It’s been a while since I had a really long stint of me-time. Back in the days – we’re talking 10-12 years ago – I could get home from work on a Friday evening and not leave the apartment or see other people again before returning to work on Monday morning. It’s a social situation many people would describe as plain sad. But I didn’t lack friends or struggle with social anxiety, I was just very comfortable in my own company. The time was usually spent deeply engaged in some computer game, a hardware project, movies, books, TV series, or whatever I was into at the time.
Now Anniken has granted me a 24 hour leave of absence from my usual duties as father and soon-to-be-husband. Putting it that way, I realize she sounds like a good, old slave driver, fortunately that’s not the case. Our family/work/personal time is perfectly balanced at the moment, but since one of us has to take care of the 2 year-old – she’s still struggling a bit with the micro wave, and has yet to master personal hygiene – it takes a bit of planning when one of her parents are away for a day.
Starting roughly 36 minutes ago, I’m free to do whatever the hell I want, and while most guys would probably use those 24 hours to go venture on an epic bender with their (single) friends, I’m locking myself in the basement with my aging computer and a diet that will consist mainly of junk food, whisky, and energy drinks.
I was planning to spend the time giving Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy game Heart of Iron IV a proper go, but in the end I decided against it because I suspect I’d only barely scratch the monster’s surface. So instead I opted for Dwarf Fortress with better graphics, also known as RimWorld. The time I’ve got on my hands probably isn’t enough to get the hang of RimWorld either, but I assume – risking making an ass of you and me – that the learning curve is much more gentle than with HoI IV.
And now I’m off, having wasted 28 minutes of my precious time writing this.
The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is upon us, and all the big names in the gaming industry are announcing new stuff left and right. There are a lot very exciting things being revealed, like the Xbox One Scorpio and the stunning Mass Effect: Andromeda trailer. Both those announcements are way out of my league, though. I’ll never buy an XBone Scorpio, and I’ll never have a gaming rig capable of running Andromeda at more than perhaps half a frame per minute.
So I got very excited when I came across an announcement more suited for immature gamers with old PCs: A brand new South Park game, The Fractured but Whole1.
The video above is from 2016. I was a little surprised, however, to find out that The Fractured but Whole was actually announced exactly a year ago, at E3 2015. I guess this shows how far away from the gaming scene I am these days. But that doesn’t really matter, does it? The new South Park game is an RPG, and an unrelated sequel to the Stick of Truth, another South Park RPG that was developed by Obsidian Entertainment in 2014. I absolutely loved it2, but then again I’m a huge South Park fan. I’m sure I will have a great time playing through the sequel as well.
There are, however, a few things that makes me a tad bit skeptical about South Park: The Fractured but Whole.
I’m not entirely sure how I heard of The Silent Age or where I picked it up. It was probably just a spur of the moment purchase during the final hours of a sale somewhere: It’s a point-and-click adventure. I like point-and-click adventures – it’s one of the few types of adventures I’m comfortable with. It’s developed by Danish indie game studio House on Fire. I like indie studios. And it was on sale. I love sales.
In The Silent Age, you play as Joe, a simple janitor working for Archon. It’s the groovy 70s, and Joe mostly spends his day emptying trashcans and staying out of other people’s business. But when Joe stumbles across a dying man in the Archon basement, his uncomplicated life is turned upside down. The man gives Joe a tiny time machine, capable of taking him back and forth between 1972 and the apocalyptic future of 2012, where mankind has become extinct. Can Joe save humanity without going insane in the process?
The time machine is an interesting concept, and traveling through time can be used as a neat trick to solve some of the puzzles in the game. But Anniken and I only had to think as a time traveler twice, and it’s perhaps a concept the developer should have considered using more. The use of a time machine also gives the developer another huge opportunity; to brain fuck their audience. Take the movie Primer, for instance. No one is able to explain that movie. The Silent Age, on the other hand, might make you go “hmmmm”, but nothing more. There’s no major brainfuckery going on there.
My gaming rig is pushing 6 years now, and I can’t play any new games on it unless the graphics quality configuration is set low. Very, very low. It’s about to upgrade the hardware. Gaming these days isn’t too CPU intensive, the GPU is the component that takes the heaviest work load. So ideally I’d just buy a new graphics card, and my rig would be as good as new. Unfortunately, with a 6 year old mother board, I don’t have the necessary expansion slots to fit any of the modern graphics cards. Getting a new mother board would also mean I have to purchase a new CPU, new RAM chips, and since powerful hardware requires a lot of power, I’ll have to get a new PSU as well.
You probably see where this is going: I might as well replace the entire rig. But a new high-end gaming computer is expensive, and when I started thinking about upgrading, I wasn’t really sure if spending all that money on something I wouldn’t use that much was a good idea1). So I put the idea to sleep in the back of my mind. There was one gadget, though, that occasionally woke the idea up again and made me want to set fire to my credit card: The Oculus Rift.
The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display, and after several prototypes, two development kits and 5 years in development, the Rift is scheduled to be available on March 28 this year. VR is damn fascinating, and the Rift is the first of several consumer VR devices that will hit the market this year. The development kits have mostly received rave reviews, and I’ve talked to a couple of guys who own one of the kits – they really, really like it.
The Rift, the huge potential for fun and it’s indicated price tag of around $350 finally tipped me over the edge: I was ready to get a new gaming rig and a shiny Oculus Rift. The prospect of getting tons of state-of-the-art hardware and a Rift to play with made me giggle like a little girl – until the actual price of the Oculus Rift was announced.
Door Kickers is a pausable, real-time strategy game developed by the Romanian indie developer KillHouse Games. In top-down view, it puts you in charge of a SWAT team and lets you command it through missions of varying complexity. Whether you chose to go in with guns blazing, or chose the more sophisticated spy-camera, flash bang, three taps in the chest-way, is up to you.
While the sledge hammer and guns blazing-approach might be good enough to get your team unscathed through a mission, it’s more often than not the wrong way of maxing out the score you can achieve on each mission. In the classic Angry Birds style, you collect stars on each mission, with 3 being the maximum amount of stars you can get per mission. The stars you collect can then be used to upgrade your squad’s equipment and weaponry – and there are quite a lot to choose from: Primary weapons, secondary weapons, armor, support gear and utilities, everything from silenced pistols to assault rifles and breaching charges. That you need to collect stars to unlock new gear give you a great incentive to go back and retry missions you don’t already have a perfect score on. Maybe you also want to try some of the challenges Door Kickers gives you; like using a single plan or just one trooper to complete a mission. The game has virtually no loading time, which makes it very easy to retry a mission you’re not entirely happy with.
That Door Kickers is a pausable, real-time strategy game means that it is played in two modes: When the game is paused, you’re in planning mode. In this mode, you can plot paths for your officers to follow through a location and plan various actions they will take along the path. This can be to throw a flash grenade into a room before entering it, place a breaching charge, pick a lock, change from their primary weapon to their sidearm, or another action in a wide selection available to make sure the bad guys are handled in the most efficient way possible. When you unpause the game, all the planned actions are performed in real time. If you’re of the adventurous type, it’s also possible to play Door Kickers entirely in real-time, without pausing and entering planning mode, but keeping track of everything – squad members, hostiles, evidence, and hostages – in real-time isn’t exactly an easy task. Your squad members will automatically engage any hostiles they see, but that’s pretty much the only thing they will do on their own. Everything else is up to you to tell them.