Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Full Circle  

So it's been nearly a year since I posted here... If you've been waiting for an update, sorry to keep you hanging!

Seriously though, I hope you're following me over on Twitter, at GameCritics.com, or listening to me on the So... Videogames! Podcast. This blog may have gathered quite a bit of dust, but I'm still churning out content on a daily basis.

So why am I posting here?

Last night I had a TON of stuff to do... Just an endless number of tasks left on my plate, and I was fading fast as the evening rolled on. I usually make a late-night cup of coffee to give me a little boost, but I wasn't feeling it. My other go-to is a Red Bull, but we had none in the house.

From out of the depths of my memory banks, I recalled a recipe for an old-time pick-me-up that I hadn't had in years... Can you guess what it was? And no peeking at the top of the page, that's cheating!

Yes indeed, I mixed up an honest-to-god cup of coffeecola that night, and it was both delicious and the equivalent of military-grade rocket fuel.


So what was the recipe? I'm glad you asked. Back in the day I used to use brewed coffee mixed with coke, but I gotta be honest, it tasted like shit. The difference this time was that I still used regular coke, but instead of brewed, I added in a spoonful of Trader Joe's instant coffee, and it was great.

When you mix the two together, it foams LIKE CRAZY so you gotta be careful not to make a mess. It's a pretty thick foam and pretty bitter -- the dark coloration you see above is little streaks of concentrated coffee that rose to the top instead of mixing in. 

Once you slurp that down, the actual coke/coffee mixture is pretty tasty. Go easy on the coffee so you don't overpower the coke, but when you get the balance right, it goes down smooth. So smooth, in fact, that I made myself a second one right after, and let me tell you, I got things DONE that night!

Give it a try if you're feeling bold!

(And hey, if you're reading this? You're one of the select few who've been following me since the early days. Thanks for being here!) 




Saturday, May 27, 2017

...It's been almost a year since my last post. I kinda missed the old blog, so I popped back in to check things out, and it was good to see this familiar face again.

Life is super busy these days, and I started this blog when I had a lot more time on my hands...

Since then, my kids have gotten older, I've been working more hours at my day job, GameCritics has hugely expanded and we're putting out more content than ever before, the So Videogames podcast I do with @CoreyMotley has been keeping me busy...

...and hell, I even try to play a game here and there.

But as I look back, I realize that I've kinda missed the off-the-cuff stuff I used to post here. I originally thought I'd do something similar and just post it at GC, but that didn't really pan out. Too busy editing other people's work and doing a review of my own, once in a while.

My free time situation has only gotten worse, but who knows... Maybe I'll pop back in and do a little rambling once in a while.

If you saw this, you're awesome.  ^_^

Thursday, March 16, 2017

DMC3 SE  

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening – Special Edition

Main Review by Brad Gallaway on April 4, 2006
Score: 8.5


It’s interesting that Scott mentioned my quote about preferring games that revolve “around what you do, not how you do it” in regard to DMC3 because I think this is one of the rare times when my usual stance doesn’t apply. Frequent readers of the site will know that I have no love of this series, and I’d say that the original Devil May Cry is one of the most overrated games in recent memory, its numerous flaws and rough edges granted a complete “pass” by fans the world over. However, after playing through Dante’s Awakening, I think I can finally see what people like about this series… though I would argue that it wasn’t really there until now.

Before going further, my second opinion is based on the Special Edition of DMC3, released domestically under the PlayStation Greatest Hits banner. There are a number of differences between this version and the version that Scott reviewed such as a new boss encounter, the ability to play as Dante’s twin brother Vergil, and a bonus mode with a 100-floor dungeon. However, all of those things pale compared to the most significant addition: adjustments to the difficulty level.

I tried playing the first release of DMC3 and was completely put off by the absurd challenge present.  I know that Scott said it wasn’t very much different from any other action game, but I would have to strongly disagree. I don’t mind some difficulty, but I’m also not in the market for a stress anxiety disorder.  I thought that Capcom was crazy for some of the choices they made, but everything I didn’t like the first time around has been completely rectified.

With the simple inclusion of mid-mission checkpoints that should have been there in the first place, almost all of my frustration was completely eliminated.  Besides that, the Easy difficulty is now even easier than it was before (for those who want it) and the new Gold Orb restart system lets players continue the battle exactly where they died. Since all of these changes are optional, the same level of challenge is there for players who crave it, but it’s only a good thing to have more options. I can’t stress enough what a significant improvement in design and accessibility these new changes are, so huge kudos to Capcom for that.

Now that my thumbs and blood pressure can finally take a break, it was a lot easier to appreciate the things that Dante’s Awakening brings to the table. The variety in weapons is excellent, and Dante has butter-smooth animation to bring his ferocious attacks to life. Like I said earlier, this game is one rare example where “how I do it” actually takes precedence over what I’m doing. Switching on-the-fly from whirling nunchuks to sparking pistols to flaming uppercuts and finishing a group of reapers with a french kiss from a rocket launcher is entertaining enough on its own to make up for the simplistic goals of each level, although I must say I am a bit surprised to admit it.

 Impossibly, the cutscenes are even more over-the-top than the action, and while I don’t usually appreciate this sort of Goes-To-Eleven approach to videogame virility, I have to disagree with Scott and say that it works here. Similarly, I thought that the game’s attitude towards characterization and storytelling were equally effective-- neither will win any awards or stand out as an example of excellence in writing, but there is a strange release in experiencing something rabidly, offensively gonzo and being okay with it.


Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening still has some issues.  Regardless of the difficulty, I don’t think I will ever be a fan of going back and repeating stages for the sake of collecting upgrade points, and the developers should invest in a copy of God of War to learn a few things about good camera placement.  However, I can’t deny that DMC3 is a runaway freight train crashing through the walls of moderation with a load of nitroglycerin and testosterone in tow. And besides, I thought that purple bat-shooting hooker-guitar was pretty cool.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

You Can't Vote With Your Heart -- You Need To Use Your Brain  

Welcome back to Coffeecola! It's been a while.

Fair warning, tonight's topic is not about videogames. Sorry, but it's gotta be done. 

So, my wife and I have been talking about the upcoming election a lot -- pretty much every night -- and I think we're both still in shock that America has somehow come to the precipice of putting a racist, fascist, sexist demagogue who doesn't even try to masquerade as a reasonable person in charge of the country. As ordinary people we feel like we don't have a lot of power to directly affect events that are larger than us, but we can do something

I had been considering writing a piece or starting a twitter campaign to unite good-thinking people against Trump, but the wife beat me to it, and she speaks for both of us below. She doesn't have a blog or any visible place of her own to post her message, so I'm blowing the dust off of Coffeecola tonight to give her a platform, however meager it is. 

These are her words, and I support them entirely.


*


I didn't know if I would say anything. Wasn't sure if I was someone who should say anything… But I decided I should, and I am.

So, this election… I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about it, talking about it, fighting about it. I know I am, but I make sure to keep reading. I keep informed, even when I don't want to hear one more rotten thing about any of it.

I don't like to discuss politics -- it tends to get people upset and confrontation is not a comfortable thing for me. I know what I'm going to say here will probably cause some to get riled up. It isn't my intention (I swear, I don't like to fight or argue!) but I feel like I need to say this because we're on the precipice of something terrible in this country, and I don't want to look back and regret that I didn't add my voice. I don’t want to look back and know that I kept quiet.

I was not thrilled with any of the choices we’ve had for the presidency, before the nominations or after. The one thing I know with 100% certainty is that I won't vote for Trump -- no way in hell.

I felt that Bernie had a better chance to take on Trump than Hillary, but now that decision is out of my hands. He isn't a nominee, period. I know there are many out there that feel completely shattered by that, and I get it, I really do. I saw how he rallied people, how strongly people felt for him but he's no longer a choice.

Now what?

It’s this "now what?" that’s been bothering me so much. There are so many articles and experts out there that talk about all the reasons why a third party can't win this presidential election. They explain in detail how to make a third party a viable choice -- we must start locally and work up from there. The fact is that we, as a country, have not been doing that. So basically, what we are left with is the two party system. Democratic or Republican, Clinton or Trump.

Even knowing that their third party choice can't win, I still hear and read people say…

"I can't in good conscience vote for Hillary."

"I have to follow my heart and that isn't Hillary."

"I have to vote this way and make a statement."

I hear you. I can totally see why you feel that way. I mean, I really like the idea of voting for someone other than Clinton, but what I want most is for Trump to not win. The fact that people aren't terrified of Trump becoming president and doing everything in their power to stop that from happening makes me incredibly sad.

Privilege is a word used a lot lately and I know it makes some people bristle to even hear it, but it is so much a part of this election.

I have privilege, a lot of it. It doesn't mean I'm rich or that everything is easy, but it means I am not directly affected by a lot of the terrible shit out there. I'm white, I'm straight, I'm cis, I grew up in the suburbs, I speak English, my husband is white, my child is white, I am not physically or mentally disabled, the list goes on.

It is because of this inherent privilege that I have a moral responsibility to do everything I can to make sure Trump does not become president. If he does, it is guaranteed to go poorly for people who are not me. He will do things that I will 100% disagree with, but it will be nothing compared to what will happen to people of color, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community or any people who veer away from what Trump deems acceptable.

I can not and will not allow myself the luxury or the privilege of voting for someone other than the only choice that has a chance to beat Trump. I owe it to every single person out there that doesn't have the privilege I do. This is my way to fight for them, and to do what I know is right by making sure Trump isn't allowed to win, even if it means that the lesser of two evils wins the White House.

I get wanting to do what you feel is right in your heart. I get why Clinton is seen as a poor choice. But if we’re being honest --truly honest -- then we know that she is a better choice for the country as a whole than Trump is, and we know that no one else has a chance to beat him.

Please, please, please see beyond yourself and realize how truly serious and dangerous this election has the potential to be. We are in a situation where we must sacrifice for the greater good – we must not vote for who we feel we want to vote for, but we must vote for someone who can beat Trump.

So now I’ve said my piece, but there’s more to be said.

I've been following Shaun King on Twitter and Facebook -- he's a justice writer for the NY Daily news. He wrote a great article about being an absolute supporter of Sanders, and why he feels he must now vote for Clinton and not a third party. Give it a read, it's worth it, I promise.

There’s also this one from The Stranger, written by Megan Burbank. It offers some great points.

Please do the right thing. 

*

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Blowing The Dust Off  

*

Wow, so it's been a while since I updated, and yes, this is going to be one of those posts.

If you're reading this then I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't been writing anything here at Coffeecola lately -- not trying to make excuses, but the simple fact is that life has just gotten too busy. Between the day job, running Gamecritics at night, spending time with the family and trying to, y'know, actually play some games once in a while, I had to cut back on some things and the blog was one of them. 

On the plus side, I'm still writing, reviewing, and generally being out there... That energy just hasn't been focused here, though. I don't plan to stop blogging, but it's not the priority that it once was. I'll still post things that aren't a good fit elsewhere, but I think my days of multiple updates a week are probably over, at least for now. 

If you still want to keep up with me and what I'm doing, here are four good ways.



1> I'm still the editor at Gamecritics.com, and all of my written reviews run there. 

2> I'm active on Twitter, and you can follow me at @BradGallaway. I'm more frequently available at night than I am during the day, but if you tweet at me, I'll usually respond. 

3> Although our recording schedule is semi-random these days, we're still putting out new episodes of the Gamecritics Podcast

4> If you want more of me in your ear, I'm also a very frequent guest on the VideogameBreak Podcast, and while it has a very different flavor than GC's own homebrew, I think it's a lot of fun. 



So, this might be the last post here for a while, but I'm not taking this blog down and I'm sure there will be new bits popping up here and there. In the meantime, thanks for all your support and I hope to keep interacting with everyone who's been reading in the ways listed above.

Cheers!


Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Division's First Add-On Is Here, And... It Sucks  

*

So, the new update for The Division dropped yesterday, and it’s called Incursions. It’s the first of two free updates, and frankly, I’m glad it was free because I’d be pissed if I paid for it. A general list of content and changes is at the bottom of this post.


On the plus side, this add-on finally fixes the Dark Zone. In this blog I talked about how broken it was, to the point that some sad individual who had been mega-grinding was able to become effectively invincible because his gear was so much better than ours. It was awful. The devs have now added a new feature called "gear score", which is the remedy.  

Basically, every higher-level piece of armor or weaponry has a points value associated with it, so the game somehow adds all of those up (it doesn't seem like straight addition) and assigns a total overall value to a player. Then, it separates those players into different categories when in the DZ.

The new starter category is a gear score of 0-160, so everybody who’s been farming or crafting the best stuff is no longer in the same zone with people who play more casually, which is a godsend.

After this change went into effect and the superplayers were moved elsewhere, my group went back into the DZ and we were able to score lots of loot because we were working together, we were holding our own against rogues, and there were plenty of AI enemies to kill. The experience was finally back to what it had been before things became so imbalanced.

There's also a new kind of supply drop in the DZ that randomly occurs and everyone nearby races to grab it. It doesn't happen quite often enough so far, but it's neat.


 On the other hand, the gear score seems like a double-edged sword. We were excited to jump into the newest mission, Falcon Lost, but we didn’t meet the minimum gear score of 140, so we weren’t allowed to start it. Surprised and frustrated, we went back into the DZ and earned enough loot over two nights to finally clear the bar for entry.

Before talking about the mission itself, it’s worth noting that gear with a better score was almost always worse than what I had previously equipped. By using stuff with better rank, my DPS and Health both dropped drastically, even after using mods to offset the difference. I find it absolutely baffling that requiring a player to get “better gear” means that their stats drop to unacceptable levels far worse than what the “low level” gear provided. It makes NO sense.

Another thing to note? The next free mission coming up requires a gear score of 220… Considering how long it took us to get to 140 and the sacrifices in our stats that had to be made, I don’t see how getting to 220 is any kind of desirable goal.



In any event, we finally started Falcon Lost and it was awful. The mission description states that it’s designed for a full squad of four with top-level gear, and by golly, they weren’t joking. My team of three with the minimum required gear was getting demolished from all sides, and the goal of defeating 15 waves of enemies while an APC fired grenades at us was impossible. We died and retried several times and eventually threw in the towel. There was just no way we were going to get it done. So all the work we put in to gain access to the content? For nothing. And farming it for gear? Don't make me laugh.

Overall, I can’t say that I’m too thrilled with the direction The Division is going. I get that there’s a certain segment of players out there who want MMO-style endgame content and an infinite amount of stuff to grind and chase, but that just doesn’t appeal to me.

I was really hoping that the devs would release content that would be right for dropping in, getting it done, and then dropping out again… I really have no desire to grind and farm just to access new content, especially if the content is going to be harder than anything reasonably achievable by someone who isn’t playing the game as a full-time job. Making matters worse, the game has no greatly increased the mats required to craft things, so an already tedious grind is now even grindier.

My review praised the game for being a good middle ground between MMO design and console sensibilities, but the devs are now swinging too far in the wrong direction. Maybe someone likes the idea of having to pour a lifetime into The Division just to keep progressing, but that’s the opposite of what I was looking for, and it’s a shame. Jumping in with friends to knock a few missions out or getting some DZ time is great, but when a forced grind comes into the picture, that’s when I bounce and find something else to play.

*
Today, Ubisoft® announced that the first content update for Tom Clancy’s The Division™ is now available for all players on Xbox One, PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system and Windows PC. As part of the post-launch plan to keep players entertained after the main story arc is completed, Incursions is the first of two free updates. Incursions is comprised of new activities, features and items that continue to build upon the gameplay experience.

NEW ACTIVITIES:
•       New Incursion Falcon Lost: Developed specifically for squad play, players team up with the Joint Task Force in an epic fight against the Last Man Battalion and their new deadly weapon.
•       Dark Zone Supply Drops: Players need to be on the lookout for air supply drops in the Dark Zone from Division command. These global events provide non-contaminated gear that are ready to use and don’t require extraction.
•       Assignments: Tackled alone or with other agents, these lucrative timed assignments will offer players additional rewards.

NEW FEATURES:
•       Trading: As one of the community’s most-wanted features, loot trading has been added to allow players to share items within the same group by simply dropping them from their inventory.
•       Gear Score: Now players can size up fellow agents and gauge the power of items by comparing gear scores.

NEW ITEMS:
•       Gear Sets: By completing challenging activities in Manhattan, players can collect and wear new gear sets to unlock powerful bonuses and stats. Find the set that best suits your playstyle:
-       Tactician's Authority – Enhances electronics and support capabilities.
-       Striker's Battlegear – Provides bonuses for assault capabilities.
-       Sentry's Call – Enhances marksman capabilities.

-       Path of the Nomad – Provides bonuses for lone wanderers.

*

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Effort/Reward Equation, or, Why I'm Quitting Gungeon.  

*

I picked up Enter the Gungeon a few days ago, and I’ve been playing it in short bursts here and there. The graphics are super cute, the controls feel dialed-in and responsive, and I like the idea of coming up with a solid pun and building an entire game around it.


So why am I about to quit it?

It's essentially a roguelike -- the player enters the gungeon and tries to get as far as they can, defeating enemies and picking up new guns as they go. It has a bunch of bullet-hell DNA in its makeup and plays a lot faster than most roguelikes, not to mention that it doesn't mess around with inventory or turn-by-turn strategy.

Despite the fact that (on its surface) this game seems like it should be right up my alley, I found myself coming to the end of a run today and thinking that I was just about ready to delete it from my hard drive and move on. At a base level, I think it's asking for more time and effort than I'm willing to give these days, and the results of this effort/reward equation just aren't generous enough.


Playing Gungeon requires twitch skills and repetition to learn tactics needed for each kind of enemy, and also enough practice to be able to survive long enough to get to the progress-aiding unlocks, which @Broodwars64 informs me are in there, somewhere. I’ve made a number of attempts with virtually nothing to show for it, and at the point in my life where I'm at now, I have very limited time to play games each day -- usually only an hour or two if I'm lucky.

With such limited time, I feel like I need more tangible progress in order to keep me going -- I'm not afraid of “hard” games, but I need to feel like the time I'm spending nets me something in exchange, whether that's an enriched mastery of the mechanics, making it to the next level, unlocking something that improves my next attempt, or somehow otherwise makes it feel like the time I put in got me somewhere.

With Gungeon, I feel like it's asking just a little bit more than I want to put in, while not giving quite enough back.  


Compare this to something like Rogue Legacy, whose system of progressive unlocks and improving powers kept me playing far longer than I otherwise would have. 

In other genres, look at “hard” games like Monster Hunter or any of the Souls titles. They may be equally difficult in terms of challenge presented, but each one of those is excellent at giving just enough incentive to keep going, whether it's finally getting that last bit of material to make an amazing new weapon, or unlocking a shortcut that made a desperate dash through a dangerous area pay off. Balancing steep difficulty with the incentive to push through it is a tricky balance to achieve, and not every game is capable of pulling it off.

Honestly, it’s rare for me to say that something’s too easy in a negative sense… I have no problem breezing through something if it has neat ideas, great art, or is otherwise interesting in some fashion. I'm far more inclined to find something too difficult in the sense that the reward is outweighed by the effort required, and devs have to be very careful when they try to ‘go hard’.

The fact is that there’s a ridiculous number of games out there for anyone to choose from, and for the player on a budget (like me!) almost any title can be had for a song if someone is patient enough or flexible enough to play on different platforms.


Building up a backlog of quality titles is easier than it's ever been, and having a wealth of options combined with a lack of free time means that games which don't manage to absolutely nail the difficulty equation usually end up forgotten on a shelf (virtual or otherwise) and left behind in favor of something that delivers appropriate amounts of bang for appropriate amounts of work.

I like Enter the Gungeon a lot, but I honestly don't forsee myself putting much more into it unless I have some kind of miraculous breakthrough in the next day or two – the effort/reward equation is skewed just a little too far towards the wrong side for my liking.  


*