Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Homeless Nerd Reviews - The Lego Batman Movie

What is it?  Everybody's favorite (or at least well known) dark and broody superhero from The Lego Movie gets his own spin-off film.  Funny, but with some really dramatic moments and great emotional undercurrent.

    Holy Moley I loved this movie, and Batman is not even one of my favorite characters.  I cannot believe how deftly the writing team pulled off hitting so many character notes that are at the heart of the dark knight, but in such a funny and entertaining way.
    I've mentioned before how I love stories that do not see-saw between comedy and drama, but are one with a great foundation of the other.  This is that in spades.  It is not only a funny movie with a lot of heart (I cried a little at one point, if you don't then you've never lost someone dear to you), but it even took that same approach and applied to the character of Batman himself.  Using the dark and broody source material they built this wonderful comedic frame on top of it - that actually makes this one of the best Batman stories in my opinion.  It also has a great take on why he's run around with one 'Boy Wonder' after another in his career.  It is really a treat to watch, and very much in the same style as The Lego Movie, so if you liked that odds are you'll like this.

My recommendation: I got this one from Redbox, and it was some of the best $2 I've ever spent; see it, wherever you get it from, see it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why I like point-buy systems

    I can't remember how it happened.  A few days ago (well, maybe a few weeks now) I was looking over my AD&D 2nd Skills & Powers book.  I haven't played AD&D since High School, which is now measured in decades ago.  I always liked the point-buy books (Skills & Powers, Magic & something and Combat & Tactics [I'm at the library, don't have the books in front of me]) but never actually played them.  So why they popped into my head I don't recall - but I decided to make a character for them.
    I like half-elves and fighter/mages, so I decided to start with that.  I wanted a kind of jack of all trades, someone who could be useful in a variety of roles, but not outstanding at anything - which got me thinking, what if he was a traveling knight or soldier who helped other travelers and pilgrims and such?  Kind of a road guard and rescue squad.  That seemed like a good concept to start with, and I was wondering if S&P could even handle it.  Of course, for the very few who might not know, AD&D was class based, so you got specific abilities and specific levels.  S&P let you change the abilities you had, dropping and adding new ones, to make a custom character/class by spending points.
    Being AD&D, my half-elf was limited to certain classes and multi-class options.  So I started looking at the abilities and seeing which classes had the ones that fit the concept.  I looked at Fighter, Thief, Wizard (of course) and Cleric - and after a few scrap papers settled on Wizard/Cleric.  I didn't want to have a million abilities, but I did want a lot that were not in the base classes, and so would cost extra.  That meant taking disadvantages (I think the book called them limitations) to get the extra points I needed.  So I began the serious stage by choosing those first.
    Light armor seemed a good fit, this was going to be a quick, come the rescue kind of character, not a front line fighter.  "Awkward Casting" was a limit that his magic could not be hidden when cast, which sounded fine, I justified that as him being someone who wanted to be seen, to let people know that he was there for them.  "Talisman/symbol" meant he needed to hold or have an item to cast spells, and the idea of a staff that he channeled magic through (making it glow and stuff to be obvious) came to me.  I was going to make him the stereotypical elf sword/bow fighter.  "Behavior/taboo" meant there was something he had to, or could not, do - and darn it if I didn't write that down and now I don't remember what I was going for.  I think it might have been something like always tell the truth.  Again, he had become a symbol, not a thief type.  Those limits were in both classes, but the wizard also had the option to limit magic items usable; I decided he couldn't use any necromancy or illusion magic items, since they went against his helping people and being visible/honest/upfront.
    That settled, and with some extra points, I could start buying abilities.  The Wizard side was the easiest, each class got a different number of points to spend (not a fan of that) and the Wizard had to lowest (while the Cleric had the highest, which made me settle on that as the second).  For his Wiz abilities I gave him: can cast in any armor, gains a bonus spell/day, automatically acquires spells on level up, and could only cast from the Alteration, Abjuration, Divination and Invocation/Evocation schools.  So his magic was supposed to protect, find people and things, let him transform to fit the circumstances, and blast anything that needed it.  No idea if that's what I got, the AD&D spell lists could be weird and by the time I finished I didn't want to pick his spells and roll to learn them (also not a fan of).  So this cemented the traveling rescue idea, and I thought he could also do things like organize and train militias, and use his magic to help hunt dangerous creatures terrorizing a community.
    The Cleric side was a lot harder in some ways, because I had a ton of points to spend (140 I think, to the Wiz 80 or so).  I wanted him to have some Warrior Non-Weapon Proficiencies (the early AD&D skill system that is either loved or hated, I don't think it was a great implementation) because they included stuff like Survival and Tracking and Riding, all of which seemed to fit the character (and I'd have to pay extra for, so this was the cheapest way to buy them).  I also gave him the Fighter THAC0 progression, since I wanted him to be a decent fighter.  The really had part was the spells.  I did want him to have some Cleric spells, since they included the healing and remove curse/ poison/ disease/ et all that seemed to fit the character.  But, in S&P the Cleric spells are divided into a ton of Spheres (like Wiz schools) and there are Minor (up to 3rd) and Major (all) versions of each, all of which had different point costs.  I ended up with Creation, Guardian, Protection, Healing, Animal, Plants, Weather, Traveler, War and Wards.  All of those sounded like the character, but again I'm not sure of the exact spell list since this took me most of an afternoon to hash out.  Funny thing was, I still had some points left over after that.
    So I bounced ahead and got his NWPs: Riding, Healing, Herbalism, Read/Write, Survival (mountains and forest), and Tracking.  I also could select a kit, a general skin that would flesh out the class.  I immediately thought Rider when I saw it (he has to get around to help people after all) - but then on the animal list I saw Griffin.  Now, I love griffins, and it seemed a perfect match since it would let him fly around.
    I only had weapons left, which I knew was going to be tricky, so I went back to try to finish spending those Cleric points.  And I saw something that hit me.  In S&P as a Cleric sub-type there is that Shaman, a Cleric that communes with spirits of deceased ancestors, or a specific place, or nature in general.  Suddenly I thought, what if the griffins, being half-animals (land and air) were some kind of bridge to the mystical/spiritual world and so they granted some mortals access to spells and powers to help their fellow man?  I sounded like a crazy idea, but when I thought of him summoning spirits it just sort of felt like a neat fit.  So I gave him the ability to commune with animal spirits, which would increase with his levels like spells (in a more limited way).
    Now I really just needed his weapons.  I wanted him to use a sword and bow, then thought a spear would make a useful weapon too, but the point costs for learning all these weapons not on either classes' list was too much.  When I thought of something else, what if he only used the spear (a land weapon and air when thrown, like the griffins) and that spear was like his badge of office and the thing he cast magic through for his talisman, and in an obvious way because now I started thinking that there had been some kind of magical catastrophe and the griffins were created from that and decided to help man - wizards would be kind of frowned on or outright outlaws.  With only the spear to learn, I could give him "weapon of choice" and expertise which gave him a +1 to hit and 3/2 attks per round, so he would be pretty good with it, at the cost of being useless with anything else.
    Mostly done, I finished up the last few details and had a ready-to-play character for a version of D&D I never play.

    Okay, so what's the point?  I'm sure you've been fascinated by my tale, but maybe you missed something, like I did at first - it came to me a day or two later.  I love point-buy systems because you have to keep coming up with ways to build your concept, and then ways to change your concept when you can't buy exactly what you want.  Almost each step through this process led me to refine my "fighter/mage" generic idea into an almost setting concept and more unique character class (though in hindsight, I was also channeling Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar pretty heavy).  I've written the Joe Haldeman quote before here, that "art thrives on restrictions."  With just a class or multi-class character I never would have come up with something so detailed (which I know because I made a lot of them and never did).  The choices and trade-off and limits of each step drove me to ask myself questions and things grew from there.  Maybe this is just me, it might be a by-product of the strange way my mind works.  I noticed the same thing when doing my series of 1 Character 13 Systems; when I made the Hero System (heavily, totally, quintessentially point-buy) I thought up some nice details of my character concept when, again, I had left-over points.  Random tables can be nice, but the back and forth of point buy really speaks to me, in a way that's hard to do with just a class.  Pathfinder hit that same strange block for me, they added archetypes to alter how a class worked, but there are so damn many of them that it's like having a million classes to try to choose from.  My character would kind of be a Magus, but again not quite what I wanted or what he grew into.
    Anyways, this was just a strange thing that kind of pointed out to me something that I really already knew, but seemed noteworthy enough to bother all of you with it :)  Also, sadly, it made me think of a character and setting I'd really like to play and develop - but likely never will :(

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Has it almost been 5 years ?!

    Wow, while sitting at the computer trying to think of something to write (been a very depressing day and I can't remember anything I had wanted to write about); I realized next month will be 5 years since I started the blog.  Damn, time sure does fly fast when you get old.  My 130-something posts are a pretty pathetic showing for so much time, but as I mentioned before: I do like having the blog even if I don't get to it much (what did you use a colon and semi-colon for again?).
    Oddly this year has seen a jump in my visitors - which either means somehow some people have actually heard of me (see pathetic posting schedule above) or I've attracted the attention of some sort of bot.  If you are human and reading this, thank you so much for visiting my corner of the internet.  If you're a bot: 01100111 01101111 00100000 01100001 01110111 01100001 01111001.
    I do have things I want to write (despite not being able to think of them at the moment).  I am going to try to get something out at least once a week (though every time I say that I don't - so maybe I should keep that to myself).  I'd like to do some more design-related posts, I have a few ideas, but I'm away from my group (the few friends I have) to try to playtest anything - and I do hate how many untested ideas I've thrown out there.  Anyways, will try to write more since somebody is actually listening.  And again, thank you so much for visiting my site.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda

   I haven't really felt like writing out any formal reviews of the games I've been playing, and this is going to continue the trend.  So all this will be stream-of consciousness ranting.
    Amazingly, I have been playing a game that came out this year. Shock and awe!  Actually, thank you Redbox for letting me try out a game that I didn't know if I'd actually want to play.  I played all three of the original Mass Effect games, and liked them overall (of course, the original ending to 3 sucked, which no doubt any computer gamer has heard of).  I've played all the Dragon Age games, including Inquisition (sadly), also by Bioware (which I mention because I'll reference it later), and mostly liked those as well (first was the best IMO).  So I was kind of looking forward to Andromeda, but not exactly jumping for joy to see it.  Let me run through a few things from the (admittedly limited) time I've played.  I have only made it about half-way through the game, so there won't be any spoilers.

    The biggest complaint I heard about before playing Andromeda was the animation.  You can find tons of YouTube videos on the bad facial animations and general animation bugs.  I first played after a patch, which helped fix those, but being partially deaf I always play with the subtitles on - so I could easily ignore the faces, which are mediocre for the most part.
    Okay, so that out of the way, overall I'd say it was an okay game, but not amazing.  It felt like a Mass Effect game overall, not as big as 1 but broader than 2, not as scripted as 3.  It was alright in terms of being ME.  You start the game as one of the Ryder twins, who are low-level explorers under their dad, just arriving in the Andromeda galaxy on a one-way trip.  It's different from ME 1 where Shepard was already known, you choosing what he was known for.  So it feels a little different, but I found that a good thing as it helped subtly detach me from missing Shepard so much.
    Classes are gone, you can choose between Tech, Biotic or Combat as you will.  That is cool in a gameplay sense - you have freedom to try different playstyles and tactics.  It makes the story weird though.  One of your first companions, Cora, is a Biotic, and will talk about how she was basically ostracized for her powers - and never mention that you too could be a Biotic, thus sympathizing.  Also, at a later point she uses her powers in a pretty dramatic way - and again you get ignored even if you fully spent that way.  It's a small thing, but it really stood out to me the few times it popped up.
    The trees seem pretty well-rounded.  Most of the Combat skills didn't appeal to me, and it felt like a lot of the Biotic skills were meant for melee - so I went mostly Tech.  I did try them all, Tech just fit better for me (as it did in ME 3, prior to that one I had always been a soldier).  The abilities are okay, but introduced a new combo system - some skills primed a combo, and some detonated a combo, and combos do a pretty significant amount of damage and so are quite useful.  But, there are a lot more primers than detonators, which made it feel like you had to stick to a few skills, and it was impossible to co-ordinate with your companions to have one of you prime and the other detonate, which would have been awesome (yes, companions can prime, but you have to notice what they're doing to whom, which can be quite difficult in the chaos of combat).
    Also, you could only keep 3 skills (no more power wheel) active, on the Xbox they were left/right bumper and both together.  That really feels limiting after opening the game up so you can choose from so many powers.  I hated that part of the game, the old power wheel would have been much better.
    Your one wheel is now your guns and consumables - maybe it's just me, but I always forgot I had consumables.  They can recharge your shields, launch a rocket, or give you disrupter or incendiary ammo - so they are useful; I just forgot about them.  I don't remember that system ever being in the previous games, and I did play on the easy difficulty (I was paying by the day to rent it, so I wanted to get as far as possible - though it could still be nicely difficult at some spots) so I didn't need them as much as someone or Hardcore (or the equivalent).  You also start with only 2 gun slots, have to buy in the combat tree to unlock 3 and 4, and gun weight can slow your power recharge speed.  All of that was fine, I would recommend getting the 3rd slot so you can keep a short, medium and long ranged weapon, which you can get fairly light versions of or abilities to increase your carry weight (assault rifle, shotgun and sniper rifle left me at -3% with my tech heavy build).
    Weapons are okay, there are a lot of different types, but you have to craft them. You almost never see a weapon drop from an enemy unless you researched it (more on that in a sec), or even for sale.  That totally sucked.  The weapons do shoot fairly differently, so it would be great to be able to try them out on a gun range type setting (like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided).  I really like assault rifles (can passably snipe distance, short bursts work at medium, and if someone gets close you can hold down the trigger - so they're jack-of-all-trade weapons) and just kept the one I started with for the game, mostly (crafted one upgraded and modded version).  The Reegar Shotgun (not sure of spelling, too lazy to look it up) is Totally Awesome - it Shoots Lighting!!! I loved it, it's wicked at close range against just about anything.  One of the Kett (your enemy race) sniper rifles has explosive shots, which was also fun.  I'd recommend watching some YouTube videos on the different gun types before playing, to save yourself some grief.
    You can also mod weapons and armor - which sucks overall.  Fallout 4 did a much better system, Andromeda is a mostly useless sub-system.  You have to scan objects in the world to earn research points, and there are 3 different types of research points which making different weapons, armors and mods.  Research is kind of hard to come by in the early game, so it really hurts to waste points on a weapon you don't like the feel of (hence my suggestion to look them up before playing). Later in the game you get a good pool of points, but it uses the stupid treadmill system every damn stupid game has to use - so you pay to research Avenger 1, then pay more for Avenger 2 and so on and so on until Avenger 10 (or whatever).  Each level is only a little better than the one before though, so it doesn't feel like you got much for your investment.  From 1 to 2 is a step, since at 2 you can add mods to a gun and enhance it, but even from 1 to 10 is only like a 10-20% increase (or so, I don't have the game in front of me to verify the numbers) - so it doesn't feel like an accomplishment.  I kept my first crafted and modified assault rifle thorough the half-way point of the game I ended at.  Again, being on Easy might have made it less noticeable, Hardcore people might need to stay upgrading, but I just thought is was crap, and it's crap in all the other games that do it.  Far better was the mod system, where you could make a weapon not use ammo but overheat (like ME 1, which is still my favorite system and totally fit the lore), or shoot lightning (though you have a cool shotgun noted above for that) or plasma balls - you can really see and feel the difference with mods.  Those mods, and turning the different weapon types into mods, I would have loved (so, there are like 4 types of assault rifles, one that is a general full auto, another is higher damage but single shot, another shoots bursts only, and another full auto but has a spin-up time like a minigun - all of those would have been better as mods to the base "assault rifle" template in my opinion).
    You can also craft and upgrade armor - but again crafting sucks.  You have to harvest a stupid number of different materials (making it really hard to remember which one you need for your current project, or figure out where to find that stuff), and your options are really crappy for some items.  I really wanted to make the N7 armor my dad designed - but it only buffed Biotic powers, kind of stupid given dad could do all abilities like you.  Useful armor mods were hard to find for me (like +health or +shields), I only saw them in a few stores, and the ones you can craft are very limited in scope.  In order to craft you also have to mine, which you do by driving around in circles (literally) on a planet when the computer tells you you're near some materials.  I Totally Hated That Time-Wasting Crap.  Buying them is kind of expensive, and you can't really find them from orbit like ME2 (though ME 2 had a similar system, which also sucked).  In all, look online for the guns you think you'll like, research them a level or two, craft them - and then forget about the whole system.  It's honestly more of a waste of time than it is helpful.
    Combat is good though, it's more fast-paced, your jetpack and dodge let you zip around the battlefield (and a Biotic ability creates a shield that reflects bullets, which is fun for when you want to walk right up to somebody's face).  The enemy AI seemed decent, and there are different enemy types.  Overall I thought the combat was the best part of the game (and you do plenty of it).
    Dialogue, however, sucks.  Forgetting any animation glitches, you almost never know what exactly you're going to say, and it really felt like it didn't matter what you said (something Fallout 4 did as well, though I don't know if I remembered to mention it in my post).  I really hated talking to people, which I was hoping would be a great part of the system - and I liked lots more in ME 1-3.
    Companions are okay, most all of them are interesting characters in a variety of personalities.  Their random banter can be really cool, which I remember loving in Dragon Age: Origins and am happy to see in Andromeda.  There are romance options like always, actual nudity in the obligatory sex scene (why? though it is better than the underwear scene from DA:O), but nothing really different from the previous games.  Which is good, if it ain't broke don't fix it.
    The story, however, blows chunks.  It is not really that engaging, has several easy to see plot points, and just didn't seem like it was that much fun to do the main quests.  It is full of side quests, most of which felt like a waste of time, which reminded of the worst of Dragon Age: Inquisition (though not as horrific as DA:I).  I was really hoping for multiple alien races, I only saw one, which felt odd given all the many different races, with different personalities, in the previous games.  I got about half-way through the main storyline (according to internet research) and honestly I don't care if I ever finish it.  Doesn't seem like you make many meaningful decisions, and the lack of Paragon/Renegade didn't help (even though those were mediocre morality systems, they did have some great interrupt moments)(loved pushing the guy out the window in ME2).
    Also, being strangers in a strange galaxy, there is a kind of base-building system.  You can earn points by terraforming planets to wake up more colonists and gain different abilities from the ones you thaw.  Except, the bonuses you get are really forgettable and don't contribute much.  Your first base you can choose weather to be scientific or military - and you never get that choice for subsequent bases, and it doesn't matter except for one or two lines of dialogue.  This is where it painfully reminded me of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I'm sad that after making such a suck-all base system in that game they did the same thing in Andromeda.  There's also a multiplayer thing I didn't use because I don't like multiplayer, and some rewards in real-time that were also so small as to be inconsequential.

    Overall, I'd say if you liked the Mass Effect games wait to get this one cheap at GameStop.  If you didn't care for ME, then skip this one, I doubt it will sell you on the franchise.  Or just rent it a time or two from Redbox like I did.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Thoughts on Fallout 4

    As usual for me, I'm behind several years on the games I play.  So I've just finished playing Fallout 4.  Well, "finished" in the sense that I've hit the limit of what I can stand doing, not that I've run out of things/quests to do.  I did finish the main quest though.  So here are a few thoughts about it.
    I loved the crafting system for weapons.  It was a nice touch, making all that junk that's lying around in every Fallout game (at least 3 & NV that I've played) actually useful, and scrounging has the post-apocalyptic feel.  It also was useful, letting you make much better weapons out of the ones you find.  I love crafting too, which helped :)  Some of the options were really good too, changing how the guns felt shooting or letting you tailor your weapons to your playstyle, like close and automatic or long-ranged sniping.  The plasma option to turn your gun into a mini-flamethrower was a totally great addition (so much fun).  On the downside, you do have the omnipresent level grind where you go from 'standard receiver' to 'advanced receiver' to 'amazingly godlike receiver' for your base damage upgrading.  I've never been fond of that style of mechanic, though I guess it is unavoidable with a level-based game.
    Likewise I loved the settlement building.  Had that perfect feel for trying to create a new, better future.  Again, loving crafting helped.  It was awesome to build my own mansion, using large glass windows to look out on the ruined city (from my island, after ridding it of Milelurks).  But that charm really wore off when I realized there was no good reason at all to actually build a settlement.  All it gave you was some crafting stations, which are everywhere, a place to store your junk (that is you didn't like crafting wasn't an issue), and a few useful crops (glue is used in everything, literally, so being able to grow your own was a huge plus).  Overall though, they can get attacked, side-tracking you from you were doing to help.  Settlers do not level up, and have no gear really, so equipping them to survive the higher level enemies was a micromanaging pain the behind.  They take a lot of resources to build, and just again, you get little from the sense of accomplishment from them - which isn't something to scoff at, but wears out fairly quickly.
    Like the last 2 Fallout games, the main quest is something you can really ignore.  I didn't care at all about finding my son, and waited several days of playing before working on it.  The faction quests were okay, though I mostly focused on The Brotherhood of Steel myself.  The ending was not really very satisfying - but that's been true of the last 2 Fallout games in spades; I HATED New Vegas for making me walk off into the sunset when I'd worked so hard to make my own robot army to take over the place.
    Otherwise there's plenty to do, and some fun quests (the robots on the ship was awesome, the witchcraft museum was great - even knowing the plot really, and the haunted mine was totally cool).  I did not like any of the companions, until I got the Automatron DLC and loved Ada your robot friend.  The difficulty was good for me, not too hard, though near the end it did start to get pretty easy.  Getting your first suit of power armor early on was fantastic, though the fight for it was pretty intense.
    I liked the game.  For the discounted price I got it from GameStop it was well worth it, and I thought the DLC was decently priced for what you got.

First Impressions - Gwent: The Witcher Card Game

    Found a preview build of this on a friend's Xbox One. I've heard of The Witcher (mostly good things) but never played any of the games.  I was hitting the end of my Fallout 4 kick (which I'll talk about soon) and figured I'd try something new.  I've played a fair number of card games in the past, my brother got me hooked on Magic when it first came out.  The Battletech CCG was cool, and a tabletop game I liked, Mythos, the Call of Cuthulu CCG was innovative of the times, and the Aliens CCG looked neat but I never got to play it.  So I've seen a few in my day, though granted that was many years ago.
    Gwent struck me as a really cool game, and an interesting twist on some of the common mechanics.  Briefly, you construct for one of 5 or 6 factions each with their own strategies.  You draw a good sized hand, but the game is played in 3 rounds and on round 2 you draw 2 more cards and round 3 only 1 card.  So it makes a nice tension for how many cards do you want to burn though now or save for later.  It also makes for circumstances when choosing to lose a round is a good tactical option.  That's a nice complexity.  The winner of each round is determined but a simple total of power, highest wins.  Each character card has a power number, "spells" and such do not.  So your cards do not directly fight like in Magic, though they do have abilities that can target each other.  You also have a leader card with a powerful special ability, but they can only be played once in the entire match.  Cards are placed on one of 3 rows: melee, ranged and siege; and some effects target a whole row or adjacent units.  It has a nice tactical depth without being too hard to learn and track (in my so far limited experience).
    If you like card games or board games I'd give it a try.
    There are a few things I am not too fond of.  The tutorial didn't quite explain that when you pass, you stop acting/playing cards for the round.  I thought like most CCG's you only sat out one round.  This does make some of the "damage over time"-type effects a little less useful, since you have to keep playing cards to sustain the effect and you may need to stop to avoid burning yourself out for later.  The card effects are not always explained well, though in play you start to get a feel for the quirks, but since it's basically a beta game I'm sure the tooltips and such will get clearer soon enough.  Also, the number one problem with any CCG is explaining the fundamental tactics that each faction uses.  It can be a little hard to suss out by reading the cards, I'd imagine moreso if you are new to card games in general.  This can be kind of simple, like the monster deck that summons and sacrifices cards, or a little trickier - the leader in the deck I've mostly used has an ability I did not catch at first.  Normally you hold your leader, since it can only be played once in the whole match; but this leader added 1 power to every character in my hand and deck - so it was best to play him as the first card of the match.  Not a big deal, but I wish more games would give some hints or a walk-through of strategies in general, just to soften the learning curve.
    I'm sure I'll play it some more, but just against the computer opponents.  I don't really like playing adversarial games in general, and I don't really care for playing games with or against random people across the world.  Still, I thought it was a pretty good game, it's free, and worth taking a look at.

Life sucks

... Which has been a part of my not blogging.