Sources of Inspiration: Jim Sterling

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There are more online pundits and reviewers than we need.  It is rare however to find a reviewer or pundit who actually has something to say.  And even rarer to find one to whom I’d donate money in support.

I started watching videos put up by online magazine The Escapist because of Zero Punctuation aka Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw.  His show is a pithy, quick, and hilarious take on specific video games and their quirks.  But I admit I stayed to watch Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition shows.

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Jim’s commentary on video games, video game companies, and their trends is marvelous and, even if you don’t always agree, is always thought provoking.

Jim has had an interesting and transitional career.  From Destructoid to Escapist he has made numerous comments that have “enraged” (I put that in quotes because this is video games we’re talking about here…) game fans.  From being hated for the ultimate sin of “not liking” a Final Fantasy game (I agree though…Final Fantasy is an empty shell compared to the days when it’s games’ technological advancement could be categorized in terms of “bits”) to having the gall to say that female game critics, writers, and producers shouldn’t be threatened with violence and rape.

I’m actually not really interested in his controversy…  Mostly because I don’t find him to be that controversial.  He says what he believes.  One can agree or disagree (I don’t always agree but I find I agree the vast majority of the time) but he never says anything purely out of hate or shock value.  If a game is shit he says it’s shit and faces the backlash like a champ.  See The Slaughtering Grounds incident for an example of that.  If a practice of the industry or its fans is tasteless or predatory he says he thinks it is just that.  In fact I started watching his videos because he voiced exactly my problems with the way games are conceived and produced now.  And why I rarely play a “so-called AAA game,” to use his phrasing, nowadays.

I truly appreciate is his writing, production, and character construction.  The narratives in his videos are often fast, full of information, and loaded with complex ideas, but his presentations are always not only clear (you know EXACTLY his points from the outset) but often very clever, very witty, and biting in their arguments.   It’s that kind of methodology that is inspiring to other creative people, or at least to me as a creative person.  You can always count on Jim, not only to give you his opinion on all kinds of practices but to do so in a way that is so memorable you’ll go back to them repeatedly (I know I’ve queued his vids up to hear why Ubisoft is idiotic, free-to-play is a misnomer, and pre-order culture is poison).

His series with Yahtzee were also fun.  Last year’s rhymedown spectacular and the Uncivil Wars series which Jim won earlier this year provided another look at both his and Yahtzee’s personas outside of the review realm.

His newer material, since he’s gone rogue and become fan-funded through Patreon is even better.  Freed from even the loose shackles of another company he has been able to write more reviews and even start an absolutely terrific podcast series that is one of the best since The Ricky Gervais Show.

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The fact that he owns a chainsword gives him extra points…

If you are a video game fan, specifically a fan who feels the industry has gone the way of film production in its heartless and cold monetization of all aspects of gaming and its focus on useless tech over art design and storytelling, put on a Jimquisition playlist and you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement or raising your finger and saying “but…”  Either way he’s provoking a response and maybe cranking your brain out of idle for 6-12 minutes.  It’s worth it.  Because he’s Jim F’n Sterling Son.  And thank god for him.

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The Author’s Rendition of Jim on a rant.

 

Jimquisition website

Un-Mastering Luck: My First Warhammer Fantasy Battles Games

Napoleon once said that genius was the mastering of luck.  Anyone who plays miniature wargames knows just how difficult mastering luck is…

I played my first Warhammer Fantasy Battles games over the past weekend and saw just how difficult luck really is to master. As I said in the last post I prepared a small ogre army for an escalation league at my local Games Workshop store.  I’d never before played Fantasy except for a few little games using the store sets of Island of Blood that weren’t designed to be competitive. My Games Workshop store is surprisingly fresh.  A lot of new players are there so it was nice to go in to this without some of the more negative kinds of players (or the know-it-all, “hurr hurr, look at the noob” types) and it was a really positive experience.  I invited friends to come watch me lose and I thought I’d share the experience.

I showed up on a Friday night and only a couple people were there.  The other player present was also new, and he brought his Skaven army.  The store manager got his rule book out and we played our tiny 250 point game.  I used 8 ogres in two 4-group units, all with additional hand weapons.  This put me at 248 points and lots of attacks.  My opponent took a big block of clanrats with shields and spears, and two bases of rat swarms.  He went first (whew….brought them closer into my charge range!) and I did as expected and charged right into those clanrats.   Ogres on a charge are brutal, impact hits, sixteen attacks, and four stomps.  It was a close round of combat but the ogres won through the weight of their charge.  Because of his “strength in numbers” special rule he had a mighty leadership TEN.  Now I should say I have a history and tendency to roll like crap (you’ll see that in my battle the next day) but I think my lack of luck was catching.  He rolled two sixes!  Failing his leadership test.  He then proceeded to run away 5 inches.  I chose to pursue, rolling a six, catching and eliminating the only viable unit on the field.  I definitely did NOT out play him in my first game.  With only 250 points very few tactical choices are there.  But through pure luck the first game was a win.  And a nice intro to the game mechanics.

I then played the manager’s dark elves, him playing as an NPC.  Though I smashed his witches (even though I’d received their crazy charge) but ran into a wall on his executioners.  I did enough damage on them that even he said he got a bit nervous, but all their elf rules did me in.

The next day I returned for his zombie tarpit challenge.  80 zombies versus my 250 points of ogres.  I chose to make one big unit and smashed into the zombies.  I ended up taking them out in 5 turns, but only had three ogres left by the end.  I realized I would have been smarter to leave them in two units, hitting the zombies on their flank with the second group.  I would have had one extra attack per ogre.  Four extra impact hits (at least…I COULD have rolled a 10+ on my charge) and four additional stomps.  It may have been over in 3 turns…

Later that day I played a kid who had dwarves.  A unit of warriors and a unit of longbeards.  I needed an 8 to make my first charge against the warriors…and rolled two TWOS.  So I received the charge instead.  I made my charge against his longbeards, and surprisingly crushed them into flight.  Here’s where I made tactical errors.  There was only one longbeard left, his standard bearer.  I chose to run them down, which I shouldn’t have done.  I ran them down and moved 9 inches away from my beleaguered other unit.  My other unit of ogres, having lost the combat with the dwarf warriors and fleeing, fled an epic 11 inches.  Then failed their next leadership by rolling a TEN.  My epic bad rolling coming to light again.  His dwarf warriors turned to my unbroken unit and I chose to march them up a hill rather than reform.  I really should’ve reformed, as his next turn would’ve brought them easily into charge range and probably a quick combat after all the impacts, attacks, and stomps.  Since I moved them away, they had their backs to his dwarves and received a flank charge.  Despite this I still killed four dwarves and received zero wounds.  

Unfortunately for me, due to combat resolution math, we tied and his musician broke the tie.  Once again I failed my leadership test (because I’m awesome like that) and fled only to be caught and destroyed!  Him won a clean victory.  All my dice throwing proving just how little of luck I had mastered… my inexperience and the good thinking of my opponents proving to be a deciding factor.

It was a blast to play, win or lose, and I learned some good lessons.

1) Ogres…don’t forget your fear check.  I never had anyone roll for fear ever.  It’s a long shot against elves or dwarves but better to try than not to try.

2) Don’t forget impact his and stomps.  Even with only four ogres in the rank that’s at least four impact hits (D3 per ogre due to the ogre charge rule if you roll a natural 10+) and stomps are four additional attacks.  

3) Ogres are attacking beasts and can soak up lots of damage. Even at speed six it’s best to try to get the ogres back into combat as soon as possible.  Maneuvering with Skaven or Beastmen might be a good choice, but with just three ogres it is always best to try and get them back into doing damage.  It’s what they do best!

I’ve heard that GW is planning to drastically change the landscape of Warhammer Fantasy Battles due to its flagging sales.  Just getting into it now, this makes me quite sad.  I love the complex simplicity of it.  The small rules that turn into big results, and the great fun of throwing gobs of dice and taking off scores of models.  As much as I love 40k, it’s a very different kind of wargame and I’m hoping, no matter the changes they make, the game play will always be welcome on gaming tables.

Table Top Home Brew

I’m actually working on a couple of posts that are taking a bit more oomph than expected so I thought I’d post something my friend Mike and I made a few months ago and we just last week starting up again.

With the growing popularity of Wil Wheaton’s TableTop and board gaming in general, a lot of YouTube Let’s Players are moving to the real world and out of the digital one.  There are a number of channels that play a variety of table top games on video and we, as avid fans and gamers ourselves, decided to start doing some of our own.

It’s VERY amateurish and has 0 production value (I used my Sony SLR which can only shoot 29:57 before it shuts off) and we had to set up a fixed position for the games we’ve played.  We had some good runs at this game of Castle Panic though and we hope to do some more with actual editing and shots.  Not to compete or become a “thing” just because we have a lot of “moments” in these games that are worht capturing, as many gamers do, and we feel it’s fun to share with the gamer community at large!

Beware there’s the language of a couple of people playing games…and not always so successfully in these vids!

 

Off the Top of My Head: Media Realism and Doom

Off The Top of My Head

There has been an odd move in video media to make things more “realistic.”  I’m not sure where this trend originated but having grown up in the 80s and 90s I find it more than a little troubling.  I have spotted a few trends that cross various kinds of media but I’ll use some specific examples to try and make the broad points.  There will be a few of these but I’ll start with one that’s been nagging me the most.  Realism in First Person Shooters.

DOOM.  Yes.  When I think 1st person shooters I still think of Doom.  In Doom you could about 8 weapons, you moved like you were wearing roller skates on a conveyor belt, and the rocket launcher fired out of the middle of your character’s chest.  But while playing Doom I don’t recall ever thinking, “You know what this game needs?  More realism.”  If I played Doom II and I could only carry a shotgun and a plasma rifle I’d be pretty pissed…  Likewise, to heal yourself all you have to do is run over various sizes of health power ups.  I’m not sure how much the game would have been improved by making me stop and actually treat my wounds realistically.

Yep firing a rocket out of the middle of my chest. What?

Fast forward to the modern FPS.  You are usually restricted to carrying a limited number of weapons, running makes the camera (and I use the word CAMERA) bob around like mad and healing somehow takes place just by hiding and not taking damage for a while.  It’s like people forgot how to video game…  All of this was done in the name of realism. Without getting into the fact that for some reason hiding behind a building and breathing until you regain color to the screen is a more realistic way of healing gunshot wounds than running over health packs, why did the industry feel this was necessary?  How does limiting the number of weapons I can carry improve the gaming experience?  How does making the movement look more like “actual” movement help the game play?  I never thought the movement in Doom, or even Wolfenstein, felt bad.  It felt like a video game and since that’s what I was playing it was a-ok.

The addition of seeing a characters hands filling part of the screen has greatly improved my gaming experience. Having NPCs do all the work helps too.

Even stranger is the idea that you can make something like this realistic, but not too realistic as that would be crazy.  How about one-hit kills?  I don’t know too many guys who can take a half dozen gunhits before crouching behind a wall and shaking it off.  How about completely limited ammo?  You have your primary weapon and a couple reloads.  Your secondary weapon and a couple of reloads.  You can’t interchange ammo and when you run out you’re SOL unless a realistic supply depot is nearby.  Or powder burns.  Or misfires.  We don’t see our characters eat very often.  Or go to the bathroom.  (unless it’s the Sims) but no one is clamoring for those additions.  Of course no one really clamored for the others either.

To me an FPS is essentially watching a wheeled humanoid, nearly impervious to wounds, with a Go-Pro on its head and a weapon for its right arm navigate an environment, shoot the other humanoids and make them dead.  There’s no adding realism to that really…  Or if realism MUST be added it shouldn’t be done so at the cost of fun.  I can’t remember having fun with an FPS made after 2006.  Of course the new generation of Modern Military Shooter fans will rend their garments and tell me why Call of Duty is far superior to Quake; and just looking at the shiny their case looks sound.  But when it comes to fun there’s no competition.  Give me the brown castles and 2D sprite enemies of Quake any day…  At least its level of “realism” makes sense!

Realm of Battle Sector Imperialis Work In Progress

Off The Top of My Head

Realm of Battle Sector Imperialis Work In Progress

This year I got myself the coolest birthday present I’ve ever gotten myself.

The day I moved in to my new place I decided to spring for the new Stormclaw Warhammer 40k set. I found a trusted seller on eBay was selling it as a rate and ordered it from them. The week it came out I received a message saying they didn’t get as much stock as expected and wouldn’t be able to send it.   I could get a refund or use that money to buy something else. While cruising their page I found they were selling the new city scape, Sector Imperialis, at a reduced rate as well. So I applied my Stormclaw money to it and got a 330 table top scenery set for $158 dollars. It was great.

It has been a nice project and one I’ve been looking forward to. A large-scale painting project that can be easily customized and personalized.

I wasn’t quite sure where to start so I watched these videos and soldiered on:

I followed most of these recommendations the letter. I changed the ground color to Mournfang Brown and ran out of Skavenblight Dinge (go for four pots, I have used three there’s enough in the bottom of them for touchups and nothing else) so I used Stormvermin Fur around the Aquila sections.

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Straight road sections. Clearly needs touch ups, but for 3-4 hours work it’s going faster than expected.

 

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The T Sections.

 

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This metal section has been touched up a bit. Still need to go back over the Skavenblight, but it’s going quickly. A thin card will work well to keep the right colors where they’re supposed to be.
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Running out of Skavenblight made me use Stormvermin around these sections. It’ll mix it up nicely I think and will blend well.

I’m going to mix Nuln Oil and Drakenhof Nightshade instead of Athonian Camoshade to give it a dirty blue color instead of earthy green.

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My painting rig. A big piece of cardboard would work as a pallet but since I’m painting all six sections at once I’m standing up most of the time. The traditional version comes in handy and is only $5. The brushes were $1 each and my water container once contained lunch meat!

I’ve still got the bronze colors and touch ups to do on the basing of this painting but believe it or not this much work only took about 4 hours. It goes fast. I’m looking forward to finishing basing and I’m very eager to start detailing and working on the colors to see what happens. I’m going to take Duncan’s recommendation and try Nurgle’s Rot some of the sewers, and maybe some water effect in some of the other sewers.

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This project, at 6 feet buy 4 feet, eats up paint. These are the pots I’ve used thus far…

I’ll post more of them as I go. It’ll start to match my NEW Imperial Guard army, which I’m starting in the next week!

In other news…check out the site in the next few weeks as there will be some new merchandise (Finally) I’ll post once the designs are done!

 

Life Lessons from Video Games: Every Day Video Game Influences

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Video gaming has affected modern culture in strange ways. Many of the more recent ways spring from online/multiplayer culture, but surprisingly the games I grew up with, the ones from the 80s and 90s, have had a lingering effect. Things I do day-to-day still show the touch of the 8-32 bit era and just recently I thought to document the weird game references I do in everyday life and here are just the top ones…I’m sure everyone does something like this…

5.) Korobeiniki: I’ve found this to be more common than I realized. As someone with an advanced degree in OCDs and organization I’ve found that organizing anything, desk drawers, folders, shelves, U-Hauls, is always accompanied by this song playing in my head, and occasionally I hum it aloud. I never even played much Tetris because of how messing up lines made my OCDs want to eat my brain but I attached this song indelibly to putting things in order, in nice right angles, NEAT UND TIDY!

4.) Null sweat, chummer: Yes, yes I know Shadowrun was a pen-and-paper RPG before it was ported to the Sega Genesis and turned into an action/adventure masterpiece in 16-bit glory…but I never knew that in the 90s. I knew Shadowrun as a cool used cartridge I got with a very interesting futuristic landscape and creative lingo. Every now and then instead of the usual “No problem,” “sure,” or “My pleasure,” “Null Sweat, Chummer” pops out, much to the bewilderment (usually) of the person receiving this statement. I think if I ever say this to a girl and she responds “Keep running in the shadows” I’ll probably propose…

You say sure thing…he says “Null Sweat, Chummer”

3.) At Doom’s Gate: I spent more time running down the hallways of Doom than I spent in school I think. It’s a rare game I could put on godmode and not get bored. Thirty days in a row… To this day moving swiftly down hallways, corridors, or even through crowded mall makes this music pop into my head. Given how much time I spent blasting hellspawn in that game I wonder if I should fear for the crowd…

2.) Test Your Might/Flawless Victory/Fatality: Mortal Kombat…it briefly held our attention by being more cartoonishly bloody than contemporary games. Even beyond that it started its own mythos…you could find secret characters, see secret things, and half the rumors about it weren’t true. The fighting parlance of the game though far out-lasted the novelty of ripping people’s spinal columns out. I use the above three phrases a LOT in day-to-day life. “Test you Might,” any time I have anything to do really (not just breaking big blocks of steel, rubies, or diamonds). “Flawless Victory” is usually reserved for a better-than-expected result, with “Fatality” brought in when that result ended in total ownage.

1.) HADOUKEN: I use this ALL the time. It’s sad. I use it when I throw clothes across the room. I use it when I toss my phone on the desk. I use it when I drop a dish in the sink. I have no idea why but anything leaving my hand at any moment and any speed equals HADOUKEN to me. It’s probably from the ridiculous spamming of that move that came with playing any version of Street Fighter II… If I ever do figure out how to throw a fireball (I’ve tried moving down, then slightly down forward, then forward and yelling it…it didn’t work) the world would be in big trouble (see my comments on crowds in the “Doom Music” section above….).