Games

Red Dead Redemption II

There are games that I’ve played that have left an impression on me. Each one for a different reason. It’s kind of why I have an issue with top 10 lists. I don’t know how to create a top 10 list because I might have three games that all deserve the top spot but for different reasons. Maybe it’s for the gameplay, the story, the graphics, the challenge, or any other category. Red Dead Redemption 2 might be the first game that carries all of them for me.

RDR 2 starts a few years prior to the original game, so it works as a prequel to the story of John Marston, which I won’t get into here. It’s 1899 and civilization is encroaching on the Old West and the outlaws that run it. Some folks welcome the opportunity, while the outlaws see it as an encroachment of Uncle Sam on their freedom. You play as Arthur Morgan, an admittedly bad man, but one who holds to a code. “Kill those that need killin’, save those that need savin’, and feed those that need feedin’.” So these folks are bad people, but they aren’t bad people. It’s hard to make sense of that until you see how they all interact with each other.

Arthur starts out as a bit of a clean slate for the player. Play him how you want. Be a killer or a hero. The game rewards you with honor points based on your actions and they absolutely effect the way the world operates for you. Do enough bad deeds and the world reacts in kind. Do enough good deeds and you might see that people are more kind, and more doors are opened to you since you aren’t a notorious killer. This basically boils down to never shooting first and never stealing from people that don’t deserve it. It’s not hard to be a good guy despite the fact that the games missions routinely make you stand on the wrong side of the law.

I’ve played it the entire way through as a good guy. I helped people when they asked, I made the good decision when it was offered to me, and I generally didn’t rob from random strangers. As I started my second play through to see how the game plays as a bad guy, I find it incredibly challenging. I read through Arthur’s journals, which is an entirely optional thing though I would recommend it, and what I read is the thoughts of a decent man. I have a hard time playing as a ruthless killer, when the man himself is actually a decent human being. He even has thoughts on the things that I’ve made him do. I’m too empathetic to be the bad guy.

It’s a weird thing to feel empathy for characters in a video game but if there has ever been a video game that does it, it’s this one. The animators did an amazing job making these people feel real. It’s not just the animators though. The voice acting is absolutely incredible. There are times when I’m convinced I’m watching a movie. There are heavy moments in Arthurs journey and there are facial ticks, and emotions in the eyes I didn’t even know were possible with a video game. I’m not going to lie. I cried more than once in my play through. There are some truly heartbreaking moments, and of course, huge moments of redemption.

My journey with Arthur was much like a lot of other peoples, but Rockstar did an amazing job making it feel like he was my Arthur Morgan. Almost like he was a living, breathing human who was just trying to find a way to be free of the life he’d led and become who he really wanted to be.

SPOILER ALERT

Along the journey, Arthur ends up getting tuberculosis. I never saw it coming, and when it happened, it was a major shock, and a game changer. How does a man approach his bad life when he’s facing certain death? My Arthur approached it by helping everyone he came across and handing money over whenever given the opportunity in order to see someone else live better. The game changes dramatically after the TB diagnosis, and I can only imagine that it was a huge decision amongst the developers to decide that the hero we’d been riding with was going to die. There was a certain urgency brought to the game when it happened. I’m so thankful for that story decision, and the roller coaster ride it took me on.

I’m in my second play through now, and I’m taking my time with it this time. The first time through I was just tryin to beat the game, but the second time, I’m trying to explore and enjoy the world that the fine folks at Rockstar built. This game feels tailor made for me in terms of subject matter, story, and gameplay. I love everything about it. Some folks got completely immersed in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and found it to be endless in terms of activities. I’m finding that same joy in Red Dead Redemption 2. I’m still enjoying it, and I probably will for the forseeable future.

I haven’t even tried the Online stuff yet. Can’t wait to dive into that with Jacob and start wandering the Old West in our very own posse.

God of War

I have never played a God of War game. It was just a whole series of action game that looked super fun, but I didn’t have a PlayStation and it wasn’t enough to pull me in. I didn’t have any friends with the games so I just never got to pick it up. Truth be told, those kinds of games just don’t work for me like others do. I’ve always been a story oriented gamer. The story has to be the highlight. Obviously the gameplay matters or I’ll never get to the story, but in general, I’d say that the games I enjoy most are heavy on well-rounded characters. My top games list includes games like The Last of Us, the Uncharted Series, Grim Fandango, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and others.

This latest edition of God of War scratched nearly every itch I have when it comes to a video game. It had incredible visuals, sound design, story, character development, world building, and, of course, outstanding gameplay. The graphics in this game are second to none. When I mention graphics, I mean the animations, textures, models, and everything. The lighting in some of the caves is astounding, and I felt at times that I was just watching a fully realized movie. Granted so many movies use CGI, they might as well be video games but still. One of the awesome choices the team made when they created this game was that the camera would be fixed and over the shoulder for most of the game. This is a huge departure from previous games that were more of an isometric, or 2D side-scrolling perspective. This basically leads to a seamless experience. There are never any cuts away from Kratos. You’re following him the whole time. Unlike Uncharted games where full-on movie sequences take place, this game leaves you viewing the world from Kratos’s perspective.

The gameplay was also super solid. I’ll admit, I’m a dad and don’t have the time to die over and over again. I took the difficulty down to the “I want a story” mode so I could just play and enjoy myself. I regretted it initially. Honestly, what kind of a gamer am I if I can’t play a game on “balanced” (ie. “normal”) mode. A gamer who digs stories more than challenge, that’s who. I got so much more joy after I toned down the difficulty. I really appreciate this new trend in not referring to modes as easy, normal, hard, but rather tailoring it to different play styles. Some folks don’t want to play with a Dark Souls level of challenge. I’m one of those gamers. Mainly because I don’t get a lot of time to game. I can’t play for 2 hours only to make roughly 45 minutes of progress in the main storyline. That would never work for me. With the difficulty toned down, I got to really blow through enemies with the incredible abilities that Kratos has. The fighting was fluid and responsive. Dodging, blocking, and swinging my axe all felt great. I’d honestly play this again just to enjoy the battles I got into.

Sound design. Man, sound design. There is a lot to say about this game, but the overall thing that I think sold it more than any other aspect is the sound. When Kratos picks up a boulder, it’s accompanied by a rock crushing sound. Bits of dust and tiny rocks can be heard crumbling off whatever structure he’s struggling with. Arrows zoom past with a sound that indicates just how fast they are. Punches land with gruesome thuds. There are countless moments where the sound made the difference regarding how believable something was. Opening a chest and pushing the giant stone cover off, hearing it crumble to the ground, is on par with the Zelda treasure music. It was so satisfying to hear it every time. They worked tirelessly to make this game feel epic and getting the sound right was key to that.

The relationship between Kratos and his son is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. I’m a dad now, and I think this game had more impact on me than it might on someone who doesn’t have a son of their own. Stephanie even took notice that this probably had a lot more to say to me than it did to her. Kratos is a hard father. You understand that from the moment the game starts. His son is just a kid trying to figure things out and doing his best. The thing I learned as it went on is that Kratos is only doing what he knows how to do, but he does take the time to listen. Amongst all the intense battles and puzzle solving in this game, there are quiet moments where Kratos and Atreus just talk to each other. Those are some of the most amazing moments in the game and it speaks to the writers and their ability to build solid, believable characters.

This game is everything I expect when I pick up a game that talks about being an epic story. Stephanie and I both came to realize that the games that work best for us, are the ones where there is more than one character completing a task. The dialogue is almost constant in this game. Either Kratos, Atreus, or Mimir (a disembodied head you carry) are talking about something while you are running from here to there. Sometimes it’s just to fill in lore, and other times it’s something important that you’ll want to remember as you go along. I never got bored in my entire playthrough. I haven’t completed the whole game, but I did finish the main storyline and it was very satisfying.

This is one of the few games that I’ve played that I want to run right around and play again. If you’re into heavy narratives and action-packed gameplay, I can’t recommend this enough. I’m already crossing my fingers for a sequel.

God of War: Buy it Now

Dungeon Mastering

On Tuesday of next week, I’ll be dungeon mastering for the first time in maybe six years. I’m terrified.

I know I can do it. I’ve been a dungeon master for a game before, but this time it’s a little more complicated. We’re using Roll20 to play the game since we’re all in different states, so I have a lot more to plan for and learn. When you play a game of Dungeons and Dragons live at a table, you have a lot of options of how to make things super fun and think on your feet a bit more. When you play with an online tool, you’re fairly restricted to how the tool works and what you have available there. I can draw all over a piece of paper to make a new area of a map or create a new village out of nowhere, but I’m pretty locked in with Roll20. Not to mention we’re even playing a version of this D20 game that I’ve never ran before called Pathfinder. That was my idea though, so I can blame myself if the ruleset gets confusing.

The great news about all of this is that I’ll be playing with friends who already know that most of this is new and we have a lot to learn together. They’ve already been very supportive regarding their expectations of what the game is going to be and they know this is the first time I’ve used this tool. I couldn’t start in a better position.

We’re doing a brand new boxed adventure from Paizo, the publishers of Pathfinder, called Crownfall. It’s kind of a political intrigue game where there’s a lot of roleplaying going on. I think it’s going to be super fun for all of us, especially considering the fun cast of characters playing. I have to study up on the history and the adventure though, because there is a lot for me to digest and understand regarding the lore. There’s also a ton of little “if this then that” moments where I’ll have to think on my feet to keep the game interesting. I love boxed adventures because they are a great way to get used to the game, but there isn’t a whole lot of room to improvise since there are specific moments we need to hit. In my own stories we can go whatever direction we want, but with these there are specific beats.

I’m really excited to give this a try and see how it goes. I think everyone else is pretty pumped as well, so regardless of how much we fumble around with the story or the tools, I know we’ll have a great time.

Grim Fandango – Part 1

I started the Grim Fandango stream last night! I forgot how much I really loved this game. I thought I might get bored of the dialogue, or want to just get the puzzles over with, but I’m really enjoying walking around in the world. I’m so glad I decided to stream this. I think everyone else was having a good time as well.

Double Fine Adventure

I am such a ridiculously HUGE fan of Double Fine Adventure. The documentary created by Double Fine and 2 Player Productions as part of The Biggest Kickstarter of All Time(tm). Okay, it was the biggest one at the time it was done, earning over $3.3 Million to make an adventure game and a documentary.

If you’ve been around me long enough, you know that I am a huge adventure gaming fan. I was a fan of them long before I even knew what to call them. The first PC game I ever owned was called Putt Putt Goes to the Moon from Humongous Entertainment. Little did my eight year old self know, that company and those kid’s games were created by Rob Gilbert. He’s easily one of the godfathers of graphic adventures along with Tim Schafer and others. Double Fine Adventure covers the creation of the game, Broken Age.

I just popped in my blu-ray edition and watched the vast majority of it with the commentary on. I’ve seen this stuff no less than four times, but there are some cool tidbits you get from watching it with the commentary. It should be a bit of a testament to the quality of the documentary that I can watch it that many times and still enjoy it. The game ended up being amazing, but I’m that kind of nerd that almost enjoys watching the creation of something as much as I enjoy the end product. I thing it helps me to understand that everything starts as a ball of mush and can grow into something beautiful.

I struggle with the creative stuff and realizing that my ideas are worth something. Seeing people bring these weird ideas to life is fascinating to me, and it’s inspiring. Getting this in depth of a view at the creation of a game helped me realize that, yes there are brilliant people working on them, but they start out just as lost as anybody would when they start throwing stuff at the wall. There’s little idea as to what is going to finally take shape, but they just plow forward making some stuff.

Here’s a link to the ENTIRE documentary on YouTube. You dont’ get the special features, or the color correction and audio fixes, but you at least get to watch the doc. That’s the way I watched it the first time and I got just as much out of it.

Watch on YouTube

Buy Broken Age – GoG

Finished The Cave

I finished the cave on The Adventures of Stephen last night. I had a great time playing it with everyone. I played six of the available seven characters. The main reasoning behind that is I can’t see playing through it three times with two of the three final characters being those that I already used. I’m definitely gonig to return to it in the future though.

I found out, after the fact of course, that there are a a TON of achievements in this game that there is no chance you would figure out on your own. I really want to get at least a few of them, and the game is fun enough that I could totally go back and play it with these in mind. Like getting The Good Ending for instance. I didn’t even know this was a thing. I thought all the characters were inherently deplorable and there was no way you could get a positive outcome. Turns out, you can! All you have to do is turn in the items that the clerk gives you at the very end. Don’t leave the cave with the stuff you get and you successfully redeem yourself.

This game is a primary example why I want Ron Gilbert to never leave game dev. He always needs to have his voice out there, making games that are fun and unique. It’s not that no one has ever done a platformer, it’s just that the dialogue and style are all his. You can spot one of his games from a mile away. I would gladly buy one of his small indie games over most AAA games any day.

Next week, we’re moving on to Grim Fandango! My favorite adventure game of all time. I can’t wait to play it again.

The Rhythm of Dark Souls

I never played Dark Souls 3. I’m almost ashamed to say that I’ve never played a Dark Souls game at all. The idea of dying over and over continuously just turns me off. Not only that, but I can’t really get into the aesthetic of the game. It’s so dark, moody, and, well, ugly to look at. I realize that it has some beautiful graphics in a lot of ways, but there is something wrong with the way the character moves around the screen, or the way things flow with each other. It just doesn’t work for me.

Now, all that being said, I am fascinated by the game. I watch from a distance, and I can’t help but want to attempt it. This game is nearly a 10/10 on most scales, and I am avoiding it. I don’t know why I haven’t picked it up to at least try it. It makes sense that once I start poking around in it, I would likely start to understand the look and get absorbed into the world. I’m certain that this would happen. There is ONE thing that makes me want to play this game above all else.

THE RHYTHM

My buddy, Chris, introduced me to the following video regarding the secret rhythm of Dark Souls. It’s an attempt at decyphering why one boss in particular in the game is more difficult than most others. The idea is that each boss has a rhythm that seems to go with the music attributed to them. There is a wind up, and a punch with most boss attacks, and these follow certain rules. One boss, The Dancer of the Boreal Valley, doesn’t follow the same rules as other bosses. Her theme is in a completely different timing than the other ones.

Anyway, I say all this really just to say that I need to give the game a try. One of these days I’ll pick it up and go through the pain of constant death like all the other cool kids. In the meantime, don’t take my word for it, just watch this incredibly well done video.

Streaming The Cave

It’s adventure game night! I’m playing The Cave for the next couple of weeks. I started the stream last week and had a blast. It’s a fairly old game at this point, but it still feels fresh and new to me. I only ever played it one time and I never finished it. I’m not sure WHY I didn’t finish it. Maybe it had something to do with where my life was at the time. I don’t know.

I really dig doing this adventure game stream because it forces me to revisit old games that I loved, and also try out new stuff that wasn’t even on my radar before. I have a pretty decent list of games I want to play on the stream. I’m sure some are going to be misses, like The Witness, but most of them are bound to provide some level of fun for me. I’ve already made quite a dent in that list, but I have plenty of time to keep adding stuff and chugging through it.

I’ll be streaming live at 8:30pm EST on 2DorksTV. Swing by and say hello! You can find last weeks episode below to see how much fun and clever this game is.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is an amazing game. It’s nothing new, and I’ve payed it before, but for whatever reason it really hooked me this time. I picked it up shortly after it initially came out and I was knee deep in new baby stuff and life just wasn’t quite as friendly to video game time as it is now. Sam sleeps for a bit in the afternoons and has a better schedule for giong to bed as well, so I have a little bit more time to game. This thing is stealing all my time.

Part of the reason it hooked me so well this time was because I picked it up on the Nintendo Switch that I got for Christmas. I can play it pretty much anywhere, which means I can play it while I’m hanging out downstairs with Stephanie and she’s watching TV. Stardew Valley really lends itself well to being portable. There are a couple wonky things that are different from the PC version, but all in all it’s still the same game.

There’s plenty of things I should be doing that don’t involve a virtual farm, but I’m having a good time so I regret nothing.

The basic premise of the game is that you are a guy working in corporate America (or whatever made up place this game is in.) Your grandfather writes you a letter leaving his farm to you so you can go out and do something refreshing with your life. The farm is in shambles and it’s up to you to make it a better place before he returns on the dawn of the 3rd year. While you’re making the farm a better place, you also have to juggle a social life with over twenty NPCs, fight monsters, restore a community center, and a bunch of other optional things.

The thing that makes it stick for me is that it’s so CHILL. You don’t have to get in a hurry doing anything. It is totally a clone of a game I played in my early teens called “Harvest Moon.” I played the SNES version of that and later, Lando and I both got hooked on HM64 which we both still believe was the pinnacle of the series. Stardew Valley seems to be based off the SNES version in a lot of ways, but the dev added so much for you to do beyond just farming and building relationships. The whole thing was made by one guy, and it continues to blow my mind the deeper I get into it.

I’m just starting on the 8th day of Fall in the first year. There are a few places where I’ve made mistakes and some spots where I would go back and do things differently, but the game is really about dealing with the mistakes and just moving forward. There is no such thing as a perfect game. It’s taken me some time to figure that out, but now that I have, I’m enjoying myself some more. The pressures is off and I can just do the things that I’m excited to do and be okay with it.

If you haven’t played it, you should. There is something in there for everybody. It’s available on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Streaming!

I have a had a blast picking up the hobby of streaming video games online.

A while back, Ashley and I decided to open up the stuff we do on the internet to more content. For me, it didn’t feel right for that content to all be labeled Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. Our show has a certain brand of humor and style that didn’t feel like it should encapsulate all the stuff we wanted to do. That’s where 2Dorks came from. Stephanie proposed the title when Ashley and I were discussing a creative writing project. Now we have a pretty decent little following over on twitch.tv/2dorkstv where we broadcast all the fun stuff we do. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is over there, along with anytime we want to stream a video game.

It’s been pretty fun so far and we’ve been really happy to welcome Jacob into the fold for creating fun stuff. He and I started doing Diablo streams on Mondays and that’s been super fun. Now we’re talking about running dungeons in WoW as well. Stephanie actually came up with that idea when she got the itch to play it a few days ago.

I’m also officially doing The Adventures of Stephen on twitch every Tuesday night at 8:30pm. I’m going to be playing nothing but point-and-click adventure games, both old and new. I played Full Throttle already and tonight I’m starting a full franchise playthrough of the Monkey Island series. It’s easily one of my favorite series’ of all time. Up there with Mario for sure. I’ve always loved those games for the humor and really smart puzzles. I’m excited to dive back into this one because it’s  been a long time since I’ve played it. I have tried to fire this up once before and found that I got frustrated a littel early on, but I think I’m in the right mindset this time around.

  • The Secret of Monkey Island
  • Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
  • The Curse of Monkey Island
  • Escape from Monkey Island
  • Tales of Monkey Island

I’m doing all of those above games in a row first. Then I’m going to break out into some new stuff. I just figured, why not start with one of the best adventure games of all time and then move on. After that, I might give Toonstruck a shot. I haven’t played that in years and it deserves another look for sure.

Anyway, I’m excited about all this and pumped to get started. Can’t wait to see where it all goes!