Civ 5, Helping Me And My Society Survive.

I returned to Sid Meier’s Civilization V [Civ 5] over the last week, and it had nothing to do with the recently released expansion Civilization V: God and Kings. No, my return to this top-down turn based civilization game (where victory is achieved through research, diplomacy, expansion, economic development, government and military) was based on my desire to play a game that wasn’t frantic and could be enjoyed at my own pace. The beauty of turn based games is in their flow, which you dictate. What I was looking for (and found) in my return to Civ 5 was control, and the calming effect a turn based game brings – despite the constant harassment from the warlike civilization of the Songhai.

Pearls, Aluminum, Incense and Gold; yep, Genoa, you will make a perfect ally.

With the restart of my career potentially on the horizon, once again, I needed a game that could act as a sedative rather than a shot of adrenaline. With first person shooters [FPS] you are constantly on edge. The FPS experience is not relaxing, but an edge of your seat ride – it’s like you are Liam Neeson himself, in Taken. During times of high stress, where I am playing the waiting game, I find myself reverting to a turn based prescription. When things are a bit out of control, a game that places you as the leader of a civilization provides that dose of Stalinism that everyone needs.

The winning conditions of Civ 5 are within your control as well. One does not need to just kill the competition; culture and science are other routes one can take to victory. You can build your societies’ level of intelligence by focusing on education, or go greedy and go for the gold (non-Olympic style). Or, if you are like me, you can build a well-rounded society through education, capitalism and democracy; while you simultaneously mask your Manhattan Project.

Yes America, I do put a lot of resources into my education system (but even more into my nuclear program).

Civ 5 provides you with a game that allows you to dictate pace, victory conditions, and about as many aspects of building a society that you can imagine. When everything else is out of your hands, Civ 5 provides just enough control to help you stay regulated. It allows you to make decisions that impact your entire society. You control your political relationships with other empires and city-states. You control your economic rise and educational aspirations, and when you get bored with being decent, you can unleash your Manhattan Project on the Songhai.

Little did you know Songhai, that I was saving the Manhattan Project just for you.

I Euthanized My Friend. Thanks DayZ.

“The needs of the many outweigh [the needs of the few], or the one.”

Spock [Admiral Kirk], Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan

From about 100 yards away, I shot him in the face. I killed my friend, and he asked me to do it. DayZ presented me with a scenario I’ve never played nor seen, in any other game. DayZ, once again, made me wonder if I could respond with the same murdering empathy that I demonstrated in game, in reality. Could I shoot a near and dear friend in the face when asked? Could I put Old Yeller out to pasture? What DayZ made clear to me that day was the answer was yes; but only because he was infected with a zombie virus whose cure was as likely to be found as the Holy Grail.

Tim (the above murdered survivalist) has started to acquire the role of the reluctant martyr within DayZ’s island of Chernarus. Multiple times he has fallen from a PvP (player versus player) encounter, zombie swarm and now, the zombie infection itself. Regularly dying is something any survivalist or bandit within DayZ can relate to. The differences with Tim’s deaths are they usually benefit the others. For when Tim dies, it’s habitually right before his friends scavenge his remains. Tim doesn’t die needlessly, for when his blood spurts to zero, he dies well equipped-and he makes sure you are close by before he does so.

Tim’s most significant death happened after he was infected (a random occurrence in DayZ; caused by either direct contact with zombies or a low body temperature brought on by the elements) with the zombie strain that persists in DayZ. After a desperate attempt to find the cure (antibiotics) at Berezino’s hospital, all hope was lost. Instead of taking every last zombie with him to the grave, he opted to sacrifice himself for a friend.

One is just as rare as the other, from a certain point of view.

Thanks to a recent patch my character had spawned in weaponless, without a backpack, and with little hope. Thankfully Tim’s near dead body was nigh, and it had one more trip to make before embracing the end. We met on a hill, and due to Tim’s infection his gifting of goods was done at a distance, so as to keep my character from being infected-a distant goodbye to a close friend.

Not wanting the zombie infection to take him, and become a shell of his former self, he asked me to do him one last deed in return for his. From a distance I raised my AK-47’s optical sight appreciating the irony that it had, moments before, belonged to the character I was now lining up for a headshot. Kneeling and looking down range I peered into his character’s black tinted aviator sunglasses which now, more resembled the sad eyes of trusted family dog. I pulled the trigger twice, and his body fell. Then Tim respawned, and our online adventures continued.

DayZ’s Frailty: Exposing Gamers To Helplessness

If you were standing over my shoulder this past Friday evening watching me play DayZ, you might have wondered why I was playing a game whose graphics appeared grainy, black and white, and seemed to be pulsing like someone’s blood pressure. You probably would’ve questioned why I would be so intensely enjoying a game were about every 30 seconds I would say, “I passed out,” then laughed hysterically with my friends via Skype. After some reflection, I too was asking myself these same questions, and I’ve come up with an answer.

DayZ was designed to expose players to emotional situations, and plays upon the responses to said emotional circumstances. DayZ is a realistic survival game where the lack of food and water are not the most dangerous elements, but they will kill you just as often as the other inhabitants of Chernarus (the island setting for Dayz). In most PC games the player has the majority of control over the environment, a complete understanding of who is friend and who is foe, and an idea of how to beat the game. In DayZ, none of these predetermined factors, which make up most video games, exist. The player is not the most powerful element in the game and alone, he will not survive.

So what makes not having complete control, or even the majority of control, over the game you are playing, fun? Firstly, you must embrace the fact you are at the whim of your environment. To enjoy DayZ you have to let go of the typical feeling, one usually garners from a video game, of being larger than life, and accept that you are just a small part of it. The fragility of your character in DayZ is a reason why it can be so enjoyable, but to appreciate this Mr. Glass syndrome you have to be able to immerse yourself in the world of DayZ-you have to care about the survival of your character and those of your friends.

Going it alone in DayZ means you will only survive for so long, you will eventually need help. When you’ve lost too much blood, your screen fluxes from white to grainy shades of grey and you pass out every 30 seconds; you’ll need someone other than yourself, to administer a blood transfusion. When your friend is crawling on the ground with a broken leg, from a lucky zombie whack or a bullet from another player, you’ll unselfishly give him your last shot of morphine (or maybe you won’t). It’s during and after surviving (or dying), in DayZ, that you can find humor in your character’s frailty, and entertainment in passing out.

The Road To Deliverance: Finding Fun And A Path, In DayZ.

Like many before me, my first few life’s in DayZ, a mod created for Arma 2 and its expansion Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead (from developer Bohemia Interactive), were short, and full of tension and wonder. Spawning on the shores of an open world island with a flashlight and a bandage makes you feel pretty vulnerable. Adding to the tension is the foreknowledge that the island is infested with zombies, out to feast on your body like a drug crazed Florida man. Dean Hall, the creator of DayZ, was inspired by his time spent with the New Zealand Army in Brunei, as part of a military exchange program between the New Zealand Army and the Singapore Armed Forces. Originally to be a training implement that exposed soldiers to the emotions and sensations of stressful situations [1], it has quickly become a game that invokes these emotions within gamers, myself included.

Dying regularly during your first couple of hours in DayZ is part of the games appeal and genius. The difficulty and intricacies of play is definitely far more advanced than the majority of your first person shooters; part of the games appeal and the reason it has received so much free social media marketing. The best way to learn how to excel is by experiencing. You can catch a handful of tutorials online that teach you the basics, but the lessons Dean Hall wanted to convey to soldiers are best absorbed by coming to the realizations on your own. The first time you sit on the outside of a small community calculating the risk to venture in and deciding your path that you will crawl to avoid zombie eyes, something clicks. You realize the balance between risk and reward, which is a constant companion during your time spent in DayZ.

The tension created by limited supplies and terror demanding music instantly grasps your attention the first time you spawn on a beautiful sandy beach. The first time you run unarmed squealing like a pig from a zombie, who heard you as you went from the noise suppressing grass to the echoing pavement, is exhilarating-and all this from a game still in alpha. You instantly relate to the actress in the clichéd zombie movie, who is running and screaming for her life. After you make your blood trailing escape though, the relation you have to the silicon beauty from movie-land ends.

After your escape, you have to bandage your wounds before you bleed out. Find an animal. Kill said animal, if you have the means to do so. Gut it and cook it. Eat. Then worry about your next meal and not becoming anyone else’s. Oh, and don’t forget the threat posed by other players (bandits), they can kill you just as easily as thirst and hunger. DayZ is The Road combined with Deliverance, and you get to experience both hands on. And yes, that is fun.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DayZ#Development

Discovering My Higgs Particle: Diablo 3 Set Items And Employment

Indiana and his farther found it in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Jason and his Argonauts found it despite the odds against them. This week, scientist may reveal they found it thanks to the Large Hadron Collider. So the evidence is there, that finding the impossible, is possible. Rather it is the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece or the ‘God Particle,’ that which eludes us can be imagined in to existence, or actually discovered. So I am trying to do the same with what’s eluded me for over a year, the reestablishment of my career; and for a shorter period, a nerdy in-game item.

Also eluding me for a shorter amount of time, but almost as sought after, a set item drop in Diablo 3 [D3]. D3 has multiple levels of rare items and what seems to be the most elusive of them all, even rarer than legendary items, are level 60 and above set items (usually noted by their green appearance). Set items are items that when worn as a set, give you multiple bonuses. With another career opportunity narrowly missed last week I’ve started to place mental bets on which will appear first, a job offer or a level 61 set item in D3. After last week’s employment disappointment, and the release of lower-than-expected job numbers; I am leaning towards seeing a monster explode, leaving a greencolored item behind, before receiving an offer.

This gives all new meaning to someone ‘dropping’ their pants.

Each day I wake up, work out, and hop on the internet to network and search for career opportunities that I have a shot at. Each day I log into the Blizzard servers’ and farm D3’s Act I Inferno difficulty. Each day I cross my fingers for a phone call or email asking me to come in and interview, and that’s happened 20+ times. Each day I cross my fingers and hope for an elite pack to drop a set item, that’s never happened. I imagine both scenarios coming to fruition at night, it helps me fall asleep. I imagine a drawn out battle with a pack of uniques, with my nephalem valor at five, and at the battle’s crescendo a green item falls to the ground. “Hell yeah!” I imagine receiving a phone call after an extensive interview process, for a position I desire, and the hiring manager on the other end makes an offer. “F*ck yeah!” The level of my imagined responses do accurately correspond to which one I anticipate more, just in case you were wondering.

When I started this blog during March of last year, it was in anticipation of the financial situation of my old employer worsening. It was going to be a way to for me to stand out from the millions seeking employment, and it has worked. It is usually the first thing talked about in the majority of interviews. If it is not the first thing talked about, then it is the second. My blog, started in the hopes to aid my job hunt is that, and much more. It is a tool in my search for employment and for awhile now, a mental medication. It essentially functions like a therapist, who regularly gives me a prescription for PC gaming. As my green item and my career remain unfound, I put more time into my therapy and take my PC meds more often. Like Jason, I will continue to plow my field with a fire-breathing oxen, and pursue my ‘Green’ Fleece.

Enchantless: The Painful Companionship Of Diablo 3’s Enchantress.

The Enchantress from Diablo 3 [D3] is anything but enchanting. I’d rather face down the demons of hell and Diablo himself, rather than listen to her babble. Supposedly she and her “sisters” were put in a state of stasis by their leader, the Prophet, until the world of Sanctuary needed them. I honestly think the Prophet put them in stasis for 1500+ years so he would be good and dead by the time they were released. Playing the Monk solo requires the assistance of the Enchantress because her skill set matches so well with the Monk’s, outside of that she is just as painful to be around as a Terror Demon. Actually, a Terror Demon would be welcome company next to the Enchantress.

The Enchantress has a skill called Focused Mind, oh the irony.

Eirena, the Enchantress, is met in Act II right as you set out of the city of Caldeum. From there forward you are cursed with her presence. It is true, you do have the option of venturing forth with the Scoundrel or the Templar, but Eirena’s Focused Mind skill (unlocked at level 30) truly benefits the Monk class the most. The skill provides Eirena and all her allies with an increase in attack speed of 3%. It is a shame you have to put up with hours of painful dialogue just for a 3% gain, but at least you don’t have to buy her dinner. By the way, who just eats larass bread and sweet wine? Someone with an eating disorder, that’s who.

The poor Templar. Through the sludge that is the dialogue exchange between the Enchantress and the Monk, we find out that the Templar, Kormac, is in love with her. I’ll give it to Kormac, the Enchantress does have a well rendered body. She also knows how to accent that body with very little clothing. Let me take a moment to recognize the fact that I am talking about an inanimate object. The point is less about her digital beauty and more about an opportunity missed by Blizzard to create more atmosphere in a game that, at times, suffers from cartoonish influences. The hirelings in Diablo 3 could of been a great source of quality lore, that could of been used to create a darker atmosphere to counter D3’s vibrant art design-that’s more befitting of a Care Bears episode. Instead we get a love struck, virgin, Templar; a womanizing Scoundrel, that is most likely a closeted homosexual; and an Enchantress that reminds me of a freshmen sorority girl, after having her first beer… ever.

Turn it all the way to 11 0.

It’s not as if the developers of Blizzard didn’t recognized that their final product was missing the grizzly and evil atmosphere from Diablo I and II. Hell, they put in a secret “Pony Level” called Whimsyshire as a direct mock to the negative feedback they received from the Diablo community in regards to D3’s art design.

I do understand that D3’s art design will age well, so in the long run the D3 community and myself will benefit from it. I also realize that you can adjust the voice dialogue volume to zero in the options menu, what I call the Enchantress fix. Also, I hope that ring I just sold in the Auction House for 3.825 million gold, was the Templar’s engagement ring.

Selling his engagement ring means I’ve saved Kormac’s life twice.

InfernKO! Farming Act I In Diablo 3’s Inferno Difficulty.

Any boxer worth his bath salt knows you have to stick and move against a stronger opponent; with the martial arts based monk, the same concept applies when farming Act I in Diablo 3’s Inferno difficulty. Any elite packs you come up against will challenge you for your title of Middleweight Champion of Sanctuary, and all of them cheated during their weigh in. Act I, at the Inferno difficulty, is no sparing session, that was Act I through IV of the Nightmare difficulty. Act I Inferno is where you take your knocks, cold press them, and come back for more-this is where Diablo really starts to test your micromanagement and capitalist abilities.

Putting Dargon down is a neccesary bout to getting that title shot against the Butcher.

Every encounter with a unique or special is like a Hagler vs. Hearns bout. In some cases you may determine that you are not evenly matched like Marvin and Hearns were, and decide to restart your quest to find the Butcher. There are encounters against elites in Inferno’s Act I that are similar to Spinks vs. Tyson, you are over matched and under equipped to meet the challenge. Of course you don’t realize you are in no position to win until you’re on the canvas and your equipment is in severe need of repair.

Vortex, Arcane Enchanted, Plagued and Molten; my Spinks like Monk never stood a chance.

The reward for kiting away at a group of specials really does payoff,  unlike a Don King promoted fight. Nephalem Valor is a game mechanic that doesn’t come to the ring until your character hits level 60. After each defeat of a unique or special pack you gain Nephalem Valor (up to five), and with each increase in valor comes an increase in gold and magic find. It is a game scheme that markets directly to those who are shinie obsessed. Making a Butcher run with your Nephalem Valor at five, guarantees that unique magic items will drop when he is KOed (it doesn’t guarantee they will be good, that’s still random).

Nephalem Valor at 5, now is the time to KO the Butcher.

You will need those guaranteed magic drops while you farm Act I. Getting very far past Act I Inferno not only requires plenty of actions per minute, it also requires superior gear. You may get lucky and find some of that gear during your Butcher runs but eventually you will need to rely on the Auction House. Rather you use the Auction House to hawk gear, buy it, or both-you will need it to be able to compete in the other three acts (unless Blizzard implements some much talked about changes).

Inferno will give more punches than it takes, but if you can properly protect your glass jaw with the right equipment, you will start to reap the pay per view profits. You may throw your hands up in frustration, drop a handful of f-bombs and suffer from what I call Inferno red eye from your bouts in Inferno. Once you pick yourself up off the canvas a couple times however, you will be tested and hardened, and ready to be a contender again. Eventually you will have the right combination of  skills and equipment to put the old one two on any of Inferno’s beasts, and not lose part of your ear in the process.

Cures For What Ails Ya: Diablo 3’s Auction House And Potions

As my monk stands in front of Gorell the Quartermaster in Act III, purchasing potions for his forays against Azmodan’s army, he utters a phrase that hits close to home. As, “I lack the funds,” roles out of Dalai Camel’s mouth, I quickly pull away from the lands of Sanctuary and back to reality. I too, “Lack the funds.” Thankfully Diablo 3 [D3] is a great game for someone on a budget. After you hit 30+ hours of play and are still greedy for more. More killing of uniques and specials. More gold and loot drops. You realize that the $60 you put down on D3 was a great investment in a game that can last you years.

D3 will need to last me awhile, at least until full time employment drops like a unique item in D3-both of which would be appropriately accompanied with a, “F*ck yeah!” With current unemployment numbers from the last 3+ months hovering over my radio, and encroaching into my dreams, I know how rare a quality job opportunity is. I also know that D3 will be the game that medicates me daily, like a Mythic Health Potion during a D3 boss battle.

Gorell’s health potions are not cheap but they cure what ails me, in more ways than one.

Thankfully, D3 presents ample ways to accrue gold. Fighting minions and their bosses regularly grants you with items that might not fit the needs of your character, that’s where D3’s Auction House comes in handy. The D3 Auction House allows you to sale, up to 10 items, for a lot more gold than you could get for it in-game. Did a unique monster just drop an amazing amulet meant for a Wizard, that your barbarian wouldn’t be caught dead, or alive, wearing? No worries, it’s not a complete loss, just put a reasonable price on it and put it up for auction. Now, if only there was a similar way to make a little extra money outside the world of Sanctuary.

This ring should fetch a decent amount of gold.

At my part time job, that acts as a way to stretch my unemployment benefits, I occasionally wonder if repulsive customers, with really bad teeth, are actually just Azmodan’s cronies with lots of makeup. I also wonder if I whacked them hard enough with a stick, would they drop gold? Are the flatulent prone, obese, customers just well disguised Ghoms, that would drop unique rings and amulets? Could I sale them on Craig’s List? I guess the possibility is there but I will keep my looting to D3, and hope my next interview is the one that leads to employment.

The similarities between customers and Ghom are uncanny.

A Game That Gets Better Each Time You Beat It, Diablo 3

Goreshot The Immortal, a unique Colossal Golgor that had a mortar attack ability and shielding, was right at an entrance/exit in Act 3 during my Nightmare play through. He was not alone, he had minions, and though each of his minions had far fewer hit points than Goreshot, they shared his abilities. Together they formed an almost invincible force that slayed my enchantress companion, my summoned “Water Guy”, and my level 43 monk, Dalei Camel. Then they did it again. And again. After my third death, I had finally whittled away Goreshot’s hit points to the point that I was able to take him and his minions down, and I loved each and every failure leading up to that point.

Playing through Diablo 3 on normal difficulty is pretty uneventful. The challenge you receive from monsters that are uniques and specials, in the normal difficulty setting, is limited. It’s not until later on, in Nightmare difficulty, that you start to strain to defeat specials and uniques, and that’s when Diablo 3 really starts to be fun. I will admit, playing through Diablo 3 on normal difficulty was disappointing at times. I was never worried about what was in the next room, or around the next corner. Even when the reinvented Butcher made an appearance, I was not frightened like I was in Diablo 1. When I faced the Butcher during my Nightmare play through I was on edge. As I near him again now, in Hell difficulty, I am both looking forward to and dreading the lines, “Fresh meat!” As Diablo amps up the difficulty, it equally amps up the fun.

The level of difficulty is not the only thing that changes in Diablo 3. As you progress, and the creatures you face become more dangerous, the quality of the items dropped, improve. As you face down that fourth special monster, after already defeating three of them, you are not only anticipating his death but the items that drop because of it. In normal difficulty the items that dropped were usually not going to immediately replace the ones you had already equipped but as you progress in difficulty the items that drop become better and more rare in appearance. The reward for busting up a unique monster amps up with the difficulty of the game. It keeps you wanting more, even after dying over and over.

The true test of Diablo 3’s replay value and design quality will not be established until the last difficultly level (Inferno) is defeated. If I keep coming back for the battles versus specials, uniques and bosses, and the shinies that follow their demise, then I will know that Blizzard once again got the recipe for click and reward right. I will also, by that time, actually believe I am nephalem.

Yes. Yes I am.

Down Goes Foreman, I Mean Diablo, And Other D3 Musings

**************** DIABLO 3 SPOILERS BELOW ****************

Diablo 3’s Witch Doctor shakes like he suffers from Parkinson’s. In one hand is his weapon, in his off hand is his wanga doll, both of them are constantly moving. The Witch Doctor is the Michael J. Fox of Diablo 3[D3]. His comical movements add some much needed humor to a plot line and atmosphere that can be, at times, dire. By the time you make it to Leoric’s Manor and delve into its torture chamber depths, you realize D3 is just as dark as its predecesores. The only thing that takes away from the fear that one feels as he or she ventures through the dungeons of Diablo are the in-engine story cinematics.

The games Act transition cinematics (major cinematics play when a player progresses from one Act/Setting to another) are some of the best I have seen and are a testament to Blizzard’s creative ability. The end game cinematic, that follows the slaying of Diablo, is gorgeously rendered and beautifully scored. It’s a cinematic that is befitting of the death of Diablo. Diablo, a character that is the series namesake and its main protagonist, deserved the cinematic given following his death. It’s the juxtaposition of the in-game cinematics and the in-engine ones, that makes it difficult to immerse oneself into the games story.  Most of the in-engine cinematics are forgivable and not so terribly important to the overall game play, or the game’s story-there is one exception however.

Following this quests completion is one of the most befitting cinematics for the death of terror itself.

Deckard Cain has been a reoccurring character in all three of the Diablo games. He is the last of the wise Horadric mages who have spent their lives fighting back the Prime Evils. Throughout all three games he has provided valuable information to the player and the plot,   and more importantly (in Diablo and Diablo 2), he helped identify your magic loot. He is the wise old man that you would gladly give an ear to when asked to, “Stay awhile and listen.” Deckard Cain is/was the Yoda of the Diablo series. His death in D3 was a sad moment but the magnitude of his passing was lessened by the in-engine cinematic that portrayed it.

Deckard Cain receives an in-engine killing blow.

If any plot lines deserved the same cinematic treatment that was given to the Act transitions, Deckard Cain’s death was one of them. Instead of feeling like I just lost my Grandpa, Deckard Cain’s in-engine death came across like the death of a week old pet goldfish. I was sad, but the cartoonish visualization of his death cheapened what should of been a momentous event in the Diablo lore. Even in his death Deckard Cain was working to fight the Prime Evils. As he took his last few breathes he recrafted Tyrael’s sword, letting everyone know that, “The truth lies within,” just as Yoda, on his deathbed, lets everyone know, “There is another Skywalker.”  Deckard will be missed, despite his unceremonious sendoff.

Even right before his death, Deckard Cain continues his fight against the Prime Evils by making Tyrael’s sword whole again.