Last week, just in time for the announcement (and release) of a new expansion for Cities: Skylines, I posted a video analysis on YouTube discussing what I perceive as weaknesses in the modular design philosophy behind Skylines' myriad expansion packs. The full video is available on YouTube (and embedded below), but I've also transcribed the text in blog form for those who may prefer reading over watching/listening.

The video is up on YouTube.

I want to start out by saying that I love Cities: Skylines. Skylines is -- without a doubt in my mind -- the single best city-builder since SimCity 4, which released in 2003 (over 15 years ago, as of the time of this recording). When I watched the first trailer for the game, in which the player apparently custom-builds freeway ramps and interchanges from scratch (at about 40 seconds into the trailer), I was sold on this game! After years of having to use boring, pre-fabricated stock on-ramps and interchanges, the little civil engineer withing me practically jizzed in his pants at the idea of being able to build my own highway ramps and interchanges! And there was no looking back.

Cities: Skylines gloriously succeeds where games like SimCity (2013) and Cities XL miserably failed. It picks up the mantle of the great SimCity games of yester-decade, and brings it into the 21st century with deep simulation based on agents, a sleek and modern UI, extensive customizability and moddability, and an attractive 3-D graphics engine. It's made all the more impressive by the fact that the game's developer, Colossal Order, is a small, independent studio that had something like nine people working for it when the game initially launched. And a company with all the manpower and resources of Electronic Arts only managed to produce a flop like SimCity 2013.

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Ace Combat 7 - title

Ace Combat 4 would be on my short list for "favorite games ever". It's one of the few games that I've beaten multiple times. I rented the game from Blockbuster (back when Blockbuster was a thing), and beat it over a weekend. A few months later, I wanted to play it again, so I rented it another weekend, and beat it. I think I may have rented it (and beat it) one more time before finally just buying my own damn copy from a bargain bin, then played through it again.

When I was in high school, my parent's home was broken into, my PS2 and all my games were among the items stolen -- including Ace Combat 4. Despite having already beaten the game multiple times, when it came time to replace my PS2 collection, I bought the "Greatest Hits" version of the game, and played through it once more.

So in total, I rented Ace Combat 4 at least two or three times from Blockbuster, and have bought two new, retail copies of the game.

I always liked how this series hits a comfortable middle ground between an arcade shooter/dogfighter and a flight sim. You can configure the controls so that the planes fly like actual planes, but it also gives you access to 50-100 missiles on planes that only have 2 missiles strapped to their wings. If you get good enough, you can shoot down enemy planes with just machine gun, but it takes a lot of practice.

Ace Combat has found a comfortable middle ground between arcade shooter and flight sim.

I had gotten to the point that the mission briefing music has been permanently burned into my memory, and I was performing my own self-imposed challenge runs in those last few playthroughs of AC4. I would play through the entire game with machine guns only, trying to cut down on the number of times that I'd have to stop at the airstrip or carrier to resupply. I think the only other game that I've ever done self-imposed challenge runs on is Metal Gear Solid 2.

Challenge runs

The direct sequel, Ace Combat 5, sadly, didn't quite do it for me. I played the game once, and I'm not even sure if I finished it or not. A big part of that game's problem was that it was repetitive. A belligerent nation launches a surprise attack, cripples the Allies' military, and the Alliance has to fight back to reclaim occupied territory before finally beating the aggressor by capturing or destroying its secret super-weapon. I had been there, done that so many times that Ace Combat 5 just kind of dragged. It didn't help that many of Ace Combat 5's missions felt recycled straight from Ace Combat 4.

Ace Combat 6 was an XBox exclusive, which I never played on account of having never owned an XBox, and the other titles since have either been portable titles or spin-offs that just veered too far into "arcade" territory for my tastes. As such, it's been over a decade since I last played an Ace Combat game. Perhaps Ace Combat 7 is a prime opportunity to jump back on the bandwagon? Well, if you were getting tired of challenge runs in AC4, then 7 is loaded with its own little challenges for the player.

Clouds will ice your plane, limiting maneuverability, stalling the plane, and covering the canopy in frost.

Much moreso than the previous games that I've played, Ace Combat 7 uses environmental phenomena and genuine level design to throw a little wrench into the gears. Most missions will have some extra little circumstantial element of its design that can knock a player out of your comfort zone and force you to get creative and/or bold.

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

A couple more weeks into Sekiro, and I'm still nowhere near being finished with the game. I'm definitely getting the hang of it more, but am also still struggling at pretty much every boss (and mini-boss) that I come across.

I have a few tips based on my own experience and observation that I hope will be helpful for other players, so that you don't have to go through some of the headaches that I've gone through when adjusting to this new game. As stated, everything I'm about to say are my own personal tips and observations. Do not take any of them as gospel. In fact, if you have your own tips, I'd love to read them in the comments.

There will be some minor spoilers for early game content.

Bank your sen

First and foremost, you should definitely take advantage of the ability to "bank" your sen (money). This is one area in which Sekiro actually offers a bit of leniency to players who may be familiar with Dark Souls. The Souls games did not allow you to directly bank your souls; but Sekiro does have a way to bank your cash.

You can use a Light Coin Purse to acquire 100 sen, but they cost 110 sen to buy.

Most vendors will sell coin purses (in varying sizes). Now, you may have noticed that the vendors sell their coin purses for 10% more than what they are worth. For example, if you use a Light Coin Purse, you'll receive 100 sen. However, it costs 110 sen to buy a Light Coin Purse. Similarly, the Heavy Coin Purse grants 500 sen when used, but they cost 550 sen to buy. There's a 10% mark-up.

Sadly, there's no bulk discount for buying larger coin purses, so there's no reason to save up for the Heavy or Bulging Coin Purse, as opposed to just buying a bunch of Light Coin Purses. The number of coin purses that each vendor will sell is also limited, so invest wisely!

Dying will take away 50% of your un-banked sen.

Don't let this 10% mark-up deter you from buying the coin purses. These coin purses are not lost when you die, but some fraction of your "soft" sen are lost when you die (unless you receive "Unseen Aid"). If you do not intend on making purchases with your coin in the immediate future, then you should strongly consider banking the sen by buying coin purses -- especially if you are about to enter a new, unfamiliar area, or if you are repeatedly dying to a boss or mini-boss. A single death will cost you 50% of your un-banked coins. Repeat deaths will quickly eat away at the rest. And (unlike in Souls-Borne), you can't go back and retrieve your lost coin or experience. The 10% mark-up on buying coin purses is a paltry penalty in comparison, and the insurance of having coin purses is well worth the investment!

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Civilization VI - Jayavarman VII of Khmer

Civilization VI's third expansion, Gathering Storm recently released and has added a handful of new civilizations and leaders. I am hoping to write a strategy for each of them, but I also want to continue to write guides for the civilizations that were already in the game. I put up a poll on my Patreon page for my patrons to vote on which civ(s) they would like to see. The three top vote-getters (from all the three people who voted) were Khmer, Aztec, and Norway. It's been a while since I've done a strategy for a religion-oriented civ, so I thought I'd do a strategy for Jayavarman VII of the Khmer. The Khmer were present as a playable civilization in Civilization IV's Beyond the Sword expansion, but they were not present in Civilization V. They appeared as a DLC civ prior to Rise & Fall's release, but this strategy should work for players of the new Gathering Storm expansion as well.

The city of Angkor, the capital of the Angkor Empire (also called the Khmer Empire), is believed to be the largest pre-industrial urban center in the world, stretching for roughly 400 square miles and housing roughly 0.1% of the entire global population at its zenith. This empire controlled most of mainland southeast Asia from the ninth century CE to the 15th century CE, reaching its zenith between the 11th and 13th centuries. Many impressive ruins still stand in the site of Angkor, and many have been restored by local archaeological organizations and UNESCO, including the impressive Angkor Wat, the largest single religious monument in the world. Satellite imagery has also revealed an intricate network of irrigation channels which were likely used to manage the regions unpredictable monsoons, as well as to support the population.

Civilization VI - Jayavarman VII portrait

Around 1150 CE, the kingdom of Angkor was invaded by the neighboring Cham empires, who succeeded at toppling the capital. General Mahaparamasaugata (believed to already be over the age of 60) lead a successful campaign to push the Cham out of the Khmer capital, and he ascended to the throne in order to continue the war and conquer much of the Champa territory. He relocated the capital to Angkor Thom, where large monuments were constructed in his honor, including the temple of Bayon. He went on to re-unify the empire, building a network of roads connecting every major town, complete with rest-houses every 9 miles and hospitals for travelers. He reigned successfully until his death at the impressively-ripe old age 97 or 98, and is regarded as the last great king of Cambodia. He was posthumously re-named Jayavarman VII, after a line of Cambodia's greatest kings.

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 Gathering Storm expansion (ver. 1.0.0.314) (Antarctic Late Summer Patch, April 2019)

Khmer is a strong religious civ who gets extra food from Holy Sites, and extra faith from Aqueducts, as well as other bonuses to food and amenity. It can build and support large populations in its cities, and gets relics from its missionaries and apostles much more frequently, which can contribute to a culture victory.

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Devil May Cry 5 - title

Devil May Cry 5 is a lot to take in. It's a very weird game, that may be a bit overly-complicated, and which might be starting to suffer from a degree of "Kingdom Hearts syndrome".

It's a tough game to review. The core gameplay if fantastic, but almost all of the supporting features and production surrounding the gameplay is ... "odd" if we're being generous; or "bafflingly stupid" if we want to be overly critical. As such, this review is going to come off as unduly negative because I have a laundry list of complaints and "what the fuck?"s to go through. Long story short, the game plays very well. It's peak Devil May Cry and a satisfactory follow-up to Devil May Cry 4. Now read on gor all the weird shit.

Who are these new characters? What is their relationship? The game doesn't allow us to get to know them at all before throwing us into the action. In the case of V, we're given control without any real clue who he is, where he comes from, why he has monsters from the first game as magical animal sidekicks, what his relationship with Nero is... anything. The non-linear mission and story progression seems designed for no other purpose than to hold back information for a "surprise twist" that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

By the fourth mission or so, I was betting that V turns out to be Vergil, back from the dead ... again. Was I right? Is the story that predictable?

Tutorializing multiple characters means the training wheels stay on for a long time.

The fact that the game has to re-tutorialize a new character only four missions in (and then again a few missions later) means that the training wheels stay on for a long time. It feels completely unnecessary though, because V's controls are basically the same as Nero's (which are basically the same as Dante's): triangle for melee attacks, square for ranged attacks, L1 for a limited-use super attack, circle for long-distance grapple/teleport attack. The only real mechanical difference is that V can only kill enemies by using his special action assigned to the circle button.

Strategically, V plays very differently because he's basically a squishy mage or summoner. He hangs back, avoiding damage, while his minions do all the actual fighting. This does have the downside of putting V very far away from the action. I had trouble judging distances in this game in generally, but it's especially problematic when V (and the camera) is standing around half a city block away from the actual fighting. Is Shadow close enough to use [R1+BACK ATTACK]? Can't tell. Which direction do I need to press on the stick to make Shadow execute that attack, since it's relative to Shadow's position and not V or the camera? Also can't tell. Not that it really matters anyway, as I don't have direct control over Shadow's movements, so I just have to push the button and hope Shadow is in proper position for the attack to land.

V is far away from the action, making it hard to see what's going on, and encouraging button-mashing.

I think Capcom really should have fundamentally re-thought how the camera should work with V, rather than sticking with this boilerplate over-the-shoulder, third-person action cam. Perhaps more cinematic camera angle similar to the first Devil May Cry would have been more appropriate? Or the Raptor News broadcast angles used in DMC? They could have kept the action as the focal point in the center of frame, with V off on the edges. Alternatively, the camera could position itself on the far end of the enemies, pointing towards V.

Cinematic camera angles similar to DMC's Raptor News broadcast might have been welcome for V.

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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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