a bit before going again.  I think we’re both just totally confused by the others behavior.

American Truck Simulator

I’m continuing my experimentation with racing games today with the kind of fast paced high speed maximum velocity racing game that makes NASCAR fans hearts beat faster.  American Truck Simulator!  This game simulates being a truck driver.  You get to stay inside the lines, keep under the speed limit, and corner very carefully so as not to damage your cargo.  My adrenaline is pumping just thinking about it!

 

Hauling some kind of construction equipment down a little side street is pretty challenging, those little roads are narrow and full of turns.

 

Okay, this game isn’t an adrenaline junkies wet dream.  But as a generally nervous person this is my dream.  Peacefully driving down the highway, in a virtual world where crashing will have no consequences, I can achieve a relaxed state of mind.  I can “zone out” while hauling a trailer across California.  In short, this game is turbo chill.

There is some beautiful scenery to enjoy, but remember to keep your eyes on the road.

 

A lot of people drive in real life for fun and relaxation.  I’ve always struggled with that, driving is stressful for me.  It makes me nervous.  But I think I can achieve a similar effect to that of people who drive to relax in real life by driving in the video game world.  I find that distracting part of mind with the menial task of keeping the vehicle inside my lane and gently turning around the corners frees up another part of my mind to wander a bit.  But not the way I disappear completely into my imagination when I’m daydreaming in a boring meeting or something, the need to pay a little bit of attention to playing the game or driving the vehicle keeps me anchored a bit.  It helps me think about stuff in a way that other activities don’t.

 

You can haul a big, rectangular trailer.  But I find hauling construction equipment looks cooler when I pause the game to take pictures. 

 

If you want you can run a company, hire workers, plan routes to maximize profits, buy better trucks and trick them out.  There’s a lot “under the hood” if you want.  And you can chose to play it very realistically, manually shifting gears, signalling your turns, always staying within the speed limit.  Or you can get a bit silly, pass people on the shoulder, drive into oncoming traffic, or see how fast you can go while hauling construction equipment.  And there is a lot of challenge there, can you drive cargo from Los Angeles to Las Vegas without a single speeding ticket, collision, or without running a single red light?  You have the freedom to play how you want.  And for me playing it *pretty much* realistically is what makes it peaceful and fun.

 

In closing, American Truck Simulator is not really a racing game.  But whatever kind of game it is, it’s a good one.

 

Here’s a YouTube video I made of me actually playing the game.

 

Project CARS

I’m not a Petrol Head (that’s what they call car lovers on Top Gear which is in the UK, I guess in America we’d say Gas Head) nor do I play a lot of racing games.  Super Mario Kart is probably the racing game I’ve spent the most time in and it’s probably not what Gas Heads would call “hardcore”.  But lately I’ve been trying out more serious racing games.  Which brings me to today’s article, a review of Project Cars.  A game that is at least twice as serious and half as silly as Mario Kart.

Catching air, this time on purpose!

Project Cars has everything you want in a racing game.  It has cars and places to drive them.  Some of the cars go very fast.  Some of them look like race cars and some look like ordinary cars.  And some look like Go Karts, because they are Go Karts.  And the game keeps track of how quickly everyone finishes the race and the fastest person wins.  I don’t know much about racing games but Project Cars seems to have it all.

Even if you aren’t fast you can still enjoy the beautiful scenery.

The graphics are great.  There’s a course where you drive down the California coast that is just gorgeous.  Even if you spend most of the time spinning out and crashing into the railings there’s some lovely scenery to look at.

Proving it’s more realistic the Mario Kart, Project CARS let’s you in the cockpit.

The number of things you can customize in the garage is staggering.  You can decrees the traction control which allows you to “drift” and also makes it easier to “spin out of control and crash”.  You can modify a million other things too and save those changes per track.

I’m in the blue and yellow one.  It looks fast.

I haven’t tried the online play but the option is there if you want.  I probably should play online a bit, if for no other reason than to make other people feel better about themselves.

Here’s a YouTube video of me actually playing Project CARS.  Watch me and mock my complete lack of skill.

In conclusion I give Project Cars a 5 out of 5.  The only thing that would make it better is blue shells and banana peels.

 

Creativerse

I’ve been playing Creativerse on Steam lately and really enjoying it.  Creativerse is basically a Minecraft clone.  But I feel bad saying that because whenever people call something a “clone” it sounds derogatory and I don’t mean it derogatorily here.  A clone of something you like, if well done, can be a wonderful thing.

I enjoyed building stuff in Creativerse, even if my buildings are all just boxes.

Creativerse has a lot of the things I like about Minecraft but adds nicer graphics, built in recipes, progression in the form of unlocking new recipes, and a great system for playing online.  It just released recently so I think we can expect it to only get better from here.

My first home was, just like when I play MineCraft, a cave I dug into a mountain.

Somebody who’s already played Minecraft will be right at home here.  I played for hours without looking up anything on Wiki’s or YouTube because everything was easy to figure out.  It’s nice to play a new game and not need to go through a tutorial.

Why do I love farming in video games so much?  I have no idea, but I do.

It has crops to plant, animals to care for, and food to cook.  All the basic “digital farming” stuff you’d expect in a game that tries to simulate living in a world.  You don’t starve to death but the foods give various buffs or regenerate health.  The farming system isn’t as robust as I’d like it to be but it’s good enough.  Hopefully they’ll expand it later maybe?

Of course if you dig down deep enough you find a lava level.  Because of course.  I hear there’s a layer below this lava layer but I haven’t gotten deeper than this yet.

There’s a bunch of different Biomes just like in Minecraft, many on the surface and some more straight down under the ground.  For now, while the game is new, I’m very much enjoying wandering around exploring the world.  Finding new things and seeing what I can craft out of them.  And just seeing the sights.  Plus you can Teleport straight back to your home so you never get lost!  That might seem like “easy mode” to some but for me it makes exploring a lot more fun and relaxing.

The animals are totes adorbs.

It’s free to play so you can try it on Steam for nothing.  But they do charge twenty bucks for a “Pro” version that comes with a glider and other perks.  They have an online store so some of the fancy block types cost real life money to unlock the crafting recipe, that part kind of stinks but nothing they sell is necessary (and once you’ve bought the block you can craft it an unlimited number of times from resources found in game freely).  If those microtransactions mean the game will continue to be developed and improved then I’m okay with that.  I haven’t found any mods for it yet, and that’s the one place it may fail compared to MineCraft is it may not be modable (or not modable as easily as MC at least).  But for me these downside don’t stop me from enjoying the game.  If you liked MineCraft I expect you’ll like Creativerse.  And hey, free to play means you can give it a try easy peasy.

The True Heroes Of The Storm

So I get on Heroes of the Storm the other day and join Quick Match.  That’s the game mode where you play with and against actual humans.  Nobody else is online so it’s just me and my four new best friends chosen by the science of Blizzard Matchmaking.  Blizzard uses the same algorithms as online dating sites to put together teams.  But the algorithms failed us this time.  The five of us had very different personalities.

We had the Solo Yolo player.  They were playing Vala and started the game by running head first into the enemy towers.  Throughout the match this person attempted to solo merc camps, the Boss, and the entire other team at every opportunity.  They never said anything in chat.  I assume they were a small child because that’s funnier than if they were an unskilled adult.  And, from what I saw, entirely plausible.

We had the Cheerleader.  This was a delightful person who continuously provided motivation for the team by saying things in chat like, “Get your head out of your butt and push the lane!” or, “Git gud noobs!”  It was good advice.  I remember thinking, “It would be hard to play this game if my head was in my butt.  I couldn’t even see anything, so removing it would DEFINITELY improve my game.  And yeah, I should get good.  Getting good would be incredibly helpful.  I should do that.”

Then there was the New Guy.  I don’t know if they had ever played Heroes of the Storm before but they admitted they had never played Tracer.  “Tracer sure is squishy!” they informed us after their fifth death in two minutes.  “Does anybody know how to Tracer?  I can’t Tracer?”  I liked that they used Tracer as a verb instead of a Proper Noun because it really drove home the point that they needed help.  Help with Tracer, help with the English language, and probably help with life in general.

The New Guy and the Solo Yolo seemed to be competing for Most Deaths Per Minute.  It was a VERY close race.
Then we had the Historian.  They regaled us with stories of their previous games.  Like one time they played on the same map we were on and there was a Cho’gal and three supports and all that healing made Cho’gal an unstoppable force that marched in and destroyed the enemy core within the first five minutes.  Since nobody in our current game was playing Cho’gal or a support there wasn’t really anything applicable to our current situation, but it was a neat story.  Still I can’t help but feel like we might have done better if the Historian had spent less time telling us about past games and more time playing the one that they were actually in.
I gave the other players nicknames so I guess it’s only fair to give myself one.  If I had to pick something to describe myself it’d be the Almost Guy.  I almost kill an enemy hero but then they escape behind their towers.  Or I almost claim the objective but then I get ganked by the enemy team.  I almost arrive in time to help with a team fight but I’m too late my whole team is dead and then they kill me too.
We lost that game.  But just because you lose the game doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.  I got a hearty laugh at the antics of my teammates and a reasonably interesting blog post out of it.  So all in all not a bad game.

Collect All The Things

Heroes of the Storm is launching their 2.0 update soon*  and I’m pretty excited about it.  I love collecting cosmetic things for my video game characters and 2.0 is bringing new stuff to amass.  And it brings ways to collect them without having to spend real life money (back in my day HotS skins cost real money and we liked it!).  I still won’t be good at the game but at least I’ll look good while losing!

Collecting is something that most geeks are into.  We collect Funko Pops, books (both Comic and Just Words varieties), pins, cards from Magic The Gathering and other CCG’s, board games, consoles, computers, dice, stuffed animals, action figures, toys, posters, empty soda cans (when I was a child) and internet memes.  And a million more things besides.  When we see a set of something we only have two choices, ignore it completely or COLLECT ALL THE THINGS!

It’s weird to think about our ancestors and wonder where this desire evolved from.  How was an urge to collect things helpful when we were hunter gatherers?  Was there a benefit to collecting one of each mammoth bone?  I can imagine it would help impress potential mates to have a full mammoth skeleton in your possession, but the tribe might get angry when you tried to carry the whole set to the next hunting camp.  In fact I’m pretty sure primitive humans didn’t have a concept of ownership, which seems to make collecting things pointless.  Unless everything you collected was to be shared with the tribe instead of shown off to make everyone jealous, which is why we do it today.

Collecting digital things in video games is a little strange because you can’t show them off to people unless they play that game.  In real life you can exhibit anything to anybody.  I have a collection of Lego sets on display in my home (if you display it then it BECOMES art) and I can show those Legos to anybody.  My sweet transmog set in World Of Warcraft impresses nobody who doesn’t play the game.  And when you tell them how long it took to collect all those appearances it doesn’t make it seem more valuable to non-gamers it just makes you look like a crazy person.
I do really enjoy setting my video game character apart from everyone else’s video game character.  When you play a game like Heroes of the Storm Gazlowe always looks the same and that gets boring.  Until, that is, you get a new skin for him.  And once enough different skins exist then when you see Gazlowe on the other team he looks different than he does when you play him.  And when you see a teammate play him in the next game he looks different still.  And that variety is fun and keeps things visually interesting.  So personally I like video games to have as many cosmetic things as possible.  Not only so I can obsessively collect them all.  I mean it’s mostly so I can obsessively collect them all.  But it’s also a little bit so we can change things up and keep things visually interesting.   I have a short attention span so if I’m going to play Gazlowe enough to get level 10 I’m going to need to change his outfit.

Of course collecting things isn’t all about impressing other people, not primarily anyway.  It’s ultimately something you do for yourself.  You see something you like, Legos or HotS, and you think, “How can I reach out and hug this thing I like so much?”  and the answer is to collect it.  To display it.  To smile when you gaze upon your collection and think, “Should I arrange them alphabetically or by color?”

* As I write this it isn’t out yet, although in a weird time travel way when you read this it is already out, what’s the future like?

1d20

When you’re a geek you’re gaming life is left largely to chance.  Literally.  Random numbers are a huge part of most geek games.  You roll dice in D&D and table top war games and board games and even card games.  Video games use random number generators that you never see to do the same thing.

What’s weird is that we play these games largely to test our analytical and strategic abilities.  We spend all this time thinking up brilliant plans and maneuvering pieces into optimal positions and then hope the random numbers come out in our favor.  No matter how perfect your plan is it all comes down to a little bit of chance.  Is that a metaphor for life?   Because if it is then that’s super depressing.

Randomness isn’t all bad, it gives us a chance to win even when we’re playing badly.  And as someone who almost always plays badly that’s a really great thing.  Nothing upsets your opponent more than playing poorly but winning because they rolled a one.

There are a million superstitions surrounding the random number generators.  People blow their dice, or talk sweetly to them, or throw them away if they have a bad night.  People roll new dice a hundred times to break them in.  People yell at you if you touch their dice.

Back on the NES there was an Ultima game, Exodus maybe, that had some spell that would either do tons of damage or almost none.  It seemed completely random until you realized (or read about it in Nintendo Power) that it wasn’t random at all.  The enemies were animated, and by animated I mean they had two pictures and it cycled back and forth between them.  In one picture their left foot was down, in the other their right foot was down.  This gave them the appearance of walking in place which doesn’t seem like a very intimidating thing for monsters to do but back in my day that’s all we had and we liked it.  The spells success or failure was based on which animation frame was active when you cast the spell, in other words if you pushed the button when the monsters left foot was down it succeeded brilliantly and if their right foot was down it failed.  The mind blowing thing was that after hours of crossing my fingers every time I cast the spell I suddenly had complete control over it.  With just a little practice I could nail it each time.  Ever since I’ve been searching for patterns and tricks that would let me take control of any and all “random” things in my life.  If you ever see me rolling dice and you pay attention to my feet you’ll notice I always lift my right foot.  I’m always hoping that someway somehow real life is just as easy to manipulate as an 80’s video game.

I have a whole spiel on how I think life might be a giant simulation (which validates the idea that nothing in the world is truly random and maybe I can control it by lifting my right foot).  Kind of like the matrix except I’m the only real human and you’re all NPC’s.  But I rolled some dice before writing this post, an even roll would mean this article and odd would mean the simulation thing.  So if you want to hear my simulation theory you’ll just have to hope I roll odd Tuesday night.