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Author: Alastair

Alastair lives in Calgary with a wife and, according to medical professionals, a cat. He is, in no particular order, a playwright, a greengrocer, horrible at short biographies, and a fan of games of all sorts.

Full Steam Ahead – Mount & Blade

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 5 hours

According to Steam, I have spent only 5 hours playing Mount & Blade. This isn’t entirely true. I played hours and hours of Mount & Blade’s demo back in 2008, on my old Steam account. I didn’t buy the game, because at the time, I was very worried about my Steam purchases spiralling out of control.

Ironic, isn’t it?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a stupid idiot.

Fast forward a couple years. I was able to find a physical copy of Mount & Blade at Zellers, of all places. It was a good price, so I decided to pick it up. Once again, I played it a lot. However, this was on my old computer. It died, and took with it all I could remember about my steam account. I lost all the info for that account, and I had long since abandoned the email associated with with it. This meant I would have to pick up what few games I actually had on a new account for my new computer. Mount & Blade was not among them.

Fast forward another few years. During one of the Steam Summer Sales, the Mount & Blade series was one of the daily deals. At this point, I hadn’t been following the series for a while. Two new games had come out, the sequel game Warband and the spinoff With Fire & Sword. I played the original briefly, but I pretty quickly devoted more time to the improved Warband. Still, the original holds a special place in my heart.

I ride for Calradia, a fictional continent trapped in ongoing wars between five different nations. Mount & Blade is definitely a sandbox, letting you find your fun in a variety of different ways. Want to play the political game? Become a scheming noble! Want to become a filthy-rich caravan master? Max your trade and leadership skills! Want to become a well-read do-gooder? There’s an option for that! The possibilities are near endless. Rather than continue an old game, I start up a new character called Tethrathoth, the numeric value of an absurdly large number.

Quick aside; in googology (the study of large numbers) the number Tethrathoth can become larger. One of the largest numbers in the Tethrathoth family is, I kid you not, the Great and Terrible Tethrathoth. The game won’t let me name my character the Great and Terrible Tethrathoth, so I name him B.I.G.G. Tethrathoth, for a couple reasons.

  1. BIGG is the name of yet another absurdly large number (it is actually an acronym for bewilderingly incomprehensibly ginormous googolism).
  2. My character looks kind of like the Notorious B.I.G., because I can choose to use my freedom of expression to make my video game characters look kind of like 90’s rappers.
It was all a dream! / I used to read word-up magazine!

Great. Terrible. Notorious. Those are some lofty titles, and I intend to earn them.

I’m a bit rusty, but if memory serves, a good first step is amassing a decent following, recruiting villagers from the various nations, training them into soldiers, and hiring on hero characters to help bear the brunt of combat. Mount & Blade doesn’t feature a morality system like some other games. Instead, your progress is measured in renown and favour with individuals and places. For example, looting and razing a village doesn’t make your character grow horns or their eyes glow red. It merely lowers your favour within that village (and perhaps with some of your followers). You choose your path to success.

You also get to choose what success means to you. With B.I.G.G. Tethrathoth, I manage to win a few tournaments and melees, make several profitable business deals, and raise several villagers from peasants to battle-hardened veterans. However, I won’t be satisfied until I can look B.I.G.G. Tethrathoth’s face and see someone great, terrible, and notorious. In the world of Calradia, that means joining the war game.

I sign on as a mercenary in service of the Khergit Khanate with a company of 39 soldiers. We are summoned by Sanjar Khan to present ourselves at a siege in the Nordlands. On the way, we spot a caravan owned by the Kingdom of Vaegirs, one of the Khanate’s many enemies. However, I forget that caravans are not to be trifled with. After getting overwhelmed by heavy cavalry, most of B.I.G.G.’s army is killed, with a few of being captured. The caravan which captured us parades us around for a few in-game days before running afoul of another Khergit army. We lost all but 5 of our troops, as well as valuables, supplies, and prestige within the Khanate; it’s a devastating loss.

While captive, B.I.G.G. had some time to think about some things. He came to this conclusion: He might lose. He might see his friends and allies get killed. He might be captured again. But he was going to make every enemy who opposed him pay in blood. That’s what it means to be terrible.

I was a terror since the public school era.

B.I.G.G. starts by killing the Vaegir caravan that captured him. Then, he raises what few forces he can before rushing to meet Sanjar Khan. The battle goes poorly, resulting in yet another near-complete destruction of B.I.G.G.’s army. He escapes, rebuilds, begins sacking villages, attacking weakened armies, laying siege to castles, destroying everything and everyone who he come across who seems weak. He is mistrusted by many allies, hated by his enemies, and feared by commoners and criminals alike. That’s what it means to be notorious.

As of typing these words, B.I.G.G. Tethrathoth is level 14. He commands 40 soldiers of varying levels of skill and from a diverse array of backgrounds. Vaegirs, Khergits, Swadians, Nords, mercenaries, farmers and farm women. He is on a mission to track down a spy when suddenly, the game freezes and crashes.

In all my years of playing Mount & Blade, I have only ever had the game crash when using mods (believe me, we’ll talk about mods during a later post). This is the first time I have ever had this game crash on me using basic settings.  I’ve now played Mount & Blade 19 hours on this profile, and I know for a fact I could play this game for another 19 without running out of things to do. When it crashed, it set me back to just after the battle with Sanjar Khan, just after B.I.G.G. Tethrathoth had lost everything for the second time. Honestly, I’m not even that upset, because if I had the time to, it would mean I could do it all again.

That’s what it means to be great.

If the game shakes me or breaks me/I hope it makes me a better man, take a better stand.

Calradia, the world of Mount & Blade is, graphically speaking, not pretty. The gameplay is varied, but repetitive. Combat can be brutal. Losses set you back significantly. But it’s a world that hooked me as easily this playthrough as the first time, nearly ten years ago. Most games on Full Steam Ahead, I play until I have enough material to write about. To be perfectly honest, I long ago got all the material I need to write about Mount & Blade; I’ve just been playing it for fun.

There are two more Mount & Blade games in my library. Warband expands the world of Calradia, adding a new faction, new game modes, and new quests. With Fire & Blood is set in real-world eastern Europe during the age of Europe’s empires. What’s more, all the Mount & Blade titles have active modding communities. World War I? They have it. Westeros, from the Song of Ice and Fire series? They have it. The Star Wars Expanded Universe? They bloody have it.

I might be done with this game for now, but the world of Mount & Blade clearly isn’t done with me.

 

Next Episode: Street Fighter IV

Steam-Powered Hope

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’ll permit me a quick aside from subjecting myself to weekly adventures in my Steam Library.

We are now entering the holiday season, and I certainly wish nothing but the best for all of you this Christmas season. However, for several people, it is a season of loneliness, hopelessness, and despair. The holidays, so frequently advertised as the most wonderful time of the year, can be especially trying to those already suffering from depression.

That’s why resources like the Calgary Distress Centre are so important. They provide a 24 hour hotline for those in need of assistance in time of mental and emotional crisis. This hotline provides a listening ear and a gentle voice to help someone in their darkest, most despairing moments. I know because I’ve used this service. It’s helped me get through some of the worst days of my life.

Furthermore, the Distress Centre does more than just provide the 24 hour crisis hotline. They also act as an information resource, they provide free professional counselling services, and they run the Connecteen, a confidential support service for teens and youth. The Distress Centre provides all these services free of charge, and their hotline is manned largely by volunteers.

In this season which promotes charity and goodwill towards all, I’d like to ask the readers of Almost Infinite to help support the Distress Centre. I know that there are dozens, if not hundreds of worthy causes asking for support during this time of year, and I don’t for a second pretend mine is any more deserving than others; this is simply the one I am most familiar with, and I’m using what small platform I have to promote it. In support of this organization, I’d like to introduce the Steam-Powered Hope funding drive.

For what it’s worth, I’m prepared to offer incentives for donation.

Below, you will find a list of every game in my library. This is the randomly-generated order of the games I’m playing for Full Steam Ahead. I decided at the start that I would play the games as the random order dictated, no matter how good or bad that order was. Now, I’m giving you all a chance to mess around with it, however you see fit.

For a $5 donation to the Distress Centre, you can move any game from anywhere on the list to anywhere else on the list. This means you could put all the games from the Prince of Persia bundle in order for $25 Or you could make me play through the Strong Bad games in reverse order. Or you could make your favourite game the very next one on the list. Or you could make me replay games I’ve already played.

For a $20 donation to the Distress Centre, I will add a new game of your choice to a location of your choosing on the list. I will cover the cost of purchasing the game, your only cost is the donation.

Donations will close December 31st. I know that it’s a lot to ask, but I’d really appreciate your support in this. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments. Without any further ado, here is the list. Game I’ve already completed have been italicized:

  1. Total War Shogun 2
  2. Assassin’s Creed 2
  3. The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind
  4. Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead
  5. Sleeping Dogs
  6. Supreme Commander
  7. Star Wars Battlefront II
  8. Jade Empire
  9. Wargame: European Escalation
  10. Half Life Deathmatch: Source
  11. Mount & Blade
  12. Street Fighter IV
  13. Arma 2 : PMC
  14. Bioshock
  15. From Dust
  16. Poker Night at the Inventory
  17. Poker Night at the Inventory 2
  18. Half Life 2: Episode 1
  19. The Ship
  20. Mass Effect
  21. BattleBlock Theater
  22. Mass Effect 2
  23. Divekick
  24. Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
  25. Age of Empires 3
  26. Batman Arkham Asylum
  27. The Ship Tutorial
  28. Sims 3
  29. Cosmic DJ
  30. Endless Space
  31. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
  32. Brink
  33. Terraria
  34. Half Life 2: Deathmatch
  35. Hotline Miami
  36. FTL: Faster Than Light
  37. Bastion
  38. Age of Empires 2
  39. Eversion
  40. LA Noire
  41. Just Cause 2
  42. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 2
  43. Alpha Protocol
  44. Civilization V: Gods and Kings
  45. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 2
  46. Total War Rome 2
  47. RWBY: Grimm Eclipse
  48. Strike Suit Zero
  49. Crusader Kings 2
  50. Cities XL 2012
  51. Awesomnauts
  52. Half Life 2: Lost Coast
  53. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 5
  54. Hitman: Blood Money
  55. Titan Quest
  56. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 1
  57. Star Wars: KOTOR
  58. The Ship Single Player
  59. Monaco
  60. King Arthur II – Roleplaying Wargame
  61. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 4
  62. Psychonauts
  63. Stacking
  64. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
  65. Heavy Bullets
  66. The Wolf Among Us
  67. MLB 2K10
  68. Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword
  69. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
  70. Blood Bowl
  71. Arma 2
  72. Sid Meier’s Pirates!
  73. Banished
  74. Company of Heroes: Tales of Valour
  75. Borderlands 2
  76. Darksiders
  77. Saints Row: The Third
  78. Darksiders Warmastered
  79. Costume Quest
  80. Company of Heroes
  81. Gratuitous Space Battles
  82. Chroma Squad
  83. Half Life 2
  84. Grand Theft Auto IV
  85. Castle Crashers
  86. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
  87. Prince of Persia
  88. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
  89. Arma 2: British Armed Forces
  90. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 1
  91. Hitman: Codename 47
  92. Super Hexagon
  93. Batman Arkham City
  94. Invisible, Inc.
  95. Grand Theft Auto V
  96. Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes
  97. Jackbox Party Pack 3
  98. Team Fortress 2
  99. Organ Trail
  100. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  101. Kerbal Space Program
  102. Just Cause 2 Multiplayer
  103. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
  104. Half Life 2: Episode 2
  105. Influent
  106. Kinetic Void
  107. Portal 2
  108. Torchlight 2
  109. Metro 2033
  110. Papers, Please
  111. Red Faction: Armageddon
  112. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
  113. Speed Runners
  114. Universe Sandbox
  115. Lethal League
  116. Zeno Clash
  117. Tales from the Borderlands
  118. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
  119. Magicka
  120. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
  121. Super Meat Boy
  122. Audiosurf
  123. Civilization: Beyond Earth
  124. Racecraft Tech Demo
  125. Portal 2
  126. Batman Arkham Origins
  127. Sega Classics
  128. Civilization IV
  129. Bioshock Remastered
  130. Mount & Blade: Warband
  131. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 3

Full Steam Ahead: Arma 2 – PMC

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: None.

For those who have read my past posts, you’ll remember that I bought the Arma 2 bundle during one of the Steam summer sales. For those of you haven’t read or can’t remember the previous post, featuring Operation Arrowhead, I’ll sum up: I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like the over-complicated control scheme, and I really didn’t like the characters in the campaign. I didn’t play very far into the campaign, and I barely spent any time in the individual scenarios. Immediately after finishing the post, I was somewhat disheartened, because I thought I’d said everything that could be said about the Arma series in that one post. I had no idea what I was going to do when the other four games showed up in the random list.

Bad news: less than ten games later in the list, it’s time for another game in this military simulation series: Arma 2 – Private Military Company.

Good news: Arma 2 – PMC surprises me.

Welcome back to Takistan.

Full Steam Ahead – Half-Life Deathmatch: Source

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: None

The Half-Life series of games is significant in the history of Steam. Half-Life is the game that really put Valve, the company behind Steam, on the map. Each rare release in the Half-Life series is acclaimed by critics and eagerly awaited by gamers the world over. It is reasonable to say that the success of Steam is a by-product of the success of Half-Life. In fact, my first games on Steam came from the Orange Box collection, which featured both Half-Life 2 and its two follow-up episodes. However, I’ve never played the original Half-Life. The closest thing I have is Half-Life Deathmatch: Source, a re-release of the the original game’s multiplayer.

What happens to a game deferred?

In Half-Life, you play as Gordon Freeman, a mute theoretical physicist forced to defend his research facility from  invading aliens and ghoulish special forces after an inter-dimensional experiment goes horribly awry. In Half-Life Deathmatch, the complex story is done away with in favor of maximum accessibility. The players become warriors, fighting in a variety of contained levels against one another, with no greater purpose than to kill, and, arguably, be killed.

Given that Half-Life Deathmatch is a purely multiplayer game, I need people to play it with. However, unlike previous multiplayer games I’ve done on Full Steam Ahead, I have no friends who pay or even own this game. That means I’ll have to find some people online.

This proves difficult.

Full Steam Ahead – Wargame: European Escalation

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 3 hours

Before saying anything else about this specific game, I want to tell you how it came to be in my library. It was my fourth year at the University of Calgary, and I was in the middle of writing a project for, I think, Cold War Politics (it was either that or US Military Politics). This project was a beast to write, and after my third night in a row staying up until 3:00 AM, I opened Steam. I needed something, anything, to take my mind off of this paper.

Enter Wargame: European Escalation, a real time strategy game set during the Cold War. Players experience a variety of scenarios in which the Cold War degrades into an armed conflict, the forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact facing off in the European theatre of conflict.

Given the course I was working on, and my natural interest in the history of the Cold War, especially in Germany, I thought this seemed like an interesting game. So, I made a deal with myself: once I finished the project, I would buy it and play it. I completed the paper, bought, and downloaded Wargame: European Escalation.

Three hours later I stopped playing it, not returning to it until I started writing Full Steam Ahead. Turns out writing academic papers fuelled by sleep deprivation and heavy metal music is more fun than Wargame: European Escalation.

The only winning move is not to play…

Full Steam Ahead – Jade Empire: Part 2

In the last blog post, I talked about how much I enjoyed the game, and then I launched into a play-by-play breakdown of my latest new game in Jade Empire. I covered what I had been doing in my various log ins, hoping to give you a sense of the depth and wonder of this game. If I fail to get that sense of awe across, it’s certainly not because the game is lacking in anyway. It’s just hard to capture what makes this game so great in short segments. I’m going to to keep playing, and I’m going to try to finish the game. However, this time, I want to write less about what I’m doing, and more about what I’m feeling.

Chai Ka is the feathered lion. Ya Zhen, the Toad, is his evil counterpart in the battle for Wild Flower’s life.

The supporting cast for this game is utterly fantastic. I know I briefly touched on Sagacious Zu and Wild Flower in the last post. That was briefly after we met Black Whirlwind, a gigantic, violent mercenary. What he lacks in the depth of character, he makes up for with ridiculously exaggerated stories about his own fighting prowess and drunken escapades. You also meet Mad Kang, an inventor of the wondrous flyers that trace the clouds above the Jade Empire. He soon replaces your broken mosquito fighter for a beautiful prototype called the Marvelous Dragonfly. You meet Sky, a roguish scoundrel whose jokes and unabashed flirting hide a traumatic past. You meet Henpecked Hou, a former champion of the arena turned bun-maker by an overbearing wife. You meet Silk Fox, a femme-fatale who is, in truth, the disguised Princess Lian, daughter of the Emperor. She is convinced that her father is unaware, or is being manipulated by his advisors, but she cannot imagine his guilt. You meet Zin Bu, the Magical Abacus, a member of the Celestial Bureaucracy (A fictionalized version of China’s traditional pantheon) who is charged with tabulating all the damage the player and their party caused during the game.

Bioware’s games, such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age frequently use this play style. One main player character, supported by an ever growing group of followers, supporters, and compatriots. Jade Empire is no different in this respect, but it’s hard to remember the last time I was so engaged in the stories of the supporting NPCs. Even minor quest givers have interesting stories, breathing life and complexity into the Jade Empire. The game does an amazing job of, in one moment, making feel as though I am the most important person in the world, that the whim of destiny has left the fate of the Empire on my shoulders. In another moment, I am reminded that I am but one person in a massive world.

Sonder is a term which describes the moment of realization that everyone around you lives a life as complex and intricate as yours. I’m sure that some of this blog’s readers have experienced sonder, or had moments approaching sonder. It is a profound experience, at once connecting you to the world and people around you, and simultaneously defining the vast chasms of understanding and empathy between us.

Never, in years of gaming, has a game been the source of sonder for me, until Jade Empire.

After years of fighting his conditioning as a Lotus Assassin, Zu returns to their headquarters to stand by you.

The game controls very well. My father is a golf enthusiast, and when asked to identify what he likes about golf, he usually talks about the interplay between rules and technique. For example, everyone knows, theoretically, how to win golf: complete the course with the fewest possible shots. However, it requires immense skill to actually place the golf ball, a small, light, easily misplaced sphere, hundreds of yards away, using nothing but an over-glorified stick. The combat in this game feels the same way: You know you have to beat an enemy into submission, but can you use you the skills available to you to make it happen?

Jade Empire provides a variety of different fighting styles, from hard hitting martial styles, to the valuable supporting styles, to powerful magical projectile styles, to flashy but unbalanced weapon styles. There are also the impressive transformation styles, which allow a player to become a powerful demon, or a golem, or even a ghost. However these magical forms come at a cost. You cannot heal while you are transformed, the force of the transformation constantly drains magical power, and your ability to dodge is greatly limited. New styles are constantly unlocked and discovered throughout the game. Furthermore, these fighting styles are augmented by magical gems and passive techniques scattered throughout the game.

If done improperly, this massive amount of skills could be overwhelming. However, you collect these skills as the game progresses, meaning that while there’s always something new to try, you will usually have some reliable techniques to fall back on. There are some games that give you enough skills to do exactly what you want, whenever you want.; Graham wrote about this a few weeks back. There are some other games which give you a multitude of options, but only a few strict paths actually give you victory.

Jade Empire sits perfectly in the sweet spot for me. While I tended to fall back on a combination of Legendary Strike and Spirit Thief, I would occasionally supplement it with the petrifying effects of the Stone Immortal, leaving the Horse Demon transformation style for only the toughest enemies. This isn’t to say that the versatility of the game made combat easy; combat was brutal, punishing mistakes and frequently forcing me to fall back to my latest quicksave. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Liftoff from Dirge, ancestral home of the Spirit Monks

The story is also wonderful. I’m torn between wanting to give you the blow by blow of everything that happened, and preserving the story for those of you who wish to experience it yourselves. Suffice to say, there were many moments that made me laugh, a few that made me feel triumphant, and at least a few surprises that made me feel like an idiot for not seeing through them sooner.

As you play throughout the game, you become familiar with the game’s central moral philosophy. The way of the Open Palm and the Way of the Closed Fist. Morality systems are (say it with me now) nothing revolutionary. However, most games present rather obvious moral choices such as, “donate money to orphanage, but only after providing loving homes for every orphan” or “Burn the orphanage down, after donating money to the election campaign of an obvious villain.”

Open Palm and Closed fist are more nuanced than the standard good/evil morality systems. Open Palm is a way of charity and benevolence, of walking in accordance with one’s place in the grand scheme of things. However, it is easily exploited. Furthermore, it strictly forces people to accept their lot in life, however miserable it may be. Closed Fist, conversely, is a path of attaining one’s own power. Frequently it is greedy, violent, and chaotic. However, it occasionally does a better job of promoting one’s individual rights, a encourages its practitioners to help others realize their own strength. Using even these simplified definitions, it’s easy to see how not every Open Palm decision is morally good, and not every Closed Fist option is morally evil.

Without going to much into the plot, I will describe one scenario in the game. A vile and corrupt magistrate, Judge Fang, stands in your way. However, he also stands up to the Jade Empire’s vicious secret police, the Lotus Assassins. Removing him from power benefits you, but not necessarily the people of his jurisdiction. One can either kill him, or professionally embarrass him.  In addition to this, the player becomes acquainted with Gentle Breezes, Judge Fang’s courtesan. Judge Fang treats her violently, and frequently takes out his frustrations on her. Although my playthrough was almost exclusively Open Palm, Gentle Breezes and I lured Fang to a secluded spot where I killed him and his bodyguards. The game considered this a Closed Fist option, but I couldn’t allow myself to. I had a drama teacher who once said the best drama comes from multiple right decisions being in conflict with one another; the converse is also true.

I may have walked the path of the Open Palm, but I know I wasn’t always good.

I really don’t know what more there is to say. This game was a wonderful experience, and I’m glad I finally, after nearly 24 hours of play, got to finish it. I know I frequently use the screenshots to showcase something funny about the game, or insert some levity into these posts, but this time I just wanted to capture some of the beauty of the game. These screens might lose some of their significance being removed from the context of the story, but I hope you’ve found them visually appealing.

I feel good finishing this one, the same way I feel after reading an especially good book or walking out of the cinema after great movie, However, as Chai Ka says, “Without endings, there cannot be beginnings.” Chai Ka was right in the game, and his words hold true outside the game as well. Thanks Jade Empire. It’s been spectacular.

The last screenshot before the epilogue. I’ll let you find out for yourself how it ends.

Next Episode: Wargame – European Escalation

Full Steam Ahead – Jade Empire Part 1

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 33 Hours

Jade Empire and I go way, way back. In 2005, I read an article in the Edmonton Journal about a game inspired by Kung Fu and Chinese mythology. The article talked about the fact that it was made by a game studio in Edmonton, Bioware. The article talked about the basics of the story. Most importantly, for me at least, it talked about how the mechanics of the game made the player feel. I remember this article vividly, because it was the first time I had ever seen a traditional newspaper write an article about video games as anything other than a product to be reviewed or a piece of of dangerous escapism. I remember thinking that not only did the game itself sound cool, the way the Journal wrote about it made me think about games in a way I had never thought about them before. I still think about that article when writing my own pieces on video games to this day.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually played Jade Empire. By this point, I had played some of Bioware’s more widely known games (Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), and I wanted to see what else they had available on Steam. I was so excited when I found out Jade Empire was on Steam. I downloaded it, and it didn’t work. However, unlike some of the games I’ve already talked about in this series, Jade Empire never made it to the “Doesn’t Work” folder; I wanted to play this game so badly that I spent the next several hours downloading patches and altering file pathways so I could play this game. Finally, I got it to work, and it was every bit as good as I expected. Sure, the control scheme was a product of the mid 2000’s. Of course, the graphics were dated. Sure, the voice acting isn’t especially great (despite a fantastic minor villain played by Edmonton’s own Nathan Fillion). I didn’t care. I absolutely adore this game. It represents everything I love about Kung Fu, about Bioware, and about games in general.

So why haven’t I ever finished it?

Full Steam Ahead – Star Wars: Battlefront II

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 7 hours

In the last two episodes, we’ve covered games that didn’t work, and then did, games that were buggy, and then weren’t so bad. Because I’m an idiot, I said I had been lucky with all my games working.

Welcome to Star Wars: Battlefront II.

You’re an idiot, Alastair. A stupid, stupid idiot.

Full Steam Ahead: Supreme Commander 2

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 3 Hours

Last episode, I said I would spend some time talking about the special place games like Sleeping Dogs occupied. In short, I meant to spend some time talking about games that I did not or could not play due to technical limitations. However, I then got caught up in my enjoyment of Sleeping Dogs, and never got around to talking about those kinds of games in the blog.

I’ve only spent three hours in in Supreme Commander 2. I distinctly remember the game freezing up or closing without warning multiple times as I was playing. Unlike Sleeping Dogs, I never came back to Supreme Commander 2. Using Steam’s categories system, I banished Supreme Commander 2 to a folder called “Doesn’t Work”. My computer has been upgraded since then, but I never came back to SC2. At least, until now.

Supreme Commander 2 is a real time strategy game, or RTS. Unlike some other strategy games, where players get turns to carefully plan out each individual action, RTS games all happen in real time. Everyone is free to move, build, or attack whenever they like. This results, in most RTS games I’ve played, to a mad dash to gather resources, improve your defenses, and attack the enemies before they have a chance to do the same to you. Unlike Total War: Shogun, you won’t get a serene chance to review your income and resources at your leisure. You are locked into the micromanagement of resource gathering, unit and building construction, researching new units and abilities, and combat on any number of different fronts.

SC2 takes place in the far future, in a universe where humanity has split into three different factions. At the beginning of the game the factions are held together, barely, by a tenuous coalition. Because the game needs a story, or the combat needs a purpose, or any number of other reasons, the coalition immediately collapses and the factions are thrown into conflict with one another.

Any similarities between mid-game villains and Sarah Palin is probably coincidental.

The three factions all have slightly different styles of gameplay and aesthetics. The United Earth Federation (UEF) is your standard militarized human force of the far future They favour hard hitting attacks from a distance, with lots of artillery and naval gunning. The Cybrans are technologically enhanced humans, featuring cyborgs and genetic augmentations. Their units are cheap, spidery robots. The Illuminate are a group of humans who made contact with an alien species, adopting their philosophy, culture, and technology. Most of their land units hover, leading to a quick, surprising army.

Massive Armoured Command Units (ACUs) provide the backbone of your military. They are slow, but tough as nails. They are equipped with devastating weaponry, and can be upgraded to make them even more fearsome. Furthermore, they are your main construction unit in the game. Despite the efforts developers have gone to to make each army feel distinct, gameplay boils down to the same pattern of gather-build-destroy-repeat. The addition of unique experimental units adds some excitement to the mix, but at the end of the day it’s just another unit, albeit a massive one.

The beginnings of a Cybran base. The large mech is an ACU.

Part of me wonders what a RTS without any combat component might look like. A game that used the same systems for building your base or civilization, a game that required the same careful management of workforces and resources, a game without the looming threat of attack. A game where the development of your world was the goal, as opposed to a step in the process of building your armies. I think I might like that kind of game sometimes.

In any case, Supreme Commander 2 is fundamentally not that game.

However, the game is undeniably fun. The designers knew they weren’t designing a military simulation game, so they decided to have some fun with. The Illuminate armies can build flying saucers. The UEF gets an experimental tank called the Fatboy, which is, essentially, a massive artillery platform supported by 4 smaller tanks. The Cybrans get Cybranasaurus Rex, which is described in game as an experimental lizardbot. The game is played on an exaggerated scale; you can zoom in so close you can practically see the nuts and bolts on your tanks, or zoom out so far all you can see the the symbols that represent them.

A phrase I’ve used before in this series is nothing revolutionary. Supreme Commander 2 fits that description nicely. The story is pretty standard science fiction fare, the gameplay is like that of any other RTS, and all in all, there’s not a lot to say about the game itself. Instead, I’ll talk about what the game represents in the place of my games library.

The “Doesn’t Work” folder was not a huge folder. There were, at most, a dozen games in there. Some of these games wouldn’t launch because of hardware issues. Some of the would run slowly, to the point of being too annoying to play for leisure. Some, like Supreme Commander 2, had bugs that would cause the game to close without warning. Hell, a couple times during this playthrough, the game would still randomly minimize for no reason whatsoever. The point is, the “Doesn’t Work” folder was useful for sorting my Steam library into more manageable categories. Some of these games work much better now, like Sleeping Dogs and Supreme Commander 2. Some still don’t work 100% correctly. Some I won’t find out about until I get to them in Full Steam Ahead.

Let’s consider this in a different perspective though. I own 130 or so games, and in order to keep the numbers simple, we’ll say that I had 10 games in the “Doesn’t Work” category. Imagine if every time you bought a dozen eggs, chances are that one of them, for some reason or another, was completely unusable. That’d suck. Or, to keep things in the context of games, imagine you are a golfer, with a bag of thirteen clubs. Some of the clubs are better than others, some are used in different situations, but on of those thirteen is non-functional.

In real life, you can go through the egg cartons in the store, finding one with perfect eggs. In golf, you can pick and choose clubs that best suit your style of play (I know some golfers would argue that none of the clubs in their bag work properly, but that’s just golf humour). If a club doesn’t work, you can return it to the store, or sell it yourself, or give it to a friend or charity.

For a long time, Steam games, once bought, could not be refunded. or returned. If you upgraded your computer accordingly, maybe you could play the games, or you could hope for a patch to make them playable, but you couldn’t get your money back. So far, I’ve been lucky. The two games from the “Doesn’t Work” category I’ve encountered in Full Steam Ahead so far have ended up playable. Still, it doesn’t feel great to have a game that is unplayable due to technical limitations.

Next Episode: Star Wars Battlefront 2

Full Steam Ahead: Sleeping Dogs

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 22 Hours

Sleeping Dogs is a game I’ve already had the joy of discovering multiple times. First in 2012, when the game was released. I remember being fascinated by the idea of an open world sandbox set outside of the usual United States. Furthermore, it was being released by Square Enix, the same studio behind some of my favourite action games, Batman: Arkham City and Just Cause 2. However, it was a bit expensive for me to buy, so I decided I would wait until it went on sale. In 2013, a Steam sale came along, and I got ready to try the game, only to find my computer couldn’t run it. This was in the days before you could get a refund for Steam games, so I resigned it to the pile of games that, for some reason or another, I wouldn’t be playing. Fast forward to 2015, when a good friend of mine gave me his old graphics card. It may have been used, but it was still miles more advanced than anything my computer had. Dozens of games I couldn’t run in the past suddenly became available to me.

As you read on, you’ll get to know the story of Sleeping Dogs, a crime thriller set in modern day Hong Kong. You’ll also get to know the story of games in my library like Sleeping Dogs, what the game means to me, and specifically, the moment at which it stopped being just another game and became one of my absolute favourite games.

Welcome to Hong Kong