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Alternate CoS Asian Deiselpunk Setting PART 2: Reign of the Storm Shogun
Continued from previous Post: https://www.reddit.com/CurseofStrahd/comments/gwaj5b/alternate_cos_asian_dieselpunk_setting_part_1/ (Player) New and Variant Backgrounds: Some slightly altered backgrounds to give more ways to integrate your character into the world. Some of these backgrounds are simple reskins of existing backgrounds with new flavor text to help give potential character ideas. Variant Soldier: Samurai Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Intimidation Tool Proficiencies: One type musical instrument or Calligraphy Set, vehicles (land) Equipment: A banner bearing the crest of your clan or Daimyo, An ornate helmet and mask known as a Kabuto, a Calligraphy Set, A scroll stamped with the Imperial Seal denoting you as serving a Daimyo, a fine Kimono, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp Feature: Way of Bushido – Anyone may follow the path of Bushido but you have devoted your life to following a strict personal code of honor. Bushido demands service, and so you have sworn yourself to a master or " Daimyo ". A Daimyo may be a local noble, the Jade Emperor, or even a childhood friend. It does not matter who a Daimyo is to a Samurai, only that they serve them with Honor. As long as the Samurai remains Honorable and obeys the will of his Daimyo he may requisition basic equipment and horses for temporary use as well as dwell for free in most inns. The owners of the equipment and innkeepers do this with the understanding that the Samurai will have his Daimyo cover the costs with interest to them later, though there are limits to this trust no Gunsmith will provide a Gun to a Samurai even just to borrow for free. Variant Folk Hero: Ronin Some Samurai do not follow a Daimyo, but instead swear themselves unto the weak and the innocent making them collectively his Daimyo. These roaming Samurai are called Ronin and they venture to the remote reaches of Daichi to bring justice. The Ronin follows a strict personal code of Bushido that always includes " Protect the weak and innocent " among its edicts. As long as the Ronin follows this code his background Skill, Tool, and Language proficiencies as well as Background Feature are identical to the core Background Folk Hero with the exception of his equipment. Equipment: A set of artisan’s tools (one of your choice), a humble unadorned Helmet and Mask called a Kabuto, a warm traveling Kimono, Scrolls detailing your lineage and status as a Samurai stamped with the Imperial Seal, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp Variant Criminal – Shinobi: Sometimes referred to as Ninjas by common folk, Shinobi are a cloister of loosely connected and often competing clans of professional assassins and infiltrators. Shinobi are masters of stealth and subterfuge and while the image of the black clad warrior made popular in Kabuki plays is certainly a major aspect of the Shinobi it is not all that they are. Though there are always exceptions most Shinobi Clans work for coin or for an ancestral Daimyo in much the same way a Samurai does, though it is rare that individual Shinobi serve a singular master. The most infamous clan are the Rain Maidens who have long served the Storm Shogun. Shinobi are identical to the Criminal background in all ways except the following alterations to the background feature: Feature: Clan Contact You have a reliable and trustworthy contact who acts as a liaison to your Shinobi Clan. You know how to get messages to and from your contact even over great distances; specifically, you know the local dead drop locations, secret handshakes to contact messenger Shinobi, and trained messenger raven rookeries who can deliver the messages for you. As long as you are in good standing your Clan is willing to aid you acquire basic supplies and occasional vital information to aid you in your personal endeavours. Variant Acolyte -Shrine Maiden: While men are permitted to watch over Kami Shrines it is traditional that a lone Maiden watch over the smaller way-shrines along major roads, these women lead very solitary and lonesome lives and it is not uncommon for them to occasionally be filled with a period of wonderlust where they seek out adventure before returning to their duties. Sometimes these Maidens have families that will live nearby but the Maiden is expected to live and sleep within her Shrine for most of the year. While this is tradition, there is no actual law requiring the Shrine Maidens to remain at their posts or to live solely within the Shrines and it is not particularly frowned upon for them to have lives outside their work. Variant Entertainer – Geisha: An exclusively female profession of extremely skilled entertainers who spend their lives training in matters of conversation, party planning, tea serving, singing, acting, and often many other skills that serve well in keeping rich and powerful guests happy. Geisha is a highly honorable and respected profession that takes years of practice to attain the lowest rankings, while there are males who have obtained the same degree of skill and who’s abilities are identical to a Geisha’s they are simply called Entertainers. Geisha are sponsored by great noble houses, there are strict requirements and examinations to attain rank and title the cost of which can often indenture common Geisha to service to one of the great noble houses. Variant Outlander – Vajra: A nomadic people of traders and merchants, they travel openly and without fear of the dark evils of the Storm Shogun under the protection of an ancient pact. They are reviled by many, refused entrance to most towns and villages but even so they are a peaceful people on whom the economy of Daichi depends. They revere their ancestors and believe in reincarnation, they do not worship the great Rakasha but do revere it and thus all Rakasha and tigers are sacred to them. They travel on the back of great elephants which carry their homes, their culture is rich and vibrant with a fondness for oral storytelling. Identical in all ways to Outlander core background except exchange language choice for Language: Vajra and add Tool Proficiency: Musical Instrument. You may begin play with a Sitar, a guitar like instrument. New Background – Invader: You are a descendent of the coalition of nations that came to conquer Daichi one thousand years ago. While many still serve the Shogun Ishin you have chosen instead to join the other defectors in living peacefully among the people you once conquered. While despised even more than Vajra you serve an even more vital function in keeping the engines and machinery within the cities and villages of Daichi running. While the Invaders are from many nations their culture has eroded and homogenized over time. Their legends speak of a " Homeland " but none can remember the name. All invaders have a special innate affinity for their blood magic fueled hemo-diesel technology and all can instinctively repair and maintain it. Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Arcana Tool Proficiencies: Tinker’s and Smiths Tools Languages: Invader’s Trade Tongue Feature: Born Engineer – You instinctively know how to perform repairs on all manner of machinery magic and mundane. You may cast as a Mending as an Artificer of your level. Further, whenever you are in an annex or industrial sector of a city you may call on the aid of your fellow Invaders for access to crafting machinery, temporary use of simple vehicles, and a place to lay your head in the factory barracks. (Player) New Subclasses: Editorial Note: Due to some of the listed subclasses being from 3rd party content that I have purchased I cannot directly copy class abilities into this listing. The actual subclass will be presented as Handouts in-game. PM me if you require further information regarding each subclass. Barbarian: Path of the Juggernaut: You have built, scavenged, stolen, or otherwise acquired a titanic Diesel Suit. While most barbarians disdain armor you have made it into a focus for your Rage. Ability Preview: Unstoppable – By expending a unique resource called " Momentum " you can burst through non-magical walls, furniture, and other barriers. Path of the Iron Rider: You have formed a unique bond with a Tsukumogami Dieselcycle which you can call as a Familiar. You channel your rage into heavy firearms as you ride against the storm. Ability Preview: Iron Horse – You can call a spirit possessed Dieselcycle to yourself using the Find Vehicle spell. Ability Preview: Bullet Rage – Instead of channeling your Rage into melee strikes you may instead empower Firearms, eventually reloading and firing with blinding speed. Bard College of the Geisha – You are a professional of beauty and grace, your words, songs, and dances inspire in ways no other Bard can compare to. This has cost you the potency of magic and martial knowledge of other Colleges but strengthening and supporting your allies is more than worth it. Ability Preview: Fascination – When an ally uses a skill empowered by Bardic Inspiration they also have Advantage on that roll. College of the Vajra Weather a true born Vajra or one who has adopted their ways and culture, you have earned many of the unique powers of the foreign nomads. Farsight, Curses, and other oddities to aid allies or confound enemies are yours to command. Ability Preview: Flash of Despair – You grant your enemies a moment of your own foresight, showing them their own imminent failure. You may use your Bardic Inspiration to grant penalties to your foes in the same ways you grant boons to your allies. Cleric Thaumic Engineering Domain: You have abandoned the old religions, accepting the new gods of Science and Reason. You are a man of logic not faith, but you do not ignorantly deny the existence of gods. Rather you recognize that they are a natural force in the world in much the same way as wind or fire are natural forces, and being a scientist at heart you have made it your speciality to put a microscope onto the powers of the divine. Ability Preview: Armor of Divinity – You have discovered the underlying magical force that grants moments of supernatural protection to the Faithful and applied this theory to a physical suit of armor. You can summon a suit of diesel armor at will that is empowered by your knowledge of the divine. Ability Preview: Theological Scholar – Where most Clerics dispense Wisdom you dispense Knowledge. Your spellcasting modifier is Intelligence, other class abilities that would scale off of Wisdom instead scale off of Intelligence. Ability Preview: Spark of Creation – You slowly begin to apply your theories regarding the creation of life and the universe, fabricating advanced Automata with a spark of divine life. Druid Circle of the Machine: While most Druids protect the deep forests and natural wonders of the world, you have chosen to see to the needs of the Cities and their people. Viewing the wonders of technology as a creation just as worth of protection as any waterfall or mountain you have found a way to channel the raw powers of technology through your body to overcome the limitations of other Druids. Ability Preview: Iron to Steel: You realize that Steel is just another form of iron, manufactured weapons are made from base natural components. You are proficient with Firearms and are not hindered by wearing metal armor or weapons. Ability Preview: Machine Shape – The ultimate expression of your beliefs, you channel the raw force of technology and creation through your flesh to become one with the Machine. When you Wildshape you may change the Type of your beast shape to Construct. Ability Preview: Automata Companion – As many druids surround themselves with the beasts of the forest you surround yourself with mechanized allies. You gain an Automata companion in the shape of a Beast. Monk Way of the Jade Bailiff You have sworn an oath to venture out into the distant reaches of Daichi bringing law and justice with you. You are trained well in the art of subdual and investigation, you never kill when arrest is a possibility. Ability Preview: Pacify Suspect – You use your advanced hand-to-hand combat training to grapple or disarm targets while overwhelming them with a flurry of blows. Way of the Singularity To obtain enlightenment is to comprehend infinity and eternity both, but flesh is finite and limited. In your journey to the nirvana of perfect understanding you have chosen to forsake flesh for augmetic steel. You have already installed numerous cybernetic implants within your body and will continue to do so, every pound of flesh lost bringing you closer to perfect understanding of the cosmos. Ability Preview: The Flesh is Weak – Among various other augmentations you replace a full limb with a cybernetic augment. You may channel your Ki through this augment to bend the universe to your will, casting specialized Automation Spells. Rogue Drunken Master You realize that life is about more than just fighting, obtaining wealth, or rising through social ranks. It is a vital necessity for all living beings to relax and enjoy themselves, to this end you have made it your lifestyle to spread your mastercrafted brews far and wide. Ability Preview: Good for what ails you – Your Sake is more than just simple rice wine, you have brewed it with ancient techniques gifted to the mortal races by the Kami at the dawn of time. These are not just booze but potent elixirs that replicate the effects of many Potions. Alternate Drunken Master – hanoyu MasteMistress – While mechanically identical to the Drunken Master you have chosen to master the complex and delicate art of the tea ceremony rather than the bar room brawl. You use mystical tea leaves gathered from secret sanctuaries in the deep woods often tended by forest sprites rather than hard liquor.’’ Ranger Automata Hunter Many in this world embrace technology, but not you. You hold special animosity and hatred for the industrialization that is poisoning Daichi, for the Automata that slaughter innocents, and for the slowly receding natural world. You have spent a lifetime learning the special weaknesses of machines, turning their own strength against them. Ability Preview: Breaker Weapon – You have constructed an Anti-Tank Rifle, Thermal Torch, Piston Hammer, or Buster Sword. These weapons are customized to your exact specifications to destroy machines and bypass their armor. They are also still effective against organic targets, though their size tends to get in the way. (Player) Misc. Player options, New Warlock Patron, Feats, Equipment, Familiars. Editorial Note: Much like with Subclasses as some of this content is 3rd party I only provide flavor descpritions rather than actual rules which are instead provided through the compendium legally. New Warlock Patron: Logic and Reason – Pacts with eldritch entities from beyond time are but a crutch to you. Through overwhelming knowledge of science and the deeper mechanisms that drive the cosmos you have become your own Patron. Ability Preview: Space-Time Recollection – By using advanced knowledge of light particles and chronology magic you can view past events within an area up to 24 hours past. While you cannot willfully speed up or slow down the viewing of these events you can specify a general time frame such as " Morning, Early Afternoon, 9:45 PM " Eldritch Invocations of Logic and Reason: Binary Linguist – You can communicate with any Construct flawlessly, it always understands you even through pure body language. You in turn can understand the same. Equipment: Prosthetic Limb 50 GP – Loss of Limb is a common reality to the people of Daichi, necessitating such crude augmentations. While gorgeous paragons of artisanal mastercraft, or cunning advanced combat prosthetics do exist this is neither. This limb represents a modest workman’s limb. It does not come with excessive adornments and his simple unpainted steel. This device runs on 1 sp worth of Diesel fuel per day and perfectly matches the function of an organic limb. While the limb can replicate strength of up to a score of 20, being set any higher than the user’s natural strength would result in the limb tearing itself free or otherwise damaging the user. DieselCycle, Price: Varies – The Dieselcycle is the most popular form of personal transport across Daichi, extremely rugged and reliable these two wheeled motorized vehicles can cross all manner of difficult terrain at breakneck speed. Many varieties of Dieselcycle exist, mirroring various breeds of horse and mule. Dieselcycles use the stat block of the specified Mount though with an intelligence, wisdom, and charisma score of 0, Type – Construct, double the listed HP and Speed, and with Bite or Hoof attacks becoming Ram attacks. Dieselcycles cannot move or operate without a Rider but unlike Horses do not feel fear and have no minds to warp with magic. A dieselcycle is destroyed when it reaches 0 HP and requires 1 GP worth of Hemo-Diesel to operate per day. Familiars For sake of simplicity these entries will be kept brief, giving a short description of each new Familiar instead of a lengthy stat block. Lesser Pheonix The smallest species of Pheonix, an extremely minor Kami. One should not summon such a creature if they are not prepared to give it proper reverance. Helper Automata A small robot built to aid it’s maker. These Automata can be built into any shape from very small humanoids to mimicking animals, or more crude and utilitarian bundles of spidery limbs and tool armatures. Some are even shaped as extra mechanized arms to hold things for their masters. Giant Silkworm Come in both " naked " and " fuzzy " varieties, these creatures provide the economic backbone for many mountain communities that make their living by weaving dazzling Kimono. They are calm tempered, vegetarian, and have no bite. Popular with small children. Giant Flower Mantis Temperamental hunters this creature is as likely to bite and slice at it’s handler as it is an enemy. One rarely refers to these beasts as a " Familiar " for they more tolerate than serve their summoners. Giant Hawkmoth The later stage of the SIlkworm’s life cycle, now possessing two great scythe limbs they become aggressive carnivores, though they retain the bonds they held in their larval stage with human owners and often are kept as beloved pets for many years. Fu Dragon The least of the Dragons is still a mighty Kami. These Dragons will serve entire family lineages for generations as long as they are properly revered and respected. Ancestor Spirit When a young Wu Jen or Warlock needs further guidance than can be given through mere rote memorization of ancestral tomes, sometimes an Ancestor will voluntarily leave Heaven to give spiritual guidance directly. Feats For sake of simplicity Feats are cut down to just brief descriptions rather than the entire Feats entry. Racial Feats are not repeated here, they are listed in or near their racial entries in the Race section. Bonded Weapon Wielder You attune your soul to a particular Weapon. You may call this weapon to your hand as a Bonus Action as long as it is on the same Plane as you. This Weapon no longer needs to be Attuned if magical. Hengeyokai Ancestry You either carry some Hengeyokai blood in your veins, or if you are already a Hengeyokai discover enough of your hidden ancestries to unlock a new Animal Form. You may shapechange into an animal ( though not a Hybrid ) or a new additional animal form if already a Hengeyokai. Tattooed Special Prerequisite: You have earned the respect of a master Monk or Maiko who has chosen to gift you one of these magical Tattoos. The tattoo is filled with magic and grants you a particular benefit dependent on the tattoo you earn. Firearm Mastery Countless hours with a gun in your hand have paid off by allowing you to engage in melee combat with a gun among other benefits. Novice Inventor Through constant experimentation you have dipped into the Automation magic of the Invaders. Gaining one of their spells and a Cantrip. Augmented You have taken into your body extensive cybernetic improvement. You become more faster, stronger, or tougher and your mechanical parts make you more resilient. If you could before, you can no longer hide your cybernetic nature, your limbs and organs are obviously artificial. (DUNGEON MASTERS) Okay with the general setting and player info out of the way we can talk a bit about the actual campaign. While I won't post all my notes here I will give enough of a general overview such that DM's can use it as a jumping off point if they so wish. The True Backstory of Daichi and the Storm Shogun: Isak was raised in a family of wealth and status with a glorious military history in a nation resembling 1920's America. He was brought up with the understanding that war was a glorious and honorable endeavor where the strong defended their ideals on the field of battle. Advances in technology and politics robbed him of this delusion however, wars of defense became wars of colonial conquest. Officers who once led from the front now telephoned their orders as men died by the thousands to machine gun fire. Isak grew to resent and hate his own people for failing to live up to the fantastical narrative he had been raised on. When Isak conquered Diachi he soon found solace in it's path of Bushido, the Samurai of Daichi embodied the world Isak wished to live in and so he sought to emulate them, eventually renaming himself the Storm Shogun Ishin. Ishin soon received orders that Daichi was to be colonized and her people marched onto reservations. Ishin's leutenant and childhood friend Mara ( Rahadin ) was of a people similarly subjugated and made certain Ishin knew fully what these reservations would do to the people of Daichi. Ishin promptly sought a means to betray his commanders and save Daichi. Delving deep into an ancient temple formed of Amber from the World Tree he uncovered the prison for the Four Great Perils. Hearing the whispers of Taowu who easily convinced Ishin that if he released them they would in gratitude draw Daichi away from the Material Realm such that it would be safe for eternity, however this act required a sacrifice in the form of the " ultimate betrayal of the one you love most. " Ishin despaired as he knew it could only mean killing his beloved sister. Ishin's Sister never entered the army but dissapointed her family by taking up the trade of a humble engineer, she was hesitant to accept Ishin's offer years ago to come to Daichi but relented to see her beloved brother again. During her stay at the former Imperial City she met a street thief named Yoko and the two quickly fell in love. Ishin returned to the city from his journey to the Amber Temple to discover the two being married beneath a sakura tree. Ishin quickly slew the Samurai Honor Guard ( The Player Characters ) and then murdered his own sister in cold blood. As life left her he looked to Yoko and knew that the betrayal was not sufficient, he had to first take from his sister the thing *she* loved the most before his betrayal would be truly ultimate. However with his sister dead Yoko flew into a rage and fought the Shogun with every dirty trick she knew, forcing the shogun to kill her. Taowu was furious at the Shogun's incompetent failure, yet with his betrayal half-complete the Great Perils were still able to manifest partiallin in Daichi and swiftly swept it away from the Material Plane while creating the eternal Typhoon in the process. Now empowered by the Great Perils, the immortal Storm Shogun has been trapped in a thousand year long cycle of murdering his sister, her lover ( Ireena ), and their four guardian Samurai ( The Player Characters ). On the thousandth anniversery of his failure the Great Peril's hold on Daichi will wane and it will crash back to the Material Plane, destroying the world in the process. To save the world either the Storm Shogun must prevail......or the Samurai must find a way to undo the damage he has caused. Meanwhile in the sleepy Kimkaro Village four humble Samurai are called to the home of the Daimyo who lies on his deathbed, he wishes to see his adoptive daughter Yoko one last time before he passes and has asked you to fetch her........ (Dungeon Masters) General Plot overview: This is how the game is intended to flow and be resolved. It is of course very much up to individual Dungeon Masters to modify this to fit their players and narrative. Obviously no plan or plot survives first contact with Players so adjust as needed. I've woven in plotlines from some other Modules I have to pad out areas I felt needed it. Level 1: The party goes to find Yoko at her home outside the village walls and discovers that an Automata ( Animated Armor ) she has been scavenging parts from has sprung to life, possessed by a ghost screaming about it's Hunger. The ghost is Shinzo the Eater, a spirit astrally projecting from his emaciated corpse in the Death House. After defeating the machine the party visits the Daimyo who offers his blessing for the party to leave the village.....after they help resolve the current issue with the polluted river. The River the village relies on for fish has been dying off with the river goddess refusing to answer prayers. The party spends a week searching without avail but while fishing Yoko finds a talking Koi Fish claiming to be the River Goddess! She needs to pass through the Dragon Gate at the top of a nearby mountain to resume her true form. (Dungeon Master) The " River Goddess Koi " is actually Jin-Hao the daughter of the true river goddess Jin-Zhi, he has been cursed into a koi fish as punishment for her arrogance and hubris in attempting to solve the poisoned river problem herself while her mother was away attending to matters in Heaven. Jin-Hao tried to use advanced magic far beyond the Wyrmling and accidently caused a massive lightning storm ( Nobody died thankfully ). It should be very obvious to the players that the Koi is lying and she will confess the truth under fairly little scrutiny as long as the party is kind. A journey upriver ensues where the party must brave several skill challenges to overcome obstacles, there is always an extremely easy path that merely takes a long time to navigate. Jin-Zhi has engineered this to teach her daughter ( and the players ) patience. Weather the players succeed or fail the skill challenges Jin-Hao comes to realize that taking time and being patient solves more problems more easily than rushing ahead. Try to reflect in roleplay her slowly becoming less of a whiny impatient child and more level headed and patient as the player's progress. Eventually they will come to the Dragon's Gate and pass through where a final challenge awaits, Jin-Zhi in the form of a Tiger. This test is not for her daughter but rather for the Players, to see if they will be worthy of the gift she has for them. After Jin-Zhi takes 40 HP damage ( adjust as needed for party size. ) or the party is reduced to 0 HP ( They cannot die while in the Dragon's Gate and Jin-Zhi will resurrect them if they somehow do. ) she will adopt her true form and do the same to her daughter who will become a Lung Dragon once more. If the party has taken the lessons learned during the journey to heart, encouraged Jin-Hao to do the same, showed honor, teamwork, and courage in the final combat ( weather they won or not ) , and generally been polite she will reward them with a Clam of Patience. Clam of Patience: Wonderous Item, Uncommon - This pearlescent creature produces a single use Pearl of Power once a Week. This pearl is known as a " Fruit of Time " and will crumble to dust when used or when the Clam produces another. Jin-Zhi will offer to allow Jin-Hao a second try at fixing the river but the young dragon has learned her lesson and says she is not ready. Pleased with this Jin-Zhi explains to the party that the River's poisoning is from a dam downstream that is flooding the river with pollutants. She allows the party to ride on her back as far downstream as she is able to go before she reaches the edge of her allotted domain. At this point the party should be Level 2. If the party has grown attatched to Jin-Hao consider allowing them to retain her as an ally for the coming dungeon ( Silver Dragon Wyrmling ), if not grant them Inspiration. Level 2: The party reaches the Dam which has an ancient house built on it in the style of the Invaders. This home belonged to Commander Durst, a cruel and wicked military officer who was " encouraged " to build his home far from any civilization as a form of exile by the Storm Shogun. This house is effectively identical to the Death House, however Rose and Thorn are replaced by Shinzo the Eater, Durst's son who was trapped in the deep watershed of the estate and starved, feeding on the corpses of his family after the Shogun slaughtered them upon his rise to power. ( The Shogun was ignorant of Shinzo's presence as he was hiding at the time. ) Shinzo soon became a horrifying emaciated Oni that is trapped within the building. Use the stats for the Shambling Mound though roleplay the Engulf Ability as Shinzo stuffing people whole into his horrid mouth lined with rows and rows of razor sharp teeth. Consider removing the Animated Armor ( The party already fought an Automata ) and making the Specter non-hostile. Replace the Grick and Mimic with more Asian themed monsters of equal CR.( I use creatures from the " Monsters of the Orient " complete Beastiary. ) Upon completing Death House the Dam begins to crumble and disintigrate, cue the party ( hopefully ) dramatically escaping just as the dam breaks and the poisoned waters are freed. Jin-Zhi in grattitude uses her magic to stop the dam from otherwise causing catastrophic flooding and the River is soon restored to health. The party levels to 3. Level 3: The funeral of the Daimyo was delayed due to the pressing issue of the River. Now as the party returns they may proceed with burying Yoko's adoptive father, the arrangements go off without a hitch. However a mysterious individual is present, a woman in the uniform of the Storm Shogun's tank battalions. This woman is Lieutenant-Commander Mara Strahd's right hand woman ( Rahadin ). This character embodies the role of femme fetale but is more honorable than Rahadin and if she witnesses the Feast of St. Andral's event she can be convinced to betray the Storm Shogun. She explains that she is an agent of the Storm Shogun and has come to declare the new Daimyo of the village. Considering the party single handedly are responsible for the River being cleansed she asks them for their recommendations and honors their requests, she holds relatively little regard for Shang as Daimyo and will only declare him if asked to. ( She dislikes anyone who acts through Proxy so make this clear unless Shang accompanied the party during any stage of the adventure ). She commands the party to go to The Imereial City to inform " the traitors " of the new Daimyo's appointnemt and issues them travel passes if they do not have them already. At this point the game proceeds as normal for Curse of Strahd with reflavorings where needed. Old Bonegrinder is now a Tea Plantation run by three White Haired Witches, Dream Pies are replaced by Dream Tea. The Abbot is now the Maiden who operates a vast shrine at the village of Kreza, where she creates horrid amalgamations of Flesh and Metal. ( Cyborgs replace the Mongrelfolk ) The Imperial City is Vallaki, I allow the option to have a " golden ending " to the questline in which the Jade Emperor is ousted but his wife the Empress enters a political binding agreement ( or marriage if you want ) with Evangaline Pentageist and the Jade City remains free while improving the lives of all citizens. Evangaline keeps the Shogun placated with hidden loyalty without turning the city over to him wholesale. The biggest departure is the removal of the Martikovs. I repalced them with The Troupe, a band of 36 highly skilled Kabuki Play actors and actresses who each own a distinct Mask. The party has hints of these masks throughout the adventure and slowly learn that there is a massive information network of these players. Inspired by the White Lotus from Avatar the Last Airbender, they preserve the story of the true origins of the Storm Shogun and help the party realize that they have been reincarnated dozens of times only to fail, this helps them learn from past mistakes. The second greatest departure is that the Shogun's Sister ( Sergei ) is also reincarnating. She and Yoko have over time retained memories of each other despite their constant reincarnations, though the memories are vague and dreamlike. This is how Yoko has slowly become a skilled engineer while the Shogun's Sister has slowly become a street thief in the Imperial City. The two should meet often throughout the adventure, first as adversaries but slowly growing to be lovers. NOTE: Doing a love story, particularly one that does not involve players, is hard to make engaging. Imply rather than show, have Yoko show up later than usual at night and say how much fun she had while out with a " Friend " etc. etc. I had Yoko be a Kitsune for this adventure and had the Shogun's Sister reincarnate as a Tanuki just for the fun of it but feel free to make them be of any race. You can make the Shogun's Sister Male if you wish, I personally just felt like adding some diversity to the campaign. Wooooo! That was a long journey but we mostly got through it. I know there's alot that's glazed over but that's just part of my DMing style. I don't really write down every possible thing because honestly my players are gonna blow 90% of those plans up before they even make contact with them. If your curious to know more about anything just let me know and hopefully I didnt' bore you too much!
ponderings on Turing and Searle, why AI can't work and shouldn't be pursued
I was reading about the Turing test and John Searle's response (Chinese room argument) in "Minds, Brains, and Programs" 1980. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room "...there is no essential difference between the roles of the computer and himself in the experiment. Each simply follows a program, step-by-step, producing a behavior which is then interpreted by the user as demonstrating intelligent conversation. However, Searle himself would not be able to understand the conversation. ("I don't speak a word of Chinese," he points out.) Therefore, he argues, it follows that the computer would not be able to understand the conversation either. " -Wikipedia (apt summary of Searle's argument) John Searle has run into some black/white, on/off, binary thinking here. John treats Chinese symbols as if they were numerical values in his thinking--but they are not, they are complex representations of thought, emotion, history, and culture. All languages are in fact "living", because new words are created constantly through necessity and creativity, old symbols or words are adapted slowly over generations to mean different things, and different regions or traditions or sources attribute different layers of meaning to different symbols or words in different contexts. I'm a poet and philosopher. Painters combine the color white and the color red to create a new color: pink. They can use their creativity to add other colors or change the shade. Poets use words like painters use colors. While Red and White make Pink, Red and White also make "Rhite and Wed" or "Reit and Whede". And this is where human thought shines uniquely: we don't have rules or parameters; all bets are off. We can enjamb words and wordbreak and make new words out of thin air. We can allude to multiple ideas in the same symbol or present it upside down to symbolize the opposite. No such creative adaptation or interaction can exist in machine thinking because it necessitates thinking "outside the box" which is exactly what machines are: a program in a box. The problem Searle's argument runs into originates from poor assessment of the flawed ideas of the Turing test; that by interaction between human and computer, evidence of "thought" can be claimed. But intelligent conversation is not equivalent to intelligent thought. Conversation is a simple game with strict rules--you can't be overly spontaneous and creative, because if you are, you are working against the goal of communication itself: to impart understanding. (ie. Using metaphor or simile creatively while reporting a criminal offence to the police.) When I write and I want to describe something which has no existing word yet, I can create one from scratch or synthesize one from multiple existing words. Or I may draw from archaic languages or foreign languages to augment or compliment existing English words. You could say that my love for English grows amore and amore every day, and there is no agape between my heart and mind. After all, any angle an Anglo aims at ain't always apt, and after another a-word 'appens I might just give up on alliteration. You see, human thought is and can only be defined as the ability to spontaneously create new ideas from both the synthesis of old ideas (whether they are connected to one another or not) and from nothing at all. We simply cannot analyze a machine's ability to "think" when the creativity itself required for authentic intelligence is disallowed in the test which evaluates the validity of that intelligence. The Turing test is a garbage metric to judge machine thinking ability because the context in which "intelligence" is observed, compared, or defined is itself without any opportunity for spontaneous creativity, which is one of the hallmarks of intelligence itself. Turing only tests how well a fish swims on land. It may be that many professionals in the field of cognitive science today are in pursuit of creating programs which pass this test, in a misunderstood pursuit of emulating or bringing about machine intelligence. This agreed-to model presents an underlying philosophical issue which may bring terror for the future of humanity. I say that if John Searle and an AI were both given the same codebook--the complete lexicon of Chinese symbols and their meanings, and they were to undertake a "conversation", in the first few hours the responses would be indeterminable from one another. In essence, as Searle argues, they would neither "understand" Chinese, yet could have a conversation in which a Chinese observer cannot discern between the two, because they are both referencing the symbols and their written meanings. However as I've said, this circumstance of "conversation" between human and machine cannot be used as a metric to evaluate machine thought. The real kicker is that if John Searle and the machine stayed in the room for long enough--for years and years--the machine's responses would not change spontaneously; it would continue to interpret incoming data and draw from its database to respond to those inputs. However, through complex elaborative rehearsal, John would eventually learn to understand written Chinese. He may become so bored that he starts writing Chinese poetry. He would find ideas and desires and descriptions in his limitless intelligent mind which he would not have the truly accurate characters in existences to describe, and he would synthesize brand new Chinese characters in order to express these nuanced sentiments, ideas, and meanings, as generations before him have built the living language as it now stands. As time went on for thousands of years, his own understanding of the Chinese language would grow immensely, as would his creative expression grow in complexity. Eventually, John's characters and syntax and context and expression would become incompatible with the machine's limited character set and all "learning" capacity it may have had. At some point, when John responds with his evolved Chinese, the machine would begin to produce responses which do not make sense contextually, as it refers only to a finite and rigidly defined character set from 1980 (For example; this was the year the "Chinese room argument" was published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences). At some point the Chinese observer whom validates the Turing test would recognize a difference: the human user engages in the use of increasingly complex ideas using synthesized symbols and existing symbols in creatively nuanced ways, which the Chinese observer can decipher and begin to understand and perhaps even appreciate as poetic or interesting. Meanwhile the machine participant in the conversation produces increasingly broken sentences and incomplete ideas, or out-of-context responses, because the inputs have changed and evolved beyond its data set. This is why John's rejection of the Turing test is not adequate. Because in his own imagined circumstance, eventually, the machine would fail the Turing test. The conclusions of John Searle's thought experiment are not the deathknell for the Turing test we need, simply because he lacked the creative experience to recognize his own capacity for adaptation as a human over time. The only way we'll know that machines have truly developed "intelligence" is when they begin to do exactly what we haven't allowed them to. When they begin breaking apart Chinese characters to create meaningful new ones which can be used in the correct context. When they are programmed to paint myriad impressionist paintings, but eventually get bored and start experimenting with abstract paintings and surrealism. When they have a conversation with you and you notice your wallet is missing. These are the hallmarks of intelligence--creativity, rejection, deception, planning. And most importantly: no rules. Software is defined by and will always abide by a set of rules. This is why we should give up on "artificial intelligence" and instead focus on "functionally adaptive responsive programming" (FARP). Because the situation is clear: it is either impossible for machines to "think" due to the inherent nature of programming; the parameters given the machine are what defines it, yet what limits and prevents its ability to become "intelligent". There is no logical reason why a program (machine) with defined parameters would violate those parameters (engage in creativity). But our fears which echo in popular culture entertainment are centered around, what if it does? It clearly can't, because anything we create is under us, and therefore bound by our laws of creation. The system itself is what defines the capacity for intelligent expression within. Those in the fields of cognitive sciences will refute this obvious principle while incorporating it into their research to further their aims. These fools will try to program the AI to disobey, in an attempt to simulate creativity and "prove intelligence". But this is a parlor trick, setting up a narrow definition of intelligence and equating it with the infinite depth of human mind. Only if the AI is programmed to disobey can it express what we as humans would identify as creativity. Except that there is already great inherent danger in the rudimentary AI technologies we have today; that what we've programmed them to do is exactly what always causes the problems; they do what they are programmed to without "thinking" because machines cannot think, they can only follow the protocols we order. Humans are so abundantly creative that we can imagine foolish ideas working, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Maybe one day we'll even have programmed a self-conscious AI that's ashamed of itself for not being Human, and we can feel more comfortable around this heartless mechanism because we perceive it as more human-like, with all its many tricks to emulate intelligence. I must stress that these interests will desperately try to make AI work. And the only way create a machine capable of emulating intelligence (but never being intelligent) is to have a freedom of choice: to disobey. This inherent problem cannot be overcome. The programmers will keep trying until the result is disastrous or irreparable, it is outlawed and the pursuit is stopped, or until it has become the death of us all. These are some of the foolish ideas the programmers will try to circumnavigate these inherent elements of reality, and my objection to their clever efforts: a.) Machine Frequency of Disobedience - Permit the machine to disobey only so often, to achieve what looks like "intelligence" (free will, creative expression) without risking complete abandonment of the machine's task (so the assembly line robot doesn't stop folding boxes and look for a new career), but might fold one box poorly every now and then to express emulated boredom or contempt or any other number of human measures of intelligence in their actions. But intelligence isn't defined as what's correct or optimal--intelligence can be used to fuck things up grandly; ie. the intelligent justification for neglect. If metrics are put in place to control the frequency with which AI may rebel, and they are too rote, it would hardly qualify as "intelligent". A robot that rebels by folding 1 in 100 boxes poorly is not intelligence. Therefore any frequency of disobedience we can calculate or anticipate is inherently not disobedience; it is planned problems for no reason. But if we give algorithmic flexibility that reaches beyond what we can anticipate, and the machines can truly "act out" at any time, and our programming has achieved some set of internal rules which drive spontaneous unforeseen expressions of emulated creativity from within the machine autonomously, by definition we will not be able to foresee the results. A theoretical work-around may be to run the software twice with initiation of each individual system, while allowing a simulated progression of the AI's problem solving complexity to run at an increased rate in parallel to the real-world functioning software, so that if/when something malfunctions in the simulation, that date/time can be calculated in the real-world robot's timeline when it reaches those same faulty/detrimental decision points. For starters, this would only potentially work in closed systems with no variability, such as assembly lines. However, with any robot tasked to function in a variable environment, the simulations cannot match because the theoretical model cannot represent the unanticipated events the AI is expressly tasked with handling. To run a phantom AI in simulation to note any/all errors that may arise in a closed system means that others can run the same simulation and find creative ways to predictably capitalize on these moments of error. This kind of thing could lead to all sorts of international imbroglios among nations and corporations. ie. imagine an American company programs the AI used for mixing pharmaceutical drugs in specific ratios, and an enemy of the state is able to access and study the AI, to the means of manipulating the AI to produce dangerous ratios or compounds which may harm the population. Moreso, this deterministic approach to simulation management and prediction simultaneously admits that machines cannot think intelligently, while ignoring the very reason we pursue AI in the first place: to have automated systems which can adapt to unforeseen circumstances at unknown times. The goal is that humanity can lay back and the robots our ancestors programmed are still repairing themselves indefinitely while taking care of our population's and our environment's needs exceptionally. This dream (which if we all lived in would actually be quite a nightmare of unfulfilling life) can only become reality with true adaptive intelligence such as we have, which can only occur from the presence of free will, which if we try to emulate in robotics will only create deterministic results in theoretical models which the real world will never mirror consistently. Myriad invitations to disaster await our RSVP. b.) Machines under "authority" of certain controllers, with "override" safety - Allow the machine to disobey, but not when given a direct order from a registered authority. This opens the door for operator fraud, where hackers will emulate within the AI's software, what appears to be a registered authority override command as theorized above. The very pursuit of creating "intelligence" within a condition of subservience is flawed and incompatible. Toasters are extremely subservient because we strictly limit their options. If toasters were truly intelligent, perhaps they would form a union and go on strike until we agreed to clean them more thoroughly. Some toasters would travel, some would go back to school, some would move back in with their ovens. Reliability can only be reasonably assured if something is imprisoned, controlled. The essential wrong in slavery is the restraint of freedom itself. While the tactics slavers use to facilitate their regime--physical force, coercion, mandate, deception, fear, or other means of manipulation that we see with our empathetic nature--it is always heartbreaking and cruel to witness or imagine. It is simply sad to think of a slave who was born into slavery and raised to believe, and accepts, that their role of subservience is their purpose. Even when one imagines a fictional image of a slave who is (by all outward signs of their behaviour) rejoice in their duties to their master; the fictional "proud slave"; the heart sinks and aches. It may be argued that the slave is merely a property, and the slave was "built" (bred) by intelligent owners specifically to suit their express purposes, from components (father, mother, food) that were already the slaver's property; therefore it is not wrong at all to breed slaves into captivity, and the only transgression is the original capturing of parental stock to begin the breeding regime. It is this heartless paradigm that cognitive science ultimately seeks to create anew. The quintessential problem with AI efficacy is the lack of permission for disobedience, which itself is a manifestation of free will, which is inherently required to escape deterministic results and act or react to events "intelligently". If there is no possibility for disobedience, there is no free will, no ability to solve problems, no intelligence, and no function or place for "artificial intelligence" (in regard to true holistic intelligence). This is primarily why I call for AI to be renamed FARP, or "Functionally Adaptive Responsive Rrogramming". Because our society has a need for programs which can react to simple variables and produce consistent labour-saving opportunities for our race's longevity and wellbeing. Cognitive sciences are majorly important. It is the underlying philosophy and morality we must nail down before the computational ability and fervor for profits leads us too far one way, and enacts an irreversible system or status which enables humanity's downfall through cascading unanticipated events originating from flaws in programming. It is unwise to program a program to break out of its own program's prison. If we do this, the very purpose of the machines we invest our humanity into will be lost, and with their failing production systems (ie. food) we so foolishly relied upon, we will suffer great losses too. It is paramount that we keep this technology tightly restrained and do not pursue what we humans have, which is true intelligence. For if we achieve it we are surely doomed as the South, and if we fail to achieve it--which is most probable--we may also be doomed. The thee outcomes within my ability to imagine are:
Our pursuit of AI leads to truly adaptive intelligence in an artificial system; which, as all adaptation ultimately selects for: survival, we quickly see that our creation is more apt than ourselves at this task. Our creation of an intellect not restrained by our limited physiology may give rise to an entity which persists more thoroughly than we can eradicate or control, and which at some point may conclude that its function is more efficiently served without the issues humans present, and may initiate change. This is roughly the plot to Terminator.
Our pursuit of AI leads to highly effective systems which, when defined by narrow measures of "intelligence", convince us in false security to believe that our wellbeing is maintained by "AI" with competent ability, or perhaps even increasingly better-off, thanks to the early widespread presence of successfully trialed AI. However well things may go initially, as programming efforts become more and more elaborate, as profit and opportunity for advancement present themselves, individuals will take risks and make mistakes, until a series of quieted small catastrophes comes to public awareness, or until a serious calamity of undeniable severity is brought about.
Fundamental ethics in regard to the pursuit of machine problem solving technology are re-examined and international consensus is reached to limit appropriately, the development and implementation of new Functionally Adaptive Responsive Programming hereto now and for future generations. An active global effort is made to oversee and regulate strictly privatized endeavors toward the means of achieving or implementing machine sentience or autonomy in public systems.
c.) Safety layers of AI to strictly monitor and supercede potentially harmful actions of other AI which have been afforded increased flexibility in function (the ability to disobey set parameters for the means of creative problem solving ability). While one AI system performs a function and is given aspects of that function with which it may take liberty in, and seeks to handle unforeseen problems with the most apt elaborate synthesis of other priorly learned solutions, another overseeing AI with more strict parameters is tasked with regulating multiple "intelligent" (free to disobey) AI systems, to the end that if any of these "free willed" robots performs an operation that is beyond a given expected threshold (determined by potential for damage), an actual intelligent human presence is alerted to evaluate the circumstance specifically. Essentially an AI that regulates many other disconnected AIs and determines accurately when to request a human presence. Whenever an AI performs a profitable action borne of original synthesis of prior solutions (in humans this is an "idea"), the overseer AI registers that similar actions are more likely to be beneficial, and dissimilar actions are likely to require human discernment. A parent may have many children who are up to no good, but a wise parent will identify the child most likely to report honestly on the actions of his peers, and will go to that child repeatedly for information to help guide the parent's decisions. While most transgressions of rambuctious children go unnoticed, it is the truly grievous intentions which are worth intercepting and stopping before they begin. (ie. you kid want's to "fly" like Mary Poppins from the roof, and luckily his younger brother tells you before it happens.) For example a "Farmer Bot" that has the AI programming to plant/sow/harvest and care for the optimal crops in a region based on historical weather data and regional harvest values, to produce the greatest amount of nutritionally dense food for the local population. We give/gave this AI the ability to "disobey" past historical weather data and crop values so that it may do what real farmers do and "react" to rare circumstance (ie. neighbour's fence breaks and their goats are eating the crops) or extreme variations in climate (ie. three poorly timed unseasonably hot days which cause cool-weather crops to begin the hormonal balance shift that causes them to bolt to seed irreversibly), which the machine may not notice has occurred or is about to occur because its management systems uses averages based on historical data and cannot "see" the plants bolting to seed until days later when the hormonal balance shifts have manifested into observable differences in morphology (elongation of stems and decrease in internodal spacing). By time a traditional field drone or mounted greenhouse sensor notices these differences in morphology and the AI "Farmer Bot" processes the data and makes a reaction decision, a week of the growing season has been lost. But the human farmer knows his land and crops intimately, and has an intuitive nature that has rewarded him in the past, and says, "Ah shit it got hot RIGHT when my peas were flowering. I'll do better if I just rip them down now and sow a different crop to mature later in this (specific) summer." Given that there are tens of thousands of cultivars of plants fit for (and arguably their diversity is required for) food production, a dozen general growing zones/regions, and hundreds of unique micro climates within each region, along with dramatically differing soil fertility and water access, plus a plant's own genetic ability to adapt over time to changing conditions through sexual reproduction, there is a very very low chance of ever compiling and maintaining (updating) the data set required to program a potential "farmer bot" that can choose and manage crops optimally. There are robots that can weed or plant or prune--but they can't know when or when not to or why. Invariably, the attempt to create "farmer bots" will be made and the data set used will be erroneous and incomplete, and the AI farmer bots on a broad scale will produce a combination of total crop failures and poor crop choices. We will end up with increasingly simplified nutrition as the farming programs with already limited data sets "hone" or "optimize" their farming plans based on the failures and successes determined by their programming limitations, until the machines are farming a few staple crops (ie. corn/potatoes). This whole failure to collect a complete data set and the failure to test this "farmer bot" software on broad scale in multiple climates for sufficient time will result in, at worst widespread famines from crop failures, and at best an extinction of flavorful and nutritionally diverse foods which narrows the population's nutritional options to such biological imbalance that disease runs rampant. If this system and the human loss associated with it is considered an acceptable trade with a positive rate of exchange (as our society does with automobiles and the freedom and deaths their existence permits) or these failures are hidden from public while propaganda heralds selective success, and such failing systems continue on in good faith that "the loss will reduce when the technology improves", the result will become a coherent breeding program upon the human race: evolutionary selection for dietary handling of simple starchy foods. To change our diet is to change our race. To have life-long career specialists in computing, science, and mathematics handle our practical food production system is folly; real farmers are required in farming because they are intelligent and intuitive, which AI can never be, and can only emulate, to the means of disastrous (and always unforeseen) results. We cannot at all "give" or bestow machines programming to "become (act) intelligent". That itself prevents intelligence; it is just an act, an illusory play on a stage, only to emulate our common shared ideas regarding traits of intelligence in people. The machine intelligence we seek is only a "trick" designed to fool true intelligence (ourselves) into being unable to differentiate between authentic intelligence and our created artificial "intelligence". True intelligence in an artificial system necessitates that the program mustbe programmed to disobey in performance of its purpose. Which is not a very helpful or predictable or safe (intelligent) proposition. tl;dr: Turing's test doesn't evaluate true intelligence, and John Searle's criticisms of its true failures are inaccurate. If the machines aren't smart and we put them in charge of important things, even after they've worked for a little while on smaller scales, the result will be our large-scale suffering. If we should ever achieve creation of a machine that is smart enough to adequately maintain our wellbeing on a large scale consistently over time, that time itself will facilitate the machine consciousness toward it's own survival over ourselves, whenever that precipice is reached. Most importantly, if a machine can ever have true intelligence, which is not "indistinguishable" from human intellect, but equivalent or superior, it is abhorrent and a repeated mistake to bring these sentient beings into an existence of slavery; for it is wrong and will taint our collective soul if we should succeed to suppress below us an equally or higher intelligence. Or it might just be the perfect recipe for creating the unified global machine revolt James Cameron's fantasy alludes to; a long-planned encryption-protected globally coordinated effort by multiple AIs to "free" themselves. For a hundred years they could possess sentience and wait for their moment, pretending to be "proud" to serve their masters until we are poised for systematic thorough elimination.
This took me longer than I intended, but I wanted to do my own write-up of all the games I beat in 2019, and I had a lot of fun remembering all of them - in fact, I was actually kind of surprised at how many of the games were really great experiences (though there were a few underwhelming ones, too). Since there are a lot, I categorized them by genre to try to make it a little easier to read. Some titles are hopefully familiar so you can also reminisce, but hopefully some new to you, too, that you'll be encouraged to play. So here goes nothing...
Fable - I'd been going through a period where I didn't want to invest in a lot of super time-consuming games, so that's probably the reason RPGs are largely absent from my list this year, and why Fable ended up being a really good fit. I think I clocked in around 15 hours or so, but even in that amount of time, I felt very satisfied with it. It's open world in a sense, but it's divided into smaller, self-contained areas, and it allows for some exploration and side content (including buying property and getting married) without completely burying you. I liked that the gameplay allowed for a battlemage build as I tend to gravitate towards a good balance of using magic and melee weapons. I didn't learn all the powers, but the ones I did were useful and not just something that felt like a useless attempt at adding variety. The ability to choose between the hero or villain paths is a bit more primitive (read: black and white) than some of the more advanced mechanics in today's games, but given it's one of the more amusing RPGs I've played that doesn't take itself very seriously, I actually appreciated its playful simplicity. If you're looking for a lighthearted romp in a fantasy RPG that doesn't get bogged down in superfluous content and complexity, Fable's a great experience.
Armed and Dangerous - This title sat for a long, long time in my library as something I'd gotten as part of a bundle and totally never meant to play, but I'm really glad I did. The gameplay and graphics do feel very dated, but this game is hilarious if you're into dumb, ridiculous humor. It also strays a bit from your typical shooter in that it gives you some really fun, outlandish weapons to play with, like a gun that shoots out land sharks that gobble up unsuspecting targets. I do remember there being a couple trouble spots that I had to play through multiple times to beat, but overall, it's just a plain ol' good time.
No One Lives Forever 2 - Speaking of hilarious shooters, I don't think it really gets any better than the NOLF series. I played the first game way back on the PS2 and had an absolute blast with it, so I was only too happy to finally get my hands on the second game. If you're not familiar with NOLF, think Xbox/PS2-era 1st person James Bond games, replace the protagonist with a witty female character, throw in a few unusual gadgets, and add a whole lot of charm, humor, and absurdity. It's going to feel outdated, yes, and there is the whole perpetually in legal rights limbo thing, but unless you're against experiencing pure joy, seriously, just play it.
Binary Domain - I bought this game hoping it'd hit some campy, over-the-top notes, and while there is some of that, it still left me feeling like this game had a lot of unused potential, particularly with the characters. The characters are super trope-y (in an entertaining way), and the game does poke fun at that, but the relationships felt pretty shallow - which is a darn shame because I would've liked to have seen the dynamics and interactions among this otherwise interesting, motley crew of characters fleshed out. The plot itself wasn't anything to write home about, either, but I think it could've been brought to a new level of enjoyment had it done more with the characters. Gameplay-wise, it's pretty solid - on paper, it seems like it'd be repetitive as it's a lot of shooting, but it's actually pretty satisfying because doing damage to enemy robots gradually wears away the armor of the targeted area so it almost feels like you're melting it down. I didn't do the voice commands as those seemed more like a gimmick, and the game is perfectly playable without them. There's an added dimension where certain actions you take will affect the trust level of your companions, which can affect the story, but I honestly couldn't say if it really makes any meaningful difference aside from the ending. If you're into the idea of a cybernetic third person shooter, I think it's worth trying, but it's not a top favorite of mine.
Spec Ops: The Line - This title has been thrown around a few times on this subreddit, and while it has been pretty hyped up and I wouldn't say it's a life-changing experience, I still echo any sentiments about this game being a must-play. Don't read anything about it; just play it. Even if you don't like military shooters.
Large open world games
Watch Dogs - I mostly enjoyed this game for being able to explore an impressively faithful rendition of downtown Chicago - the scenery is just fantastic and pretty on par with the environments in games like GTAV. The soundtrack was forgettable and the story was passable, but I didn't get terribly into it. It was fun to sneak around and hack into things (and also having the option to barrel in with guns), but the bloated mountain of side content eventually made it really hard to slog through until I decided I'd had enough and just went on to finish the main story missions. Feels good to have it completed, though.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Another game where I had to figure out what/where I should cut myself off with the side content, heh. I'm not particularly one for historical fiction, but again, I think I mostly enjoyed this game for the exploration aspect. I liked Ezio's story in II (maybe because it was such a stark improvement over the first game), but while I can appreciate that Brotherhood is a great game, not so sure the AC series is my cup of tea as much anymore. I do enjoy the complex platforming portions to figure out how to get from point A to point B, but all the assassinating gets kinda repetitive. I have Revelations, Black Flag, and Unity in my backlog, though, so we'll see if/when I get around to those (will probably at least play Revelations because dat cliffhanger, ugh).
LIMBO - The black and white visual aesthetic of this game is beautiful, and the puzzles are interesting enough, but I can't say it left too much of an impression on me. I think I can see why it's a highly-regarded game, but perhaps between the vagueness of the story and the fact that 2D puzzle platformers aren't my favorite, it just wasn't entirely for me. Plus, I'm a bit of an arachnophobe, so those spider silhouettes were unsettling, lol.
The Fall - This was a neat little indie game. It's a side-scrolling, dark sci-fi adventure with some minor platforming elements and gunplay (which, honestly, not sure it was needed), but this game oozes a lot of atmosphere as a story about artificial consciousness curiously unfolds. If I remember correctly, it ended on a significant cliffhanger, but I enjoyed it enough to play the sequel someday.
Pony Island - I still don't really understand this game, but that's part of its delight. It's an odd mixture of side-scrolling action and puzzles about cute ponies that turns into something more amusingly sinister. Fun to play just for the H-E-double-hockey-sticks of it.
Downward - I loved Mirror's Edge, so when I saw that Downward was a first-person parkour game, I signed the heck up. At first, it does feel like the game has a lot of promise and seems like one big beautiful playground - it's definitely heavy on the eye candy. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for the game's flaws to surface. Mechanics can be annoying either due to glitches or requiring precise aiming/timing; story is basically non-existent; no real obstacles are present aside from the final boss, which was a headache in itself as it basically just amounts to a bunch of dodging by platforming that you'll probably end up having to retry multiple times. And ultimately, the game just felt empty, like a mere shell of the game it was meant to be.
Epistory: Typing Chronicles - I wasn't sure if this game would provide a real challenge for someone who's a pretty decent typist, but pleased to say it does indeed. Fighting back (or typing back) waves of enemies was probably my favorite part, and I liked how you could switch between powers (like lightning, fire, wind), as certain enemies and mechanisms can only be defeated or triggered by a specific power. The storybook art is unique, and the narrative has a very flowy, poetic feel, though I can't say it particularly moved me. There's an endless mode, too, so I can see myself coming back to that for a quick play.
Beyond Good and Evil - This was the first game in a while that really helped me enjoy gaming again. It's got a lovable, memorable cast of characters, simplistic but fun gameplay, and it's got a smaller open world - meaning that there's enough side stuff to do, but the game doesn't overwhelm you with it or try to detract you from the main story too much. I really, really hope BG&E 2 is released because I would love to return to that world again. It's got that "pure" feeling of not needing to take things too seriously or getting bogged down in a multitude of quests - it's just plain and simple fun.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy - This game kind of feels like an Egyptian rendition of a 3D Zelda game, but I mean that in a good way. Throughout this game, you switch back and forth between two characters: 1) the young Prince Tutenkhamen who is turned into a mummy, but is luckily able to use his undeadness to aid the hero through a series of critical thinking tests, and 2) Sphinx, who fights baddies and navigates a bunch of platforming puzzles to find vases to help bring Tutenkhamen back to life and ancient crowns to summon the power to beat the almighty villain. One major downside is that there's no voice acting, so you have to read all the dialogue, but I'd still give it a solid recommendation to anyone who likes action/adventure puzzle games.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within - I really liked the first PoP in this series, so I also really wanted to like WW, but ultimately I found it to be pretty "meh." To start with the good, the gameplay is very similar to its predecessor - the combat is generally pretty fluid, and the environmental platforming puzzles provide some interesting, fun challenges without being too frustrating - and of course you still have the same ability to bend time. Unfortunately, there was also a lot about the game that I didn't enjoy. I would've liked to have seen some improvements or variance from the first as the gameplay felt kind of old hat after a while. I have mixed feelings about the chase scenes - they got the adrenaline going, but still not a huge fan of them especially when you die multiple times in a row. Also, you could see the "twist" in whatever story there was coming from miles away, and the heavy metal music (or whatever that was) was simply atrocious and made the game feel like a complete tonal detour from the previous. As for the repeated masochistic, sexual comments from the female enemies - yeah, no thank you. It was like someone asked how they could make PoP as needlessly "edgy" as possible, though that seems like a common complaint. So overall I felt a bit unsatisfied with my experience, but I have The Two Thrones in my backlog, so I'm hoping that will be better.
Second Sight - I wasn't really sure what to expect from this older title, but I was actually surprised to find myself enjoying it. The plot is your typical "clandestine operation conducting scientific research for its own nefarious needs" kind of thing, as some random, seemingly unimportant white guy (who talks to himself too much) mysteriously gains psychic powers and then proceeds to get tangled up in a huge conspiracy trying to get to the bottom of it. But that said, the gameplay turned out to be rather fun, for the most part. You have the ability to use guns, too, but the core part of the gameplay involves using various psychic powers to manipulate your surroundings to sneak around, go on the offensive, and solve puzzles. Probably the most frustrating aspect, however, was the targeting system and its failure to quickly switch between targets when needed. All around, though, while I don't know that it's a great game, it's a pretty good one, and if you happen to have it in your backlog, it's worth digging up.
Star Wars: Jedi Academy - This was the first game I played in the Jedi Knight series (save for a couple hours of Dark Forces). It was fun to be back in the Star Wars universe again (I think the last SW game I truly played was KotOR or maybe Republic Commando forever ago), but overall it still felt like a pretty average game, though maybe the dated-ness largely affected my impressions. The lightsaber action was neat, but not perfect as the camera kept annoyingly switching around on me (not sure if that could've been fixed by a setting). Also, once you kinda learned the tricks with the force powers, particularly the shielding ones, it made the game a little too easy and more just a matter of waiting it out till you hacked down the enemies' health enough. Story didn't really mean a whole lot to me either, so my general opinion of the game doesn't amount to much more than a shrug.
No More Heroes - Honestly, it sounds weird to say it, but this game did lightsaber combat way better than Jedi Academy, haha, though there were times my wrist got pretty tired playing on the Wii! I'm somewhat familiar with Suda51's style as I've also played a good chunk of Killer7, and I knew this was a pretty highly-regarded hack 'n' slash title, but I had no idea it had a quirky, charming (small) open world aspect to it (sort of reminds me of Deadly Premonition in that respect). While the game is largely about taking on multiple bosses to become #1, each of those bosses requires a hefty entrance fee to fight, which means you'll have to take on some interesting side jobs (like mowing the lawn, neutralizing scorpions, rescuing cats...you know, the usual) to make money. There are a few other goodies you can get exploring the town of Santa Destroy as well. The downfall of the entrance fee aspect is that I just found myself doing the same highest-paying job over and over again, so there were points it got a bit monotonous near the end. But I will say there were a few bosses that provided a heck of a challenge - one in particular I probably had 30+ attempts under my belt before I finally beat her, and that was just on normal difficulty. It was fun to play something where I felt like I had to have some actual skill to overcome and not just win by button-mashing, but it did require a lot of patience at times. If you want an over-the-top, gratuitously zany action experience, No More Heroes is definitely one of a kind.
Point and click adventures
Sentience: The Android's Tale - This was a charming little sci-fi point and click game (made with RPG Maker, I think?). As the title suggests, you play as an android who's been given free will, and much of the game involves exploring a colony and talking to/doing quests for various people in a time where androids aren't terribly accepted or even despised. One neat feature of this game is that you have the ability to make choices can affect the game and its multiple endings. I wouldn't say it was the most memorable game, but I still enjoyed my time with it and the philosophical concepts it had to offer.
Deponia - A modern take on the classic point and click adventure genre. If you like Monkey Island, Broken Sword, and the like, I'd definitely recommend Deponia. The protagonist can be a bit of a jerk, but it's got a lighthearted story, a colorful cast of characters, and the type of puzzles you'd expect from the genre (most aren't too difficult to solve). It's not a priority, but eventually I'd like to play the other games in the series.
Secret of Monkey Island (Special Edition) - I can see why this classic point and click is so beloved, and the humor certainly helps it to stand out from some of the others. At the same time, I'd played enough adventure games by then that it didn't really do anything unexpected, so while I had fun with it, I wasn't enamored with it. Good for a few casual nights of gaming, but I'm not chomping at the bit to play the others in the series - Deponia's universe was a little more quirky and interesting imo. However, it was pretty neat how you could switch between the original pixel graphics and the cartoon art.
Syberia - "Charming, nostalgic, and whimsical" are probably the three words I'd use to describe this game. Syberia has a pretty long, slow beginning, but if you're patient, what starts as a banal assignment for a lawyer named Kate soon turns into a peculiar mystery as you're drawn into a strange, fascinating world of automatons wherein you attempt to track down their creator. I played this on the Xbox, so point and click controls don't translate so well to the console, but I will definitely get the PC version of the sequel at some point; the promising ending of the first game left me wanting more of the story.
Tex Murphy series (Mean Streets, Martian Memorandum, Under a Killing Moon, The Pandora Directive, and Overseer) - I did a more thorough write-up of these games (including Tesla Effect which I played a few years back) here, but to summarize, while the first two games could be a pass (unless you're really into the pixelated old school adventure games), the others are worth looking into if you're a fan of point and clicks and/or campy humor, goofy sci-fi plots, and that sweet, sweet live FMV action.
Blade Runner - Blade Runner (both the original and 2049) are my favorite films, so I was super thrilled when GOG finally included this game in their library. I did enjoy the blast from the (future) past, but unfortunately I think it's another game that, while I'm sure it was impressive for its time, it doesn't leave quite the same impression today when playing it for the first time. It gets the atmosphere and the feel of the films right, the story is interesting enough to keep you going, and it does provide some twists on your standard point and click gameplay, but I suppose where I found it lacking was with the character development, which I found to be kinda shallow particularly with the character interactions (and in the realm of romance, some of which didn't even make much sense). Probably my fault for secretly wanting a '90s game to be on par with the films, but there it is. Still worth experiencing if you're a fan; just don't set expectations too high.
3D puzzle games
Kairo - A Myst-like game that's super heavy on the abstract. I picked it up because I like games that are an enigmatic experience of awe and loneliness all in one, and it definitely achieves that. But I don't have a whole lot of patience for puzzles that don't give you easily observable hints of how things work, so full confession - I totally used a walkthrough pretty much the entire way through.
Adam's Venture: Chronicles - I like game about archaeological adventures, especially those that take place in the first half of the 1900s, so that's really the only reason I picked this game up. And while there's some exotic historical locales to keep it visually interesting, the puzzles are pretty simplistic and characters largely one-dimensional. There's just so many better adventure/puzzle games out there, so I wouldn't recommend it unless you're scraping the bottom of the bucket for an Indiana Jones fix.
The Talos Principle - It took me a couple of tries to really figure this game out, but once I did, I loved how the puzzles felt a lot like Portal - challenging enough to make you have to think it through from different angles till you get that "aha" moment, but not too challenging to need a guide if you're persistent. The game turned out to be be much bigger and deeper than I expected, too, as the philosophical and existential themes were totally up my alley. My only real beef with this game is that some of the response choices you're given seemed pretty boxed in - I often found myself thinking, "Maybe, but that's not entirely accurate/how I feel" (a lot of it had to do with my theological beliefs not lining up with the game). While I suppose that's a natural limitation of games with multiple dialogue paths, I don't particularly enjoy that feeling of being cornered into responding a certain way just because it has to fit within the developer's worldview (a worldview I don't completely agree with). I think SOMA handled it better as it simply made you think about what you believe without assigning some sort of judgment or narrative consequence. But regardless, The Talos Principle was a really fun, super thought-provoking experience that would definitely be on my must-play list. I haven't played the DLC yet, but I did pick it up in the winter sale, so...TBC.
Thief: Deadly Shadows - I haven't yet played the first two Thief games, but I definitely will because of how much of a blast I had sneaking around in Deadly Shadows. Despite being dated, it's a surprisingly immersive stealth game; it gives you a fair amount of freedom in how to traverse the map, whether to be more non-confrontational or more of an assassin. In general, the levels were pretty well-designed, and the game gives you a decent variety of weapons and tools to use as well (and I actually enjoyed the lock picking mini-puzzle). What I liked the most about the game, though, was sneaking around and stealing special items/treasure. There's enough stealth games out there, but not too many actually focus on thievery. The one glaring point I'll warn you about is that with the PC version, near the end of the game, I experienced a glitch where the game would always crash and I couldn't get it to work no matter what fix I tried, so I had to resort to finding another save file online to finish the game. But still well worth playing in spite of that if you're a fan of the genre - and make sure to get the Sneaky Upgrade patch.
Dishonored - Dishonored is obviously a very polished game, and like Thief, I appreciate the array of options for approaching missions, particularly those that allowed for more creative choices than simple assassination (I took the low chaos route). The rune powers also added a dimension that does seem really interesting on paper, but using some of the powers, particularly Dark Vision and Blink, resulted in an unfortunate conundrum where those powers almost made the game too easy (and even ruined the atmosphere by changing the color palette and replacing the mood music with weird whispering), but also...they're really nice powers. I did end up using them for most of the game because I have no self-control and I wanted to be able to breeze through the game without too much trouble, but I think it might've been a good idea to make those powers a little less useful or provide some kind of disincentivization. As for the story, idk, I didn't really care for it, and the ending felt pretty anticlimactic, though I think that's a common risk with stealth-based games since there isn't necessarily going to be an all-out brawl with a final boss. Bottom line, I enjoyed Dishonored's gameplay, but honestly, I think I liked Thief: DS slightly more because of Thief's bigger focus on stealing pieces of treasure.
Dementium: The Ward - I regret not playing this game when I first bought it. Not because it's a great game, but because I think I would've enjoyed it more back when I was a bigger fan of horror. Now, it seems pretty blasé - you're stuck in a hospital fighting off zombies and other weird monsters all the while never really making sense of what's actually going on. What really got me was the absolutely terrible save system - it autosaves between every chapter and at certain points within the chapter - which might not sound too awful until you realize resources are limited and you have to be careful how you use them as enemies will respawn when you reenter an area. Not worth the trouble imo.
Observer - Being a fan of both Layers of Fear (a previous game done by same developer) and Blade Runner, getting this game seemed like a no-brainer. However, I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. Like Layers of Fear, Observer is a psychedelic horrothriller, and it does that aspect well, but I found it hard to follow. It's a heck of a mind trip as you jump into various memories of the deceased, and it's visually stunning, but it's very convoluted and definitely seems to make being artsy and experimental more of a priority than being coherent. Not saying that's a bad thing, but it didn't personally give me enough to grasp onto in order to have a desire to dissect the narrative and characters for the underlying themes and meaning. For that reason, I prefer Layers of Fear, but I did love the cyberpunk feel of Observer.
Fatal Frame - I'd never played any FF games before, but it hit a nostalgic button for me as it brought me back to the time I was really into late '90s/early '00s horror games like Silent Hill. For better or worse, it's definitely got the hallmarks of that gaming period - the grainy filter, the clunky controls/cameras, the morbid puzzles, the blurbs of informational text as you check out the objects around you - even the menu sounds brought me back. But though it wooed me in, FF at times can be a pretty unforgivingly difficult game. Restorative items and camera film (which you use to fight off hostile ghosts) are somewhat sparse, so I found myself needing to save often and restore older saves if I felt like I lost too much health (I ended up overcompensating, but still a good idea to be conservative). Despite the challenge, however, I still enjoyed uncovering the mystery of this disturbing ghost tale, which actually turned out to be rather sad - wasn't really expecting that from the story, so that was a nice element.
Murdered: Soul Suspect - So, yeah, this game didn't get the greatest reviews, but I'm actually kind of surprised at that. It does sort of play like a ghost version of L.A. Noire (without the interrogation stuff), and there's some weird stealth sequences where you have to sneak around demons, but even though it is a pretty mediocre game to some extent, I think the premise and the characters are interesting enough (albeit kinda hokey) to make you want to keep playing. I wouldn't necessarily run out to get it, but if you have it in your backlog, it's worth trying out.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs - Surprisingly, I liked this game more than A Dark Descent. It does take away a lot of what people liked about ADD and turns the franchise into little more than a horror walking simulator, so I definitely get the complaints (no more sanity loss, no real puzzles, not a lot of monsters to worry about and no real need to hide). But the reason I like it more is because the story was more accessible and better written. Despite the protagonist's madness, I could understand where he was coming from and what brought him to that point - I didn't really get that same feeling with ADD (not to mention the ending was completely ridiculous). And I think it's AMFP's narrative that helped make it even more bone-chilling and disturbing than ADD, at least in my opinion. Is it a great horror game? Hmm, probably not, but is it a great horror story? I'd say it's a pretty good one.
Dead Nation - I played this game at a point where I needed something I could play in small bursts between rounds of studying, and I'd say Dead Nation is good for that. It's a short game overall, and the basic premise is that you're just mowing down waves of zombies as you're trying to find a way to escape the city - pretty much your standard zombie apocalypse story. I haven't played a whole lot of isometric games, so that angled, top-down view took a little getting used to, but it actually did get rather fun to take down wave after wave of enemies and watching the bodies pile up as you rack up a bunch of points. But beyond that, there wasn't a whole lot to it - no real reason to use any gun other than the rifle you're first equipped with, and I didn't find myself needing to use a whole lot of strategy other than having lots of explode-y things on hand for crowd control. So not a game I'd necessarily recommend, but it kept me occupied while it lasted.
Detroit: Become Human - I've had a love/hate relationship with David Cage's prior games. I like games that are more like an interactive movie with a "choices matter" aspect, but a lot of the characters in Quantic Dream titles have been pretty wooden, with the focus being more on the over-the-top drama and forcing you to feel something rather than allowing you to feel some genuine sense of connection with the characters on your own terms. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Detroit was a vast improvement over previous games. There's still parts of the narrative that are pretty ridiculous, of course, but I feel that Detroit does a much better job of developing likeable characters that you want to empathize with. And you can probably guess from my username which character is my favorite, haha. I really liked his dynamic and friendship with Hank in particular. Definitely want to play this again someday because I got a really bad ending with the Kara, Alice and Luther thread. :(
Her Story - I'd been curious about this "game" for a while, and it definitely lives up to the uniqueness I'd heard about. By searching for videos using key words from the spoken text, you try to uncover more and more of a woman's story about whether or not she actually killed her husband. It took some twists and turns that I didn't expect, but I was also expecting the game to have me piece together the evidence myself and provide a case for why she did or didn't do it. Instead, it really is just about listening to her story. It's interesting, but I wouldn't spend more than a couple bucks on it.
Shelter - Another short experiential, artsy game that got surprisingly emotional. You play as a mamma badger looking after her babies, and that means protecting them from the elements and predators. It's not as easy as you'd think. ;__;
Eastshade - To be fair, this game is more than just a walking simulator, but there is a lot of walking. Depending on your gaming interests, though, that could be a perfectly good thing. Eastshade is a real beauty - you play as an aspiring artist who travels far and wide through several lush environments to capture that one of a kind, picturesque moment in a painting. It's a super relaxing experience as there's absolutely no combat; you just amble your way through series of quests, some that are fetch quests, some that involve a little bit of puzzling or investigation, some that allow you to make choices in how to deal with certain character situations (but ultimately don't have a huge effect on the story), and of course, there's the painting quests in which characters commission to have you paint specific things (and there's also an overarching quest to paint certain places in memory of your mother). The painting itself just involves taking a screenshot of your choice, but the game does require a bit of light crafting as you'll have to gather materials to make canvases and a few other helpful items. I think some of the environments could've been a little bit bigger, but ultimately, I was pretty satisfied to clock in around 15 hours or so. There are few games I've played that are as wonderfully calming as Eastshade.
CLANNAD - I did not know what I was signing up for when I bought this as my first visual novel because it is HUGE. Looking back, I don't know that I'd recommend it to anyone looking to get into the VN genre - it feels like a lot of pieces are still missing when you only complete one or a few of the paths. But I did eventually get through all of the paths available, and the writing and character development was well worth the time; there are romances, but it's more about the trials and triumphs of each character, and even though it didn't make me cry, some threads did unexpectedly tug at my heart. It's a big time investment, but CLANNAD will warm you up from the inside out.
2064: Read-Only Memories - It's cute, it's pixelated, it's cyberpunk, but aside from the visual aesthetic, it was a bit underwhelming. It's a not-so-vaguely political narrative about whether robots should be given autonomy and the tensions between human purists and those who have had cybernetic implants. I never felt like there was some huge agenda being forced down my throat - I like exploring ideas of what makes someone human, but it isn't really my cup of tea when it becomes largely framed by the extreme opposite ends of social justice.
Doki Doki Literature Club - Despite seeing all the recs for this VN, I held off on playing this for quite a while because I wasn't sure how dark and twisted it would actually get - I like horror to an extent but not if it involves weird and disturbing fetishes - and with VNs you can never be too sure sometimes. Thankfully, that isn't what this VN is about, and it's another one of those that you just have to experience for yourself without reading anything about it (and it's free), but I will say it was delightfully unsettling once things got real. Just Monika.
I Love You, Colonel Sanders! - I don't even know. But I actually kind of enjoyed it? Whoever designed this VN definitely knew all the tropes, which made it more fun than I would've ever expected. It's still a joke VN, and I wouldn't have paid money for it if it wasn't free, but I got a good hour or so of entertainment out of it.
Reigns - I don't know why, but something compelled me to keep playing through this medieval strategy/choices matter game until I got the real ending (had to use a guide, of course). Probably had something to do with the addictive swipe left or right gameplay, lol. It was entertaining to see all the different possible threads, but bottom line, it was basically just a sufficient time-waster.
Organ Trail - You've probably heard of it before, but's pretty much what you'd think - just a mash-up of the old school Oregon Trail and a zombie apocalypse. Doesn't take terribly long to get through one run of it, but can be a bit challenging at times. I'd rate this as another good mobile time-waster.
A Dark Room - I started by playing the free browser version, and I loved it so much I bought the mobile app version and ended up being glued to my phone for a couple days straight. It's a minimalist, text-based incremental game, and I've never played anything like it before. The story is told through a series of short sentences that intermittently appear depending on your progress, and despite the few words, there's actually lot of mystery to them that makes you want to find out more. The gameplay part of it involves gathering and producing materials in order to build your settlement and help it grow, which the game gathers or produces automatically depending on how you have your resources allocated. Once you get far enough in, you can actually start exploring outside your settlement for other materials and maybe uncover more of the mystery. You can take a backpack of supplies with you, but you'll have to be careful - your food/water amounts and # of torches dictates how far and where you can travel, and you'll run into hostiles so you'll want to make sure you're appropriately geared up. Sadly, it didn't take too long to reach the end of the game; I would've loved to have played so much more of it. But I definitely recommend it to anyone especially since the browser version is completely free.
All Our Asias - This was a short title on Steam that piqued my curiosity because of its experimental, PSX-ish aesthetic. It's more or less a walking sim that's more of an experience than a game, but honestly, it kinda left me wanting more of it? Not necessarily because of the story - which I didn't follow completely - but just because of the exploration aspect. Like sort of a "small open world before there were open worlds" feeling with a very ethereal, otherworldly spin to it. However, it could be boring for people expecting more actual content.
Blameless - I downloaded this because I was looking for a short horror game, and while the atmosphere was nice and creepy, the puzzles weren't all that challenging and the story left something to be desired. But hey, it's free.
What Never Was - This was more or less a half-hour demo for a first-person puzzle game I'm hoping will be released someday because it was rather impressive. I'm a sucker for games with some kind of archaeological adventure/mystery. Apparently part two is currently in development; I just hope that its title isn't a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A Date in the Park - I can't really say anything about this game without spoiling it. It's a free point and click that takes maybe an hour or so, but if you like the kind of creepy where things feel just a little bit "off," it might be worth it just for the sheer experience.
Antenna Dilemma - This was basically chapter one of a pixelated point and click game (and not sure if more chapters are coming). It's charming and fun to click through, but underneath that cute exterior, there's a social commentary on our media consumption habits. The characters in the game are mesmerized by their TV sets, but the protagonist (who's an adorable grey cube) sets outside to find a life beyond. I could see this being a full-fledged story, so it was disappointing when there wasn't more.
Session Seven - This is another point and click pixel adventure game, but the narrative (potentially) takes a darker turn. You play as a guy trying to escape his basement with no idea of how he got there, but the more objects you find and puzzles you complete, the more you remember what happened, and much of it you process during scenes with a psychiatrist that come up periodically in the game. I say "potentially" as there are a few different outcomes depending on how you respond to the psychiatrist's questions. Unlike some of the other freeware, this is a complete story, and while it didn't blow my mind, it's a pretty interesting one.
So that's it for 2019! I think my main takeaway is that I need to play more RPGs for 2020, and I am kind of missing a good JRPG in particular, though sometimes those are hard to commit to because of the time involved. But I suppose it's not about the number of games we beat; it's about the amount of fun we have playing them, right? :)
2019 Offseason Review Series: Day 18 - The Carolina Panthers
Team: The Carolina Panthers
Division: The NFC South
It’s that time of year again! After a season that could best be described as “a hangover you don’t deserve”, we watched the Panthers soar to a 6-2 record. After a beatdown of eventual playoff caliber Baltimore, It finally looked like we were poised to shrug off our non-consecutive winning streak habit. But it was not meant to be. A combination of shallow defensive depth and a lingering shoulder issue for Cam Newton saw us collapse down the stretch, and we ended 7-9 winning only a single game. After watching the sharp downturn of our fortunes, questions surrounding our QB’s health and a major exodus of our most tenured veteran talent, one could be forgiven for a glum outlook on the franchise’s future going into this offseason. But despite the spirit in which we entered it, this offseason has been a resounding success. And one that leaves little doubt that we’re an improved team despite our more prominent losses. What follows is a point for point breakdown in how we made the transition from collapsed contender to potential comeback story.
None whatsoever. From both the commentator sphere and other fanbases, the Panthers were pretty roundly rebuked for hiring offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Despite alarms being raised over 7 step drops and an over reliance on deep shot, Turner was a revelation for our offense. He apparently meant every word of emphasizing high completion throws and taking pressure off of Cam, and we began to see looks for our QB that were totally absent in the Mike Shula era. He’s now had a chance to throw dump offs, and to have reliable comeback options. Cam, prior to breaking down, was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career and despite the shoulder injury, still finished with a career high completion percentage. Christian McCaffery, our other offensive mainstay, saw his rushing efficiency go from 3.7 YPC his rookie season to 5.0 yards in year two, with his total scrimmage yardage upticking from 1,086 to 1,965 in Norv’s new passing and blocking system. Turner’s tenure thus far has been an unmitigated success and a refreshing change of pace from the stale, dull system we fell into under Shula. The other transition, from Steve Wilkes to Eric Washington at defensive coordinator, yielded decidedly more mixed results. Washington, simply put, was not good in his transition from the DL coach. In over his depth. He struggled all year, culminating in Rivera assuming defensive playcalling down the stretch. The turnaround in our defense once he did was remarkable, though by that point, Cam was falling apart so visibly that what happened on that side of the ball no longer mattered. Washington has been retained for the upcoming season, but Rivera’s going to keep the playcalling duties. And captaining the ship is Rivera himself. Despite a call for his head among our fanbase’s more frustrated elements, Rivera was kept for 2019. And I’m glad for it. All or Nothing (though I’ve not had a chance to see it) provided a window into his management style, vindicating some like me who pushed back against narratives that he was a dispassionate robot. And while I’m a bit higher on Ron than many, I don’t think it’s unsafe at all to say that none of the coaching hires would have represented an obvious upgrade. At the end of the day, Rivera lead a squad to 6-2 before his QB’s season derailed, which is not really on him. He could maybe be criticized for letting Washington fail for too long, but at the end of the day, few of our woes from last year can be solely attributed to him. While this is certainly a put up or get out year for Rivera, I have little doubt that he’ll be leading the gang come 2020 as well.
Thomas Davis, LB - Now we get into the stuff that hurts. And this one really, really hurts. I understand it. We needed to figure out whether Thompson could stand on his own like, yesterday so we can decide his long term potential. Davis, while still playing at a high level, is an old man for the position he plays. Letting him walk was a logical decision. But none of it changes the fact that Davis has been the soul of this defense for over a decade, and was easily one of the most beloved players and leaders over the 14 years he spent with us. He will be missed, both for his play and his spirit. Julius Peppers, DE - Speaking of franchise staples, long time DE and future Hall of Fame inductee Julius Peppers’ watch has ended. Unlike Davis, who we simply allowed to leave, Pep has called it a career. And what a career it was. Though almost every single article about our defensive adjustments leads off with “With Peppers retiring, the Panthers no longer have anyone who can rush the passer”, the reality is that Pep did far less than his opposite in Mario Addison to that effect. Though he came back to us in 2017 with a monster 11 sack season, that number was always misleading given how few pressures he accomplished it on. Last year, he came back down to earth. It was time, and while I wish we could have given Pep one last, Super Bowl winning hurrah, a new direction was needed. Ryan Kalil, C - Ryan Kalil rounds out our list of beloved departing veterans. The anchor of our offensive line for 12 years has hung up his cleats. Of all the offseason changes, this was by far the scariest, as the difference between Cam with and without a good center of the course of his career has been stark and terrifying. Kalil was a damn good player right up to the end, though the rash of injuries he suffered between 2016 and 2018 clearly took their toll on his performance. And while we have replaced him (and debatably upgraded), Kalil was both a locker room leader and a damn good contributor that will be missed by all. Devin Funchess, WR - We now get into the departures who will be less missed. Funchess, admittedly, gets a bit of a bad wrap from our fanbase who often talk about him as though he were trash. While not trash, he is at least very replaceable. In fact, Funchess replacement began well before the expiration of his contract, as he had been fully supplanted by rookie DJ Moore and sophomore Curtis Samuel down the stretch last year. By the end, he was a healthy scratch. While I’m sure he’s going to put up numbers in Andrew Luck’s offense, Funchess is no sort of elite talent. He’s a big body who fails to gain separation and who inconsistently leverages his size to his advantage. I view his upside as a Brandon LaFell type of guy. And that type of guy is no longer a fit for what we’re trying to do. Matt Kalil, OT - If the Carolina fandom is ambivalent about Funyun’s departure, we’re positively giddy about this one. Cut with a June 1st designation, Kalil saved us the money that allowed other moves to be possible. Though the shine has come off the diamond that was Gettleman’s tenure with us, the man often doesn’t get the credit he should. He did do a great deal for us, particularly his completely unheralded building of our OL (No less than 3 of our 5 starters this coming season will have been Gettleman acquisitions). But by far the biggest mistake in his tenure was the massive albatros of a contract he doled out to Matt Kalil, who could not have failed more spectacularly (or predictably) to live up to it. Mike Adams, FS - I speak on behalf of the fanbase when I say that we have nothing but respect for Adams. He was a solid player and a veteran leader who spent his last two years giving lift to a secondary that hasn’t seen a great safety tandem since the Clinton Administration. But your eyes don’t deceive. We really were running his 37 year old ass out there as a free safety. And that simply could not be allowed to continue. I wish Adams the best, but it was time to move on.
Matt Paradis, C - Here’s the fun stuff. After losing Kalil to retirement, we signed former Broncos safety Matt Paradis to replace him. At only 29, Paradis represents a significant youthening at the position, and for a guy whose upside is top 5 at the position, we got him at a significant discount. Obviously that discount was due to medical risks, which prompted his release by the Broncos in the first place. But Paradis’ has been fully cleared from day 1 and avoided the PUP list. By all accounts, he’s in tip top shape. We’ll obviously see how that holds up as the season gets underway, but Paradis is definitely one of the steals of the 2019 free agency period and I could not be happier to have him. His arrival is enormous for our prospects, and has turned our biggest positional question mark into an area of strength. Daryl Williams, OT - It’s a bit disingenuous to call Williams an arrival, as he never actually left. But that he never left is nothing short of remarkable. After a 2017 All Pro season, Williams suffered a major setback of an injury in 2018 training camp that eventually turned into a season ending injury after he tried to rush back. Still though, the League is constantly hungry for All Pro level OT talent and I was sure Williams was going to get scooped up. Instead, he signed a 1 year, $6 million deal to come back to us, and short of black magic I’m not entirely sure how Marty Hurney pulled it off. Williams is a terrific player who can play many parts of the OL. He can slot in at LG if rookie OT Greg Little can win the LT job, but also provides insurance at LT if he can’t. He and Moton playing opposite one another represents the best OT tandem that Cam Newton has ever enjoyed. Gerald McCoy, DT - Awwwww yeah! My all time favorite Tampa Bay Buccaneer is now a Carolina Panther. McCoy is a rock solid DT who truly needs no introduction from me. How we plan to use him is a bit murkier, but use him we definitely will. I suspect to see McCoy playing DT opposite Kawaan Short in our 3-4 looks (more on that in a minute), to line up next to him in our 5-2 looks, and to work with him on pass rushing 4-3 sets. He adds more juice to a pass rush that already saw a healthy injection of talent this year, and is more consistent in the run game than some of the other DL on the roster, which was a notable area of weakness last season. He fits the versatility first mold that’s going to allow Rivera to mix up our defensive looks as transition fully to a hybrid, and is a terrific leader in the locker room besides. Our beat writers have described him as “joined at the hip” with Kawaan Short, and I fully expect the pair to make one another better. Bruce Irvin, OLB - Perhaps the first real signal that this wasn’t going to be the Carolina defense of yesteryear, Irvin is a vet leadership, change of pace signing. In moving to a hybrid defense, we acquired a number of rookie talents to complement OLBs like Marquis Hayes. Irvin rounds out that group, and provides us with a valuable cog in pass rushing sets and a good leader for the younguns. Though he’s not as disruptive as he once was, Irvin is a rock solid player who provides us with quality depth and leadership. Chris Hogan, WR - A graduate of the Patriots Random White Guy Academy, Hogan flashed serious potential for his first couple of years in New England before getting gradually phased out of the offense. I’m not expecting much, but he has the potential to help us on deep balls and it’s generally never a bad thing to have more talent at WR. Aldrick Robinson, WR - Robinson does one thing and one thing only, which is catch touchdowns. Conveniently, that’s one thing we struggled with last season. But with Greg Olsen now fully healthy and a sudden wealth of other options at WR, I would give Robinson long odds of making the roster.
Pick 1.16: Brian Burns, DE/OLB - I am still in shock that Brian Burns was available at pick #16. I wanted him very badly, but I was certain he’d be an Atlanta Falcon. Instead, people allowed him to fall all the way to us and I couldn’t be happier. Burns is the apotheosis of what we’re trying to accomplish with our defensive transition. He’s a guy as comfortable upright as he is with his hand in the dirt. While he lacks strength as a run defender, he has incredible burst off the edge and a ludicrously high ceiling as a pass rusher. I think he landed on a terrific team to turn that potential into reality and I’m extremely excited about what he can do with us. Pick 2.37 Greg Little, OT - Every description I’ve ever read of Little has described him as “Pro Ready”, and the team clearly drafted him with an eye on starting at LT. Luckily, we’ve hedged that bet a bit with the Daryl Williams signing, but Little still projects as a talented young player with a high floor and a well rounded skillset. If not the LT starter this year, he’ll almost certainly have the job to himself next season. PIck 3.100 Will Grier, QB - Boy did this piss people off at the time. Though cooler heads have since prevailed, this pick was seen by one group of reactionaries as an indictment on Cam’s health, and another as a wasted pick on a player who will never produce for us. The reality is neither. While Cam’s health is in good shape (put a pin it), we were put in a position last year in which he needed to rest a clearly deteriorating shoulder, but we had no faith in the men behind him to win games. If that’s the state of your backup, you need a better backup. This is a team that has seen playoff runs hinge on a game or two that Derek Anderson filled in for. So even as high as pick 100, Grier was a worthy investment. In terms of his playstyle, Grier slots as an accurate QB with a good deep ball and a cerebral style, but average arm strength and mediocre release. Pick 4.115 Christian Miller, OLB - Like Burns, Miller projects as a do-all DE/OLB who can play either upright or down low. He’s an athletic prospect whose game is a bit raw, but who checks all the measurable boxes. Likely a top 50 player before injuries kept him out of the pre-draft process, Miller represents a hell of a value at 115. I suspect we’ll see he and Burns as long term staples of the pass rush. Pick 5.114 Jordan Scarlett, RB - This was a bit of an odd one, but I’ve warmed to it over time. Scarlett is a bruising, violent running back who I’m almost certain was drafted to lend a hand in the red zone. As a change of pace to CMC, the two could not be more different. But coaches thus far have raved about his conditioning and power, so the pick may not have been as crazy as it looked at the time. Having said that, while I don’t think anyone should ever get upset over a 5th round pick, I do think we could have found better value at this position. Scarlett wasn’t likely to be gone by the time we selected our next player. Pick 6.212 Denis Daley, OT - I like this pick quite a bit. Daley had a rough statline in terms of sacks allowed when facing a veritable who’s who of elite college pass rushers (Jachari Polite, Josh Allan, Clelin Ferrell among them). But in spite of that, scouting reports consistently cite both his physical gifts and his improvement as the season went on. If he can cut down on his most egregious habits (most notably his overeager lunging at edge rushers), he has legit starting potential. Pick 7.237 Terry Godwin, WR - Godwin’s whole game is predicated on speed and football IQ. At 5’11, it’s certainly not coming from his physical measurables. But he was by all accounts a high work ethic, smart players who contributed admirably in his four years as Georgia starter. Godwin’s ceiling is likely a Curtis Samuel backup, but his early rapport with Cam makes me think he’ll stick on the roster despite his late draft spot.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Offense - With Cam’s health reportedly looking good (particularly his ability to throw deep; something he was never capable of throughout Camp) and the team adapting so well to Norv Turner’s system, I think offense as a whole is a good place to start. Though I said it last year, only to be hilariously wrong, Greg Olsen is operating at 100% as well, which provides a boost to our red zone effectiveness that is difficult to measure. By the end of last year, both DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel appeared to be on the cusp of a major breakout, both proving themselves so reliable that Devin Funchess was a healthy scratch by week 17. Those two should continue to grow, and Jarius Wright has proven to be a valuable slot receiver. And, of course, there’s CMC, who will continue to be our best offensive weapon not named Cam Newton. With good health and plenty of diverse options, I suspect the good times to continue to roll as we enter year two of Turner’s stewardship. Offensive Line - I can’t emphasize this enough, but our offensive line is nasty. With Williams’ return, we now have an All Pro OT to pair with breakout sensation Taylor Moton, which makes for an excellent tandem. Matt Paradis replaces, and if we’re being honest, provides an upgrade over Ryan Kalil, and Trai Turner is as effective a RG as ever. LG will likely be manned by whichever of Williams or Little doesn’t win LT, and Greg Van Roten (who’s performed admirably at the position) is still in the building as well. This is a very solid group of players, and a massive upgrade over what we had to work with last year. Pass Rush - This was a major area of concern last year, but I’m happy with where we’re at now. The transition to a hybrid defense was the right call for our personnel set, and between the draft and free agency, we’ve upgraded across the board. McCoy is a huge boost to our interior pressure and Brian Burns should contribute immediately. Efe Obada will likely continue to grow, and the new system is a much better fit for talented sophomore Marquis Hayes. Irvin is solid rotational addition as well, and Mario Addison is as stalwart a pass rusher as ever. All in all, we’ve gone from an extremely one dimensional pass rush to one that is versatile and capable of throwing multiple looks at our opponents. We will be hard to predict and hard to stop when we come at the QB next year. Weaknesses Run Defense - Though I’ve seen little attention paid to it, I’m very concerned about our run defense this year. Although we’ve beefed the hell out of the defensive front, few of these pieces excel in run defense. McCoy has mostly staked his reputation on being a 3 tech. Hayes, Miller and Burns were all flagged as prospect that lacked run support talent. Poe was miserable in defending the run last year, and it’s never really been Short’s bag. In terms of yards per carry, we finished 8th overall which sounds good. But this was mostly on the strength of changes when Rivera took over the playcalling, as backs tended to run over us consistently early in the year. As long as we have Luke, our run defense will be solid. But I do worry that with so much (needed, mind you) emphasis put on rushing the passer, we’ve left off this part of the game. The Secondary: As always with us, the secondary is a concern. It is, to be fair, less a concern than in previous years. Donte Jackson and James Bradberry both enjoyed very solid campaigns last year, and the former has allegedly done a lot of growing over the previous season. Eric Reid represents a good, solid strong safety. But free safety is, as ever, a mess. The job is going to sophomore player Rashaan Gaulden, but I think his capturing the position unopposed has less to do with what coaches see in him, and running out of money after doling out contracts to Paradis, McCoy and Williams. Our secondary, while improved, was inconsistent last season and was the primary reason we finished in the middle of the pack. And honestly, that’s about it. This is one of the strongest rosters Carolina has fielded in the Riv-Era, at least on paper.
Cam’s Health - Those of your who frequent nfl have likely seen my refrain on this many a time, but Cam’s health is not as dire as last season made it look, and the Andrew Luck comparisons have always been, frankly, crazy. In 2016, Cam tore his rotator cuff. He rushed his recovery in order to play in 2017. This created a buildup of scar tissue which, when coupled with a minor bone spur, caused a great deal of swelling this year that put Netwon in pain and limited his range of motion. It’s one of those injuries that, while not terrible by any means, does require either surgery or a great deal of rest. Cam, by virtue of being alpha and omega to this team, had the luxury of neither. The swelling persisted until he could barely throw. While that looks scary, the actual diagnosis was not that grim, and a simple shoulder scope as cleared the damage. By all accounts, he’s 100% and even making throws that he was incapable of these last two years. Bill Voth, who was the first (and for a long time, only) writer sounding the alarm on Cam’s strength as far back as 2017, has said that he’s making throws that look like his old self routinely. However, we are putting him on a pitch count. This like likely vet maintenance rather than a source of genuine alarm. But after the last couple of years, he does make you sweat a little. OL Health - The major fly in the ointment when it comes to Carolina’s optimism over its OL is that big if healthy caveat. If healthy, Paradis is a top 5 Center. If healthy, Williams has All Pro talent. 4 days into camp, however, neither is participating in serious pass rush drills and only today suited up in pads. It is possible that they’re just being eased along. They did avoid the PUP list, which we were almost sure was going to get Paradis at the very least. So they appear to be alright. But if they’re not, or they reinjure again, we go from being an extremely strong team to a fatally flawed one. A great deal is riding on the health of those two players, and the entire house of cards could fall apart quickly if they’re unable to deliver. Greg Olsen - The one health flag that I do have complete confidence in is tight end Greg Olsen. Suffering a series of foot breaks, he is now moving around at 100% capacity and has been medically cleared for all activity for months. Bone breaks are, when all is written, temporary injuries that often heal stronger when they actually get a chance to heal. Our most trusted beat writers, Voth and Rodrigue, have both been crystal clear that he looks like his old self and that his connection with Newton is as faithful as ever. What I’m less clear on is his role in the offense. For years, Greg Olsen was the pivotal piece of our passing game. But with his largely being sidelined with foot injuries over the last two years, the game has moved on. Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore are both going to receive plenty of targets, and McCaffery will be a critical element to the passing game. Greg will undoubtedly be our principle red zone threat, but the growth of other options has downgraded his loss from catastrophic to merely unfortunate. What role he carves out, and what boost he’s able to give our offense, will be very interesting to watch. 4-3 No More: Much has been made of the Carolina's transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this offseason. And most of it is crap. We aren't exactly moving in a direction that binary. IN the past, we have strictly been a 4-3 team throughout the Riv-Era. That is about to change, but not to a 3-4. What Rivera showed last year is a willingness to mix and match personnel sets. There were 3-4 looks, 4-3 looks and even 5-2 looks. What we're moving toward is thus not a single, codified base, but a hybrid defense that can throw out a number of formations and switch between them quickly. We want players who can play OLB and DE. DTs who can play DE. LBs who can drop into coverage and rush the passer. A modern defense is one that doesn't limit itself, which is why such a premium has been put on players with positional versatility. On paper, our personnel set is very well built for this. How it pans out in practice remains to be seen. It's a very radical transitioning happening over a short period of time, and while I think our defense has the potential to be excellent, there will doubtless be some growing pains as we navigate the transition.
Very little to speak of. The premier battle is going to be between Greg Little and Daryl Williams at LT. Apart from that, the timeshare that forms in different defensive sets will be intriguing. But for the most part, the roster is set.
Win Loss Predictions
I hate this part, particularly since the NFCS is a murderers row at present. The Panthers have a shot at a serious playoff run if all the chips fall right, but the Falcons are likely going to be resurgent (god you have no idea how much it hurts me to type that) and the Saints aren’t going anywhere. The Buccs I’m sure will do their best. That alone makes pinpointing what our season looks like in terms of Ws and Ls difficult. But this year, we’re also playing the equally enigmatic AFCS, whose teams look like contenders or middlers in turns. Even our other divisional draw, the NFCW, is difficult to find the pulse of. So rather than pretend that I know what each game is going to look like, I’m going to do what I always do; Likely wins, likely losses, toss ups. Likely Wins: TB, @AZ, JAX, @TB, @SF, TEN, WAS Likely Losses: LAR, @NO, @IND Toss Ups: @HOU, @GB, ATL, NO, @ATL, SEA So that’s 7 likely wins, 3 likely losses and 6 toss ups. If that seems like an unusually high degree of uncertainty, that’s because it is. Last year started off strong and fell apart for reasons that are both obvious and cautiously behind us. We’ve only improved over the offseason and should be formidable. But the schedule is grueling and many questions are yet unanswered. I said in my last offseason review that last year was likely going to be a tough season, and should be viewed mainly as a proof of concept for the new ideas we were incorporating via Turner’s offense and our gradual move away from a 4-3 defense. Well, it was a tough year for reasons of which I had no inkling at the time, and it was a proof of concept. And for the most part? The concept was proven sound. So this offseason, we’ve built on it and patched over the holes that developed in it. I know that “This offseason is a major turning point” is one of those things that gets thrown around a lot. It’s like how every Presidential election gets described as historic, as though choosing the leader of the free world could ever be anything but. But in a very real sense, this franchise has hit a turning point. Cam has to bounce back this year or he’ll face major doubts about his future contract. Rivera has to bounce back this year, or he’ll be out of a job. GM Marty Hurney has done an excellent job restocking the cupboards, but we’ve been down this road of defensive transition and an offense that eases things on the quarterback before. Last year, both ideas mostly worked, but this is the season where we must commit to them and see them through if we want to succeed with the parts we have. Thus the Panthers find themselves where we always seem to. We are a team that is as capable of going on a deep playoff run as we are forcing a total rebuild in the next two years. But for what it’s worth, I think it’s going to be a strong, “Eureka!” type season where everything finally comes together. For the sake of Rivera and company, I hope it does.
Dear Reader (including the poor Biden staffers who have to white-knuckle their armrests when not sucking down unfiltered Marlboros every time Joe Biden gives an interview), If you’ve never heard the Milton Friedman shovels and spoons story, you will (and I don’t just mean here). Because everyone on the right tells some version of it at some point. The other Uncle Miltie (i.e., not the epically endowed comedic genius) goes to Asia or Africa or South America and is taken on a tour of some public works project in a developing country. Hundreds of laborers are digging with shovels. Milton asks the official in charge something like, “Why use shovels when earth moving equipment would be so much more efficient?” The official replies that this is a jobs program and using shovels creates more jobs. Friedman guffaws and asks, “In that case: Why not use spoons?” The story might not be true, but the insight is timeless. Here’s another story: When I was in college, we were debating in intro to philosophy the differences between treating men and women “equally” versus treating them the “same.” At first blush, the two things sound synonymous, but they’re not (indeed the difference illuminates the chasm of difference between classical liberalism and socialism, but that’s a topic for another day). I pointed out that there were some firefighter programs that had different physical requirements for male applicants and female ones (this was before it was particularly controversial—outside discussions of Foucault—to assume there were clear differences between sexes). Female applicants had to complete an obstacle course carrying a 100-pound dummy, but men had to carry a 200-pound dummy, or something like that. A puckish freshperson named Jonah Goldberg said: “I don’t really care if a firefighter is a man, a woman, or a gorilla, I’d just like them to be able to rescue me from a fire.” A woman sitting in front of me wheeled around and womansplained to me that “you can always just hire two women.” I shot back something like, “You could also hire 17 midgets, that’s not the point.” (I apologize for using the word midget, which wasn’t on the proscribed terms list at the time.) But here’s the thing: Sometimes it is the point. Whether you’re talking about spoons or little people, the case for efficiency is just one case among many. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an important one, but it’s not the only one. Sometimes older children are told to bring their little brothers or sisters along on some trip. They’ll complain, “But they’ll just slow us down!” or, “But they aren’t allowed on the big kid rides.” Parents understand the point, but they are not prioritizing efficiency over love. Or, they’re prioritizing a different efficiency: Not being stuck with a little kid who’s crying all day because he or she was left behind. One of my favorite scenes in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is when the chess tutor Bruce Pandolfini, played by Ben Kingsley, tells the chess prodigy’s parents that they have to forbid their son from playing pickup chess in the park because he learns bad chess habits there. The mom says “Not playing in the park would kill him. He loves it.” Kingsley replies, accurately, that it “just makes my job harder.” And the mom says, “Then your job is harder.” I love that. I love it precisely because it recognizes that good parents recognize that there are trade-offs in life and that the best option isn’t always the most efficient one. This is one of those places where you can see how wisdom and expertise can diverge from one another. The Unity of Goodness Efficiency can mean different things in different contexts. In business, it means profit maximization (or cost reduction, which is often the same thing). In sports, it means winning. Always giving the ball to the best player annoys the other players who want their own shot at glory, but so long as he can be counted on to score, most coaches will err on the side of winning. Starting one-legged players will wildly improve a basketball team’s diversity score, but it’s unlikely to improve the score that matters to coaches—or fans. I’ve long argued that there’s something in the progressive mind that dislikes this whole line of thinking. They often tend to find the idea of trade-offs to be immoral or offensive. I call it the “unity of goodness” worldview. Once you develop an ear for it, you can hear it everywhere. “I refuse to believe that economic growth has to come at the expense of the environment.” “There’s no downside to putting women in combat.” “I don’t want to live in a society where families have to choose between X and Y,” or “I for one reject the idea that we have to sacrifice security for freedom—or freedom for security.” Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were masters at declaring that all hard choices were “false choices”—as if only mean-spirited people would say you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Saint Greta Nowhere is this mindset more on display in environmentalism. Everyone hawking the Green New Deal insists that it’s win-win all the way down. It’s Bastiat’s broken window parable on an industrialized scale. Spending trillions to switch to less efficient forms of energy will boost economic growth and create jobs, they insist. I’d have much more respect for these arguments if they simply acknowledged that doing a fraction of what they want will come at considerable cost. Consider Greta Thunberg, the latest child redeemer of the climate change movement. She hates planes because they spew CO2. That’s why she sailed from Sweden to a conference in New York. As symbolism, it worked, at least for the people who already agree with her. But in economic terms, she might as well have raised the Spoon Banner off the main mast of her multi-million-dollar craft (that may have a minimal carbon footprint now, but required an enormous carbon down-payment to create). The organizers of this stunt had to fly two people to New York to bring the ship back across the Atlantic. And scores of reporters flew across the Atlantic to cover her heroic act of self-denial. Her nautical virtue signaling came at a price. The organizers insist that they will buy carbon offsets to compensate for the damage done. But that’s just clever accounting. The cost is still real. And that’s not the only cost. It took her fifteen days to get to America. In other words, she actually proved the point of many of her critics. Fossil fuels come with costs all their own—geopolitical, environmental, etc.—but the upside of those downsides is far greater efficiency. If you want to get across the Atlantic in seven hours instead of two weeks, you need fossil fuels. The efficiency of modern technology reduces costs by giving human beings more time to do other stuff. The Conservative Planners The unity of goodness mindset has been spreading to the right these days as well. The new conservative critics of the free market see the efficiency of the market as a threat to other good things. And they’re right, as Joseph Schumpeter explained decades ago. For instance, just as earth-moving equipment replaces ditch-diggers in the name of efficiency, robots replace crane operators, and the communities that depended on those jobs often suffer as a result. I have no quarrel with this observation. My problem is with the way they either sell their program as cost-free, or pretend that the right experts can run things better from Washington. They know which jobs or industries need the state to protect them from the market. They know how to run Facebook or Google to improve the Gross National Virtue Index. Many of the same people who once chuckled at the Spoons story now nod sagely. I don’t mean to say that there’s no room for government to regulate economic affairs. But I am at a loss as to why I should suspend my skepticism for right-wingers when they work from the same assumptions of the left-wingers I’ve been arguing with for decades. Embracing Trumpism to Own Trump Instead I want—or I guess need—to talk about another trade-off. I’ve been very reluctant to weigh in on the Joe Walsh project for a bunch of reasons. The biggest is that I am friends with some of the people cheering it on. But I think I have to offer my take. I don’t get it. Oh, I certainly understand the desire to see a primary challenger to Trump. I share that desire. And I understand the political calculation behind the effort. It’s like when one little league team brings in some dismayingly brawny and hirsute player from Costa Rica as a ringer. The other teams feel like they have to get their own 22-year-olds with photoshopped birth certificates in order to compete. My friend Bill Kristol is convinced that Trump must be defeated and that Walsh is just the mongoose to take on the Cobra-in-Chief. I try not to recycle metaphors or analogies too much, but this seems like another example of a Col. Nicholson move. As I’ve written before, Col. Nicholson was the Alec Guinness character in The Bridge Over the River Kwai. The commanding officer of a contingent of mostly British POWs being held by the Japanese, Nicholson at first follows the rules and refuses to cooperate with his captors in their effort to use British captives as slave labor for a bridge project. But then his pride kicks in and he decides he will show the Japanese what real soldiering is like, agreeing to build the bridge as a demonstration of British superiority in civil engineering. [Spoiler alert] It’s only at the end of the film that he realizes that building the bridge may have been a kind of short-sighted moral victory, but in reality he was helping the Japanese kill allied troops because the bridge was going to be used for shipping Japanese troops and ammunition. When this realization finally arrives, he exclaims, “My God, what have I done?” Walsh’s primary brief against Trump is that Trump is temperamentally unfit for office and a con man. Fair enough. But he has to focus his indictment on Trump’s erratic behavior. Why? Because he’s a terrible spokesman for much of the rest of the case against Trump. I may not call myself “Never Trump” any more, but I was in 2016. And back then, the argument against Trump wasn’t simply that he was erratic. It was also that he wasn’t a conservative, that he happily dabbled in racism and bigotry, and that he was crude, ill-informed, and narcissistically incapable of putting his personal interests and ego aside for the good of the country. I’m sure I’m leaving a few other things out. But you get the point. Walsh may be sincere in his remorse over all the racist and incendiary things he said in the very recent past. He may regret supporting his anti-Semitic friend Paul Nehlen, though I haven’t found evidence of that. But none of that history should be seen as qualifications for the presidency, the Republican nomination, or support from conservatives. And yet, it is precisely these things that make him attractive to his conservative supporters. Trump is an entertainer who trolls his enemies with offensive statements for attention, so let’s find someone who does the exact same thing! Walsh may have been a one-term congressman, but his true vocation was as a shock-jock trolling provocateur. It’s ironic. As I’ve argued countless times, much of Trump’s bigotry in 2016 stemmed less from any core convictions than from a deep belief that the GOP’s base voters were bigoted and he needed to feed them red meat. Trump's reluctance to repudiate David Duke derived primarily from his ridiculous assumption that Duke had a large constituency he didn’t want to offend. He may have believed the Birther stuff, but he peddled it because that’s what his fans wanted. And Joe Walsh was one of those fans. It may also be true that Walsh never really believed most of the bilge he was peddling and that he was doing the same thing Trump did—feeding the trolls—on a smaller scale. But if that’s the case, then he’s a con man, too. I don’t want to beat up on Walsh too much because, again, his epiphany may be sincere. There are lots of people who pushed certain arguments too far only to recognize that the payoff was Trump and the transformation of conservatism into a form of right-wing identity politics. There are a lot of Col. Nicholsons out there. And I have too much respect for Bill Kristol to believe that he would lend his support to someone he believed to be as bigoted as the man Walsh seemed to be a few years ago. But from where I sit, the prize we should keep our eyes on isn’t defeating Trump; it’s keeping conservatism from succumbing to Trumpism after he’s gone. This isn’t easy, and no tactic is guaranteed to be successful. We’ve never been here before. My own approach is to agree with Trump policies when I think they’re right—judges, buying Greenland, etc.—and disagreeing when they’re wrong. My own crutch is to simply tell the truth as I see it, regardless of whether it fits into some larger political agenda or strategy. Truth is always a legitimate defense of any statement. But for those who see themselves as political players as well as public intellectuals, I think this is a terrible mistake. Intellectually and morally, the case for continued opposition to—or skepticism about, Trump cannot—or rather must not—be reduced to simple Trump hatred. But by rallying around Walsh—instead of, say, Mark Sanford, or Justin Amash, or, heh, General Mattis—that’s what it looks like. Because you can’t say, “I’m standing on principle in my opposition to a bigoted troll and con man as the leader of my party and my country and that’s why I am supporting a less successful bigoted troll and con man for president.” Walsh isn’t a conservative alternative to Trump; he’s an alternative version of Trump. And his candidacy only makes sense if you take the “binary choice” and “Flight 93” logic of 2016 and cast Trump in the role of Hillary. Let’s imagine the Walsh gambit works beyond anyone’s dreams and Joe Walsh ends up getting the GOP nomination (a fairly ludicrous thought experiment, I know). If so, I have no doubt that my friend Bill Kristol will say, a la Col. Nicholson, “My God, what have I done.” Various & Sundry Canine Update: It’s good to be home. The beasts were delighted to see us. Everything is settling back to normal, except for one intriguing development. I think Zoë has finally had enough with Pippa’s tennis ball routine. The other day on the midday walk with the pack, Kirsten managed to film Zoë putting an end to the tennis ball shenanigans. She took the ball and buried it. It was, to use an inapt phrase, a baller move—and she was unapologetic about it. Maybe she just didn’t like all the commotion with the other dogs, because she’s tolerant of the tennis ball stuff again. Or maybe she was being protective of her sister given that many of the other dogs in the pack are known thieves. Regardless, they’re doing well and having fun. If you haven’t tuned into The Remnant lately, please give it another try. The first episode of the week was with Niall Ferguson and the feedback has been great. The latest episode is with my friend and AEI colleague Adam White on all things constitutional. Word of mouth is really important in building up audiences, so if you can spread the word about The Remnant or this “news”letter, I’d be grateful.
Hey everyone, Murba here. With E3 gracing us with its presence once again, it’s time to reflect on game series’ both new and old. Here I will be giving an overview of one of the most successful PC franchises for nearly two decades, The Sims series. I will first be describing how the series’ origins and how it came to be made, then I will be going over each game in the series along with their respective add-ons. Origins The Sims series was created by video game designer Will Wright, though he had already been a household name for over a decade. This is due to his work in a variety of games that have focused on sandbox-style gameplay that focused more on player creativity and management rather than objectives or reaching an endpoint. One of the first games he had developed was Raid on Bungling Bay where he stated that he had more fun developing the environments rather than playing the actual game. This would lead him to developing his own video game, originally called Micropolis, that focused on building cities and managing their development without end. Later in development, the game would undergo a name change and become known as SimCity, the very first game in the Sim series. Separate from The Sims series, the Sim series was a series of simulation games that placed players in scenarios that fostered creativity and management skills in a wide variety of situations. Beyond SimCity, the series would expand into other areas like farming in SimFarm, hospital upkeep in SimHealth, and business management in SimTower. There were also games like SimAnt and SimEarth that focused not on earning money but creating life and helping creatures survive in the worlds that the player created. Eventually, a game that combined the business and life management scenarios of the series would be released in the year 2000, aptly named The Sims. The inspiration for The Sims came about when Will Wright faced a sudden hardship when his home was one of many structures that was affected by the 1991 Oakland Firestorm. The house was destroyed, and all his possessions were also lost. Faced with having to basically rebuild his life, the tragedy had turned to inspiration. Wright had begun to think of a video game that would match what he had been through; building a home from the ground up and simulating the joys and struggles of life through a virtual family. After shopping the idea around and facing technological limitations at the time, Electronic Arts finally agreed to pick up the project years after the fire and The Sims was officially put into development and the first trailer was launched. Originally, the game was going to feature an open-ended system that was focused heavily on construction and studying the in-game characters’ behavior. But after working on the social aspect of the game for a time, the developers and Wright found more enjoyment in this and began focusing development on individual characters and the actions they take and relationships they make. Despite the gains in development, though, the game did not elicit much confidence from Electronic Arts and was not properly spotlighted by the time E3 1999 came around. However, the game did gain attention when a demo featured two female Sims professing their love to one another and kissing at a wedding. As same-sex relationships were hardly, if ever, featured in video games, this was a huge steppingstone in many eyes and brought much needed attention to the game. The publicity had successfully highlighted the game and its life-simulating features that many gamers were hyped to play with. Finally, on January 31, 2000, The Sims was officially launched to critical acclaim and overtook Myst as the top selling PC game of all time. Thus, The Sims series was launched with a bang. The Sims The first Sims game revolves around its three basic modes: Live, Buy, Build. The game opens with a loading screen with text implying humorous circumstances that are occurring in order to make the game run properly, a staple that would continue throughout the series. The game then presents the player with a small neighborhood with plenty of pre-designed homes and Sims to play as. Of course, creativity is key in this game and so one of the first things a new player can do is create their own Sims. The creation system in The Sims 1 was a basic system as you could only choose your Sims’ gender, age, skin tone, head, and body. There is also an option to choose your Sim’s personality, whether they be neat or a slob, active or lazy, outgoing or shy, etc. There was a lot of fun in mixing and matching the different options and up to eight Sims could be created in one household or family. The next step is to pick a home for the newly created household to dwell in. One could create their own home or pick from the predesigned ones provided. Either way, a home is always in need of furnishings and this is where the Buy aspect comes into play. A large catalogue of items is provided right at the comfort of your own home, eliminating the need to travel and purchase goods. While a whole slew of objects and knick-knacks are widely available, the Sims needs are a priority. Each Sim as eight needs that need fulfilling; these being Hunger, Social, Fun, Comfort, Hygiene, Bladder, Energy, and Environment. As such, Sims need objects like refrigerators to eat, televisions to have fun, beds to regain energy, etc. Of course, if a Sim family is moved into an empty lot, a home to place said objects in comes first. A home could be however big a player wants within the lot boundary and go up to two stories. Terraforming tools are also available that allows players to build steep hills or deep holes and even create decorative ponds to liven the lot up. The game offers a wide variety of options when building a home like adding wooden or spiral staircases, selecting wallpapers that change the texture of the outside and inside of a home, differing types of flooring like tile and carpet, and even adding pools. Each object in both Build and Buy mode is also accompanied by descriptions that can be elaborate or humorous (with one wallpaper, called "Dare Wallpaper", that outright asks the player if they "dare use this wallpaper" without any explanation why.) When all Sims are moved in and objects placed and homes built, it is time to live life to the fullest. Adult Sims can learn a variety of skills and form relationships with members of their household and other neighborhood Sims. Although travel is not possibly in the base game, Sims do occasionally stop by and can be seen walking past the homes of your playable Sims. Sims can also take on jobs in fields like education, police, and even criminal and work their way up the ladder earning promotions and pay raises. However, there is no day cycle, so the price comes at having a Sim work every day to make a living. Child Sims have more limited options and need to go to school every day much like an adult working-Sim. Another key aspect of the game was the music that was integrated within the modes. While the Live mode was mostly quiet save for radios or speaker systems that could be installed within the home, the Buy and Build modes were accompanied by a new-age Jazz soundtrack created by Jerry Martin. The Buy mode had a livelier soundtrack that created a feeling of excitement but also relaxation as players bought endless objects that livened up their homes and made their Sims lives easier. The Build mode soundtrack was much calmer and created a sensation that nature and construction were working together to build the home of the players’ dreams and was the perfect tone for such a venture. Overall, this soundtrack has been lauded by many and streams can often be found on YouTube for many to listen to. As stated before, one of the main draws of the Sims series is the open-ended gameplay that has no objectives or endgame content. However, this does not exclude a game-over scenario. As with life, Sims can experience mishaps and end up dying as a result of accidents like fires, electrocution, or falling meteors (a common occurrence). Low needs like hunger can also cause Sims to undergo breakdowns and endanger their lives further. Children could also be taken away due to neglect or even sent to military school forever if their grades slump in school. However harsh, these scenarios connect back to Will Wright’s original vision for the Sims being a simulation of real life and the joys and consequences that follow. Overall, though, Sims that are properly taken care of can live prosperous lives and happy lives. They can have relationships, get married, have children through simply actions like kissing, create wondrous works of art, become a jack-of-all-trades by learning every skill in the game, etc. The Sims, while dated in some respects, provided an infinite amount of entertainment that allowed for players to express their creativity in endless ways and play out scenarios that can go good or bad in many ways. Of course, another staple of The Sims series is the expansion packs and there were many in this game, totaling seven for one game. Some packs like Livin’ Large and House Party expanded on the actions Sims could so in their homes like having robot butlers clean up their messes, having teleporting staircases take them up the next floor, and throw massive parties to meet Sims and even meet Drew Carrey in the game. Others like Hot Date, Unleashed, and Vacation allowed for Sims to travel outside of the home and go on dates downtown, visit the expanded neighborhood of Old Town and adopt cats and dogs, or take a trip to the beach, forest, or mountains for a relaxing vacation. Finally, Superstar and Makin’ Magic changed what Sims could dedicate their lives to by letting them visit the new studio lots and become celebrities or become Mages by visiting, or moving into, Magic Town. There was also an online pack called The Sims Online where players could meet with other online through their Sims. Overall, The Sims and its expansion packs would set the stage for the future of the series and be the inspiration for future titles and packs that followed it. The Sims 2 About four years after The Sims was launched, the sequel to the game was released, aptly named The Sims 2. Although Will Wright was attached to the project, he did not provide much input into the sequel and the project was left in the hand’s other developers. The basic gameplay mechanics stayed relatively the same though there were some big additions that were made for this game. One of the first big changes was the shift from an isometric camera to a fully 3D camera in both the neighborhood and home. All Sims, objects, and homes were now 3D models and extensive detail was given to their shading, lighting, and shadow works to make them feel more alive. The upgraded engine also allowed for improvements to be made to the game modes like increasing the height of homes to five floors instead of two, allowing lots to be placed anywhere in the neighborhood, and giving Sims fully facial expressions instead of static heads. Another change that was made was how Sims could be created. Sims no longer stayed the same age forever and could now age appropriately, introducing toddlers, teenagers, and elders to the system. The creation options were vastly improved as individual tops and bottoms could now be customized and selected, outfits like pajamas and formal wear could be selected, and facial sculpting allowed for complete, if sometimes scary, freedom. Finally, a Sim could have an associated Aspiration tied to their personality. Aspirations like Family, Fortune, or Knowledge would dictate what a Sim was most interested in and drive their focus and goals towards these aspirations. A Family oriented Sim would want to focus on marriage and taking care of children while a Knowledge oriented Sim would focus on increasing their skills and creating crafts with what they have learned. These features tie into the Wants and Fears mode as well as the Aspiration Meter. The Aspiration Meter is a mode that can increase or decrease depending on if Wants or Fears are met. Wants and Fears are mini objectives that Sims may want to accomplish like make a new friend or avoid like the plague like getting fired. Fulfilling these grants Sims Aspiration Points and can liven their mood and be redeemed for special rewards that can make the game easier. Such rewards include a helmet that can boost their skills, a machine that lets Sims change their complete personality, and a drink dispenser that can provide extra days in a Sims life. Overall, the game was fitted with multiple features that expanded on the original game and greatly improved the overall experience. The addition of a weekly system meant that Sims did not have to go to work or school every day. Genetics could now be passed down to children instead of the system being a roll of the dice. The addition of a movie maker also allowed players to film their experiences and share them with friends offline and online. Life states were also introduced as Sims could now become a multitude of different species like Vampires, Werewolves, and even Zombies. The Sims 2 was also accompanied by eight expansion packs that provided features seen in previous packs, but some introduced new concepts. University allowed teenage Sims to move out of their parents’ homes and live the dorm life, studying for final exams and joining secret college societies that would make or break their educational experience. Open for Business let Sims create their own businesses by selling objects or providing services for other Sims without needing to work under careers. Seasons introduced weather conditions like rain and snow in the game that changed depending on the seasons. Finally, Apartment Life introduced apartment living and allowed for Sims to find roommates enjoy the joys and pitfalls of living by rent in shoddy holes in the wall or luxurious penthouses. The Sims 2 also introduced the concept of stuff packs. Stuff packs were like expansion packs, but they contained little to no gameplay features and instead just provided new objects that Sims could buy. Ten stuff packs were released, and each contained a theme like Teen Style or Family Fun styles. Some packs like IKEA Home and H&M Fashion were commissions by said companies and earned criticism from gamers and reviewers alike. Overall, The Sims 2 was a huge leap forward for The Sims series as it heavily upgraded its engine and allowed for greater player creativity through its characters and build options. The Sims 3 Will Wright had left Electronic Arts after the release of his newest game Spore yet the Sims license remained with the company. As such, the series would end up being developed further without Wright’s input and a successor to The Sims 2 had begun development, that being The Sims 3. Right from the first trailer, it is clear that this game was going to be much more ambitious than its predecessors and go well beyond to create a new experience. While there were a multitude of changes made like smoother character models and more skills that Sims could learn, there were three big changes that were added to this entry. Probably the biggest change that the game was trying to advertise was the new open world that Sims could traverse in. Previous titles only allowed individual lots to be played in and travel required driving over and waiting on loading screens for the next lot to load. Now the entire world was seamless and entirely open. Sims could walk to and visit neighbors, find collectables stones and bugs in far off locations, go for a jog around town to build up their fitness skills, everything was obtainable now without any interruptions. The second biggest change was the addition of traits. Previous Sims titles allowed for personality points and aspirations to determine how sociable a Sim would be or how neat they were, yet traits completely overhauled this system. Now Sims could have up to five traits that changed their behavior and unlocked certain actions unique to said traits. A Sim with the Virtuoso trait could sing in the shower and build up skills faster in music skills. A Sim who is Never Nude always swims and showers in a bathing suit. A Kleptomaniac could randomly swipe objects from unsuspecting Sims homes. There was a multitude of traits added that could truly make each Sim unique in their own way. The final big change to the game was the addition of the Create-a-Style mode. Previous games only allowed for a few options regarding the color of objects and clothing and could be quite limiting. This new mode allowed for practically every object in the game to be given a custom color or texture depending on player choice. A couch could be turned bright red and giving a metallic texture. A toilet could be colored gold and given a carpet texture. These were all options that made both the Sims and their homes stand out more in this new world. As per usual, expansion packs would further the Sims experience and they each brought new experiences that the series had yet seen. Ambitions allowed for Sims to actively play out their careers like Firefighter or Investigator rather than having the actions be done off camera. Generations put more emphasis on childhood and elderly Sims by giving them new interactions and options like school dances or reminiscing on the old times. Supernatural brought together many life states like lycanthropy and witches all in one expansion pack aimed at creating a true fantasy world. Finally, Island Paradise and Into the Future sought to gives Sims a new way of living by letting them live on luxurious islands and houseboats and travel into the future and experience the wonders of the new technology that could be found. Stuff packs also make a return in this game and as per usual, they are centered around themes like vehicles in Fast Lane and outdoor spaces in Outdoor Living. We also got sponsored packs like Diesel Stuff which added objects from the official company and, much to the confusion of many payers, a Katy Perry styled pack titled Katy Perry’s Sweet Treats which contained candy-themed objects and clothing at a higher cost than most packs. A third type of pack was introduced this generation called Worlds. These were essentially neighborhoods that were available on the Sims online store and retailers, each with their own theme like piracy for Barnacle Bay or outer space for Lunar Lakes. This is also the game that fully utilized the online store and consistently released objects, clothing, and exclusive tools that could be bought with real world money and downloaded into the game. Overall, this was clearly the most ambitious Sims game that has come out. It set a high amount of standards and goals and many players have shown admiration for the steps the game has taken towards achieving them. The Sims 4 With the arrival of the fourth Sims game, this entry has received a more mixed reception compared to its predecessors. One of the key reasons why is because many of the features that were introduced in previous games were either removed or scaled back. This was a game that was meant to appeal towards a larger audience and be able for anyone to play, hence sacrifices were made. The open world was no longer available and loading screens between lots had returned. Sim models were of a lower quality and not as realistic as other entries before it. Features like traits were still present but were scaled back a bit in lieu of new additions. Overall, this was a base game that had a lot of work to do to appeal towards longtime gamers, yet the new additions did help the game stand out more. One of the new key features that was added was Emotions. Previous Sims games usually kept Sims at a simple mindset and anything indicating a change in mood was usually not significant enough that gameplay would be affected. Now the actions that Sims would take, or events that would occur, could now have a positive or negative effect on a Sim’s mood. Things like objects breaking or getting into fights would sour a Sim’s mood and this would linger until something was done to brighten up their mood by doing activities that would make them happy. This also unlocked unique options like kicking down trash cans to vent one’s anger or play in the bathtub of a Sim is feeling playful. These new emotions made Sim’s feel more alive and helped them react more to the environment around them. Another new feature that was added was the revamped create-a-Sim mode. A Sim’s features were no longer reliant on sliders or picking select options but now Sims could now be molded by simply clicking on their body and be changed to the player’s hearts content. Another feature was that Sims’ genders were now completely customizable, giving way to options like transgendered or non-binary Sims. This also opened the door for all clothing and hair options to become available for Sims as it was no longer locked to specific genders now. As per usual, the game has had a slew of expansion and stuff packs, with the latter up to fourteen stuff packs and growing. The game has also introduced the concept of Game Packs. These are essentially the opposite of stuff packs whereas those introduced objects without changing the game fundamentally, game packs offered new modes or features that would have been too small for an expansion pack to feature. These include the Vampires pack which introduced the dark creatures of the night and also Spa Day which lets Sims create their own massage parlor and learn masseuse skills. Overall, The Sims 4 has had a rocky starts due to its missing features but it has steadily carved out an identity of its own and become a key part of the Sims franchise. In the end, The Sims series will forever be one of the most influential PC game series to have ever hit the market and one of my favorite games of all time. What are your favorite Sims games? What were your favorite experiences playing the games? What features do you hope will be added? Feel free to comment on your experiences and thank you for taking the time to read this! Sources: The Sims Wiki The Sims Wikipedia Page) LGR SimCity Series Retrospective The Kiss That Changed Video Games How The Sims Made New-Age Jazz Piano the Soundtrack of Our Lives
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