Civilization VI - title

With the New Frontiers Pass for Civ VI over, an "Anthology" edition of Civ VI on sale, and no news at all regarding future DLC or expansions, I'm assuming that Firaxis has finished with Civ VI. As such, I want to look back on the game and reflect on the things that I liked most about it, and the things that annoyed me the most.

After the lifespan of Civilization V had ended, I wrote up a pair of retrospective blogs about my personal Top 10 Good Ideas and Top 10 Bad Ideas that went into that game. I'll be doing the same thing now with Civ VI.

I want to stress that this is a list of 10 good and bad ideas -- not necessarily good and bad mechanics. Some of the good ideas will be ideas that I like in principle (or on paper), but which might need more iteration before they truly work as intended. In contrast, there may be some bad ideas that work fine mechanically, but which hurt the "flavor" or theming of the game, in my opinion.

This is, of course, a subjective list of personal favorite and disliked concepts in the game. I'm sure there will be a lot of disagreement, and some of the things I write here will probably be somewhat controversial with the rest of the player base. So I'm interested in reading others' feedback. So if you agree with any of my points, or you vehemently disagree, feel free to post a comment and share your thoughts.

This content is also available in video essay format via YouTube.

This first post will cover my personal Top 10 Good Ideas, and I will follow it up with the next post being about the Top 10 Bad Ideas.

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35mm - title

December, January, and February is usually a time when I try to make a dent in my ever-growing Steam backlog. I buy lots of games on Steam sales, and then end up not playing most of them. So when I do go into the backlog, I always try to emphasize some of the shorter, indie games in the hopes that I can power through several before the big spring game releases start rolling in. This time around, I loaded up an independent Russian game from developer Sergey Noskov, which was very well-reviewed back when I bought it in 2016. Apparently, it's going to be released on PS4 soon, so this review is sort of topical. It hasn't really held up as well as I hoped it would in the almost-5 years since its release.

Ironically, this game is set during a fictional ebola pandemic that has turned Russia into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and I'm playing it during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The game was released back in 2016, long before COVID.

35mm is a hard game to classify. It's not quite a shooter. Not quite a survival game. Not quite a horror game. And not quite a walking simulator. It straddles the line between all of these sub-genres, shifting from one to the other at the drop of a hat, but without ever feeling jarring about it. There's even a few little mini-games thrown in for good measure. As such, there's plenty of variety that helps prevent this game from ever feeling stale. Regardless of whichever genre 35mm is currently residing in, its slow pace, subdued, aesthetic design, and melancholy tone remains consistent. It is this pacing and tone that defines the game much more than any one genre.

35mm straddles the line between walking sim, shooter, survival game, and horror.

We play as a mysterious protagonist travelling across a post-apocalyptic Russia, presumably to get home to see his family. He is accompanied by a travelling companion for most of the game. The history of these characters and the relationship between them are never clearly defined, which feels like its setting up for some kind of narrative twist right from the start. Nevertheless, the companion character acts as a sort of guide through the first half of the game, telling the player where to go and what to do. Unfortunately, since these characters are never very well-developed, any potential tragedy or impact of the final twist (regardless of which ending is achieved) is severely neutered.

What's the deal with the camera?

Even though I can't quite put my finger on what genre to classify 35mm, one thing that I can definitely say is that it is not a game about photography. Given that the game is named for the type of film in a camera, and the camera is featured in the game's title screen and promotional material, I would think that the camera would feature heavily in the game. But this is not the case. The camera is never necessary. It isn't used to progress the plot. It isn't used to solve puzzles. There isn't even a recap of the photos I took at the end of the game. Photographs become a major part of the game's finale, but they aren't the pictures that I took during the course of the actual game.

The camera is not utilized, despite inspiring the title of the game and being featured on the title screen.

So I'm really puzzled as to why the game is named "35mm". It kind of set my expectations a little bit higher than they probably should be. I thought I was going to get something a little bit more artsy and creative. But instead, what I got is a pretty straightforward, linear game.

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Disco Elysium - title

It's kind of hard to play a lot of video games while holding an infant child. It's certainly possible, but I had to accept that I was going to be less precise in my inputs whether I was holding a PlayStation controller or a keyboard and mouse. It seemed like a perfect time to try out a game that only requires a mouse to play -- a perfect time to finally try out Disco Elysium!

Disco Elysium is a unique and experimental RPG that straddles the line between RPG, point-and-click adventure, and walking sim. Most RPGs have combat of varying degrees of complexity in order to give all the various character stats and progression systems something to do. Disco Elysium completely eschews those conventions. I think I fired a gun maybe three times in my entire play time with the game (across a campaign and a half that I played prior to reviewing), and one of those gunshots was against a corpse hanging from a tree. Oh and I roundhouse kicked a a racist beefcake (you know, in order to establish my own racial superiority). Not exactly Call of Duty over here.

It may not require the twitch reflexes that many "gamer bros" expect every game to have, but games like this have been a godsend for those of us who only have one free hand to hold a mouse, because the other arm is holding a sleeping infant. It also happens to be a really good game.

I maybe fired a gun thrice, and roundhouse kicked a racist once, in 40+ hours of gameplay.

Inner dialogue

Instead of channeling character stats into gauntlets of filler combat encounters as a way of accumulating experience to improve those stats for the next combat encounters, Disco Elysium channels all of its character attributes into conversation trees. But these conversations aren't just with the other characters who I interview as part of the murder mystery plot. These conversations are also with the character's own inner monologue.

You see, the skills in Disco Elysium aren't like the skills of most other RPGs. They don't determine the character's physical strength, or agility, or skill with various weapons, or a blanket "charisma" attribute that determines if people believe your lies or are swayed by your arguments. No, instead, all of the skills of Disco Elysium represent elements of the protagonist's personality and psyche. Those skills will even pop up during dialogue and allow the character to have arguments or conversations with his own inner monologue. Each skill is like a voice in the protagonist's head, telling him what to do, or how to interpret the events he encounters. Each skill is sort of a character in its own right.

The character's skills talk to him, giving the player insight into the game world and current circumstances,
and also (sometimes flawed) advice about how to proceed.

I'm reminded of the psychosis voices of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, with each voice shouting over the others trying to tell Senua what to do or telling her that she's worthless and can't do anything right. Except in Disco Elysium, the player can actually have conversations with those voices. You can talk back to them.

These skills will pop up from time to time as interjections during conversations to make observations about what is happening or to recommend specific courses or action or responses. It's also a great way of delivering exposition and ensuring that the player knows any relevant details that the character should know. But they aren't always completely reliable. Sometimes blindly following the advice of these skills can land you in trouble.

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Madden NFL - title

For the past few years, Madden Franchise gamers have been reporting a glitch in which the game will softlock and hang on the loading screen after exiting a Franchise match. If this happens, the only way to resume the game is to force quit the Madden app, re-launch, and attempt to resume the Franchise. If this happens after the score goes final, then all progress will be lost, and the user will have to re-play that match from the beginning. For some users, this softlock occurs every time they finish a Franchise match, which renders Franchise Mode completely un-playable. This softlock glitch goes back to at least Madden 21, and might go back further, and it seems to happen to both online and off-line Franchise players.

I am going to explain the glitch itself, so that everybody knows what, specific softlock I'm talking about. Then I'll go over my proposed work-around. Then I'll discuss why I think the softlock happens, how it can potentially be fixed, and the specific game conditions that lead to me experiencing this softlock.

UPDATE 18 January, 2022:

Apparently, EA thinks they've finally fixed this bug in the most recent update. It only took 2 releases for them to finally do it. Oddly, I didn't see this patch announcement until after publishing this work-around, even though I had searched for it. Yet, oddly enough, I encountered the bug this past weekend, after the patch was supposedly released. So it's possible this bug is still in the game, and EA didn't catch all the causes. So if you encounter this bug in your games, try the work-around described below. Hopefully it works.

What happens, and how to work-around it

Usually, Franchise matches autosave after every play. If the game freezes, or the connection to the server is lost during an online Franchise match, Franchise games can usually be resumed from the last play that finished before exiting the Franchise match. If you get booted, or the game freezes, it usually only requires replaying one play, maybe.

But if the softlock happens while loading the Franchise Hub after finishing the match, you're screwed. This is because the in-game autosave is apparently deleted after the score goes final, but the Franchise file is not saved until the user returns to the Franchise Hub. So if a crash or freeze happens between these points, the whole match's progress is lost. This is bad programming from EA Sports and Tiburon -- no "ifs", "ands", or "buts" about it.

There is usually an auto-save after each play in Franchise matches.

I've been experiencing this problem on both PS4 and PS5 versions of Madden 22, and after a bit of experimentation, I think I may have found a work-around -- at least for online Franchise players. This work-around is based on my suspicion of why the softlock is happening, and takes advantage of teh in-game auto-save to try to prevent the softlock from happening.

The work-around is to try to exit the match prior to the score going final, and then resume from the autosave. For example, just before the last play of the game, pause and exit to the menu. Even if the game softlocks on the loading screen, you can force-quit, re-launch Madden, and resume the Franchise match from the auto-save. If you do this, you should hopefully be able to execute the final play, finish the game, and hopefully Madden will properly load the Franchise Hub. Just do not let the score go final before closing and re-loading!

If you are playing offline, you must force-close the game. Do not simply pause and quit, as doing so will delete in-match auto-save and return you to the Franchise Hub. If you force-close, then you'll be able to resume from the auto-save next time to try to load your offline Franchise.

Quitting and re-loading the autosave before the last play of the game may
preserve progress and bypass the softlock.
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Oh, boy. Here we go. The Matrix: Resurrections is basically The Last Jedi of Matrix movies. If you hated The Last Jedi, then you'll probably hate this for much the same reason. Similar to The Last Jedi, The Matrix Resurrections is all about the creative pressure to live up to toxic fandom expectations, and it's predicated on a twist that a lot of fans might consider to be "unfaithful" to the original trilogy.

Personally, I liked The Last Jedi much more than most. I think it's the best film in the sequel trilogy, even if it does make a lot of very hard missteps. And the stuff that I liked most about The Last Jedi happened to be the stuff that most other people were most offended by.

Despite the similarities, I doubt that The Matrix Resurrections will be received with the same level of vitriol as The Last Jedi was. For one, we've seen a lot of these sort of cynical deconstructions of fandoms and sequel expectations since The Last Jedi released, and so I think a lot of the public is desensitized to it now. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, The Matrix Resurrections doesn't commit as fully to its cynical view of the franchise. While that might appease many fans who just want to see another "Matrix" movie, it's probably the biggest reason that I felt disappointed by The Matrix Resurrections.

Personally, I enjoyed the first half of the movie, but was immensely disappointed with the second half.

The Matrix Resurrections - sad Keanu
© Warner Bros., 2020.
The Last Jedi - jaded Luke
© Disney, 2017.
The Matrix Resurrections reminded me a lot of The Last Jedi, but without the guts to commit to its polarizing twist.

This review will be pretty spoiler-y, as I will be talking about the plot twist. So consider yourself warned, and watch the movie before reading further if you don't want to have it spoiled. Though at this point, just telling you that there are spoilers at all is probably already a spoiler, so what's the point of the warning?

...

If you care enough to not be spoiled, have you watched the movie yet? If not, then I'm assuming you don't care. OK. Good. Let's continue.

...

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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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