Samstag, 22. September 2018

Samstag, 15. September 2018

So I went to America for work

The following entry is gross, boring and shouldn't be read by anyone. I'll be talking about work, I'll bitch about airline travel and I'll talk about my dick, simply because I enjoy talking about my dick. You've been warned.

Depression means that the dumbest, most meaningless shit can make you so sad, you can literally cry about it like a baby. In my case, one such thing is having to pick up my toothbrush, taking it out of the cup it shares with Claire's toothbrush, and putting it in my bag for a journey to some far away place. These brushes belong together and they should not be separated, just like Claire and I shouldn't be separated. We're a pair of sad, pathetic little cunts, who do everything together. And I mean everything. We're not just like one of those annoying couples, where both parts have long given up on their individuality to become 'us'. You know the type. "We've been doing this over the weekend and then we've been doing that, because we so like to..." blah. We. Always we. Always us. Plural everything.

Claire and I have taken this to the next level. The first thing we do when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we do before we go to bed at night is each other. We shower together, brush teeth together, brushed each other's hair before we started shaving each other's heads together. Some mornings we stand and piss together. She's got a tool for that. You know, perfectly normal and healthy. Exchange loneliness and depression for crippling dependency.

We like to joke about how she's the man in our relationship. I don't mind. It's the 21st century.

Suffice to say I wasn't massively keen on having to go nearly 8,000km away. Company wanted to save some money (and wanted to provide at least one direct flight, they said), so they sent me via Heathrow Airport. So that's a 2 hour train journey from Nottingham to London, then another hour on the metro. Heathrow Airport is this giant, confusing techno-maze, which made me feel like I was exploring one of those SciFi spaceports in Phantasy Star. You walk around on these weird, giant conveyour belt things, there are little automatic trains taking people from one terminal to another, all with security scans and little tunnels and gates you travel through as though you were waiting for decompression. The whole place basically runs itself and doesn't depend on people at all.

I got my first mild panic attack when the self checkin machine didn't actually allow me to check in. Never had that problem before. Then again, I never had to travel to the US, either. One of the airline ladies checked me in on her computer and asked all sorts of questions. Where I'd be staying. Whether I was going there for business or pleasure. Whom they could contact in case of emergency or death. Wow, that's reassuring! Speaking of reassuring, I was on my way to a gaming convention in the US, just a few days after somebody shot and killed a few people at a similar event over there.

I was sent an instructional PDF 'in case of a live shooter' during the event. It said to run away in a zig-zag line, told me to hide in a utility closet and never behind a booth or a computer as they aren't bullet-proof and said not to hesitate to gravely injure or kill the shooter if fighting was my only option. "Use scissors, a chair or a playstation controller." I wish I was making this up, but I was going to an event, where part of the instructions told me to murder a guy using a playstation controller if they were shooting people.

Before getting my chance to get shot, however, I had to get on the plane. Before boarding even started, they called me into a little room on the side with a handful of other people. Had to take my shoes off, get my phone and all electronic decives out. They swabbed everything. Devices, the palms of my hands, my exposed waist of all things. Then I finally got on the plane for my 15 hour flight to Seattle. Gross, old 747. The front of my seat looked like somebody puked on it. The seat itself was coming apart. I had an aisle seat next to an elderly couple, who would ask me to get up every half hour because they couldn't hold their piss.

I looked for a power socket or a USB slot to charge my shit, but no such luck. For the duration of this flight I was limited to British Airways' in-flight 'entertainment' on the world's dullest, tiniest flickering low-contrast screen, which was covered in filth and dead pixels. I fired up Rampage with The Rock. I love the Rampage videogames. Even the shitty ones. There's not much of a story. Three people, I believe they might have been scientists or something, George, Ralph and Lizzie, use a weird serum to turn into a giant ape, wolf and lizard respectively, then they go and flatten entire cities on a mad... well, rampage. No idea how one would base a movie on this and neither did Rampage - the movie.

In the film, there's this albino gorilla named George, who gets mutated by some space virus and he gets all big and angry and there's also a mutated wolf and a mutated alligator or some shit, but The Rock is friends with George, so he talks him into killing the other two mutant creatures and some parts of a city get destroyed a bit. It really wasn't great. Then I watched Zootopia (or Zootropolis, depending on where you are), which was surprisingly fun, if a bit confusing. There was a gazelle pop star, who was simply named Gazelle. Assuming there are other gazelles in this universe, wouldn't that be like having a human singer named Human? What's the joke here? Was her name supposed to be similar to Adele? And if so, why the fuck was she voiced by Shakira? I'm so confused.
Anyhow, fun movie, fun slow-motion sloth jokes and the main character is surprisingly fit for a cartoon bunny.

I'm not a furry. I'm not a furry. I'm not a furry.
Also, food. The flight to Seattle and back cost thousands. Then they gave me the world's tiniest bag of depressing, dry pretzels. '10 grams' it read on the package. At least I got a thimble of room-temperature water with it. A feast for ants!
They served miniature snacks and drinks for the entire flight. A miniature breadroll with a stamp-sized piece of butter and an adorable little plastic knife to spread it with. A cute 200ml soda can. A tiny salad. A teeny-tiny little cup of orange-flavoured chocolate mush. A Magnum mini. How the fuck does that even make sense? Magnum literally means BIG! And they serve a miniature version of it! May as well just call it a Medium.

I had been up since 5 in the morning and had next to no sleep the night before, because hey, you're about to leave the continent, you'll be stuck in a plane for 15 hours and you might get shot over there, now try and get some sleep, fucko! On the plane, though? Yeah, forget it. Again, the old farts on the seat next to me had me getting up at least twice every hour. It's such a weird thing about flying. The moment the plane is in the air and the seatbelt signs turn off, you always see a bunch of people jump out of their seats, they walk around, talk to people and get stuff out of their luggage.

They will also frequently walk and bump into you when you sit by the aisle. No sleep for me. So I watched Blockers with John Cena. I genuinely cannot remember the last time I've watched such a terrible movie. A bunch of paranoid helicopter parents are trying to stop their daughters from having sex at prom night. A good ten minutes of the tilm is John Cena with a funnel up his ass, butt-chugging hard liquor in order to convince a bunch of teenagers that he should be at a party. Had anybody decided to hijack this plane to crash it somewhere, I probably would have been okay with it.

When I finally got off the plane, I sent a message to Claire to let her know I was okay. I put 30 Quid of credit on the phone earlier that month, went to Gamescom in Cologne, kept on using the phone over there and still came home with over 20 Quid left. After I sent that one message to Claire from the US, my credit was gone and I was greeted by a text from AT&T. Over 7 Pounds for 1 MB of data usage, all my life savings for a phone call, over 2 Quid a minute just to receive a call! I never should have sent that message!

I hopped on a train that took me to Belltown, where my hotel was located. Another 50 minute ride, surrounded by sports fans. The train made a stop at the local stadium, apparently the Sonics were playing and I'm not gonna pretend I understand sports or what they were playing, exactly, but people were super excited. And looking through the window, I felt like I was on a different planet.
First of all, the suburbian areas are shitty. Crappy, wooden little houses, crappy little stores, the place looked like the area where I had my first little house on GTA Online. Heck, all of the houses looked like my first little house on GTA Online. But the cars! Damn! Every single car was either a giant flatbed truck or a Prius. People in the states are either proud to drive around in an oversized monster or in shitty little hybrids and nothing in between. Also, the landscape. Wow. Lots and lots of forest, everywhere. I saw a giant, snow-covered mountaintop in the distance.

Mt. Isuckatgeography
And then I arrived in downtown Seattle. I felt like I was in a movie or something. It's hard to explain.
See, I've been all over Europe. And in this day and age, it really doesn't matter where in Europe you are - some historical landmarks and a bit of landscape aside, it's all the same. People dress the same everywhere, people drink Coke and go to Starbucks and McDonald's everywhere, there's a Subway in every corner, for some reason H&M stores are still a thing - European cities are the most boring thing on the planet.
Now, of course you get these same shops, people, folks blabbing and staring into their phones and all that sort of thing in the US, too. But everything is so much bigger, so much more intimidating and so over the top!

Definitely not Europe.
Everything is more extreme. The traffic. The skyscrapers. The people. Poverty. This one is a bit tricky to explain. You know how in Nottingham (or, again, any major city in Europe) you get the occasional beggar here and there, somebody asking for some change or selling you one of those homeless magazines, right? And there are some dark corners in Nottingham, which smell a little bit like weewee and in most cases this totally isn't my fault.

Seattle has legions of homeless people. Folks pushing around their belongings in little shopping trolleys. People sleeping on the pavement. I saw a guy, who rinsed out a syringe over a public drinking fountain. One guy threw away his shoes, then his socks, then dropped his pants and finally decided to walk around in nothing but his shirt as he walked in front of me. And the stench of piss everywhere is so intense and overwhelming, you can taste it in the air.
There are pools and puddles everywhere, the stuff is running down the gutter everywhere, it's an absolute mess and people just step over and around it and maneuver around the countless hobos, because what else are you gonna do?
I was shocked to hear that Seattle is actually known for its clean air, because even outside of the places that smell like piss, the whole city just smells of traffic. Pollution. It's always busy, there are infinite cars driving everywhere, the windows at the hotel didn't even open, which was probably for the best.

Seattle is terrifying, smelly, full of hobos. It's also quite beautiful.
Also, steaming sewer grates. I've only ever seen those in movies. They're all steamy over there. I'm not really sure why. I mean, it was 20 degrees centigrade over there and all the sewer lids steamed for some reason.

I was tired. No sleep on the plane, next to no sleep the night before, it was way past bedtime in the UK, but it was only 7pm in Seattle and I had to check out our booth for the convention. It was a damn awesome booth, though. Looked like a tavern. Wooden decoration, little tavern sign, tavern counters with candles and stuff. Wooden benches in front of the computers. Good stuff!

Coziest booth all around PAX West!
Then we met with our volunteers, who were going to help us run the show. They were all Kickstarter supporters, most of which I had known through our forums and social media. The most energetic and awesome bunch of people I had met in a long time. I felt old. I just wanted to sleep.

My hotel room was surprisingly nice. Little kitchen corner with a microwave, sink and fridge. Bathroom with a tub. A ridiculously large TV screen. Alas, the fridge was empty and the hotel had no bar, but I was too tired to feel overly hungry, anyway. Wanted to drink some tap water, because that's what people in the UK do. Smelled the water that comes out of taps in Seattle. Decided to go thirsty for the night.

American TV is the worst. Generally, they watch the exact same stuff you see everywhere in Europe. Simpsons marathons. Back to back episodes of The Big Bang Theory, That 70s Show, Married with Children, you get the idea. BUT. Commercial breaks literally every five minutes. Americans manage to spread a single 23 minute episode of The Simpsons across an entire hour, where every gag is punctuated by some tv ad for life insurance or diet pills.
"No lifestyle changes needed! Eat normally and lose up to 4 times more weight! Call now!" And then the narrator repeated the phone number five goddamn times, getting a little more demanding each time. I was actively reducing my brain size. This was pointless. Time to go to sleep.

I woke up at 3am. I was stupidly exhausted, but I couldn't sleep anymore. It was time to wake up over in the UK, so I used the free hotel WiFi to spam Claire for a bit. Then it was convention time. What a nightmare!
I was there to talk to the press. I had a bunch of savegames, no script, no notes, nothing to prepare me. I watched our Creative Director demonstrate the game to some people of the press during Gamescom. Exactly once! And that was a fortnight ago!

I went through the save files, made mental notes, tried to come up with a plan on what to show off and what to say over the course of 20 minutes. The first press team showed up, some lady with a microphone and a guy with a camera. Asked me to talk a little bit about the game while I show it off. I loaded up a savegame, walked around the place with my characters, tried to explain what's going on and rambled a lot. Camera pointed at me the entire time, PR guy from our publisher making notes. I couldn't have felt any more watched and exposed if I had been naked.

I had no idea wtf I was saying. I was nervous. The press guys noticed and were super nice about it, fortunately. "Exploration is... um, yeah, it's a pretty big deal. It's one of the three pillars of... er... it's actually in our motto. Fight, explore, conquer. Wait. Explore, rule, fight? Uh... Fight, rule, explore?" It's our fucking motto. It's in every trailer. I fucking wrote it. I wrote or at least edited all the text in all of our fucking trailers. It's on our damn website. Explore, Conquer, Rule, for fuck's sake! I couldn't remember it to save my life.

PR guy pointed out the parts where I might have rambled on for a bit too long or where I didn't get our slogan right, because yeah, thanks, I totally didn't notice! He was only doing his job, but all it did at the time was make me more aware of how badly I fucked up. Another press meeting, then another, both without cameras, and I finally started to get the hang of things. After the third meeting, I knew exactly what to say, which parts of the game to show, how to explain them, which jokes were likely to land and which of them alienated people.

'I can choose to just draw my weapons and murder all of these guys, because as a German, that's kind of our thing.' Big laughs. Telling the IGN guy that you can create custom party members if you wish, but, like me, they came without a personality, only resulted in awkward silence. A few hours in, PR guy told me I had absolutely nailed it, press seemed happy and impressed with our game and my presentation and I had the timing down to a tee, as well. See, the nice thing about self-loathing, being your own worst critic and being unable to forget about every failed social interaction for the rest of your life is that it's fairly easy to avoid repeating dumb mistakes and saying the same stupid shit over and over again by accident. You remember what works and what doesn't and you just go with that.

Bought two sandwiches and two cans of Coke on the way home. 20 Dollars. The sandwiches were terrible, 'blood orange' diet coke is the devil's piss, but the ginger & lime flavoured one was actually really nice. I'd totally drink this over here in the UK if they had it.

The cans were almost frozen for some reason.
Here's a weird thing about cold drinks in the US - they're cold! Like seriously, almost too cold to touch levels of cold! Not only that, but when I put some of my drinks in the little fridge in my room and took them out the next day, they were literally frozen.
Watched some more TV and went to sleep, because everybody I knew back home was fast asleep. Time zones suck. I woke up at 3am.

I absolutely rocked the next day at the con. I knew people always loved it when I mentioned the part, where in character creation you can choose whether you want your character to be left or right-handed, which was a purely cosmetic choice to add a bit of personality. I knew people liked the encyclopedia and how we give players all the lore and gameplay details instead of forcing them to look shit up on a wiki. I knew how much content to show in each segment of the game before moving on to a different area. I knew how to end precisely after 20 minutes without needing any pointers or timers. My boss said he hired me presicely because I'm so painfully aware of my flaws and imperfections. I don't know how the fuck this could possibly be a good thing, but in that case, it helped me from giving out terrible, awkward interviews to showing off perfect presentations just like that. I'm socially akward, but, in a way, I guess I'm also some kind of idiot savant. I'm a fast learner. Dunno if the boss is just great at reading people or whether this is total coincidence. Best not to overthink it.

We all met at a seafood restaurant after the con. On the way there I got ripped off by two black gentlemen. One of them handed me a CD, the other one asked my name, so he could sign it for me. Didn't wait for me to say anything, just smeared some squiggly lines on it, then they asked me for a 'donation'. All I had was a $20 bill and these guys didn't look like they were just letting me walk away. They told me not to worry, saying they had 'change'. Of course they just took the 20, gave me another CD on top of the first one and then I was on my way to a restaurant with the last of my money gone.

The seafood place was way too fancy for me. I ordered a coke and received a glass of ice. The bottom of the glass was tinted brownish, if ever so slightly. There was a straw in it. Yep. Ice-cold water with a hint of cola flavour in it. Whenever the waiter noticed I drank from the glass, he'd materialize out of thin air with a fresh glass to replace my current one. I probably must have 'ordered' a dozen Cokes that night. I silently prayed for the company to pay for this, because Claire was gonna kill me otherwise.

I finally had a chance to chat with the volunteers a bit. There was William, who was in the army and constantly arguing with his wife, because military life can fuck up any relationship. There was other William, who kept on practicing his dance moves every chance he got during the con. He threatened to destroy some 7 year old kid, who danced in front of him. That kid was one hell of a dancer! There was Robert, who didn't look or sound a day over 14. Turns out he's 32 and nobody believed him. Nobody believed I was 36, either, but that's because they all thought I was at least ten years older aaaand my day was ruined. Apparently, Robert's wife Jorja hosted a sick game of Harry Potter. Multi-talented Rico kept the computers and all our hardware running, because he's just good at everything. And then there was Tim, whom I've known for a while through our Kickstarter and social media. He ordered a cheesecake, which was the size of a booger. I said it was adorable. He didn't quite know how to take it.
All the food at the seafood place was adorable. Tiny portions on huge plates. Posh food is weird.

Woke up at 3am the next morning. I woke up so hard, it was actually painful. Yes, I'm talking about my dick. This is the part where you stop reading and move on with your life, if that sort of thing offends you.
Claire and I are fairly, ahem, active. Once per day is the absolute minimum, two to three times is fairly normal. There's also the fact that I work at home, where pants are optional and I can look at whatever I want on the internet. I'm used to a certain amount of action. And now it had been several days without. Now, common sense says go jerk it. This isn't usually a big deal to me. I'm talking about it right here and now, I'm German, I'll let you watch if you ask me. Just ask Claire's family - they've all seen my dick at some point or another, whether they want to or not. But I'll get to that.

Things are juuuuuuuust a bit different when I'm in a hotel, though. I respect the cleaning ladies. They get paid absolutely shitty wages, they get to clean up after my lazy ass, they get to deal with some disgusting and often literal shit and I don't want to make their lives any more complicated. Also, have you ever seen one of those things on tv where they go into a hotel room with a blacklight and show off all those nasty stains? They know. They knoooooow! I don't wanna bump into one of those ladies in the corridor the next day, they say hello, but what they really mean is, "Hey, you're that sick, pathetic fuck who jerked all over room 407!"

There was also the mildly traumatizing experience I had in my hotel room in Cologne a few weeks prior. The bathroom I had over there was black. Black granite floor and counters, a black floor in the shower for some reason. Not white or beige or some shit. It was pitch black. It was also the nicest, most luxurious shower I had in years. My shower here at home just dribbles, but that shower in Cologne had some real pressure. It had a freaking massage setting! It also went really, seriously hot and I absolutely love my hot showers!
Thing is, if you get off in the hot shower, that baby gravy turns solid. On a black floor. It looked like somebody had cooked an egg in there. Well. Egg white. And that shit doesn't come off! I kneeled inside that shower for half an hour, rinsed it, scrubbed it with tissue, tried to get rid of the damn stains. They know. They come to clean your room every day and they know. They don't leave a note, you don't walk past reception and they'll ask you to please stop jerking it in the shower. But they know.

So I sat there in my room in Seattle. Hard enough to fuck a hole in the wall. Tried to ignore it. But you know what it's like. You look around the place. Can't just do it on the bed, because you might make a mess. Other people sleep in there. Look, there's no way countless people haven't fucked, wanked and done other gross shit on that very same bed before me. Doesn't make it any less yucky if I do it. Maybe just do it on the desk and then wipe it up. That's probably worse than the bed. Shower? Yeah... not taking that risk again! Toilet is always an option, but after several days without... look, I don't know about other guys, but I'll overshoot. So you just sit and ignore it try to forget about it.

Con was okay. Had a press team from China. I explained the game to them, they were full of questions. I bowed to them at the end of the interview, because I'm an idiot. They bowed back at me. I'm not sure who was culturally appropriating who here. Spent a lot of time just meeting fans, backers and streamers that day. Bunch of army veterans, who used games as a method of escaping the harsh reality of life. One of them had a prosthetic arm and a black glass eye. They all looked so badass! Nicest people I've ever met, all of them incredibly enthusiastic about the game. I always used games as a method of escapism, because life is shit and I hate myself. These guys? Damn! At least they had a reason to escape for a few hours each day. I felt like shit about myself.

A 55 year old lady named Illona approached me, saying her name's Illona and she's 55 years old. She told me she streams games on Twitch, talks about her life and crochets blankets and caps and sweaters for her viewers life on stream. She gave me a long, big hug. I wanted her to adopt me so, so bad.
One lady jokingly ordered a drink from me, because my spot at the booth was quite literally at a counter and I looked like the tavern keep of our cozy little place. So I played along and served her. Conventions are hot and sweaty work and it's impotant to stay hydrated. We had a fridge full of more than the lot of us could possibly hope to drink, so I didn't mind sharing.

This probably sounds stupid, but for as paranoid and terrified as I was of the entire event, it was super important for me to do. I'm extremely uncomfortable around people. I don't know what to say or where to look. I don't leave the house unless I absolutely have to. For the past ten years I have only worked for and with people over the internet, none of which have ever seen my face, let alone met me in person.
But meeting so many fans, supporters and just curious gamers and roleplayers in general was highly therapeutic. People fed me. This is a weird thing some people do. I'm not sure why. At both conventions, folks would just randomly show up with snacks and treats and hand-feed them to me like I'm some kind of animal. That's been a thing since my school days.

Building confidence is a good thing. Well. It does things, which are mostly good, some bad, some ugly. It's probably bad when you go to a convention restroom and show off. I wasn't waving it in people's faces or anything. But when you use a public urinal, you kinda just huddle around yourself, you wrap yourself up, you try and create as much space and as much privacy between yourself and everyone else as possible. Me, I was still stupidly hard and way past caring at that point. I didn't hide it, didn't cover it, didn't care about anyone looking. It's fascinating how much more satisfied you can be with your own dick when you don't completely hate yourself for a few moments.

Things went from bad to ugly when I woke up at 3am the next morning. Chatted with Claire. Aaand you know. You talk about certain things. What you wanna do when you get back, because it's been nearly a week now. When I got back home from Gamescom, we didn't even go inside. We went to the park and fucked for an hour. In the grass. Because apparently that's somehow more comfy than our bed or something. I don't know. Not everything we do makes sense.
It doesn't matter. We talked back and forth for a while. We both used messenger on our phones, which means there was enough privacy. At some point Claire told me that her sister was coming to our place to spend some time with her while I'm gone. But, you know, it was still early in the UK, Claire probably wasn't leaving work for some time, then she went quiet for a moment, so what the hell. I sent her a picture. Like we used to before we moved in together. I've been maintaining this boner for the past day or two, may as well show it off. By the time the picture popped up on Claire's messenger, she was at home, in front of her computer. With her sister. Hi!

Final day at PAX was fun. Had an actual cop check out our game. Full uniform and everything. I chewed his ear off about how awesome US cop uniforms are. Black uniform, shiny badge, gun, they looked so much more badass than our guys in the UK and infinitely cooler than German cops.

It was funny listening to him gushing just as hard over how much he was in love with our game and how crazy he is about Pathfinder and how he couldn't wait for release. I also had a bit of time to look at some of the other booths. Larian's Swen Vincke came to check out our game and I'm still kicking myself for missing my chance to take a picture with him, but I was in the middle of an interview. I went and checked out Sega's booth for Sonic Team Racing, which was the most pathetic thing I've seen over there. Not the game, mind, but Sega's half-assed attempt at showing the game.

A middle-aged guy half-hearteldy commented on some live-gameplay, while his colleagues were constantly trolling him. None of them wanted to be there, nobody was enjoying any of it, and while the game looked interesting enough (I'm seriously considering picking it up for the Switch), the entire show was one big cringefest.
I was at the Finji booth, because Night in the Woods, but they just sold a bit of merch for that game and mostly showed off other titles I wasn't massively interested in. Brawlhalla was there, but I'm still salty over how they joined up with Ubisoft.

The worst part of the con was really having to pack it all up. Unplug everything, put all the computers, monitors and peripherals back in their respective boxes and pair them up with their cables, don't get murdered by random forklifts, try not to fall asleep on your feet after several days of hard labour at a convention. We all got to keep some of the stuff we used over there, so I came home with shirts, mouse mats, an RGB keyboard, a headset and a bunch of other goodies. Like this wolfy hat here:

Still not a furry.

And since I'm slightly less terrified of people now, I also took the opportunity to talk to one of my oldest friends when I got back to the hotel. Only via voice chat, mind, but still, it's a pretty big step for me.

Robyn is an aspie, so she knows all about social awkwardness. I've known her for over a decade, but we rarely talk (in text), because she's probably the smartest person I know and frankly, she terrifies me a little. She knows more about most things than I do and she won't hesitate to let me know when I'm ignorant and being a complete moron. She's not rude or anything, mind, but I'm simply not used to situations, where having approximate knowledge about a great many things isn't enough to carry me through a conversation. She knows her shit, I don't, so I feel like an idiot and she'll rub it in. Again, not because she takes any pleasure in it or because she's being mean. It's just something that happens. You kinda need to be there, I guess.
We have each other on Skype and on Discord and I figured it's my first time in the States and I've been talking to countless strange Americans these past few days, so I may as well have the guts to say hi to her. And then we went on voice chat for a while, so that was fun. This probably sounds weird and like it's no big deal at all to anyone reading this, but to me it's actually quite a big step in the right direction. We talked all night. Didn't sleep, had to be up at 5am anyway.

There's also the fact that we kind of tripped upon each other's Xtube accounts many, many years ago. Unintentionally, without ever mentioning them to each other, but then I tripped over her profile, reckognized the way she wrote, sent her a message aaaaand that was most certainly the weirdest thing that ever happened between me and any of my friends. Or have you ever randomly recognized somebody on an amateur porn site? So we're friends, we're all a bit awkward and we've all seen each other naked on the internet. Hurray!
That was all a decade ago by now and these accounts have long been closed, since. Tell you what, though - when you're depressed, showing off on the internet might just be the best thing you'll ever do. I'm not even kidding. When you can't stand yourself and life is shit, it can be incredibly nice when a bunch of random strangers look at your dick and give it a 5/5.

My trip back was the worst journey I ever had.
I bookmarked maps of the airport and looked up my flight on the internet, so I knew exactly where to go. Made sure I'd get there three hours before departure, just to be absolutely sure. I fully expected the TSA security checks to be an absolute nightmare. I read the horror storries about the full-body scans, random checks and searches and other such fun stuff. And hey, whilst queueing up to go through all of that shit, they had a bunch of dogs there, who were trained to sniff out explosives. Uniforms, doggos in fancy police vests, people shouting orders. Stand here, look there, don't pet the doggo. Airline travel, bootcamp style.

Surprisingly enough, after the doggo check I was just asked to empty my pockets and put all my crap into my backpack, shove the backpack through the scanner and that was it. No full body scans, no gloves, no nothing. Complete joke compared to the security stuff they do in Frankfurt or London, but heyho, fine by me!
My first flight for the day would take just under five hours and went to Dallas. Somebody on the plane offered me their window seat. It was a small plane with less than 100 passengers. They showed only one film - I Feel Pretty. It was okay. Some fat chick hates herself, then falls on her head, wakes up thinking she's thin, gets super confident, then her life changes for the better because if it. She hits her head again, stops seeing herself as thin, loses her confidence, life turns to shit again. Until she realizes she was always fat and the only thing that changed was her personality and blah, Hollywood happy ending, whatever. It was funny enough, if a bit cowardly. When she knows she's fat, she constantly refers to herself as "ugly". Other characters call her "brave" for taking part in a strip show. They're not using the word 'fat' a single time during the entire film. When she wakes up thinking she's "beautiful", she looks at her ams and legs, comments on her jaw line, she clearly believes she's slim, but god forbid if she actually ever said it out loud and potentially offended any fat people.

Flight was a bit late, barely made it to my connective flight to London. Airport toilet. Still hard. I need to stop being so proud of it before it turns into some kind of fetish. This flight was the absolute worst.
The good news is how the seats, tables, remotes, everything was actually in one piece and operational and not completely messy and falling apart. That's where the good news end. There was a fat guy to my left, who completely occupied the arm rest. Alright, fair enough. His arm touched my arm, his leg touched my leg, this is how it was going to be for the next ten hours. There was an elderly couple to my right, because of course there was. The lady in front of me was extremely tired and pushed the back rest of her seat so far back, she was basically sleeping in my lap the entire time. She gave me a big thumbs up. I smiled at her and wished she was dead.

Once again, no sleep. Touch the fat guy. Be touched by the fat guy. Tiny pretzels. Pissy old couple. Person behind me violently throwing up the moment he plane left the ground. Left an impressive amount of vomit in some plastic bag. Flight attendants kept bringing new bags. They flooded the airplane with some weird lemon-scented stuff to make sure not everyone else on the plane would start getting sick from the stench of puke.
Watched Solo, which was surprisingly tolerable. It's funny how the prequels and The Force Awakens changed my attitude and expectations towards Star Wars. I used to be hyped for this stuff. Now I'm satisfied... well, relieved, really, when a new film isn't complete garbage.

I watched some Blackadder and Fawlty Towers, then Family Guy, then ran out of episodes and had to watch The Big Bang Theory. I still don't get it. Mark Hamill was there. Teller. Will Wheaton. But it just wasn't funny. At all. Yes, they use Skype and reference comics and movies and videogames, but is that reason enough for people to watch this stuff? Hey look, people on this show pretend to know and like shit we care about, we can totally relate! I *like* all their guest actors. I like D&D, WoW and lots of the other stuff they're referencing on there. I just don't like the show.

Turbulences. I rarely ever fly. I have no clue which amount of turbulence is normal and when you've reached "okay, this is bad, we may not make it back in once piece". But this felt like an old episode of Star Trek. Everything was shaking, people bouncing back and forth in their seats. For some inexplicable reason I wanted to watch Airplane! with Leslie Nielsen. That was actually the first thing we did when I finally got home. Watched a movie. Ultimately, we settled for The Terminal with Tom Hanks, but it still seemed appropriate.
Heathrow at last. Couldn't use my phone, because no credit. Couldn't top op my credit, because both their website and their top-up service refused the credit card, without telling me why. One hour metro trip to St. Pancreas. McDonald's. Burgers were no longer called quarter-pounders and nobody knew what a McRib was. Had to kill 3 hours, because the stupid trainline website requires you to book tickets for a specific time, not just a day. Had to give myself plenty of extra time in case the flight would be delayed. It wasn't.

I had been up for 30 hours by the time I got on the train back to Nottingham. I looked and smelled like garbage. Couldn't keep my eyes open. Probably drooled all over myself, too. All the seats in the train were reserved, including my own. The lady on the seat opposite to mine waited until the train started to move, then quickly fled to some other empty seat. Couldn't stand to be near me. Probably thought I was drunk or high or some shit. Can't say I blame her.
My phone was getting absolutely hammered by messages from work. "Hey, can you prepare a Kickstarter update about this? Can you please check our new Steam newspost and add a picture of that?"
You see, I'm not just the community manager. I take care of most of our social media, help with all sorts of English text for the shop, trailers, achievements and the like. And I'm literally the *only* person to read and respond to our customer support emails. Nobody looked into that while I was in Cologne and Seattle. So here is what I came home to:

It showed 1964 when I started my day. Making progress here!
A month ago this would have made me so paranoid, it probably would have resulted in another trip to the hospital. Stress does that to me. This no longer freaks me out. I'm used to much worse. Our game releases ten days from now. There will be many more emails then. Literally thousands. More than I could ever hope to read and respond to. We'll figure something out. It'll be okay. They know I'm doing an okay job now. And most importantly, I know that I'm doing an okay job. I'm no longer terrified of people. I'm no longer terrified of talking to one of my oldest friends. I still hate flying, though. I really hope they won't send me anywhere else for a while. It's good to be home.

Dienstag, 14. August 2018

The Worst, Best Monster Hunter

Monster Hunter: World is finally out on PC, it's breaking a bunch of sales records, it's Capcom's best-selling title and, judging by the 47% positive user reviews, it's also a bit shit, apparently.

I'm a bit pissed off about the whole thing. At Capcom, for some of the stupid shit they've done to Monster Hunter, sure, but also at professional reviewers out there for not mentioning some major problems with the game, particularly its borderline-useless multiplayer mode.
So WTF am I talking about?

If you look at previous titles of the series, such as Monster Hunter: Generations for the 3DS, all things single- and multiplayer were separated in a fairly obvious, straightforward manner. You had your singleplayer quest hubs, where you'd chat with NPCs, pick up quests and finish stuff solo at your own pace. And you had a separate multiplayer staging area, where you'd meet with your friends, pick quests for up to 4 people and finish them in jolly cooperation. So far, so simple.

Obligatory screenshot, so I won't lose your attention by using too much text.
Meanwhile, Monster Hunter: World just puts you in an open online session with a bunch of random people after the first hour or so of gameplay. If you're like me and you don't enjoy the presence of people like xXx_cUnTWreKKer_420 in your games, you'll likely switch to a private session.
The nice thing about private sessions is how the hubs are now filled with generic hunter NPCs for flavour, without completely ruining the immersion. No unwanted players, anywhere. Shit gets tricky, however, if you actually want a friend to join your session. There's a "join friend session" option in the game's online menu. Problem is, you can't actually join private sessions that way, because that would be convenient and user-friendly. Instead, the player hosting the private session has to look up his 12 digit session ID and forward it to their potential co-op buddies, so they can join up by typing in said ID. Case-sensitive. For each and everytime you want to play together.

Once that's done, the host gets to select a quest, open it up to 1-4 players and post it for everyone in the lobby to see and join. That is, unless the quest contains some sort of cutscene. In this case, it doesn't matter what player count you set the mission to - your friends simply won't be able to join at all and instead see an error message, telling them you haven't progressed through the story enough. Only after the host has watched and finished every cutscene inside a mission can other players join up. Alternatively, the host can watch said cutscenes, cancel the mission, then restart it, so everyone can join it together from the start. Either way - if your mission contains previously unwatched cutscenes, then you won't be able to invite other players.

And what beautiful cutscenes they are!
To make things even more fun, quest completion always counts exclusively for the host and nobody else. Granted, this has always been the case with the series, but if you want to play 4 player co-op in Monster Hunter: World, it basically means that 3 players will always stay behind in town and engage in a circle-jerk whilst waiting for the host to finish all cutscenes. Then they finally get to complete the mission together, swap hosts and repeat the whole process three more times. Great!

Professional critics see no problem here.

At the time I'm writing this, the PC version of Monster Hunter sits at a metascore of 90. I have seen exactly one review so far, which at least bothers to mention the game's absolutely ass-backwards, super-complicated, ridiculously stupid multiplayer (thanks, Gamespot!), barely referring to it as more than a minor inconvenience, which is awkward, but far from game-breaking. I mean, sure, the newest game in a series, which has been all about 4 player co-op for years now, certainly isn't held back by the fact its multiplayer mode is broken because of cutscenes.
To be fair, a certain amount of outrage also stems from the fact that multiplayer is simply unstable right now. Some people can't connect to each other at all, others get dropped out of sessions mid-play and can't re-join, while others get constant pop-ups across Steam, informing everyone on their friends list that they're now on Monster Hunter: World every five or so seconds without exaggeration. Which is exactly what happened to me. This isn't exactly something you'll notice when working with an early review version of the game, but it would still be nice if reviews were updated accordingly, once the fact becomes widely-known.

And then there are the game's visuals. Some people are upset about the lack of an FOV-slider or how you can't deactivate bloom, motion blur or depth of field, which doesn't massively bother me, personally, but it does seem odd not to include settings for this in the PC version. A much more annoying problem lies within the game's low texture quality. Reviewers out there can't praise the game enough for its absolutely stunning visuals, yet none of them acknoledge the fact that a large amount of textures are so muddy and pixellated, they look like something out of a PlayStation2 game.

Many of the armor textures are a complete joke.
According to the forums, many people believe this is some sort of bug, which causes the game to load only low-quality textures regardless of your settings in the options menu. But when you look at the puny download size of 17GB for a game of this sheer size, it becomes obvious that they never included a lot of high resolution textures to begin with. But hey, who needs detailed armor textures in a game, which revolves entirely around killing giant monsters and turning their skin and bones into armor, right?
You spend hours farming the bits and pieces of each armor set and then YOU OGLE THE FUCK OUT OF IT! You can pose, create a guild card for your character in their favourite armor and send it to your friends, this whole thing is such a big and important apsect of the game and NO ONE thought it would be a good idea to mention that armors in the PC version look like shit!

I'm pissed off. I'm pissed off at reviews, which don't care, which don't mention these problems, which clearly never even looked at the PC port for more than a few moments and called it a day, just warming up whatever they said about the PS4 release a few months prior. I used to consider professional reviews some sort of guideline, something to help me decide whether or not to buy a game. Well, they fucked up on this one. If multiplayer and the appearance of gear are shit in a game, which is all about the multiplayer and the appearance of your gear and you fail to mention it, then you're not doing your fucking job, lads.

At least the cutscenes look cool.
Monster Hunter: World isn't terrible. For better and for worse, it's a spectacle. Until now, Monster Hunter never needed much of a story. Every hunt was its own story. Stalking and outsmarting your prey, a fight to the death, using every trick and tool at your disposal and often barely coming back alive. It was all about the gameplay. Meanwhile, Monster Hunter: World has my character perform all sorts of incredible, superhuman feats in cutscenes, where I as a player get to do nothing at all. My least favourite mission so far is a "fight" against an elder dragon, where I get to load and shoot a few cannons in a fully-scripted sequence, which doesn't even matter. You can shoot the dragon a few times or you can just sit there and wait it out. After a few moments, the mission automatically moves on to the next scripted segment, where you attack some burning rocks. That's literally all you do. More cutscenes, watch some characters do some absolutely epic stuff, get your reward, move on to the next mission. It looks spectacular, but it isn't Monster Hunter and I feel absolutely nothing when I watch this stuff.

The sense of reward comes from taking down an enormous monster, barely scraping by, running out of potions and resources and finally taking it out in one last all or nothing showdown. If you make me punch a rock and then play five minutes of cutscenes, which show my character dodging falling rocks with superhuman reflexes, shooting a dragon's eye out and doing all sorts of other crazy shit, I just feel like you're trying too hard to suck my cock. Stop telling me how awesome I am when I haven't even done anything! That's hollow, it's boring and at this rate I may as well just watch a movie. If there's no player input required, then I'm not attached to the action, I don't care about what happens, it doesn't feel like I'm the one doing any of the cool stuff. It's all scripted.

At least I'm sexy!
At this point you're probably wondering why I'm also referring to World as "the best" Monster Hunter in the headline. That's because, despite the game's countless problems and flaws, it also does a few things extremely well - and much better than any previous game in the series. First of all, it adds some much-needed comfort and user-friendliness. You no longer need to bring eleventeen billion gathering tools. You see ore, you just fucking mine it. No more need to constantly restock pickaxes, bug nets, fishing rods and all that shit. Your weapon gets dull? There's a sharpening stone in your inventory, which never runs out. Most forms of gathering are also much faster now and you even get to automatically craft shit on the go. Got a bunch of potions in your bag and you pick up some honey? BOOM! Instant megapotion without having to go through a crafting menu first!
No more load screens between map segments! No more monsters camping the fucking transition between two maps, constantly smashing you from one load screen to the next! I've pre-ordered the Switch version of Monster Hunter: Generations, but it'll be extremely difficult to go back to this game, now that I'm used to all the improvements and quality of life features added in World.

And then there are the monsters, themselves. Holy fuck! Never before has there been such a sense of dread, such a feeling of danger, progression and ultimately triumph in the series before. You see, the game starts off with you fighting a bunch of harmless, small critters, which barely fight back and tend to run away from you the moment they see you kill one or two of their own. Then you get to take down their leader, a much bigger, beefier version of what you hunted before, but still perfectly manageable.
And that's when a giant fucking T-Rex looking asshole with feathers and an instakill flame attack stomps out of the bushes, roars at you and the entire world ends!

I may have pooped a little.
This guy is death incarnate and the game lets you know! Every other creature you've encountered up to this point is running away. They'll stampede towards you, completely ignore you, desperately trying to get away from that apex predator, which is chasing them. That "boss" monster you were hunting down? Yeah, the T-Rex looking guy pounces it, closes his jaws around its neck, then smashes it around a bit like a helpless little toy. Some monster you've spent the past 15 minutes fighting, barely making a dent, is getting absolutely dismantled in seconds right before your eyes, by something so much bigger, stronger, deadlier. You won't even consider fighting, you'll be running for your life!

You'll run out of breath, because your stamina bar is an asshole. You may try to hide behind a solid rock, which immediately gets shattered by the monster's mighty tail whip. Hide behind a tree and the monster will burn it to cinders in seconds. He means business and you're utterly, utterly fucked. Monster Hunter: World doesn't need a cutscene for this. It doesn't require any scripted bullshit. Bigger predators hunt and destroy smaller creatures, they destroy what you assumed was a safe hiding spot and they will absolutely destroy you if you get in their way.

And suddenly that first monster you fought is starting to feel like a bit of a joke.
Bigger, stronger monsters don't just pop up and look deadly because of some life bar or a higher level or some shit. That's not a thing in this series. They stomp into the scene when you least expect it, they're deadly and the game absolutely hammers it home through shock and awe.

It's hard to describe the sense of satisfaction when you slowly improve your gear and your skills as a player, get a hang of how monster hunting works, until you finally feel brave and strong enough to take on such a monster and hold your own in a fight against it. It's even harder to describe my feelings when this flying dragon-looking asshole suddenly appeared out of nowhere, grabbed T-Rex looking guy in its talons and started to fly off with him when I had finally almost killed the fucker!

Injured monsters retreat. They'll return to their lairs to sleep and regenerate health if you let them get away. They'll hide in thick, sticky mud to gain an unfair advantage if you chase them down. They'll burrow through the map, seemingly disappearing only to pounce on you when you don't expect it. They did all of that stuff in the older games, but never before has it looked so good, never was it so impressive, so believable and so fucking immersive. Teaming up with a bunch of friends to break their teeth, cut off their tails and turn these critters into a fancy new coat by smashing them up with comically-oversized swords, hammers and a gazillion other weapons is immensely satisfying when you can actually get a multiplayer session going.

It really doesn't need all those flashy cutscenes.
There's no doubt that Monster Hunter: World has the most spectacular battles, the most incredible monster presentation. There is absolutely nothing like it and it's an incredible sight to behold! This is where the game shines, it's where it clearly stands out above all of its predecessors. Which only makes it more baffling that it was released it in a state, where a simple cutscene can prevent people from enjoying it together.

Claire and I are playing the game together, same mission at the same time, both of us in singleplayer. It's utterly ridiculous. This is not what we bought the game for. Just let us play together, already! And for the love of my eyes, Capcom, please give us a high resolution texture pack! It's 2018, we've got terabytes upon terabytes of disk space and you're cramming this gargantuan game with this massive world and countless deadly monsters into a 17GB download. What the fuck.

Sonntag, 29. Juli 2018

Titan Quest on Switch is broken

UPDATE: I wrote the entry below after I had spent some 5-10 hours playing an early version of Titan Quest on Switch. Everything seemed great, some stability issues aside. Unfortunately, having spent a day with the release version, my opinion has drastically changed and all I can say is - DO NOT BUY THIS UNTIL IT'S FIXED!

I can live with the frequent crashes. I can even live with the fact that the game chugs along at 15-20 FPS in multiplayer, takes forever to load textures, doubles its load times and crashes at least twice as often. What I absolutely cannot forgive in a game of this kind is when it CONSTANTLY DELETES MY ITEMS! I can play the game and literally watch as a helmet, a pair of gloves or a weapon vanishes into thin air. Equipped items disappear from my character. Items also disappear from the stash in town.

This happened once, twice, seemed like a rare occurence, now I can't play for five minutes without shit disappearing. On top of that, this problem has been present and known about on other platforms for months, yet they released it anyway. 35 Quid for the broken re-release of a 12 year old game, which doesn't contain all of the DLC. Ragnarok isn't included in this package.

For fuck's sake, fix this already! This game is so stupidly fun, it's something I desperately needed on the Switch and you completely fucked it up. I regret buying two more keys for the family. I really do.

Find the original article below.

"They should put game X on the Switch!" Thanks, Panic Button! Major AAA-titles get ported to Switch, popular indie games get shoveled on there by the ton and whatever fucking description you'd use for stuff like Paladins and Fortnite also runs on Switch, the former at 60 FPS, the latter with added motion controls. Also, Warframe is coming, because of course. I like that.
Thanks to many excellent ports to Nintendo's hybrid console, people are all losing their shit, daydreaming about all their favourite games, which should totally get a Switch (re-)release. And why wouldn't they? Being able to take these games with you wherever you go, getting a gorillion control options from gyro aiming to basic joy con controls to pro controllers to even your PS4 DualShock controller (thanks, 8bitdo!), easy online multiplayer, it's a pretty great way to play on the go. Or at home on the tv if you enjoy input lag. And hey, being able to take a shit without having to interrupt gameplay is always a plus! Granted, you can take a shit playing just about any videogame, but the Switch allows you to do so on the toilet.

Everybody wants everything on the Switch. People are begging us to release Pathfinder: Kingmaker on Switch, as well, and why wouldn't they be? After all, it works for other cRPGs, right? No matter what games you like, we're not gonna run out of stuff to play on there anytime, soon. Unless you enjoy action RPGs. Why is it that aRPGs are so criminally neglected on there? Traditional hack'n'slash gameplay, where you just butcher legions of monsters, collect tons of loot and build a massively overpowered character in the process, ideally with friends and/or randos in online multiplayer. The genre absolutely belongs on handheld consoles, but for some reason there's pretty much nothing of the sort on Switch, some rumors about Diablo III aside. Claire and I love going down to the park in the evenings, watch the sunset, have some Switch multiplayer fun - how cool would it be if we could just beat up a bunch of monsters together and level up our characters in some mindless aRPG for a bit? Well, thank fuck we're finally getting Titan Quest on there! And I've already sunk a good few hours into the Switch version pre-release!

That's a lot of skill trees to choose from and combine to build your class!
THQ Nordic did this weird thing where they re-released this decade-old game with added content, balancing-tweaks, new multiplayer infrastructure, some small visual improvements... look, I'm not gonna pretend I have a clue what the fuck they're doing here. I loved Titan Quest back when it was originally released and I played it all the way to the end and that was that. Seeing it come back ten years later was weird and I was already so into Path of Exile and Warframe, I didn't need yet another grindy lootfest of a game in my life. And while Titan Quest certainly isn't ugly, it just hasn't aged all that well. Landscapes still look okay, I like the beautiful water reflections and the interactive foliage, but you'd better not inspect those character models and animations too closely, because it all looks a bit shit now.

And then I saw it in the eShop on my Switch. Holy shit. This is the one kind of game I've been wanting to play on the go for as long as I've used handheld consoles! I'm saying this as somebody who played the (awful!) PSP-versions of Dark Alliance and Dungeon Siege 2. I freaking emulated the PSX version of Diablo on my PSP. I played weird-ass Japanese aRPGs on my Nintendo DS, one of them being a portable version of Ragnarok Online. The closest I came to having an enjoyable aRPG experience on the go were the most recent Monster Hunter games on the 3DS and one of the Phantasy Star online games on the PSP. Those games are fun for what they are, but they're not really the thing I was looking for. Titan Quest is.

It's objectively mediocre, but I'm already hooked.
Before I start gushing all over this thing - the Switch version of Titan Quest has its problems, some of which become apparent the moment you fire it up. First of all, the audio quality is garbage. Sure, back in 2006 we didn't have several terabytes of storage on our PCs and file sizes had to be smaller. But listening to the many NPC speeches in Titan Quest today makes my ears bleed. It's not a deal-breaker, combat sound effects and music are okay, but the voiceovers are awful. I guess there's only so much you can "remaster" in a re-release of an old game.

Then there's the performance. Yes, they say they've upped the texture quality a bit, improved shadows, added some anti-aliasing and made the game a bit prettier, but from what I can tell, the whole thing appears to be locked at only 30 FPS. I experienced no freezes or slowdowns even with literally dozens of enemies and spell effects on screen, but there's a fair amount of object pop-in and the occasional physics glitch, where items dropped by enemies just hover in the air or my character's armor detaches itself and floats in one place. This is relatively rare and, again, not game-breaking, but it's noticeable. I also had one frequent crash several times upon entering a spider-infested cave about 1 hour into the game. The game crashed 3 or 4 times in a row whenever I tried to enter the cave, so I completed some other areas first and came back later. Eventually, I managed to get through there without the game booting me back to the Switch's menu screen, but there seems to be a stability issue at least in this pre-release version.

It's playable at 30 FPS and the frame rate is stable, but I'm still a bit disappointed, given the game's dated looks.
Bitching aside, though, here's the thing - Titan Quest is ridiculously fun! I just wanted to download it, give it a quick try to see how it runs, get prepared to play with Claire when she gets her release version this coming week, that sort of thing. But then I started punching some monsters. Then I found a bow, started shooting monsters, then switched weapons to punch them some more. That sort of thing plays well enough on the Switch. Like so:

As somebody, who is used to playing just about everything with a rodent and keyboard and loathes controllers, this is totally playable. With that in mind, it's not perfect. First of all, aiming for and attacking any specific monsters can be a pain in the ass. There's one dungeon in particular, where a boss summons endless amounts of minions until you murder the boss himself. On the Switch it's downright impossible to aim for the fucking boss, so I sat there, murdering entire legions of instantly-respawning minions until I finally managed to target their leader. Yes, you can use the analog stick to aim in a general direction, but that's nothing like clicking on a target with your mouse, especially when your character frequently ignores where you point them in battle. 
Inventory management is a bit painful with a controller, as well. Yes, there's a button that quickly auto-sorts your shit and saves you from having to play loot Tetris. However, it's practically impossible to loot only specific items and ignore stuff you don't want. If a chest explodes into a whole mountain of loot and you only want one or two items out of the bunch - well, sucks to be you. You'll likely pick up just about everything until your character finally grabs that piece of kit you actually wanted.

Loot filters make picking up valuable items easier, but you'll still pick up a lot of shit you don't want.
One reason to love Titan Quest is its deep character customization system, which lets you combine any two of the game's ten (I think - I'll get to that) skill trees into a class you want to play. I've created a dual-wielding heavy warrior, who harnesses the power of nature and summons animals to fight by his side. Then I went and created a defensive tank, who uses spirit magic to drain the very life from his enemies and uses it to strengthen himself. There are tons of different playstyles here, lots of replay value and so many possibilities - I absolutely love this stuff!
So about the number of skill trees... the game shows ten of them, including the new 'Runes' tree, which was included in the 2018 expansion Ragnarök. It's only out on Steam at the moment, it's not part of any of the previous console releases and I honestly don't know whether or not it's actually part of the Switch version. The tree is listed, but it's greyed-out. Does that mean I'll have to unlock it first? Will Ragnarök be added post-release? Are they gonna add it as paid DLC to the eShop? The eShop itself provides no information and people in various Reddit threads have no idea what is or isn't included here. For what it's worth, 'Dream', another skilltree that was added after the initial release, is present and playable, so there's that.

There's also splitscreen multiplayer if you have analog friends.
To sum up my first few hours with Titan Quest on Switch, it's a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, audio, visuals and performance are bit on the weaker side, I've experienced multiple crashes, the controls are okay but come with their own quirks and annoyances and it's not entirely clear how complete the whole game actually is in terms of DLC. But then the game is undeniably fun, it's still as addictive as it was back in the day, the many character customization options are great and the constant hunt for better gear, set items, enchantments and extra skill points never gets old. The one thing stopping me from playing the absolute shit out of this right now is that I don't want to get too far ahead of Claire, who will be joining me using her own console rather than splitscreen multiplayer when the game officially releases. Just fucking come out already!

Montag, 23. Juli 2018

Agatha Knife And The Gaping Plot-Hole

I knew I wanted to play Agatha Knife the second I started watching the trailer. The game's main character loves animals, but she also loves meat. I can totally relate! Agatha lives in her mother's butcher shop, and she hangs our and plays with the animals there. She also kills them. The animals aren't massively keen on that part, though. Who woulda thunk?
So Agatha does what any reasonable person would do and creates Carnivorism, a religion, which teaches animals that dying in order to become meat will lead them to absolute and eternal happiness.

I actually kinda like how religion is depicted in this game. There's this elderly couple in a church, which spends a lot of money on candles made out of cheese, because that way the Time Lord will forgive them their sins and grant these oldiewonks eternal life (after death). Of course the Time Lord doesn't exist and that whole religion was made up by some guy with a failing cheese factory, who is finally turning a profit again, now that people believe that all of their sins will be forgiven if they purchase enough cheese. Everybody wins - the oldies have something to believe in, the cheese guy rakes in the cash, everyone is happy. The characters clearly state that all deities and religions are made up. It's a tool to control and manipulate people. Sure, that's rather cynical, but personally, I find it difficult to disagree.

The game repeatedly surprised me with how dark it is. There's this veterinary clinic in town, which houses the saddest, most miserable cats, dogs, lizards and ferrets you'll ever see. It's a depressing sight, but as Agatha remarks, "Oh well. The vet is going to make them all better." Yeah, about that...
Halfway through the game you learn that the vet has a deal with the local supermarkets and restaurants and he's actually selling off unwanted pets as meat. People take their animals to his clinic, ask for them to be fixed, then change their minds when they learn how expensive proper treatment would be and just abandon their animals. And let's be honest, people abandon their pets for much pettier reasons in real life, so this isn't exactly far-fetched.

What's worse, when you go and tell people that the local stores are selling dog meat, most people simply don't give a shit. "So what? It tastes alright and it's cheap." And is that really so surprising? Lots of people buy discount meat, which costs next to nothing. The animals are treated like absolute crap, stuffed with hormones and other garbage, but the meat is cheap, so what the hey. And sure, there was a certain amount of outrage when it turned out that lasagne sold by Findus actually contained horse meat instead of beef, but most people were really just angry about the deception, not the fact they're eating horse. That's still quite a step away from eating a cat or a dog in our culture, but if the price is right, I can see a certain amount of people being okay with it.

Then there's Agatha's best friend Nika, who sparks her creativity with the power of hard liquor, which is a bit of an unusual hobby for an elementary school kid. Nika's mother has basically lost all brain activity with the help of daytime reality TV. There's a widower, who turned his deceased wife into a stew and ate her with his now traumatized son. That's a subject, which comes up a lot in this game - why is it okay to eat a pig or a cow, but you're a horrible monster if you eat a dog or a person? It doesn't really give any answers, beyond Agatha's opinion that some animals are for eating and others are not. Not the most satisfying answer and that's okay. I'm not sure there is a good answer to this kind of question.

I really enjoyed playing this game. The writing is clever, the humour is dark, it's a fun, nice little snack to play on the sofa or on the go. Granted, many of the puzzles aren't challenging at all, there's waaaayyyyy too much fed-exing and padding involved and the two biggest puzzles are more annoying and stupid to figure out than they have any right to be. But I can forgive all that in a fun little budget game. What really bothered me, though, is this utterly stupid plot-hole.

Somewhere around the second half of the game, Agatha heads to the zoo, because there's a machine collecting dust there, which can turn animals into mincemeat, which would allow Agatha to make those 2000 hamburgers a day, which a local restaurant ordered from her butcher shop. Wanna know why the owner of the zoo no longer uses the machine? Because she invented another machine, which can CREATE ANY MEAL OUT OF THIN AIR! That's literally how they describe it. You just feed the machine a recipe and it will materialize the dish from random molecules in the air. Because science. And Agatha is all, "Okay, cool, can I have the mincemeat machine now?"

What in the ass?
Let me repeat this one more time: there's a machine, which creates food out of air! Without hurting or killing anyone! The entire game is about Agatha not wanting to scare her animals when she has to kill them for meat! The answer is RIGHT THERE and she just shrugs it off, goes through the ordeal of inventing a religion, literally drugging a pig and brainwashing it into agreeing to get butchered in front of all the other animals in some ritual, then turning every single one of her beloved animals into hamburgers.
With this machine she wouldn't have to do any of that, she could stop actual cats and dogs getting slaughtered for cheap meat AND she could also fix plothole #2: all the animals she turns into burgers at the end of the game are stolen and nobody seems to care.

You see, the animals for the big showdown ceremony all come from the farm where Agatha and her mother used to buy their critters for the butcher shop. Problem is, the butcher shop is no longer making money and they can't afford any more animals. So Agatha just goes to the farm, talks to the animals and coerces them to come to the butcher shop by their own volition. Because, you know, if I come to your house and make your dog follow me home, it's perfectly legal and there's nothing you can do to get it back. And sure, the game ends with their shop selling lots of hamburgers and paying off all their debt and nobody seems to mind that they've suddenly got a ton of meat while their former #1 supplier has lost every last one of their animals over night. Wonder how they would have explained that one, had they bothered to get into this at all.

I'm guessing there are about five other people who bought this game and nobody is ever gonna read any of this shit. But damn, this annoys me! Yeah, sure, maybe Agatha didn't want that magic wonder machine, because it would jeopardize her butcher shop and the entire industry. Or maybe she would have accepted that sacrifice for the sake of the animals she loves so much. Of course there's no way we'll ever know now, because in the actual game, she barely acknoledges that invention's existence. So we get to butcher a pig in front of a live audience of hundreds of animals, who all want to become meat in order to experience eternal happiness. Woo! :D

Donnerstag, 19. Juli 2018

Yay Sonic! Fuck Octopath Traveler!

Ugh. I'm having one of those days again. You know, where the world and all the people in it just get on your nuts a bit too much. Starting with all those YouTube "celebrities", who now fart out Warframe videos around the clock, even though none of them actually ever played the game for more than five minutes. Warframe is completely burying Destiny 2 right now, TennoCon 2018 got people more hyped for the game than ever before, it's the 'golden age' of Warframe and its popularity is turning into a bit of a meme right now. So of course you get all the YouTube parasites milking the absolute fuck out of it.

There are a few decent videos out there. AngryJoe's TennoCon coverage is fun enough, especially since he doesn't pretend he's a die-hard fan, who is playing the game non-stop. SkillUp's TennoCon interviews are absolutely worth watching. And then you get a bunch of maggots without a single creative bone in their bodies, who just blatantly copy just about everything everyone else says in their videos, steal a bit of random gameplay from other YouTubers without asking for permission or giving credit, all for that sweet, sweet ad revenue for farting out a quick, lazy video praising a game they don't really know anything about, but heyho, it's trending and people are gonna click it.
You know, cunts like Cleanprincegaming, who stole several minutes of my Warframe gameplay straight from my channel, never asked my permission, didn't bother to give credit for ANY of the footage he's using in his shitty video and then go rake in that sweet, sweet cash from their 500k subscribers, you lazy, talentless bastard!

Or even lazier folks such as Downward Thrust, who crapped all over Warframe in one of his videos for clicks until people checked on his account and called him out on the fact that he barely played the game for five minutes. After TennoCon he went and made another video, explaining that he has played "over 50 hours across multiple accounts" (yeah, right), saying he was wrong and he actually enjoys the game now and "he cannot really explain why". I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Warframe is currently more popular than tits and YouTube is absolutely flooded with videos telling people why they need to play Warframe. And 90% of them just repeat the same thing and use other people's gameplay. I fucking hate YouTube.

Speaking of things I fucking hate...
In other news - Octopath Traveler. I read some 90something % reviews claiming this game is an absolute love letter to old console jRPGs and what have you. Uh-huh, great. I'm a bit surprised I seem to be the only person on the planet who is bothred by the INSANE amount of depth of field effects, which turn everything that is ever so slightly in the fore- or background into a blurry, awful mess. Or the fact that the game might just tell you that the character, whose story you'd like to continue, requires you to grind for another ten levels, before you're strong enough to continue said story. But hey, how about you play some other freaking character's story instead? Damn you, Square Enix! Why are you letting me choose from all those characters, if you're forcing me to play every single one of them, anyway, with the only alternative being tedious, monotonous grind?

The voice-acting, where present, is great. The music is phenomenal. I absolutely hate the visuals, though people are already begging for remakes of older Final Fantasy titles and Chrono Trigger, so apparently true beauty lies in the eye of the idiot who doesn't know any better. There's also no interesting story here, no surprise twists or any characters, who aren't absolute clichés of themselves. But if that and the weird visual style don't bother you and you want to experience all of the 8 stories in a single playthrough anyway, then you'll probably enjoy this one and that's okay. It's okay to be wrong. I forgive you.

It gets worse.
Gekido is currently on offer in the Switch eShop, so I bought and instantly regretted it. The cutscenes are entirely devoid of sound, the controls are crap, level-design is unnecessarily labyrinthian, confusing and full of bottomless pits and other annoying shit and the fighting... well, Streets of Rage it ain't. I can forgive a button-masher for being a button masher if it's at least somewhat fun and satisying to beat the crap out of your enemies, but Gekido just overwhelms you with sheer numbers of bad guys, which just spawn all over the place at random moments. Sometimes they drop orbs for you to collect, which may result in something like a temporary power-up or a speed boost or they may just reverse your controls or completely remove your ability to attack for a few seconds, because who doesn't want to be rewarded with power-downs for defeating a bunch of bad guys?

Who wants some pork?
Then there's Agatha Knife, a game, which probably rubbed some vegans and religious types the wrong way. Agatha is the butcher's daughter and she's facing a bit of a dilemma: she loves animals, but she also loves meat. She butchers the animals to help her mother sell the meat, but she doesn't want the animals to be sad and scared when they have to die.

And that's when Agatha learns about religion. A made-up deity and a set of rules to give people something to believe in and to help the inventor of said religion achieve personal gain. The game's wording, not mine. So Agatha goes and invents Carnivorism and teaches it to her animals, so they'll be okay with the whole getting butchered thing. It's a pretty dark, cynical little point & click adventure, which is exactly why I like it.

And of course...
I love Doom on the Switch so I got Wolfenstein. There's nothing that hasn't already been said about how impressive this port is. That said, yeah, it's a blurry mess, up to a point where it can get difficult to even see who is shooting at you, because everything gets so muddy, especially in handheld mode. It's amazing how much we're willing to forgive when you add "...and you can play it whilst taking a shit" to a game's title.

Speaking of shooty stuff, Fortnite now has motion controls on the Switch. I absolutely hate Fortnite, but I also have moments where I absolutely love it, because I'm hanging out in the eye of the storm with the last five or so players. I don't think I'll ever really get into it, but it costs nothing, it looks and plays alright, I'm not gonna complain.

Encore Mode is the best way to play Sonic Mania.
Then there's Sonic Mania Plus. It adds Ray and Mighty as playable characters. Not entirely sure what the point of Ray is, seeing as he glides like Knuckles, but is ten times harder to control and doesn't scale any walls. Mighty reflects projectiles and survives spikes, what with him being an armadillo and all. He's a lot more fun to play than he was in Knuckles Chaotix on the 32x.

Most importantly though - Encore Mode. Play two characters at a time, with one of them being controlled by the AI and you can switch back and forth between them at anytime. Get one of them killed and they'll instantly be replaced by one of the other three guys, if you've unlocked them in a fun new pinball minigame, which replaces the fucking awful blue spheres bonus stage. Stages get slightly altered colour-palettes, bonus stage rings have been moved, the 3D bonus stages are now a bit more challenging and run at a locked 60 FPS on Switch. To me it's easily the most satisfying way to play Sonic Mania. Of course things would be even more fun if Encore had "1.5 player coop" like Sonic & Tails mode, so I'm crossing all available fingers and toes this might get added in the future.

Still waiting for the release of Titan Quest on Switch. According to reviews, the console ports so far have been broken, buggy and surprisingly incomplete (apparently, the latest expansion is simply not present at all). Sooo... I'm trying to curb that enthusiasm a bit. But I've been craving a hack'n'slay title on the Switch for as long as I had one, so it's about damn time I'm getting one! I'll drag Claire into it for some jolly cooperation. Though, if all else fails, I'll just have to soro it. You know, like on Warframe.