Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Humble Choice November 2020: A Steal just for Yakuza Kiwami II and Darkersiders III

I've completely revamped my Steam sale spending habits and now I tend to buy ultra cheap bundles. I had a special 6 month discount with Humble bundles where I would get 12 games for $6 every month as part of the Humble Choice. 

Every month there is a chorus of disgruntled moans at the Humble Choice reveal but November really banged out a winner.   Most redditors and reviewers threw rocks and broken glass at last month's bundle and while I salvaged some enjoyment out of the October bundle from Sunless Skies, it's indeed a happy occasion to see games you are excited about playing. Here's a rundown after sampling most of the titles.

Yakuza Kiwami 2 - one of the best narratives in the Yakuza series

Yakuza Kiwami 2-  I love Yakuza 0 and was more than happy to have Kiwami 2 which is considered to tell the best narrative of the series.   With 10 entries in the mainline series,  it's tricky to know where to poke your head in as one can easily get lost in the vast hierarchy of the Tojo Clan and rival Omi Alliance.  Yakuza 0 the prequel is often recommended and is where I first laid my eyes on a grown man in a diaper.  Every Yakuza game is designed to be played as a Yakuza virgin's first with the backstory summarized for you so you could start here. 

Almost every Yakuza game shares some essential ingredients of Japanese wackiness, obligatory sexually weird kinkiness like grown men in diapers, side missions with a heart of gold, mini-games galore, karaoke bars, intimate restaurants, convenience stores, sprinkled over a dense city map of Kamurocho interweaved with the conflicts of the Tojo Clan which needs straightening out from the straight faced Dragon of Dojima, Kiryu Kazama. This entry also includes Majima's tale of going legit building a construction company.

Kiwami 1 &2 are currently on Xbox Gamepass. Yakuza 0 often goes on sale for $5.

Darksiders 3 - flawed but totally fun hack n slash

In an unabashedly video gamey of video game plots,  you play as the one and only purpled haired stiletto heeled horsewoman of the apocalypse.  You are tasked with hunting down and exterminating the seven sins with your blade whip and a nut bashing costume if there ever was one. Fury is definitely more aggro than her brothers, War, Death and the delicate Strife.
Total feels of Saturday morning cartoons...

The best positive review comes from Skillup on youtube who explains how reviewers trashed Darksiders 3 due to steep triple AAA $60 price tag without the polish and content.  While he acknowledges the problems, esp. with the camera, he undeniably had some unadulterated fun.  That's the core- this game is about having fun even if it's shallow like the  simple pleasure of munching on a sugary bowl of cereal watching Saturday morning cartoons.  The steep discount should let D3 be forgiven.  Don't expect God of War.  D3's tale is morally uncomplicated and it's no sin that this game is an enjoyable wrapper for "boss" fights of the seven deadly sins.

The cringey campy dialog will grow on you. "Death- you are anti-life." Visuals are  decidedly last gen, I've seen multiple skyrim ebony armor mods that had better smithing than Fury's chunky getup. And that camera will really fight you tooth and nail where you can't even see the enemy while fighting, just strands of purple hair.  

Little Misfortune - a twisted and dark-humored point and click

Little Misfortune is a short game(~ 3 hours) with an engaging dark narrative about a little girl named Misfortune trying her very best in a grim world. A dark voice inside her head pushes her towards a game of pursuing 'eternal happiness' which she wants more than anything for her sad "juice" addicted mother.  The story takes more than a few wild imaginative turns best left spoiler free.

I'm of two minds. The excellent voice acting and compelling story line makes this an interesting game but not necessarily a good game. The main game mechanic is walking and selecting decisions abetted by a few light puzzles and dexterity mini-games. But you will play for the story and to see if you can indeed obtain 'eternal happiness' for little Misfortune.

Crying Suns - sci fi tactical pixel art rogue-lite with rich story

Crying Suns -  This tactical rogue-lite oozes atmosphere through it's stellar pixel art and moody sound track. As a cloned admiral resurrected to command a ship to make contact with the Empire, player traverses a procedurally generated node graph of star clusters filled with an diverse array of random events beyond just enemy encounters and resource scavenging on ship wrecks and on the planet surface. Game states there are 300 events and perhaps you will undoubtedly encounter a lot of repeats in subsequent runs. However as a casual player sampling Crying Suns, the events felt fresh even if most are sci fi tropes.

Even though I'm not much for tactics games like FTL but this rock/paper/scissors (drone/fighter/frigate) combat over a hex grid actually won me over. Crying Suns has a more cinematic feels than FTL drawing you in with the main storyline about a fallen Empire. The optional dialog is very heavy on the lore exposition but when a colonist tells you of "sex slaves and baby makers", you might want to read through more dialog.

Because of the dialog, the crew feels much more like individual human beings than the crew on FTL. There is a free Steam demo you can try. I'm not sure I would have gone out of my way to buy it but as a Humble Choice inclusion, I'm happy to play this title. 

Darkwood - unique creepy survival horror out of Poland

Darkwood is an unforgiving top-down survival horror game designed for only serious masochists.  The player is vaguely trying to escape the "Woods" set in 1980's Poland in a plague ridden apocalypse where trees, mutants, and supernatural powers have gotten out of control.   Nothing is explicitly explained and left to environmental story telling for you to piece together. I'm always amazed when pixel art horror titles can generate such a deep sense of terror and dread.  Night time will have you clenching your orifices in a way you haven't. 

I've found controls are rather finicky and weapons are designed for a more realistic clunkiness and often I would just run for it panting and gasping because the weapon degradation was not worth the fight.   The stamina meter drain is brutal, it's the fastest depleting thing I've ever used in gaming.  But this is a title that one plays in dark stormy days of winter.
Other Worthwhile Reviews:

Rover Mechanic Simulator - mind numbing tasks in a Mars garage

Rover Mechanic Simulator - Yes it's theoretically possible that being a Martian mechanic disassembling and fixing broken rovers is mildly more interesting than being your garden variety earthbound mechanic in Car Mechanic Simulator.  However why does repairing worn bearings on Mars and on earth feel so same, taking off screws and cover plates except you get to 3d print needed parts instead of hitting up your suppliers. The strength of this title is that you do get to handle mars rovers based on real world NASA rovers like Curiosity.  
Do you see how many screws each wheel requires?

Unfortunately the gameplay is clicking and more clicking on rather dull mechanics, shuffling back and forth between the various stations. There is a gamer out there who loves chilling with such low stimulation sim games listening to playlist or podcasts.  Me, I wants to take these rovers for a sweet remote controlled ride once I've fixed them but you are pretty much a prisoner in this hermetically sealed one room garage.

Imperator:Rome - worst of the grand strategy Paradox fillers

Imperator:Rome Deluxe Edition - you know a Paradox game isn't much without the many DLCs so Humble does us the courtesy of giving us the deluxe edition.  However,  Imperator:Rome is one of their worst entries in the grand strategy genre and was panned widely on release for lack of depth and content.  Subsequent updates have only further alienated the player base judging by drop off in players and continuing increase in negative reviews. Personally, I think if you have to spend precious life time and energy on a Paradox game, Crusader Kings III is where it's at.

Youropa - doughboy gravity platformer

You are a rather soft dumpy humanoid creature with the special ability to defy gravity and walk on walls with suction cups for feet, like a doughboy Etherborn. Youropa, or a cartoony version of Paris has been torn apart and floated in the skies and you have to solve puzzles to (whatelse) restore order.   Despite all the positive reviews for this platformer, the plodding motions of the game play did not appeal to me. Most likely because I was replaying Ori and the Will of Wisps yesterday where I was chaining moves flying about so the heavy plodding movements of the You character fell flat on me.  

Given the abundant existence of absolutely stellar platformers like Ori or Hollow Knight, it's hard for second tier puzzle platformers to compete for your time and attention. And it's the case here that I'd rather spend my precious gaming hours exploring more of Hallownest.    

Tsioque - princess point and click

Did you ever want to role play a little princess escaping the evil wizard who's taken power while her mother Queen is away? No, me neither. I guess Little Misfortune was enough to fill the point and click quota for this month as I wasn't compelled to play any more than the first few scenes.

Smile for Me - yet/not another wacky indie point and click

You are a voluntary(?) resident at a happiness habitat trying to bring happiness to your fellow depressed patients.  The habitat has some sinister undertones with every day starting with a live action puppet VHS video of Dr. Habitat cramming positivity down your throat and enforced night curfew. The game uses some novel mechanics for shaking the screen for shaking your head to respond to NPCs.  This title is a matter of personal taste and this title didn't grab me by the lapels in the way Little Misfortune did.   

Dregs: Darksburg, Townsmen

  • Townsmen, a ported mobile building sim, need I say more.  I'd rather play Stronghold HD or finally take a crack at Tropico 6 if I ever got in the mood for a building sim.
  • Darksburg- coop roguelite, no friends to play with, don't want to play with randos neither 

Conclusion: Last Thoughts

I'd be pleased even if all I got was just Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Darksiders 3 but we got more. Crying Sun, Darkwood,  and Little Misfortune were interesting worthwhile additions.  The rest unfortunately will languish on my bundle leftovers pile never to be touched again.  Crying Suns was my unexpected hidden gem that found myself wanting to play late at night.

I'm still digesting Humble Choice chunks from the last 3 months. I started playing Sunless Skies from the reviled October bundle which really gripped my imagination. Just one good game is enough for me to make Humble worthwhile at my current $10 deal and this month was a boon.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

SkyrimVR Modding Discipline and Hygiene

 In my early days, I would carelessly and indiscriminately add large batches of mods fobbed off someone's list without knowing exactly what they did and what the implications were going forward.  One thing I didn't realize is that SkyrimVR is an LTR which means any modding sins will pop up sooner or later and give you days of debugging headaches or at worst force you to start a new playthrough.

For each mod I add, I try to figure out the impact if any on the following problem areas:

  • Performance
  • Save file bloat including scripts, object counts
  • Compatibility/Future Compatibility
  • Creation Engine Limits

    • Reference Handle Cap (see reddit post), this is the one that makes me the most paranoid
    • Mod 255 Plugin limit
    • Animation Limit 
Unless they are simple no-plugin texture mods which can be added or removed anytime, I try really hard to stick to the following practices to ward off future problems.  Also I want to keep it relatively simple, I don't want to futz around with merging mods or use wyre bash.  More time you spend piddling around modding, the less game time you give yourself.

Practice #1 Add only a few new mods per play session

Mod greed is a natural thing. Just a little mod restraint can prevent debugging headaches. Previously I thought it would be a "nice" surprise to organically find the mod change sometime later.  Instead I ended up with a few nasty surprises that got baked too far into my saves.   You want to find and isolate problems early as possible.

Now I never install a mod unless I am going to immediately check it out. I.e. I don't install a new follower/NPC mod unless I find them and vet them on that session.  I also have a probation period for the more complex overhaul mods and I will revert hours of play if needed.

Practice #2 Compare Performance Against Last Known Baseline and non Modded Baselines

In VR, a gamer's tolerance can vary but I can get sick or worse lose immersion around 60fps.  First is capturing your baseline without mods and then understanding where the bottlenecks can occur and what your fallback solutions are. For me, I know it's the CPU not GPU that is problematic. (For GPU, I can always take out 4K/8K textures and reduce SS. But still I keep an eye out for GPU/VRAM usage always wanting to be around 80% or less)

I have an i9-9900K that is barely being used so it's not lack of processing power but creaky creation engine limitations when CPU frames take too long. The CPU frame needs to take less than 11ms(for 90fps) and on a completely clean vanilla game, my CPU frames take ~4ms.  Let's just say mod greed on my part took it to ~14ms but I'm back to 6-7ms.

The first thing I do after installing mods is to check current fps and make sure I leave headroom gpu, vram/cpu still left for future.  Using fpsviewer, I will do a performance test by traveling to known performance problem areas of Riften, Whiterun, and open cities like Falkreath.  

One of the tricky problems with modding Skyrim is that it's not always one specific sandbag. Sometimes there is death by a thousand paper cuts and also unexpected interactions between unrelated mods.

For instance, this isn't 100% confirmed but I've read on reddit that Footprints and Wet and Cold can be problematic when you have a large number of extra NPCs which very likely added to my cpu frame slowdown.  My new load order still includes all the NPC mods but doesn't include Footprints/Wet and Cold and I don't have performance problems so I will be leaving them out for the future.  I love having more NPCs than footprints.

Practice #3 Monitor Save File, Check Unreferenced Scripts and Objects, Counts

At the end of a playthrough, I check the save file size compared to the previous mod load order, then open up the file in fallrim tools and check

  1. Existence of unreferenced scripts and objects. If they exist, I will delete them and the rerun the game on the clean save. Sometimes I'm lazy and will do this the first thing the next play session.
    • Birds of Skyrim really left a lot of junk scripts around so I uninstalled. 
  2. Script/object counts compared to previous
    • Placeable Statics added an ungodly number of scripts almost for every container. But I was really OCD about removing clutter around my Hearthfire homes and the mod outlined steps for uninstalling...

Practice #4 Research Mod Deinstallability/Compatibility/Future Compatibility

First is knowing how permanent a mod choice is going to be and whether or not a mod can be truly deinstalled. Even with mod cleaning with fallrim tools, some mods cannot be successfully purged. When there is no mention of deinstalling on the mod page,  it probably is not a clean removal.  I thought Sounds of Skyrim was going to be something easily taken out but I get random CTDs without it even with fallrim cleaning. If a mod is going to be in your loadlist forever, you tend to be pickier.

Most mods that have been around have a fleshed out compatibility section and I try do a thorough cross check and look at the bug list. But I am most careful with overhaul mods which can crimp your future modding options.   

Sometimes you will be only be able to do 1 of something. I tried 3 different College of Winterhold overhauls and chose the Magical College of Winterhold b/c it made it you know, more magical. But you can't know the future, last year Obscure's College of Winterhold got released.  I didn't like some of Obscure's changes(some of the shiny lamps were not lore friendly and stuck out like a sore thumb) so I didn't have to take action.

Practice #5 Play Large Quest Mods on a Separate Vortex Profile and Save. 

I fork off a separate profile in Vortex and play in separate saves for large quest mods like Beyond Skyrim: Bruma, Vigilant, Carved Brink, Project AHO.  They have really fantastic armors that would have been great to have in my regular play but I am extremely paranoid about such mods adding a great number of object records which in the long term can increase instability.  It's not any one of these mods but rather having dozens of them that is the problem. This reddit discussion really opened my eyes and I used the xedit script to count references.

The only two big quest mods I do keep in my main load list are

  • Legacy of the Dragonborn (I will not be starting over for 5.0) - Not only because LotD gives your  hoarding purpose but I loved having Dev Aveza docked in Solitude
  • Clockwork - the house is too amazing and I worked to hard to get it...

Still here, treat yourself to my mod video.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Creed:Rise to Glory - Getting Whupped by Mr. T

Given the reduced options to exercise this year, I finally got Creed:Rise to Glory on sale for $6.  I do not have pugilist tendencies IRL but I enjoyed brawling the orc chief in SkyrimVR so much that I wanted to give proper VR boxing a go.  Creed is by design meant more as a cinematic experience and less of a simulator like Thrill of the Fight. There is a full career mode where you play as Adonis Creed to win the championship but I first opted for Freeplay mode.  

I chose to challenge Mr. T in a dark alley instead of a proper boxing ring. The first thing you notice is that Mr. T has a consistent shine all over his body like a glazed donut. The cartoony arcade style of young Mr.T(Lawrence Tureaud)'s expressions spontaneously made me smack talk him so hard.  Mr. T is for turd.

VR boxing I'm sure is a mild shadow of the real thing but sure gets your adrenaline flowing. I was totally unprepared for the intensity and my whole body ached even after one measly fight. Still the feel of victory when you take Lawrence down- incomparable. 

I pity the fool...

Verdict-  Excellent intense workout. Totally worth the $5.99 sales price. I loved the cheesy over the top cinematics and being pumped up with the music from the original Rocky movies. (Check isthereanydeal to see if there is a sale going on. )

Sunday, June 21, 2020


Gris along with Journey and Abzu, is one of the most beatiful titles in gaming.