Tag Archives: TBW

The Perfect City

I sometimes think back on the numerous, half-formed neighborhoods and townships I’ve left behind to fend for themselves after some catastrophic occurrence led them to ruin. I wonder if the people there are still suffering the effect of polluted ground water, coastal flooding, rolling blackouts I inadvertently inflicted upon them through a combination of ignorance, amateurism and neglect. I’d routinely rub up against some society ending issue that I’d opt to run away from rather than stay and attempt to fix my terrible city planning blunders. This is my endless cycle in Cities: Skylines, the rinse and repeat I find myself in as I search for the perfect city.

I’ve enjoyed Cities: Skylines a lot in the past, mostly by disabling all economic restrictions and building idyllic utopias to my heart’s content, as if some altruistic Scrooge McDuck was financially backing me. But after a long hiatus from being such a prolific mayor, the new console remaster of Cities: Skylines released recently, and I’ve fallen right back into my old ways. There is a big difference this time around however, which is that this time I’m playing by the rules. No cheats, no mods, no deviations from the standard, city-building experience, just pure, uncut mayorship.

It has been an adjustment to say the least, as suddenly I have to account for the fact that I can’t just give the people a fire station to preempt a burning building. I can’t just give people an elementary school, nor can I just take out the trash or even provide a steady supply of electricity. I kind of have to let the people tough these things out until the finances work out in such a way that building that service won’t doom the entire city. It’s required a patience that I’ve had no choice but to learn, but it’s been kind of satisfying to see my city experience these financial boons that ultimately allow for extremely expensive boondoggles that usually result in my unceremonious abandoning of the city.

This is NOT a picture of a city I doomed. This is a nice zoo

The first city I started, Lakeshore, a city with a ridiculous name that Cities: Skylines ginned up all by itself. Lakeshore, as the very good name would imply, had access to water, albeit a river and not a lake, but whatever, there was water. It was only a few months into the simulation before I learned the harsh lesson about how generalized industrial zones pollute the ground beneath it, making that a pretty shitty location for a water tower that would supply a burgeoning city. Not having a hospital really compounded that issue, which led to a sudden drop in the population and the income Lakeshore was enjoying. People were just dying off in droves, collapsing in the streets or not being found until some conscientious neighbor came to check on the smell next door. The snowball rolled faster and faster downhill, gaining speed and size with every unattended moment. Eventually it got so big that I turned tail and walked away towards my next unintentionally dubious endeavor.

That next endeavor was where I experienced an unyielding success that resulted in me being brought down by my own hubris. San Ramos, (again, stellar name generation) was a cozy, sun-soaked beachfront city with a speedy little river running through the starting landmass. Picturesque in its natural beauty, I built waterfront properties, thriving business districts, and a vast logging and farming operation that funded so much of the services and utilities that the citizens had come to love and expect. It was also a place that had significant waste management issues, particularly when it came to wastewater.

See, in Cities: Skylines, the only tool you get to deal with sewage when you start a town, is a literal shit-spewing pipe that you can either output onto land or into the water. I chose to place that output line far enough downstream that it would be some other Cities: Skylines player’s problem. Side note: I find it fucked up that the only option, aside from buying DLC, to deal with shit in this game is to dump it in the ocean. It wasn’t a huge problem unless you angled the camera in such a way that you’d see all of the rivers in the distance had turned a nasty brown, but the water in San Ramos was totally fine.

You can’t see it from here, but the traffic is terrible

As my city began to outgrow its predefined borders, I had to buy up the surrounding land to expand my fledgling empire, which also meant that the nasty shit pipes had to be moved. Not a problem though, it was an easy fix. As the city grew, however, so did our need for energy. The best option at my disposal to handle this growing crisis was by building a hydro-electric dam, which with my overwhelming success as mayor, I could easily afford and would solve the energy crisis 30 times over.

Here’s where I have to mention that in the console remaster of Cities: Skylines, you don’t have the ability to freely look at the plots of land you don’t own. Maybe there’s a setting I could toggle, or maybe I could have just gone to the display for buying more land to get a better look, but either way, I could not actually see the areas of this continent that I didn’t currently own. This is an important detail that the jury should know.

Upon placing the dam down two things immediately happened. The first was that rolling blackouts were a thing of the past and everyone in the city was stoked out of their minds about it. The second thing that happened was that I’d see the icon for “this shit is flooded,” pulsating faintly over stretches of highway that I did not own and could barely see at best. Unable to actually do anything about those locations, I continued on my way.

What happened next took time. It was a gradual thing that I might have seen coming had it not been for arbitrary camera restrictions, but ultimately it was something I did not have any ability to fix. It was too late for intervention. The river of San Ramos flowed from east to west, the latter direction being the place where my city’s nasty toilet leavings flowed away into. So you can imagine my surprise when that same fetid, toxic sludge rolled back through the river, only this time from the east.

Yes, it turned out that the dam raised the water levels in the east enough that they poured over into the river that housed our wastewater, which wrapped around the continent in just such a way that made these two separate bodies of water, one menacing flume of doom whose endpoint was right at my dam.

The brown water splashed up against the front of the dam, settled and collected there. Our hydro-electric plant wasn’t fast enough to process this hideous sludge, which created this massive Ouroboros of shit that wrapped around the entire world, starting and ending in the heart of San Ramos. When that slime finally came back around and made a perfect loop around the continent, that’s when things got really bad.

The shore was quickly overtaken by the shit-slurry we had created. It washed over roads and neighborhoods, slowly and completely infiltrating every artery of the city, painting districts a heinous brown as it flowed across the ground. It consumed so much of my city, so fast, and there was nothing I could do but watch in horror and think about how to better plan for this situation in the next city. Surely in the next place I’d get it right.

So I left. I abandoned San Ramos in its greatest moment of need. I did the mental arithmetic and the only answer was that this place was doomed and nothing could save it. The water was poisoned, the people were sick and the roads and buildings were destroyed. San Ramos was done for, and I got out while I still could. Since then, I’ve moved on to a new city, and this time I’m going to do it right. Surely nothing could go wrong this time around. Right?

Hogwarts Legacy is Surprisingly Good; Rowling Still Sucks Though

When talking about anything related to Harry Potter, it’s important to remember that its creator, J.K. Rowling, is a bad person who does not deserve your attention. It’s a damn shame how much of a shadow she casts over this beloved franchise by being a bigoted asshole, particularly in the wake of the release of Hogwarts Legacy, which is a good game with its fair share of faults. It also raises the very good question of, “should I play this game knowing that she benefits from my purchase?” To that end, I don’t have a good answer. All I can confidently say is that Hogwarts Legacy is an enjoyable game and Rowling is a bad person.

I’m not very well-versed in the Harry Potter franchise, having only seen the movies for the first time this year, but even I was intrigued by the idea of being able to explore a fully realized Hogwarts Castle and its surroundings. In terms of presentation and world construction, Hogwarts Legacy is an absolute triumph. Nearly every house and room is immaculately designed and explorable, packed with shelves overflowing with books, knickknacks and all kinds of magic minutia, well-worn chairs and the clutter of everyday life strewn across the floors. The houses are cozy and lived in, the shops are dense and stocked with all sorts of baubles and trinkets, and in-between all of it are sprawling meadows, hills and forests that hide dank and dreary dungeons and other curious oddities to discover. Every ounce of the world is filled with evidence of a development team that truly loved and understood what fans of the series were looking for.

I was surprised to find just how much that presentational excellence actually worked for me, considering I was more interested in the gameplay going into it. I was curious as to how you make magic-only combat interesting, fun and impactful, especially over the course the near 70 hours it would take to see everything it has to offer. It turns out that all you really have to do is give the player an absurd amount of magical powers on short cooldowns, and graft the Arkham Asylum combat onto it. It didn’t take much time before I was pirouetting my way through enemies, 360-no-scoping everything that so much as threatened to attack me. A dozen hours or so and the only real wrinkle in combat has been when enemies use magical shields that require certain types of spells to dispel them. The combat is serviceable and visually exciting, but has yet to be overly challenging or exceptionally interesting in any way.

That actually leads me to one of my biggest issues with Hogwarts Legacy, you know, aside from the obvious one, which is how clunky playing it can feel. Early on, you’re given access to more spells than you can actually use at once, as spells are mapped to the face buttons and there’s only so many of those. Using another spell requires you to open your spell book and map the new spell to one of the face buttons in order to cast it. This makes for a real clumsy experience when you need to use something new to accomplish one of the many collectible-based challenges that litter the open world. Through upgrades you can open up more sets of mappable slots that you have to page through with the d-pad, but even that feels impossibly awkward to do when you’re in combat and dodging attacks.

Hogwarts Legacy follows the classic open world format that has you running from map marker to map marker, gathering collectibles, crafting items and so on and so forth. It isn’t reinventing the wheel with its structure, rather, it’s just a really solid one of those kinds of game, with a very cool and fan-service-filled setting. It doesn’t really deliver on the promise of being a student at this school either. The classes start out as fun little tutorial levels, but devolve into montages of wacky magic imagery, followed by the professor giving you a checklist of objectives to accomplish before the next story mission.

Hogwarts Legacy is a lot like AI generated art in that at a glance looks it phenomenal, but once you start to look a little closer at the details you notice how the hands are all fucked up and the NPCs are kind of phasing through the floor. Textures don’t load in correctly and the game hitches a lot both in and outside of the magic castle, whether it be décor, lighting or the people themselves. In fact, the other students seem to be nothing more than ephemera that you sprint through from objective to objective, listlessly lingering in common areas and meandering up and down hallways. It’s clear that developer Avalanche Software tried to make the world feel alive and lived in, but following NPCs around for more than a few seconds breaks that illusion when you see them get hitched on the environment or disappear into the walls. I know that walking through walls is a thing in Harry Potter, but these were not clever little nods, these were glitches.

But that’s all of Hogwarts Legacy. The game is a little messy and buggy, but it’s so expansive and filled with things for Harry Potter fans to experience. One of those experiences however, happens to be engaging in a significant aspect of the story that’s about crushing a goblin rebellion, which doesn’t seem great considering the already problematic portrayal of goblins in the world. Like I said, I don’t know much of anything beyond what I vaguely remember from seeing the films, but even I can see just how bad the depiction of the goblins is.

The moment to moment stuff in Hogwarts Legacy is very good though. Juggling enemies with endless magical combos, solving the bevvy of micro-puzzles that are scattered around the world, and jetting across the massive landmass, which I’ll call Wizardville, on your broom is a blast. In the open world, there’s definitely that, “just one more thing” aspect to exploring, where you just can’t help but take a little peek at what lay beyond the next ridge.

There’s a lot of game here, and even 12 hours in I’m still being introduced to new mechanics and concepts that open up entirely new questlines, activities and abilities. Oh, and if you like seeing numbers go up, then you’ll love the sheer amount of scored loot this game hurls at you. Genuinely, it becomes a problem with how frequently you have to do inventory management, and how you have to manually change the appearance of every piece of clothing every time you equip something new in order to avoid looking completely ridiculous.

There’s a lot for Harry Potter fans to like here, and it’s evident that the people who worked on this game poured a lot of love into crafting a love letter to the universe, and they deserve praise and reward for their work. While some could argue that most of the things we buy benefit some shitty CEO with horrendous views, something about the visibility of Rowling makes it harder to ignore than the usual bits of soul crushing capitalism we have to engage with on a daily basis.

As someone on the outside of this fandom looking in, I feel like there’s also an aspect of betrayal that permeates this whole situation. Someone creates this wonderful world that captivates a generation of children who literally grow up alongside these beloved characters, only for the creator to come out as a hateful piece of garbage. Maybe I’m completely off base, but even as someone who doesn’t identify as a fan, I kind of feel that way about this whole mess.

Ultimately it’s your decision as to whether or not you want to engage with Hogwarts Legacy and handle all the baggage that comes with it. You may want to support the people who made the game, which is fantastic, developers deserve adoration for their good work. But I also recognize that there’s no way to do that without kicking cash over to the shithead who thinks Trans people aren’t people, which is objectively wrong. Hogwarts Legacy is a fine game, made by people who clearly cared, based on the wonderous source material of an miserable and awful person. So do with that information what you will.

blog: Internet Friends

A few years ago we were streaming out some Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds to our gigantic audience of like 4 people, when one of the folks in our chat blindsided us with a simple request: “Can I join you?” It was a request that more experienced streamers would not engage with at all, but like a house of cards our convictions came crumbling down in an instant. Our inexperience laid bare and our judgment dissolved, we let them join us — live and unvetted. Of all the ways that story could have ended, I would not have expected it to end with us having excellent chemistry with what would become a really good friend, which is exactly what happened.

But that story is an outlier and represents the only time in my life that I’ve ever made an ‘internet friend’, and they kind of forced my hand cause I didn’t know how to say, “nah, we’re good,” in the middle of a stream. Like, they could have hopped on our stream and just said the most horrendous shit they could imagine, but instead they were extremely cool. It all worked out, but it’s made me think about all of the online communities I’ve avoided and the connections I never made, mostly because of a crippling social anxiety.

It’s weird to me that in an age where internet anonymity emboldened people to be as vile and repugnant as possible, that I can’t muster the courage to interact with people online. I think my fear comes from that ’emboldened asshole’ thing though, cause while I’m not the type to engage with folks online whether it be positively or negatively, I worry everyone else is gonna be really shitty to me the second I open my mouth.

I see people engaging with each other inside of games, on social media or over Discord, basking in the glow of their shared interests and I wish I had that. I wish I had a place that I could log into and just kind nerd out with random folks who are just as weird and dorky as myself. But I don’t know where to start, and more importantly, I have this crippling social anxiety that makes even the simple task of hitting the automated “say hello” button that pops up in Discord servers a tall order.

All of this begs the question, ‘to what end?’ I have friends that I talk to pretty regularly and we’re all pretty dorky, it isn’t like I couldn’t blab about video games or D&D to them. I guess I just want to meet new people, but regardless of if that’s in-person or online, I’m terrible about being brave enough to engage with anyone new. Like, I’m not even the guy at the party who spends all his time on his phone, I’m guy who didn’t even show up to the party and feels terrible for not going but also relieved.

This isn’t just about wanting to make new friends though, because the other side of this whole situation is me wanting to find welcoming communities of like-minded individuals. I know they’re out there, but I just don’t have it within me to make that jump and engage with one of them. It’s social anxiety manifest in spaces where I assume I’d be welcomed, but the possibility of them being exclusionary, no matter how infinitesimal, outweighs my desire to make new connections. Simply put, I think I’m just afraid of rejection.

TMoD: Reroll – Invested

From plot inconsistencies to rule clarifications, there are a ton of pressure points that have popped up over the course of every campaign I’ve run, but for the most part any obstacle in a TTRPG can be addressed if given enough time. We can take a brief pause to look up a rule for more clarification or we can stop to discuss how a plot point is at odds with some previously established lore, but the one thing we can’t easily address is a player’s level of investment in what’s happening in the game, and that can be a problem.

For the uninitiated, I’ve been running my players through an Eberron campaign that started with their characters living normal lives in the big city, but has evolved into exploring the Mournlands, a zone of wild magic where incomprehensible horrors exist. I tried to make it a point to not just throw bigger and badder enemies at them in an attempt to emphasize how bad this place is, cause that’s not really interesting or apt to what the area is about. Instead, I’ve genuinely tried to put them in challenging positions where they have to really consider their actions and choices, attempting to make situations less binary than they’ve been in the past.

Despite my best efforts however, when I asked them how their characters were holding up in a mental capacity, I was a little disappointed when some of the answers I got boiled down to, “I’m good.” Really? You’re just fine? I’ve been hitting your characters harder than ever, both in terms of battles and narrative content, but you’re good? Sure that’s deflating to find that my story and world-building haven’t done the trick, but maybe your characters are genuinely taking this whole situation in stride. Fine.

But that investment isn’t just limited to a player engaging with the content of the story, it’s also a question of if their character has any additional motivations outside of just, “defeating the bad guy.” We rarely explore all of the little lifestyle stuff that TTRPGs have to offer, nor does anyone really engage in a vice or follow up on personal quests, but that may just be a result of us having limited time from session to session. I get the idea of not wanting to feel like you’re monopolizing the session with some stuff that isn’t intrinsic to the plot, but some of the most interesting and memorable stuff happens in those moments. My players are more or less tethered to one another and act as a hivemind rather than individuals, although to be fair to them, there isn’t a whole lot else to do aside from experience anguish and suffering inside of the Mournlands.

I don’t want to sound overly negative because I do love my group, they just happen play the game a little differently than I was expecting. I think that part of it is the aforementioned short amount of time we have to play, and the other factor is that I don’t like juggling clocks and timers. Because of that, it ultimately allows them to pocket a bunch of quests and tackle them later like in a video game without much consequence, but that’s something I’m working to fix.

I also think it’s an issue of playing too meta. They know that splitting the party is dangerous and tend not to do it, especially considering I’ve used it against them before. I try to pull them apart from time to time, not just to hurt them, but because I want them to have a chance to act like fully realized characters with their own motivations and goals. I also think it makes for a more satisfying experience when you have some sort of emotional attachment to your character, but maybe that’s just me.

But maybe they are attached to their characters and are experiencing all of these things in their own way. This could be a situation where I’m expecting one thing and getting frustrated because I’m not getting the response I want. Regardless of how they react in-game, they keep showing up and keep wanting to play and make progress, so something must be clicking for them.

This all comes form a place of being hyper-critical of myself and I 100% recognize that. I desperately want to make sure that everyone is having fun, and in my mind that equates to them being invested in the story, their characters, the world and everything else that I’m invested in as the GM. But that isn’t how it works and it’s unrealistic to expect them to care as much as I do about this game that I spend way more time thinking about than they do.

To circle all the way back around to the thesis of this article, how do we address player investment when running a campaign? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a clean answer to that. I think, like most elements of TTRPGs, it depends on the people you’re playing with. Simply asking upfront, “what kind of game are you looking to play” might garner some actionable information, but your players might not know what it is they actually want until you’re several sessions into a campaign.

A player might come into a campaign thinking they want tons of role-playing opportunities or that they want to play a character that excels outside of combat, but they might find out that they really just wanna roll some dice and do bigger ouchies to their enemies, which is fine if they communicate that to you.

Like most relationships, communication is so critical to making sure everyone’s needs in a campaign are met. But when they don’t make a distinction one way or another about what they prefer, you’re left in this nebulous zone where you’re just hurling spaghetti at the wall, not even hoping that something sticks, but hoping that they’ll be somewhat interested in one of the piles that’s formed on the ground. A flawless metaphor, for sure.

Ultimately what I’m saying is that I keep trying to decipher what it is my players like so I can do more of that, but I feel like I’m misinterpreting what it is that they want more of and just try any and everything I can think of. The truth probably is that they just like the whole of the experience and are just happy to be playing at all, which is a heartwarming sentiment if true. But if that’s the case, that means they enjoy the fact that I have a small crisis every single time we play, which results in me second guessing myself constantly.

So maybe they just enjoy my suffering.

blog: The Gift of Spending

As a little gift for the holidays, I decided to splurge and treat myself to something that’s equal parts superfluous and unnecessary, snagging a shiny new virtual reality headset. While I’m not thrilled about having to buy a Meta product, the Quest 2 was the only affordable standalone headset I could find, so I bit the bullet and took the plunge and was immediately confronted by the need to spend more money.

While less powerful than some of its PC reliant contemporaries, the Quest 2 is still a really impressive piece of technology that more than just gets the job done. But if you’re like me and already have a pretty robust library of VR games on other platforms, you can plug in a long USB C cord and harness the power of whatever beefy rig you’ve got. That was the intent, but unfortunately my computer had other plans.

I thought that buying a prebuilt PC would solve a lot of the issues I had with the Frankensteinian mess I hobbled together years ago, but it turns out that computers can be incredibly fickle no matter what their origin is. The computer I originally scrumbled together was prone to crashing and just hated the idea of turning and staying on, which is an attitude I can kind of relate to. But this newer computer, I stupidly assumed, would be more reliable because it was ‘professionally’ built.

To its credit, my newer PC is great at being a normal computer that streams videos, plays music, and allows me to play D&D on virtual tabletops without much issue. What it doesn’t like doing is playing games, which was kind of the whole reason I bought the damn thing in the first place. Much like me, the second I ask for the littlest bit of exertion from it or anything that would mildly tax the graphics card for more than ten minutes, makes it get all crash happy in a way I’ve never seen before. Everything locks up, the displays go green, and the computer is unresponsive until I manually reset it. When it does come back online, it resets some of my display settings, specifically the monitor sleep settings, which I assume is a symptom of some cyber-amnesia that only computers suffer.

It drives me nuts because I’ve never really been able to play games on this computer as is, but for some reason I forgot that fact when I bought a 16 foot USB C cable with the intent of having this crashy piece of crap attempt to run VR games. While the green screen crash is disruptive and startling under normal circumstances, having it happen while inside of VR is truly akin to an Eldritch horror.

I was trying out a game called Wanderer, which is this very moody, post-apocalyptic adventure game that allegedly has you jumping around through events in history and solving puzzles in order to fix your shitty future. I played about an hour of it and thought it was pretty neat until the sound suddenly cut out and everything kind of froze. The game had hiccupped before like this, so I just thought I’d wait it out. But as I looked around I saw the walls start to melt, and the colors turn into beams of light that extended into oblivion. It was like the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, except unlike the movie, this crash made sense.

So what’s the play here, then? Cause from where I’m standing, my options are to either buy a new computer or laptop that can run some VR stuff, dropping well over a grand, or rebuy my entire VR library on the Meta store. Both options seem absolutely insane to do, but buying a new computer at least offers some utility and the ability to play the even more non-VR games I across the 15 launchers I have installed. It’s wild to think that the more sensible option is to buy a new computer, but that’s money I super don’t feel like dropping right now.

I can’t believe that my fun little present to myself has led to me having to genuinely consider spending an extra grand or more just to be able to fully utilize it. And now that I’m aware of my computer’s inability to handle the slightest of strains, I can’t not address it. I’m cursed with this knowledge and I’m genuinely afraid that I’m going to act on it. Send help.

My Top Games of 2022

Between unemployment and being depressed, I had a lot of time to play video games this year, and while I did play a decent amount of titles only a handful of them really left a lasting impression on me. More accurately, these were the games this year I remember playing and thinking, “yeah, I had a good time with that.” So in no particular order, here are my favorite games that I played this year.


When I think back on my time with Tunic, also known as the cute fox Zelda game, I tend to remember a lot of the negative things first, like how difficult and incongruous the combat felt in comparison to the rest of the game. I remember feeling frustrated at the lack of direction and general ambiguity of everything that was happening. I remember feeling lost and confused, almost like I wasn’t smart enough for Tunic and should just give up and stop playing.

But then I remember the many “Oh shit!” moments I had with Tunic, where I’d figure out how to navigate a seemingly impassable part of the map and felt like the smartest person in the world. I remember finding pages for and utilizing the in-game manual to complete puzzles and shed some light on what the hell was going on in this world. Every low moment I had with Tunic was eventually followed by some satisfying high that would carry me over and past each of these peaks and valleys.

Tunic was a game that genuinely challenged me even after I adjusted the accessibility settings to nullify the challenge of combat. Tunic is filled to the brim with mysterious secrets that lead to wondrous revelations, most of which I pretty much understood. My only complaint with Tunic is that its combat didn’t need to be as punishing as it was, as it detracted from the real treasure of the experience, which was exploring and uncovering every little secret Tunic had tucked away.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Kirby and the Forgotten Land isn’t the most difficult or complex game I’ve played this year, but it didn’t need to be. Kirby games are usually a lightweight and breezy experience, and this entry was no different. Kirby and the Forgotten Land was a cozy little 3D platformer that was oozing with charm which is something I needed this year. It was a fun, low-stakes game that I could mindlessly play, stopping to occasionally appreciate its lovely art direction and endearing character design.

There’s a surprising amount of stuff crammed inside of this Kirby game, from some very light upgrade mechanics that alter and change the effect of the powers you suck up, to these challenge levels that test your abilities to control and utilize said powers effectively within a time limit. In addition, each level has a set of challenges or collectibles for you to tackle and collect, granting you additional upgrade resources and currency for the rest of the game.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land isn’t the Mario 64 of Kirby games, but it is a lot of fun and a fresh take on the Kirby formula that’ll scratch that platformer itch I know you’ve got.

Road 96

A setting where a fascist dictatorship violently tamps down on dissent and propagandizes its populace through an overly complimentary ‘news’ network might seem like an odd backdrop for a teenage coming-of-age adventure game, but it actually works surprisingly well.

In Road 96, you play as a series of unnamed teenagers who are hitchhiking their way through their terrible country in the hopes of crossing the border and fleeing into a less oppressive country. On its surface, the game almost presents itself as a roguelike because you’re essentially making runs on the border as different characters, but there is cumulative story that concludes despite which character you choose for each run.

On your journey you’ll run into a reoccurring cast of weird and fairly complex characters, aiding or avoiding them all in service of gaining cash and inching closer towards freedom all while keeping your morality intact. It’s a game about making choices and living with the consequences, and it was one of the more memorable experiences I had this year.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker

Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a game about safely deconstructing and salvaging spaceships with cool laser beams. There’s some other stuff about working in a future capitalism-ravaged hell-scape where you’re paying off a massive debt to the demolition company, but none of that is particularly interesting or necessary to enjoying the simple act of safely demolishing a space ship. It has this zen-like quality where you fall into that zone you get into when you’re doing your job and doing it well, as if it’s second nature to you.

The default mode in Hardspace: Shipbreaker puts some oxygen and fuel restrictions on you that I found to be more restrictive than I wanted, but luckily you can toggle that stuff off or just play in a free-mode with no restrictions, which I’ve found to be the optimal way to play the game. I find that disabling those restrictions lends it a more puzzle game feeling that’s far more satisfying than having to juggle the light survival mechanics.

The pacing in Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a little off, as the first few hours of the campaign don’t really afford you too much variety in ship types or tools to use, but after enough time that eventually starts to change. But aside from that tiny quibble, I’ve got nothing but praise for the slow and methodical gameplay of Hardspace: Shipbreaker.

Sniper Elite 5

Sniper Elite 5 doesn’t reinvent the Sniper Elite formula, but it was one of the most fun cooperative gaming experiences I had this year which is mainly why it’s on this list. While the slow motion bullet-cam is still as exciting and gruesome as ever, but what really made this entry come alive was how flexible it was in catering to different play styles. More specifically, it allowed me to watch from a safe distance as my cooperative partner charged into overwhelming odds and chained knife-takedowns on hostile Nazis, thus obliterating any and all sense of stealth that might be implied in a game called Sniper Elite 5. It was frustrating to watch, but hilarious to experience.

The best thing about Sniper Elite 5 is how much of a perfect platform it was for my friend and I to make each other laugh, which we did a lot of. It’s a game that you don’t have to really think about too much because the objective is simple: destroy all Nazis. Knowing that core mission left ample opportunities for us to perform comedy bits with each other as we bumbled our way through the sprawling levels, completing objectives in our own ways and more often than not, screwing over the other player because stealth was never an option.

PowerWash Simulator

Much like Hardspace: Shipbreaker, PowerWash Simulator is one of those meditative, ‘lose four hours of time’ kind of games that has you doing something mindless yet incredibly satisfying. In this game you blast grime and dirt off of the filthiest structures and vehicles in the world, utilizing stronger power washers, nozzles and soaps. That’s it. That’s the whole game. There’s a story, but who really cares about that? There is something borderline indescribable about PowerWash Simulator that makes it easily one of the best games I played this year.

Aside from its cutting edge dirt-tech, something that I’ve just made up, it doesn’t look especially great nor does it run flawlessly, but it lets you and your friends come together to methodically blast the cruft off of things, and that’s good enough for me.

NBA 2K23

Without question, the games that I end up putting the most time into year after year are in the NBA 2K series, and this year’s entry might be one of my favorites, ever. NBA 2K23 is the latest in a series of basketball simulation games that seems overly eager in siphoning as much cash away from you as it possibly can depending on what modes you play. If you’re like me however and don’t play those modes, opting to stick with the tried and true franchise mode, this is another solid iteration that still has some of the same lingering bugs as it did 3 years ago.

But what really changes everything for me is the ‘MyEras’ mode, which is basically just your standard franchise mode, but you can start it in the ’80s, ’90s or early 2000s. It isn’t a perfect mode, but it is the only thing I’ve been playing in NBA 2K23. The game reskins the courts, jerseys and imports the appropriate draft classes all while implementing historical changes as they happened, such as ripping my precious Nets away from me and taking them to Brooklyn. NBA 2K23 is one of favorites cause it lets me play in the time period I’m most familiar with, which is something I never thought would happen.

Vampire Survivors

I don’t know that there’s a game that I’ve played this year that so deeply sunk its fangs into me like Vampire Survivors did. Never would I have guessed that a roguelike would ever capture my interest for more than a few runs, but Vampire Survivors is the game I keep wanting to play above anything else. Which is crazy considering the only control you have over anything in the game is moving your character and selecting your upgrades.

As you level up during a run, you are presented with a random array of weapons and buffs to choose from, one per level. Combining the right items and leveling them up can create some devastating effects that let you feel like an all-powerful demigod projecting an impassable zone of death around you that vaporizes any enemy the moment they stupidly enter it.

It also takes a lot of weird turns which is a crazy thing for me to say about a game with no real story or lore, but it still found a way to toy with me when I felt like I ‘got’ the game. Ultimately, what I’m saying is that you should 100% try this silly little arcade game if you haven’t, because it’s way better than it has any right to be.

blog: In the Dust – 12/19/22

Not too long ago Chivalry 2 was released on Game Pass, quickly making it a staple in my gaming group’s rotation thanks to its satisfying and somewhat mindless gameplay. It’s not the kind of game that requires a lot from you in terms of progression or even paying attention which is the perfect platform for us to just talk about life only to be interrupted by someone screaming about how that last kill was “total bullshit.” It’s a good time for sure but it’s kind of the only game I can really join them on solely because of how little its progression actually matters, although I’m sure they’d beg to differ.

The amount of time that I have to play games feels like it’s going to be a pretty consistent theme that runs through most of my written pieces and it’s showing up here too. The other folks in my group have way more time than I do to play games, which becomes more and more of an issue with every game we try to play together. I don’t begrudge them or anything for having more free time, it just leads to a lot of instances where they’ll get to play so much more of a game and out level me before I can even grasp the basic mechanics of it.

That’s just with something lightweight like Chivalry 2, a game where I don’t think your level actually impacts anything on the matchmaking end. In something with level-based matchmaking or even worse, with shared story progression, we’ll maybe get one session to play together on equal footing before they power-level past me. Then if I do happen to join them it’ll end up feeling like we’re playing two completely different games as they dump their deep knowledge of future mechanics, lore and optimal strategies upon me. It all leads to me feeling like I’m holding them back from playing a game how they want to play it and have been in my absence, so I opt to play most things alone.

Once again, this isn’t the fault of anyone involved, it’s just the nature of our lives right now. Maybe one day we’ll all reach an equilibrium where we’ll all have to parse out our gaming time, but we’re not there just yet and that’s okay. Sure I don’t get to interact with my friends as much as I used to, and sure I don’t get to play as many multiplayer games unless I want to be a lunatic and just matchmake into things alone, but that’s alright. I don’t mind playing games by myself because that way the only person I’ll be letting down with my poor performance will be me.

TMoD: Reroll – Derelict Worlds

I’m about two years into running my Eberron-themed D&D5e campaign which is finally nearing its conclusion, signifying not only the first long-term campaign I’ve ever run actually ending naturally as opposed to flaming out, but also represents the opportunity to start crafting our next adventure, or in my case the next several adventures.

I like crafting new worlds for every campaign that I run, preferably something that compliments and plays more of an active role in the storytelling rather than just operating as a backdrop. With Eberron, I was able to use the existing setting fairly well by having the players cross through into and explore the untamed arcane landscape known colloquially as The Mournlands. This area of the map is nebulous and not very well defined by design, allowing game masters to plug in whatever they like into that area, which I most definitely have.

I’d like to think I’ve been successful in cramming a somewhat compelling story to into the blanks that the book provides, but I’m still playing in someone else’s world and clashing with the rules therein. So I opt to build worlds of my own with histories and rules that I know because I’m making them up as I go along. If I don’t have an explicit answer for something that might come up while playing, I can confidently make something up without worrying too much if I’m contradicting some preestablished lore.

The problem is that I never seem to get too far in the construction of a world before getting distracted and moving onto something else. It’s resulted in at least a half-dozen derelict and malformed worlds that lack any real definition outside of one or two cities and some historical events. Sometimes there’s a map involved and sometimes there are even quests and characters, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten before I try to develop something in a completely different setting.

Most of the time I’m leaping from design to design based on some theme I’d like to play around in or some new mechanics I’ve found. Like when I finally received my copies of Orbital Blues and Death in Space, I was eager to craft a universe filled with planet-hopping adventures and rampant capitalism based oppression but flamed out on that when I realized that making an explorable universe is hard.

There was also the time where I replayed Red Dead Redemption 2 and was deeply inspired to create a wild west themed game, but I couldn’t find a set of mechanics I liked to match it, so that concept died on the vine and gave way to something else that I never finished. I think I also just wanted a game that allowed me to do a bunch of cowboy accents, which was a bigger part of my motivation than you’d think.

Cyber punk, solar punk, Victorian, high and low fantasy, modern day and so on and so forth, I’ve made and abandoned so many worlds and settings in favor of starting fresh with something else, all thanks to my ever wandering eye. I fully intend to finish at least one of these concepts if for no other reason than that I’ll eventually have to when it comes time to start something new, but until then these worlds can stay stagnant in the many, many Google Docs they’re spread across.

blog: Finding the Fit – 12/12/22

Have you ever heard the phrase, “throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks?” Aside from being an incredibly weird idiom that people use, myself included, it’s also been the technique I’ve been using to find a game I can really stick with, except the spaghetti in this metaphor is my money and so far the wall is a garbage can that’s on fire.

For those of you who aren’t aware, I have a problem with sticking to one video game for long stretches of time. Not since the days of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Overwatch can I really remember spending significant time with a game that didn’t involve me playing virtual basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing the NBA 2K games as kind of a mindless time waster, but it’s been a good long while since I’ve really dug into anything else.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t tried though. I’ve given so many different games a shot, ranging from the underwhelming but somewhat enjoyable Gotham Knights to the eternal grind-fest that is Disney Dreamlight Valley. I took advantage of Black Friday sales and picked up the bland and lifeless reboot of Saints Row, the slick and stylish OlliOlli World, and even four different Crash Bandicoot games, all of which reminded that I never enjoyed those games when I was a kid and I have less patience for their bullshit now. Those games are fine enough but none of them held my attention for any longer than a few hours which is a shame considering that while I do have disposable income, it isn’t that disposable.

I don’t have a problem with running through countless decades of NBA history in NBA 2K23‘s MyEras mode, but eventually I’d like to do something else that doesn’t reimagine what life would be like if LeBron James was drafted by the Knicks or whatever. I have some other games on the docket that I’m eager to try, but I worry that I’m just beyond the point where a single game is going to satisfy me for that long. I’ll openly admit that I’m a very picky gamer who constantly feels like they don’t have enough time to commit to something new, but I know there’s got to be something out there that’ll appeal to my weirdly specific tastes.

But therein lies the problem: I don’t know what I’m looking for. The closest thing I can think of that might even be in the neighborhood of what I’m interested in would be something like Destiny 2, but even that is a tough putt because of how much of that game there is and how much of it I’ve missed that trying to start now seems overly daunting. Maybe I’d enjoy it, but the odds are that I’ll be overwhelmed by the lore, mechanics, and my desire to play the game “correctly” by looking up optimal builds or whatever the hell you do in Destiny 2, that I won’t actually play the game how I would have if it just came out.

I think this all boils down to my anxiety about wasting time. I don’t have as much gaming time as I used to which leads to me being overly precious about how I spend said time ultimately leading me to do nothing with it because I fear that I’ll use it on something that wasn’t worth it. So I use my time doing something I know will mildly entertain me instead of taking a chance on something new that might genuinely captivate me or leave me profoundly disappointed.

I don’t have a curative salve to apply to these particular neurosis that’ll make me suddenly understand that I actually do have plenty of time to engage in my hobbies and I don’t need to be so scared about potentially wasting time, but I’ll keep looking for one. In the meantime I just need to stop wasting all this dang spaghetti.

blog: Discomfort Zone – 12/08/22

It feels weird to be doing this again.

It’s been so long since I’ve done this whole ‘website’ thing although it’s only been about a year since my last post. But this really shouldn’t feel strange considering I used to do this every single week for a few years straight. This isn’t a new hobby I’m taking on but for some reason it feels foreign enough to feel unfamiliar, but that’s been the case with just about everything I’ve done this year.

At the beginning of 2022 my partner and I moved hundreds of miles away from our respective comfort zones and left the people and places that were familiar to us thanks to new employment opportunities, specifically new employment opportunities for my partner. While they were working and being productive, I stayed home and found time between cleaning, grocery shopping and being severely depressed and homesick to play a lot of video games. And while I played those video games I got to experience a deeper feeling of self-loathing than I’d ever felt before because it felt like I was wasting valuable working/applying to jobs time.

It was this endless cycle of feeling miserable and responding to it by doing something that was supposed to make me happy, but ultimately making me feel worse cause it felt like I didn’t deserve happiness while I was in this unemployed and isolated state. It got so bad that I was afraid to leave the house and was completely overwhelmed by doing even the smallest of things that didn’t involve me sitting in front of my monitor-crowded desk to play video games.

That was my comfort zone, my 4 monitor cocoon where nothing could hurt me. It was where I spent most of my time, relying on my hobbies in an attempt to stave off the encroaching darkness, but eventually I began to feel listless and apathetic towards everything that was supposed to bring me happiness. I’m pretty sure that’s the textbook definition of depression, actually.

I was in a rut. My comfort zone suddenly turned into this monument to failure. Having fun and enjoying myself felt unearned and unwarranted, and it left me feeling like a complete mess. It took a lot of patience and support from my partner along with me finally finding a job and having to spend time away from my sadness shrine to really claw myself out of that hole.

These days I feel like I’ve struck a pretty good balance between working, being a good partner and engaging in my hobbies. I’ve even started to romanticize the days when I had hours upon hours of free gaming time, which I think means I have a healthier relationship with gaming now. It also means that I’m an idiot who is knowingly looking through rose-colored glasses at one of the worst periods in my life and thinking, “wow, I kind of miss that.”

I really hope this doesn’t read as me trying to dole out advice because it 100% should not be interpreted as such. I didn’t actively do anything while I was struggling to alleviate the stress and just let it envelope me. I do not recommend that. I should have gone out and explored my new surroundings or at the very least I should have spent time in a different room in my house, but I didn’t and ultimately suffered the consequences. I just hope I remember all of this for the next time I’m unemployed for a significant amount of time.