My friends and family have always found that video games and board games are always good go-to gifts for me during the holiday season (which for us, starts in the fall, as my partner and I both have birthdays in September and October). 2020 was a bit different, however. For one thing, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we weren't able to get groups together for tabletop gaming nearly as often as we used to. The pandemic didn't stop us from tabletop gaming altogether, but we restrained our play to being with only a few regular players, and even then, played mostly 2-player games in order to avoid having multiple house guests at a time. We even sometimes wore masks while playing, just as an added precaution.

It wasn't that I didn't want new board games (or expansions to games I already have); rather, we just weren't sure when I'd ever be able to play them. For example, I did receive the new Crusader Kings board game by Free League Publishing. Hopefully, I'll have an opportunity to play it sometime soon, and be able to write a review for it to go along with my review of the video game.

But video games were not a hard purchase because of the pandemic. Sitting at home and playing video games is, after all, one of the best and safest pass-times during a pandemic. Rather, the big video game releases of this fall came with a lot of baggage or circumstantial reasons why I wasn't enthusiastic to buy them.

Lack of games didn't sell me on a PS5

First and foremost is the biggest of the big new releases this year: the new consoles. I've never been an XBox-player, so there was no interest in a new XBox to begin with. I am, however, interested in the PS5. But I wasn't rushing out to buy one because I'm not going to buy a new console if there aren't any exclusive new games to play on it. And since I wasn't rushing out to buy one, supply problems meant that it only got harder to find one. Honestly, I was surprised that the PS5 seemingly sold so well considering that there just wasn't all that much to play on it. My lack of enthusiasm for the new console meant that even though my partner considered trying to buy one, she eventually decided against it.

The only 2 games on PS5 worth playing are not worth buying a new console.

The big releases for the PS5 were the Demon's Souls remake and Miles Morales. So far, they are the only 2 games worth playing on the PS5, which is why I saw them bundled together with the console at multiple retailers and resellers. I was interested in both, but not enough to drop $400 on a new console -- especially not during a time of economic uncertainty. I'm sorry Sony, but if you want to sell me on a new console, you got to have something better than a remake of a game from 10 years ago (and 2 console generations ago) that I already played the hell out of back in the day, and a sequel to game from 2 years ago that looks like it's mostly just more of the same (and which is also available on the last-gen console anyway). Every other big release for the PS5, from Assassin's Creed: Valhalla to Cyberpunk: 2077 was also released on other platforms, so again, there was no need to rush out and buy a PS5 to play these games -- which I wouldn't have done anyway because both of those games have their own baggage, which I'll get to later in this post.

I only bought a PS4 because of Bloodborne, and the PS5 has so far lacked a similar console-selling exclusive. Maybe they'll have one eventually. Maybe if Elden Ring were a PS5-exclusive, I'd be in more of a hurry to secure myself a console. But as far as I know, that game is set for release on PS4 and will also be available on PC, so I don't need a PS5 in order to play it, the way that I needed a PS4 to play Bloodborne.

WARNING:
The following contains sexual content that may not be safe for work or children, including descriptions of alleged criminal behavior at Ubisoft, and a screenshot from Cyberpunk 2077 that contains nudity. Reader discretion is advised.

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Visage - title

It's virtually impossible to talk about Visage without first referring back to Hideo Kojima's infamous P.T. demo for the canceled Silent Hills project. P.T. has certainly left an almost Amnesia-sized footprint on the horror video gaming landscape, and it's hard not to refer back to Amnesia when talking about any horror game in the past 10 years either. It's hard to believe that P.T. was released six years ago, and the wanna-bes, copy-cats, and attempts at a spiritual successor have been rolling in ever since. The latest indie project to try to replicate P.T.'s success is SadSquare's Visage, a first-person horror game set entirely within a single suburban house in the 1980's. With Allison Road canceled, and Konami giving us no evidence that rumors of a new Silent Hill game (or a revival of Silent Hills itself) is true, Visage is probably the closest yet to a full-fledged realization of the concepts and novelty of P.T..

P.T. has influenced an entire generation of horror games.

P.T. mixed with a little Amnesia and Resident Evil

I think that part of the appeal of P.T. was its simplicity. With that simplicity came elegance. After all, it only had like 2 buttons that actually did anything, and the whole game consisted of walking around the hallway and zooming in to look at things. That's fine for what is essentially a tech demo that only takes an hour or two to beat, but for a fully-realized, full-length game like Visage, you need a bit more substance. Visage does deliver in that regard. While the entire game could be boiled down to just wandering around a house looking at spooky things, it also has several more traditional survival horror systems, which are used in new and sometimes creative ways.

The most substantive of these mechanics is a "sanity" mechanic pulled straight from something like Amnesia or Eternal Darkness, and which replaces a more traditional health system. The ghosts haunting the house will kill you and force a Game Over if they catch you, so your only defense is to run away. But when you run away, you need to try to run into a part of the house that is well lit, as the player character seems to be very afraid of the dark, and his sanity rapidly depletes if you're standing or wandering around in the dark.

The little red brain in the corner indicates you're in
danger of succumbing to a potentially-lethal haunting.

I wish the little sanity indicator had been moved to one of the top corners of the screen. Holding certain items in your left hand (particularly the lit lighter) often covers up or obscures the icon, making it hard to read. Other U.I. elements, such as some button prompts, will also draw a black bar across the bottom of the screen, which also covers up the sanity indicator.

Visage has some pretty good lighting effects, with realistic, dynamic shadows and darkness that is actually pitch black. It's not uncommon to catch a glimpse of a shadow from a flickering or swaying light in the corner of the screen and think that it's an apparition. Unfortunately, there's also some texture pop-in when playing on my PS4 Pro that happens when making sudden turns or when moving between rooms. This also looks like an apparition, and acted to quickly desensitize me to the deliberate peripheral visual trickery that the game tried to employ later.

The ambient sound design is also quite good. There's the cliche background ambiance of a rainstorm and thunder, but it's accompanied by numerous creaks and groans within the house itself. These creaks and groans, combined with the narrow corridors, blind corners, and ubiquitous darkness help to keep the horror atmosphere tense, especially in the early hours. Are those footsteps in the attic above me? Did I just hear something behind me? Is there an apparition waiting around the corner? The groaning and creaking reminded me of the novel House of Leaves, which I read over the summer, and which describes its house as "growling" whenever it reshapes its impossible geometry.

The house of Visage is also claustrophobic enough, cluttered enough, and confusingly laid-out, such that navigating in the dark is genuinely difficult. I had to play for hours (and finish more than a whole chapter) before I really started to get a feel for the layout of the house. Remembering which rooms and objects are where is hard enough in the early hours with the lights on. Not being able to see where I'm going only made early-game exploration feel hopelessly futile -- but in the good horror game way of making me feel unsure of my surroundings and vulnerable.

The house has a surprisingly large and complicated floorplan.
Keeping it well lit will both keep you sane, and also help navigate.
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Amnesia: Rebirth - title

The first few minutes of Amnesia: Rebirth had me expecting much more from the game. The first game, The Dark Descent revolutionized and resurrected the horror genre after major publishers basically gave up on horror altogether, and it provided innovative new ideas that have been iterated upon by almost every horror game since. Dark Descent has the player waking up in a decrepit gothic castle and then descending into dark, atmospheric corridors in which every moving shadow, every creaking floorboard, and every gust of wind ratchets up the tension.

The oppressive light of the sun can be as threatening as the dark.

Rebirth begins with a plane crash that strands the player in the middle of the Sahara desert and prompts the player to find shade from the oppressive heat. The player knows a bit about the protagonist and the situation, it's bright and saturated in color, and is totally the opposite of how Dark Descent begins. It made me think that Rebith might further innovate the horror genre by establishing new tropes, such as using sunlight as a tool for horror instead of cliché darkness. Dark Descent had you cowering in candlelight to restore your sanity after a trek through the darkness. Maybe Rebirth would invert that mechanic and have you seeking the dark, cool corners of the map to escape the parching heat of the sun?

Well, that idea kind of goes out the window when you take shelter in a dark cave about two minutes into the game. After this introductory chapter, it's mostly just back to the same tricks as the first game, except without the expert pacing and subtle atmospheric tension and mystery.

Five minutes after wandering into that cave, I travel through a glowing portal in the walls and step into a hellish Lovecraftian otherworld. There's no build-up to it. No anticipation. Just BAM! portal to alien landscape! Explore for a few minutes, then back to the dark caves. Rebirth kind of blows its load right here at the start by introducing the player to this otherworld right away. I guess you could say that visiting the Lovecraftian otherworld is a natural progression from the first game, which only hinted at such a world's existence, but geez, let us wonder about it for a bit before you show it to us.

Five minutes into the game, and Amnesia: Rebirth blows its load with a Lovecraftian otherworld.

Showing off the goods too much and too soon then becomes a recurring theme throughout the game. My first encounter with the monster had it grab me and hold me up in front of its face for a good 5 or 10 seconds, giving me a good, long look at its well-lit, un-inspired visage. The monster from the original game was usually glimpsed through fog or darkness, and its unnatural proportions and distorted face and jaw made me wonder if I was looking at a person or not. And when I finally did start to get better looks at it much later in the game, it revealed itself to be an instantly-identifiable, iconic monster wholly unique to Amnesia. It wasn't just some generic-looking ghoul, which is sadly the case with Rebirth's monster.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020 11:20 AM

Is Chicago's Nick Foles experiment over?

in Sports | Chicago Bears by MegaBearsFan
Chicago Bears alt logo

When I wrote earlier this year about the Bears benching Mitch Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles, I said that I was surprised that Trubisky had been named the pre-season starter, that I expected Foles would eventually have the starting job, and that I was still surprised that Trubisky was suddenly benched in the middle of the week 3 game against the Falcons. It all seemed so indecisive. Trubisky had supposedly earned the job in training camp, was playing well, had lead a comeback victory in week 1 against the Lions, but was benched after a single mistake.

From my position as an un-informed spectator, the whole thing made no sense.

Then Foles came in and didn't exactly light up the scoreboard either. Foles lead the team to 2 victories, and it almost looked like the decision to change quarterbacks wouldn't hurt the team. Then the Bears' offense started playing far worse with Foles as starting quarterback, dropping the next six games straight. Granted, most of those 6 losses were against solid good offenses, such as the Saints, Packers, and Titans, and the Bears struggled to keep up. But Foles just wasn't looking good, and he wasn't helped by a stagnant run game while Tarik Cohen has been sidelined with injury. By the time of the week 10 matchup against the Vikings, I was starting to expect that a switch back to Trubisky probably should happen.

Mitch Trubisky has re-taken the starting job from Nick Foles. But was it too late to save the season?

That switch waited a few more weeks until the week 12 game against the Lions. The Bears still lost that game with Trubisky playing, but the offense did put up 30 points. The offense has also gone on to score more than 30 points in the Bears' 2 wins since, including a victory over the Vikings this past weekend that moved the Bears up to the top slot for playoff runner-up. The Bears are now 1 game behind the 7-seed Cardinals with 2 games left to play. They're also 2 games behind the Buccaneers and Rams, but only have a tie-breaker with the Buccaneers. Their victory against the Vikings puts them 1 game ahead of the Vikings (who are the only remaining team eligible for a wildcard berth). The Bears basically need to win both their remaining games (including a week 17 rematch against a Packers team that embarassed the Bears at the end of November), and then also hope that the Buccaneers, and/or Cardinals lose their last 2 games.

The most likely path to a playoff birth is if the Cardinals lose both their remaining games, and the Bears win both. That would give the Bears a 1-game lead over the Cardinals. The Cardinals' remaining games are a home matchup against the 49ers (coming off an upset loss to the Cowboys) and a road game against the Rams. Both are tough matchups for the cardinals, but very winnable ones. The 49ers also have nothing left to play for except pride and the satisfaction of maybe playing spoiler to a division rival.

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Civilization VI - Hammurabi of Byzantium

Firaxis will be releasing Civilization VI DLC packs with new game modes, new civilizations, and new leaders through March of 2021. November's update added a very unique leader to the Civilization VI roster: Hammurabi of Babylon. Both the Babylonian civilization and its leader Hammurabi have been playable in multiple past iterations of the Civilization series, but Hammurabi's leader ability is so unique and game-changing that I felt I had to cover it immediately.

Patreon

For future releases that include multiple leaders or civilizations, I may put up polls on Patreon to let my Patrons decide which civ or leader to cover first (if Firaxis gives enough advance notice). I may also put up polls asking if my Patrons would prefer that I make guides focused on the new game modes. So if you would like to vote on which content you would prefer to see sooner, I hope you'll consider supporting the creation of this content on Patreon.

The city of Babylon is one of the earliest cities ever built, having been settled between the 23 and 19th century B.C.. It was built along banks of the Euphrates River, south of modern-day Bagdad, with steep embankments in order to contain and utilize the river's seasonal floods. It is believed that Babylon was the most populous city in the world during the two heights of the Babylonian empire in 17th century B.C. and 6th century B.C., and it was the first city to reach a population of 200,000.

Civilization VI - Hammurabi portrait

Hammurabi is an ancient Babylonian king who ruled in the 18th century B.C.. He is famous for his Code of Laws that was long believed to be the first set of codified laws ever created. There were, however, earlier codes of laws, but Hammurabi's code differed from earlier codes by establishing the principle of the presumption of innocence for the accused, and that the accuser and accused must both provide evidence to establish guilt or innocence. It also limited the amount of retribution that the victim my inflict upon the guilty by prescribing set penalties for specific crimes. Though many prescribed punishments were brutal (such as disfigurement or execution), the code ensured that the victim of a minor crime would not respond by murdering the criminal. Hammurabi had his law transcribed (in the common language) onto a cylindrical stele and placed at the center of town so that every literate person could read it, presumably so that everyone would know what constitutes a crime and what the punishment for each crime is, so that the administration of justice would be seen as fair to the populace.

DISCLAIMER:
Civilization VI is still a "living game". Strategies for the game (and for specific leaders and civs) may change as Firaxis applies balance patches, introduces new features, or expands the game through further DLC or expansion packs, or as the Civ community discovers new strategies or exploits. As such, the following strategy guide may change from time to time. I will try to keep it up-to-date, and will make notations whenever changes are made. I'll also post links in the official 2K forums and CivFanatics, where I'll also report any changes made. If possible and practical, I will try to retain the original content of the strategy for posterity.

I welcome any feedback or suggestions that readers wish to offer. Feel free to post on the linked forums, or by posting a comment at the bottom of the page.

This guide is up to date as of the release of the "New Frontiers" November 2020 Update (ver. 1.0.8.4)

Babylon is a powerful technological force in Civilization VI, that acquires technologies primarily by completing eurekas. It also gets large food bonuses when settling adjacent to rivers, that allows its cities to grow quickly and grow large, and new districts get a head start in infrastructure.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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