argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)

I haven't even played the game and I've read most of the fanfic from the first 12 pages of AO3 that are under 8k words, sorted by kudos count. So this is the rush when you find a new pairing. Loki/Thor has spoiled me for great art and lengthy relationship-focused world-building fic, but then again, I realize that if you only read certain Loki/Thor fic (especially Jotun Loki AUs, which are my favourite), you will be disoriented, and possibly disappointed, by the actual canon.

Also, I know I haven't played many modern games, but the facial expressions are fantastic. The eyes! The mouths! Characters that actually move their lips when they speak! (Okay, that last one is probably only noteworthy if you play Thief.) I can ignore imperfect collision and hands sometimes going through legs.

(For more Fenris/Hawke without, you know, playing the game, there's a nearly hour-long video of a male mage Hawke and Fenris in a friendship romance here. I imagine writing Hawke is a bit like writing JC Denton for Deus Ex -- everyone's Hawke or JC is different because of how they chose to play him.)

Even though I like the characters and the relationship, I'm not sure if I'll actually play Dragon Age 2. My experience with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has taught me that even if a game has a lot of things that are important to me and I enjoy (exploration, atmosphere, a sense of isolation, dark ambient music), if the gameplay doesn't suit me, it's hard to retain any interest.

On a sidenote, Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption is probably the closest game I have to Dragon Age; I recently reinstalled it and have played about two hours. The only fan patch I added was upgraded textures for Prague. The third person POV threw me off badly at first, but I was surprised both how much I remembered and that the game seems to hold up to my first playthrough. That said, Redemption gameplay is definitely not the type of gameplay I usually go for . . . but somehow I enjoyed it anyway. Is it just because of its connection to Vampire: The Masquerade? The best comparison I have is to the Dynasty Warriors games, which I have fond memories of because I played them with my best friend.
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
My mom's side of the family is planning a reunion the last week of July to celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. Normally we stay at my grandparents' house, but with so many people coming (my mom has six siblings, most of them have at least three kids, some of them have kids . . .) we rented a cottage that's just a road over. I haven't seen most of these relatives for 10 years; I hope to make up for last reunion where I was at a much different, and less mature, place in my life.

I've felt off the past week; I came down with a cold Friday, but have felt restless on top of that. It put a halt in my plans, especially when I'm so close to finishing the cleaning.

I just finished watching the developer playthrough of System Shock (which was never finished?). One of the things that was brought up was the shorter length of many modern games, and one of the responses was that the people who were playing and developing computer games in their 20s during the 1990s simply don't have the time now that they're in their 40s. My own approach is that I could use my free time to play a fan mission, or I could read a fanfic; both are of unknown quality, but I feel the fan mission (or a computer game) requires more investment and I'm more keenly aware of my time limitations compared to reading. If not for the time limitation, though, I think the fan mission would be the more immersive of the two if they were of the same quality. (I think it's also often quicker to judge a piece of fiction than a fan mission.)

Instead, I started replaying Jazz Jackrabbit 2, a platformer with fairly short levels and easy to do in short bursts.

In theory, I'm also watching a Let's Play of last year's Thief reboot, but I got so bored that I'm just flipping through the videos and watching the parts that tickle my fancy. Yahtzee named Thief last year's worst game, which surprised me a bit even knowing he's a big fan of the original Thiefs. (In contrast, I've watched about seven Let's Plays of System Shock 2, plus played the game myself, and I haven't gotten bored yet . . . though I do like some parts more than others.) Of course, the newest game I've played is S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and I'm pretty sure I'll never finish it, which means the newest game I've played to completion is . . . Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines from 2004.

I didn't have anything set in mind when I sat down to write, so it was interesting to see what came out.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Thief - Artemis)
The new Thief game (Thiaf, Thief 4, Thief (2014), etc.) came out the end of February to mixed but overall mediocre reviews from what I've seen. I don't have any intention of buying or playing it, though I'll probably watch a Let's Play at some point. It's unfortunate Fen's had health problems the past few months; I hope he's been feeling better, but I do miss his frequent Thief Let's Plays and he made my favourite comment about the new Thief in his, thus far, only Thief 4 video: "Is this a parody?" I also eagerly await Yahtzee's Zero Punctuation review, which should be out tomorrow.

The most bizarre thing about Thief 4 is that Square Enix (Thief 4's publisher) and Amazon are hosting a Thief Mod Competition. The catch? You have to mod using the Thief 1-3 level editors or The Dark Mod, a completely fan-built total conversion mod, because the new Thief isn't releasing a level editor. You also have to enter with videos of your mod, or an idea for a mod, as opposed to an actual fan mission for others to play. (Basically, you have to do a Let's Play for your own fan mission.) When I heard the news, I was sure it must be a hoax. But no, it is apparently legitimate. On one hand, it's a nice effort to reach out to the very mod-active Thief community, but how weird is it to have to rely on past games and fan efforts to promote your current game? The contest is also limited to US citizens, which is unfortunate given Thief's multinational - especially European - fanbase.

My current Thief kicks are part two of Grayman's William Steele series for The Dark Mod, which features lots of enjoyable rooftop exploration, and the hope that DrK will finally release part four of his phenomenal Night in Rocksburg series this year. I recently updated my Dark Mod mission list and there are more mission I haven't played than I realised, about 50. There's also the current 10 Rooms contest for Thief 2; sad to say I haven't played as many Thief 2 fan missions since The Dark Mod, though I downloaded all the missions.

At the end of last year, I started re-reading Stormwatch and The Authority from Warren Ellis' first Stormwatch issues. I'm currently at the end of the third Authority trade (Earth Inferno and Other Stories). To my surprise, I enjoyed the Stormwatch issues more than Ellis' Authority run. I never realised my first time through just how much Ellis focused on his own (future Authority) characters. I wonder how prior Stormwatch readers felt about that. That said, I think all the Stormwatch members Ellis retained had a chance to shine, and I still have a special fondness for Winter. It's unfortunate the series ended the way it did, and the last trade was my least favourite. (I also never cared much for the WildC.A.T.S. no matter how hard I tried.)

I disliked Mark Millar's Authority run even more than I did on prior readings and feel he negatively changed aspects of most of the characters, usually with throw-away snarky lines like Midnighter beating AIDS or Shen having a boob job. And, of course, there's the Doctor being a drug addict and general screw-up. Characters, especially antagonists, seem to have more knowledge than I feel like they should, even though The Authority interacting more with the media was a theme of Millar's run. Frank Quietly's art is not to my taste at all. One of the only redeeming factors of the third Authority trade is the excellent Angie one-shot story. The art on the first two issues of Earth Inferno is also pretty good, though it doesn't send my blood singing like Bryan Hitch's art.

I actually don't own the next Authority trade (Transfer of Power) as I hated the arc so much. I don't have any of the Robbie Morrison trades, either. His run was one of the first I read (a mistake) and I thought all but the Jenny Quantum story arc were garbage. (I still kind of want the second trade of his run just to re-read that story.)

After volume three, I've got a few single issues and Millar's Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority. After that, it's The Authority: Revolution by Ed Brubaker and Dustin Nguyen. I'm looking forward to this run as it's been a while since I've read it, but remember the writing, story, and character design being good, not to mention emotionally compelling.
argurotoxos: Midnighter and Apollo smiling and laughing (Midnighter/Apollo - laugh | by cassshan)
-I've set aside S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, The Dark Mod, and System Shock for now and am playing some of my enormous (300+ missions) backlog of Thief 2 fan missions with NewDark. My most recent was The Night Before Christmas by DarkShadow, a fun and beautiful Christmas mission.

-Still reading Loki/Thor fanfiction. I've become even fonder of Jotun!Loki AUs, especially stories with arranged marriages, intersex Loki, and/or lots of world building. The story I'm most looking forward to - and that happens to have everything I mentioned - is the next chapter of amberfox17's Wild Ambition Fortune's Ice Prefers.

-I hadn't looked at the Stormwatch preview pages in months when I heard the series is ending soon, and with it goes what little interest I had left in DC Comics. (And, of course, the last issue preview has the best Midnighter and Apollo art I've seen since the DC reboot started.) I still love Midnighter, Apollo, Jenny Sparks (and Quantum), Angie, Shen, the Doctor, and Jack, but never adjusted to their characterisation in the DC reboot, among other things. There are still a few older Authority issues I've never read, but other than that, it's just re-reading my favourite trades for me. Good times. RIP (again) Wildstorm.

(How weird is it that Apollo and Midnighter were married in the comics before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere in the US, but now that it's legal in over 15 states [including Utah of all places], they aren't married?)
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
My mom came down with a very bad stomach virus over the weekend. I got it yesterday, with vomiting, diarrhea, and chills. I'm feeling a little better today, but have been eating nothing but jello, broth, and Gatorade. (It's hard to get enough calories to do much of use on that diet!) I also called out from work tomorrow for the first time. It's left me feeling restless, but without enough energy to do much -- not even the Christmas presents I'd planned on mailing out today.

Changing topic, I've been sporadically looking for a copy of System Shock 2 for several years. When I first began my search, there were no legitimate downloads; now, you can get System Shock 2 digitally on both GoG and Steam. However, I still prefer to own the physical copy. What made the search more challenging, and more expensive, was I wanted a copy with the original box, and most of the used copies are CD-only.

I happened to be on eBay earlier this month looking for presents for a friend and ran through my saved searches, including System Shock 2, while I was there. There were still a few copies with the full box, all over $60, which was more than I wanted to pay. However, I did see a listing for the CD and the manual for $25. Thinking it over, while I quite like my complete Thief Gold original box, I rarely look at it and it's not something I would pay an extra $30 for, and having the manual was good enough. So, I finally have an official, hard copy of System Shock 2. Of course, the first things I did upon acquiring it were to go over to the System Shock 2 forums to download the mods and fan missions.

The first time I started it up, I played for almost an hour straight, which is rare for me these days. I thought it might be interesting to play System Shock 2 and System Shock side-by-side based on decks, but don't think I'll have the time or energy to carry through. (Vaguely related, I finally got to the Red Forest in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, which looked completely different from what I expected. I spent most of the Red Forest sprinting past everything because I was tired of combat. I then lost interest again and haven't played for a month.)

System Shock 2 was the last computer game I had on my wish list. I've had recommendations for the Elder Scrolls series (particularly Morrowind) and a couple other games, but nothing has piqued my interest enough to buy it.

The second early Christmas present I bought myself on eBay was a pair of belly dance bracelets/anklets that look like the ones I got at a local Greek festival earlier this year. I initially ordered one pair of white anklets with silver coins and one pair red with silver coins, but the former turned out to be unavailable. (My belly dance outfit is themed black, white, and silver, but I sometimes like splashes of colour.)

argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
In late 2003, Ion Storm released Deus Ex: Invisible War, the sequel to 2000's highly lauded Deus Ex. Five months later, Ion Storm released Thief: Deadly Shadows, the third entry in the Thief series. Both games were built on the same engine and were the first in their respective series to be released for console as well as PC. And both games have a reputation of not being very good among fans (or at least on TTLG, which is where I go for my gaming needs).

I played Deadly Shadows back in 2008. You can read my initial thoughts on it here, though I don't like it as much now; it's the only Thief game I don't have installed. I think Deadly Shadows is worth a play, but it's definitely the weakest in the series for me and the only reason I even keep my copy is if I have the urge to play the Shalebridge Cradle again. (The Shalebridge Cradle is indeed a fantastic level, but I think the effect is lessened once you know what's going to happen next and you realise it's essentially a glorified fetch quest. [So is "Return to the Haunted Cathedral" from Thief: The Dark Project, but Lauryl (Deadly Shadows) is much more tolerable than Brother Murus (The Dark Project).])

Due to some confusion on my part, I ended up buying Deus Ex: Invisible War before the first Deus Ex. It didn't matter in the end, though, as Invisible War refused to run on my older laptop despite it meeting the system requirements and Deadly Shadows running fine. I've only played Deus Ex through once - which is a bit odd as I've played The Nameless Mod (a Deus Ex game-length mod) twice - but I spent over 50 hours on my run and had an absolutely fantastic time. Together with Thief and System Shock, Deus Ex is in my personal top three games and I believe I've played every long-ish fan mission there is (The Nameless Mod, ZODIAC, 2027, Red Sun, The Cassandra Project, Burden of 80 Proof, Hotel Carone) except the most recent (Nihilum).

So much has been written about Deus Ex, including Kieron Gillen's excellent review that captures a lot of Deus Ex's strengths, that I don't feel I can add much. So, moving on to Invisible War.

I started playing Invisible War back in August when S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl's focus on shooting was driving me crazy. (I'll review Shadow of Chernobyl once I finish it, though I've been playing on and off since January, so . . . it may be a while. In short, great atmosphere and visuals, not half as much focus on exploration as what I wanted.) What a contrast that was. Moving from Shadow of Chernobyl's lack of hand-holding and difficulty (I play on the easiest setting and it still kicks my ass at times) to Invisible War's, well, we'll get to that below, was like night and day.

It took me 12 hours to play through Invisible War. 12 hours, over the course of three months, when the original took me over 50 hours over the course of less than a month. (I had more free time and was much more engaged in the game.) And yet, I feel like Invisible War overstayed its welcome by at least three hours.

Invisible War has some of the same problems Deadly Shadows, likely influenced by being released on the first-generation Xbox. Maps are relatively small and there are plentiful loading zones. No swimmable water, although Invisible War at least never draws attention to it. (Going to jail for falling in the water was one of the stupidest ideas in Deadly Shadows.) On the other hand, I thought both the player character and NPC movement was less stiff and smoother in Invisible War, though jumping and crate stacking are worse.

I started off Invisible War with the idea of playing a stealthy hacker, which, ever since Thief, tends to be my default character. The interface provoked much irritation and was clearly designed for a gamepad -- 'yes/no' prompts you have to use the mouse for; no keyboard support for custom-naming saved games, manually typing in passcodes, or writing notes in-game; no quick-save or load; no screenshot key (which is why there are no screenshots in this review, because Invisible War isn't worth the effort of using a second program); the minimum HUD is still rather invasive, and inventory management is a mess. Skill points were eliminated, as were different ammo types (yes, all firearms in the game use the same ammo, just in different amounts), the conversation log, and location-based health management. In short, the only ways to customise you character besides your play style are through your appearance, the weapons you use, and your biomods (augmentations). (I barely include dialogue choices, since there aren't very many and most don't seem to matter.) However, you can now choose to play as either a male or female.

Much more under cut. )

In summary: Deadly Shadows may be my least favourite Thief game, but it is at the minimum a decent game and a far, far better game than Invisible War. I don't think Invisible War is completely irredeemable - I did finish playing it instead of throwing my hands up in disgust after all - but there's not much to recommend it, especially compared to its predecessor.

So, what's good about Invisible War? The voice acting's not bad. There's a good mix of male and female NPCs. Invisible War actually does reward exploration, or at least what you can do in the small maps; as in Deus Ex, you can find ammo, equipment, etc., in somewhat out of the way places (under desks, behind pipes, and so on). Trier has a surprising number of readables that are actually decent. The ApostleCorp lab was somewhat neat, except that Invisible War cannot do horror or atmosphere. The Antarctic Versalife facility was better, and even had a nice ambient track!

If anyone wants to play Deus Ex: Invisible War on the PC, I will give you my copy for only the cost of shipping. (If the shipping's less than $6, I'll even pay that, too.) I have the CDs, both in very good condition, plus the manual, hardcover box, shiny slipcase, and even the kidneythieves card. I bought it second-hand, but there are hardly any signs of wear. The edges of the slipcase are the worst part, but still in good condition. There are a few photos below.

Deus Ex: Invisible War photos, up for sale. )
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
The Dark Mod, a Thief-inspired Doom 3 total conversion mod, recently updated and is now stand-alone! In other words, all you need to play is a computer that meets the system requirements (which aren't very high -- my 2005 laptop can run it on low settings) and the ability to download and save at least ~3 GB, which includes the Mod itself plus several fan missions. You don't need a copy of Doom 3 or any of the Thief games. You don't even need to have played Thief before, though I think it helps and am sure the vast majority of The Dark Mod players and mission authors are Thief fans.

You can download The Dark Mod 2.0 here. Windows, Linux, and Mac are all supported, though the Mac version is back at 1.08 and so requires Doom 3. The Dark Mod has a built-in mission downloader, but you can also check out the complete mission list and download missions manually here. If you're interested in building missions yourself, you can download The Dark Mod's level editor, DarkRadiant, here. For more information, there's an introductory video on YouTube (and you can always search for Let's Plays), plus a Wiki, among many other resources.

Though I was a bit late playing The Dark Mod - I waited until 2012 to buy a used copy of Doom 3 - and had several problems on my older laptop, The Dark Mod's run flawlessly on my newest laptop and I really love the mod. To be honest, it's somewhat hard going back to the older Thief games and fan missions -- I haven't even tried NewDark much yet [the newest patch for Thief: The Dark Project/Gold and Thief II: The Metal Age] as I've been playing The Dark Mod missions or other games. I'm not completely sure why -- I definitely like mantling and object interaction more in The Dark Mod, and there are a few things I miss from the older games, such as the original Haunt design (graphics and sound). The only things I've wanted while playing through The Dark Mod missions are more and higher quality voice acting (which I believe has been updated in 2.0) and a dedicated run forward key, as in the first two Thiefs.

I haven't updated to 2.0 yet as I don't want to redownload all the missions I currently have. I've played about 30 missions, and there are about 45 I've yet to start.

Below are my mission recommendations based on what I've played so far. Like most fan missions, the difficulty varies by author and mission, so if you're just starting out, trying a few missions on the easiest setting would be my suggestion. (If you've played Thief before, you can start at any setting -- whatever you usually play the game at. [For what it's worth, I haven't played any The Dark Mod missions that are more difficult than some of the Thief 2 fan missions.]) I also played these under older Dark Mod versions, and you should be aware that The Dark Mod comes with a training mission.

-Sound Alert & Blackjack Trainer by The Dark Mod Team. Not a mission per se, but an easy way to get a feel for the loudness of different surfaces are and the AI's sensitivity level.

-Pandora's Box by Jesps. I think this would be a nice introductory mission as it's fairly short (I finished in less than 30 minutes) and set in a unique location (an airship).

-Too Late by Nielsen74. A smallish warehouse mission that would be nice for a quick play. Plenty of boxes, crates, etc. to mantle on and some neat places for loot.

-William Steele 1: In the North by grayman. My favourite The Dark Mod mission to date. A fairly large mansion-type mission, beautifully decorated, designed, and textured. There are some puzzles and optional objectives, plus plenty to explore and read.

-Flakebridge Monastery by Jesps. A large undead mission in an abandomed Builder monastery. Lots to do, including some optional objectives -- I spent about 4 hours playing and still had one bonus objective and quite a bit of loot left. Some good characterisation, especially for the guest wings, and several different routes.

-Swing by Komag. I had to include this one because it was so different! This is mostly a jumping and climbing mission, and the only time I've felt vertigo while playing a computer game.

-House in Blackbog Hollow by stumpy. I debated over including this mission as I haven't finished it yet, but I've been impressed with the design, especially the sound, and it's great for Halloween. One of the reasons I really like this mission is it's horror-themed, but with minimal undead use. (I don't mind undead, but have to be in a certain mood to play missions with them, which comes into conflict with the fact that I do enjoy [certain types of] horror.)
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Midnighter - balloons)
Two posts in one days after a long time of not updating, I know, but I had this drafted before the events of the other post occurred.

Fandom Update in One Minute

-I've put S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl on hiatus and am currently playing Deus Ex: Invisible War, which has many issues, but not enough for me to stop.

-I'm almost through watching FenPhoenix's Thief 2X and Thief: Deadly Shadows Let's Plays.

-My most recent library books have been about T. E. Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia'), Norse mythology, Egyptian mythology, and science fiction in literature and film.

-I'm still reading Thor-based fan ficion and am looking forward to Thor: The Dark World.

-I've been learning belly dance.

-My dad and I finished watching Netflix's streaming episodes of Columbo and have moved on to Through the Wormhole (a science/philosophy show narrated by Morgan Freeman) and various BBC episodes, the most recent being a series on Ancient Greek theatre.
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
I was looking for reviews for either The Dark Mod or Thief 4 on YouTube and found this commentary on some Thief 4 gameplay by Woodsie at ThePCelitist. The video was interesting and articulate (though I was surprised Woodsie didn't say anything about XP points) and I've since watched a couple other videos, including the first two installments of The Case for PC. Woodsie and Shepard brought up some good points, but I didn't feel much of what they talked about lined up with my own reasons for being a PC gamer. And so, I present six reasons why I am a PC gamer (a.k.a., why I will probably never buy a console).

1. Most of the games I'm interested in playing are only available on the PC. The first two Thiefs, both System Shocks, all three S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, Unreal Tournament 2004, Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines -- all of these games were only released for the PC. I could name many, many more. There is a console version of the original Deus Ex, but I understand it's quite changed. On the flip side, I can't think of a single console-only title I'd really like to play.

2. Tied in to (1), fan mods and missions are very important to me. Many of my favourite gaming experiences have happened while playing Thief or Deus Ex fan missions. None of these fan missions, or total engine conversions like The Dark Mod [a Thief-inspired game using the Doom 3 engine], are available on consoles. Though I don't make fan missions myself, I have played around in DromEd [Thief's level editor] a bit. Texture and visual updates, such as John P's High Res Textures for Thief: Deadly Shadows or New Vision and HDTP for Deus Ex, and general patches like the multiple unofficial Bloodlines ones, are also, to my understanding, unavailable on consoles.

(Fan-created and shared material - be it art, fiction, videos, playlists, mods, cosplay, and so on - is key to me for most series. I can enjoy a show, or a game, on its own, but if it doesn't have an active fanbase, or if fan-created materials are discouraged by the creators, chances are I will quickly move into other fandoms. One of the sad trends of modern games has been a reluctance or refusal to release level editors, thus making fan mission creation very difficult.)

3. The PC is what I grew up with. Aside from a black-and-white Power Rangers Gameboy-type device, I never owned a console. I never played Mario, Zelda, or Sonic the Hedgehog. Instead, I was playing Myst, SimCopter, Tyrian, and Commander Keen. The PC has always been my gaming home and I still play DOS games through DOSBox.

4. Mouse and keyboard. I took a look at my control configurations for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, The Dark Mod, and Thief 2, and I use an average of 37 keys plus three mouse buttons for each game. In Thief 1/2, I use nine keys just for movement: 'w' for run forward, 's' for walk forward, 'x' for walk backward, 'space' to creep, 'q' for lean left, 'e' for lean right, 'k' to lean forward, 'f' to crouch, and 'shift' to jump. When you include things like multiple weapon selections, quick save/load, zoom in/out, and other inventory hotkeys, it's easy to take over most of the keyboard, and I like it that way. I feel I have quicker access to the things I want to get to [e.g., I can hit 'alt' for water arrows instead of scrolling through a weapon selector] and more fine-tuning over my movement and view. Most of the games I play also give the player great flexibility in creating their own control scheme; the first two Thiefs even allow you to save multiple control layouts.

5. It's impractical for me to own a console. In addition to (1), most consoles hook up to a TV, and I hardly ever watch TV unless it's for VHS tapes. I think I would be perfectly happy without either a TV or cable. All my other media watching is done on my computer, whether it be online steaming or DVDs. My computer is my one-stop machine: email, gaming, multimedia, internet, word processing, exchanging files with my MP3 player or cell phone, etc.

6. The PC makes it easy to interact with game files. I can edit screencaps or make them my desktop. If the game I'm playing doesn't have a built-in screencapture, I can run another program in the background. Same with audio or video capture. I can back up my saved games and user files, or make custom edits to the user ini. I can transfer my saved games easily to other computers or hard drives. I can explore the files within the game; e.g., I can extract the audio files and find dialogue I missed during the game itself. (I've done this with both Thief and Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines.) In short, I have a degree of transparency and flexibility with the games.

As my PCs are always several years behind the cutting edge, being able to play with the highest graphics setting has never been a priority for me. Since there's been very few recent games to pique my interest, this is rarely an issue. (I've been happy to finally play S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl on my current laptop, and may play the rest of the series [Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat] after, but there are very few post-2005 games on my recommendations list.) I acknowledge that gaming PCs have superior technology compared to consoles, and that gap does become an issue with how developers design games, but it's not one of my personal reasons for gaming on the PC. Neither is the ability to custom build my own machine.

(What type of games I look for and why I enjoy them is another post, but Briareos H's TTLG post on First-person exploration games tickled many of my gaming likes.)
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
Even though I hardly look at Tumblr anymore, it is so easy to post photos instead of doing more in-depth updating. I hope to do the latter at some point, but for now I hope you will indulge me in the former.

The Dark Mod missions pictured are A Night to Remember by Fieldmedic, WS1: In the North by grayman, and Tears of St. Lucia, which is included in the initial TDM install as a demo of sorts. I've only finished WS1: In the North, which I had a fantastic time with and is likely my favourite TDM mission to date.

Screencaps under cut. )
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
I've been watching more Let's Plays* during meals than playing any games. Though I upgraded to the latest Thief II patch, I hadn't even been playing any Thief fan missions.

This past weekend I started up The Dark Mod on my newest laptop to finish a mission, "The Transaction" by Sotha, that I started months ago. It wasn't a very clean playthrough, but coming back to stealth play was a lovely experience. I've been playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl about once a month and slowly making progress. While I quite like the atmosphere and environments, sometimes the gameplay wears on me and I tend to run away from enemies as often as I confront them. The strangest thing about that game, however, is the NPC interface, which is so rudimentary that it feels misplaced, like it came out of the 1990s, when everything else is clearly 2000s.

*FenPhoenix's Thief II: The Metal Age, shadyparadox's Myst III: Exile, and Dilandau3000's Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Final Unity (which I played years ago and is much less exciting than I remember).

Some screencaps. )
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (ThorLoki - Avengers | by bleeding-muse)
I didn't even remember that Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption had a screenshot key, let alone that I had used it and saved my original screencaps. I stumbled upon these while indexing data DVDs and thought they'd be worth sharing. It's been quite a while since I last played Redemption, though I ran through the game at least twice.

Redemption is split into two times periods: the Middle Ages, with the cities of Prague and Vienna, and the Modern Nights (i.e., present day [2000 when the game was released]), featuring London and New York City. I prefer the Middle Ages sections, which is reflected in my screencaps. There are some minor spoilers, but no major ones.

Redemption screencaps; image-heavy. )

On Redemption and Bloodlines. )
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Lizard)
I'll hopefully have a longer post on The Dark Mod later. The short version: The Dark Mod doesn't feel exactly like Thief: The Dark Project or Thief II: The Metal Age, but it's undeniably Thief and I quite like it. For now, some screencaps with small commentary. I'm playing on an older computer using the smallest resolution, so this isn't the best The Dark Mod can look. I did touch the images up a bit in Photoshop to increase sharpness and brightness/contrast.

Missions pictured: Thief's Den by Fidcal, Rake-off by Jesps, and Flakebridge Monastery, also by Jesps. ("Flakebridge Monastery" is an undead mission and there are some corpse and horror images once you get past the stained glass screencap.)

Images below cut. )
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
This was originally one large, somewhat eclectic, and photo-heavy update. It's been broken in half because I had more to say about the first topic than I realised. As such, this post is all about computer games with specific talk about The Dark Mod, Doom 3, and the Thief II fanmission A Night in Rocksbourg part III: Ink and Dust, plus musings on horror in games and a few screencaps.

Outside of fanmissions [FMs] and mods, I only play one to two new games a year. And by 'new' I mean 2005 and older since my laptop is coming up on eight years old. Nevertheless, I love my laptop -- it's in good condition, does pretty much everything I want it to, and there are only two or three newer games out there on my 'to play' list. This may be somewhat inaccurate, but as I remember it, my game play for the past near-decade has been:

~2003 - Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption, Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force
2004 - Thief: The Dark Project
2005-2006 Thief II: The Metal Age [I ran into an error during one mission and picked the game up again the next year.]
2007 - Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines, Thief2X: Shadows of the Metal Age [game-length fan mod]
2008 - Thief III: Deadly Shadows, Deus Ex
2009 - Deus Ex: ZODIAC [fan mod], The Nameless Mod [game-length fan mod]
2010 - System Shock 2
2011 - System Shock, 2027 [fan mod]

There are also a few games I bought during this time and didn't finish, plus many, many FMs and mods that I did. Since I've played all of the Thief and System Shock games, I started Ultima Underworld late last year with the idea of playing all of Looking Glass' games, only to realise that I don't understand how to fight in that game at all. Amazing how much 3D games progressed in just a few years. The last game I actually bought was probably Deadly Shadows four years ago.

Though most of my Christmas money is saved, I did buy four things this year. Two were songs ("Can't Stop a Riot" and "A Greater Good" by Neuroticfish). One will be talked about later. And one was a new game.

The rest behind cut for length. )
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
I've been following fans' reactions to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, mostly on TTLG and The Nameless Mod/Off Topic Productions forums. Most reviews have been positive; the biggest complaints seem to be an unbalanced XP system, mandatory boss fights, and a weak ending. I've not been avoiding spoilers at all as I don't expect to have a PC that will run the game in the near future. For that matter, I still haven't played Deus Ex: Invisible War [Deus Ex 2], the black sheep of the Deus Ex franchise, despite owning it longer than the original Deus Ex. Opinion has been unanimous that Deus Ex: Human Revolution is better than Deus Ex: Invisible War.

One of the fan-debated decisions of DX:HR was the implementation of a third-person cover system with no first-person lean. Who knew that this would be exploited to make dancing videos? I am somewhat ashamed to admit to being completely addicted to this: Adam Jensen Does A Safety Dance!

Though I dislike third-person in-game cinematics for immersion reasons, I do find the Icarus landing system and Typhoon augs cool in a very shallow, 'ooh, pretty graphics' way.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
On average, I buy one, maybe two, new computer games per year. My computers are never at the high end of current technology, so these games are almost always four-plus year old and purchased used.

After completing my Thief collection with Thief Gold earlier this year, though, I realized there weren't any other games left that I was eager to play, with a few exceptions. I've yet to finish either of the System Shock games and there are hundreds of Thief and a handful of Deus Ex fan missions I haven't tried. There are also two games I'm half-interested in that require something more powerful than my current system -- S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl*, of which I've read mixed reviews (I'm a fan of the book it's based on), and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Nevertheless, in a mood to try something new, I scoured several websites and forums for computer game recommendations and compiled a list of 13 demos, all of which I played roughly a month ago.

Ideally, a game demo should be a perfect microcosm of the game itself while also providing a feel for the interface and engine. Unfortunately, demos sometimes end up presenting a skewed view of the game; the last time I relied on demos to decide between games, the one I liked least (Deus Ex) ended up becoming one of my all time favourites. In short, I knew going in that demos can't be used to make definitive call on games, but they're still valuable for experimentation with controls and graphics, especially for games not native to the PC.

Out of the 13 game demos, I played six to completion, two of which I was sufficiently engrossed in to finish in one sitting. The length of my reviews/reactions vary from one paragraph to over ten per demo, making this post a rather long read; I suggest that if any of you are interested, you skim over the titles and ratings and then only read the reviews for games you're familiar with or interested in. The demos, presented in alphabetical order, are: American McGee's Alice, Beyond Good and Evil, Call of Duty, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, Doom 3, Fahrenheit [a.k.a. Indigo Prophecy], Far Cry, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Hitman Contracts [Hitman 3, reviewed with Hitman 2], Max Payne, Metal Gear Solid, Psychonauts, and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.

Escape From Butcher Bay, the Hitman games, and Splinter Cell were chosen specifically for their stealth elements, Beyond Good and Evil was a recommendation from an old TTLG thread, Metal Gear Solid was inspired by Sarah, Doom 3 was influenced by The Dark Mod, and the rest I picked up from various sources. Some of these are PC ports of console games and, sadly, it usually shows.

Each demo review is below its own cut and includes the type of game, point of view used, developer, year, demo playthrough status, and original console if applicable. The ratings at the end of each review are out of 5 with 5 as the best and 1 as the worst and no half marks. These represent how much I personally enjoyed each demo, not how good the game is; there are genres and gameplay mechanics I enjoy more than others and some of the things I take off points for may be a non-issue for other players. Several of my gameplay pet peeves that I rediscovered over the course of playing these demos include: (1) inability to control the camera (tends to be more common in ports), (2) no manual or quick saves, (3) unskippable cutscenes and dialogue, (4) 3D games that are otherwise somewhat realistic with no jump button, (5) 3D games that only support shooting in third person, (6) inability to remap controls, and (7) no or limited leaning, especially in first person.

Regarding (5), even since I played the Thief games, I've preferred first person point of view for 3D environments. In my experience, it's easier to become immersed in a game when I'm interacting with the game world through the eyes of the player character and am more immediately connected to the environment. As such, I'm usually a bit awkward with 3D third person games, though the most cumbersome aspect by far for me is gunplay. Perhaps I'm simply not used to maneuvering the camera for it, but there were numerous times in several different demos where I couldn't tell exactly where I was aiming because part of the player character's body was blocking my view. (Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines has a nice compromise -- a first/third person toggle with all gunplay switching to first person and all melee in third.)

*Technically, my system does meet the minimum requirements for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, but there is no demo to confirm that it will run well. I've read the game is buggy and is best played at the highest settings, which my computer wouldn't support. In addition, during and after the time I was testing demos, I was trying to install Deus Ex: Invisible War, which absolutely would not run on my computer despite being below my specs, so I'm a bit dubious of games playing properly without being able to try them first.

American McGee's Alice. )

Beyond Good and Evil. )

Call of Duty. )

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. )

Doom 3. )

Fahrenheit [a.k.a. Indigo Prophecy]. )

Far Cry. )

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and Hitman: Contracts [Hitman 3]. )

Max Payne. )

Metal Gear Solid. )

Psychonauts. )

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. )
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
I haven't written a review for The Nameless Mod yet (or the original Deus Ex, for that matter), but I do have copious screencaps. The ones in this post fall into one of three categories: humorous, references to other series, or just plain cool. Image heavy with some strong language. (Alternately, you can view the screencaps through their gallery.)

[This post was typed up and formatted Sunday, but I didn't have time to edit it then.]

Hilarity. )

Hey, I've seen that before! )

Oooooh. )
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Thief talk. )

I still haven't written any kind of review for Deus Ex, but there is one conversation I thrilled at the first time I heard it which addresses many of the central themes of the game. It takes place relatively late in the game -- the main character, JC Denton, has completed the last of his quests in Paris and is in the home of Morgan Everett, current leader of the Illuminati. In a small side room guarded by an electronically coded door, JC discovers a prototype of an echelon system named Morpheus. You can watch or read the conversation below the following cut:

'God was a dream of good government. You will soon have your God, and you will make it with your own hands.' )
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Thief: Deadly Shadows is the third - and, at the moment, final - game of the Thief series that began with The Dark Project in 1998. Looking Glass Studios, who also created System Shock and Ultima Underworld, initially designed The Dark Project as an action/adventure game with additional RPG elements set in a grim version of Camelot. It was only later that thievery became the game's focus and stealth play in a pseudo-medieval/steampunk world the game's trademark.

The Dark Project was successful enough that a souped-up version of the game was released in 1999 as Thief Gold and a sequel - Thief II: The Metal Age - in 2000. Shortly thereafter, Looking Glass Studios closed, which led Thief fans to wonder over the fate of the series. However, the fandom did not die, perhaps in large part due to DromEd, the level editor for the first two Thief games that was released with Thief Gold and allowed fans to create their own missions. It was in this time after the closer of Looking Glass that the concept of Thief2X: Shadows of the Metal Age was born -- a fan-made expansion for Thief II made through DromEd that would be as lengthy and complex as the previous Thief games. If the professional studios wouldn't made another Thief, the the fans would do it on their own!

As it turns out, the studios did make another Thief game -- Thief III: Deadly Shadows, which was released in 2004 and lost its 'III' title in an attempt to access a wider audience who hadn't already played the first two Thiefs. Thief: Deadly Shadows brought with it a number of changes: new developing studio (Ion Storm), new game engine (modified Unreal 2), new technology, and new platforms (both PC and console [XBox]). Nevertheless, a number of ex-Looking Glass employees worked on Deadly Shadows with Ion Storm, including designer Randy Smith and sound master Eric Brosius.

Deadly Shadows continues the story of Garrett, the expert thief lead character of the series who was an orphan living on the streets and stealing to survive until he became part of the Keepers, a secret organization focused on gathering information and maintaining balance in the world. However, after the Keepers trained Garrett, he left them and used the skills they had taught him to become a master thief. Garrett is not a heroic character, nor is he a villain (although it can be - and is - debated among players); rather, he is someone who is primarily looking out for himself and mostly wants to be left alone, only to be manipulated by powers higher than himself into taking action throughout the course of the three games.

That was a far longer introduction to the Thief series than I set out to write, but I think it covers it well. Now, to the gameplay of Deadly Shadows!

Deadly Shadows introduced a number of new features to Thief gameplay, while revising others and taking a few away. Here, I'll go through what I consider the most important features one at a time. This will contain spoilers, but minor ones.

Deadly Shadows gameplay. )

There are a number of aspect in Deadly Shadows I could choose to focus on, but as this review is already longer than either I anticipated or any other review I've written, I'm going to write my overall view of the game (my opinion, obviously) and then conclude with my favourite and least favourite missions.

Was Deadly Shadows a good game? I would say yes.

Did Deadly Shadows live up to the Thief legacy? It tried, and it's still recognizably Thief, but there are definitely improvements that could have been made. I'm still on the fence on this one (no pun intended), though I'm not going to question its title as the third in the Thief trilogy.

Is Deadly Shadows equal to the first two Thiefs? No. Even though the graphics show their age, the first two games (and T2X) have more impressive atmospheres and stories. Deadly Shadows particularly dropped the ball in the briefing and cutscene department, which may seem a minor complaint, but it's a problem when you can't even animate your main character consistently across the game. However, I especially mention briefings and cutscenes because they were beautiful and enthralling to watch in the first two Thiefs (and Thief2X carried on the tradition admirably) and were some of the most memorable moments in the game for me.

In conclusion, something worth playing for Thief fans, as well as those who enjoy stealth games. However, Thief fans will probably find fault, in addition to being less challenging than the first two Thiefs. It's difficult to live up to a legacy and (as of this year) ten years of support and devotion from one of the most talented small fandoms I've ever had the pleasure to encounter and Deadly Shadows doesn't quite manage it. But maybe the fans will.

Actually, strike that. The fans already have. If the over 300 fan missions out there, Thief2X, The Dark Mod, and the still very active fan community over on TTLG doesn't prove that, I don't know what will.

My favourite and least favourite Deadly Shadows missions [some spoilers]. )

Any and all spelling and other errors are my responsibility and I apologize; I have only edited this a little.


argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)

March 2016



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