Retro Reprise Episode 18: Obscure Genesis games

Fans of retro video game music have heard all of the same classics over and over again, which is why in today’s episode of Retro Reprise, ChaosConstant and Syp dip into the more unknown titles of the Sega Genesis library for tunes that you may have overlooked! From the tense atmosphere of Warsong to the futuristic music of Pulseman, this show might have your new favorite track waiting to be discovered.

Retro Reprise Episode 18: Obscure Genesis Games (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro
  • “Kingdom Knight” from Warsong
  • “Soltype” from Alien Soldier
  • “Wily Stage 1” from Mega Man: The Wily Wars
  • “An Old Sad Dance” from King Colossus
  • “Neo Tokyo” from Pulseman
  • “Stereo Protect” from Pulseman
  • “Splash Down!!” from Ristar
  • “Midnight Greenhouse” from Knuckles Chaotix
  • Outro
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Thoughts on Google Stadia and Apple Arcade

Last week, first Google then Apple announced new subscription gaming services. With both services, players can pay a monthly subscription to access a library of games and play them on a variety of devices. This model isn’t a new idea; just look at EA’s Origin All Access pass, Discord Nitro, or any of the three major consoles’ online plans. What’s different here is that many of those games are exclusive to their respective subscriptions; there is no way to buy them outright. On the one hand, as an MMO player, sub-only games that may cease to exist the moment the whims of a corporate overlord change is old hat. On the other hand, as a consumer of games who likes going back and playing old things, this is somewhat disturbing.

I, like many others, have become increasingly frustrated with the state of streaming services. Netflix sounded like a great deal when it first came on the scene — all of the shows and movies you like on demand for a reasonable subscription fee — but the longer time goes on, the more streaming services pop up, and the more the owners of the content bounce things around from service to service. Recently, I started rewatching Star Wars: The Clone Wars (wow, I forgot how bad the first season was), and half way through the first season I found out that Disney will soon be removing the series from Netflix in favor of its own upcoming service. I’m not really excited about the same happening to my game library. It’s mildly annoying that we’ve seen fracturing of digital PC stores, with games getting pulled from Steam at the last minute in favor of the Epic Store. It will be much worse if those stores become Netflix-style walled gardens.

I also have some issues with the delivery methods. Apple Arcade’s issues are more personal preference based. Given that they’ve promised that you can download and play these games offline on iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, we are clearly talking about mobile games here. I don’t really like most mobile games as it is, so it’s going to be really hard to sell me on a subscription to play mobile games, even with the promise of better mobile games. Google Stadia, however, just doesn’t seem to me like it’s going to work at all. It works by rendering the game on a powerful server somewhere, then streaming the video to your PC or smart device, then takes your inputs and passes them back to the server. I’ve streamed games over my own network from my PC to my Steam Link, and it’s certainly playable, but it’s not a great experience. There is noticable latency, and from time to time, the picture drops out or the sound freezes. Games keep getting more and more twitchy, and there’s no way you’re going to play Fortnite on this service and do as well as you would playing locally. This is only going to get worse over the public Internet. Supposedly Google has invented some kind of magic to fix this, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Plus, many people don’t have access to blazing fast fiber optic Internet, or worse, have a strict bandwidth cap that this will chew through in a matter of hours.

It’s also a little disturbing that developers for both of these services are being paid based on the amount of time players play. Maybe it’s because I’m primarily an MMO player, but it seems obvious to me that this is only going to encourage developers to make games with huge time sinks and/or to be exploitative of those with addictive tendencies. It’s the whole sub MMO vs F2P MMO debate all over again, except this time it’s broken out of our niche and into the wider gaming market. It’s not good for gamers, and it’s not good for the creative freedom of developers. Additionally, this is suspiciously similar to the Spotify model, where artists now make a fraction of what they did on the sales of CDs and MP3s, even if it’s getting their songs in the earbuds of a much wider audience.

Finally, I’m wondering who these services are even for. Maybe there’s a big sector of the population that’s outside of my circles that’s excited by this, but I don’t know anyone who is. At best they’ve begrudgingly accepted that megacorps like Apple and Google are going to get their way once again and this is what our future is going to hold for a while. If gamers aren’t really on board for these things, I don’t see how they’re going to succeed. At best they’re going to be dominated by casual gamers, especially Apple’s mobile-focused sub, but that’s a notoriously fickle audience that hates paying money.

Some will, and do, argue that this really isn’t that different from digital download games. If, in some bizarre future, Valve decides that Steam is no longer worth keeping online, the hundreds of dollars’ worth of games I’ve bought from them over the years is suddenly gone, and most of the millions of games they host will blink completely out of existence. Even if they were nice and decided to disable the DRM on their way out, there’s no way I could even download every game in my embarrassingly large Steam library to my hard drive at once. This argument is not completely wrong, to be honest, but if Steam makes me mad and I vow to never pay them another dime, I can still play all of my old games. Also, I don’t see Steam just disappearing in my lifetime. At worst, they would get absorbed by another company, and your library would get ported over into that service. They’ve got too many customers invested too heavily in their service to just throw away.

Ultimately, I think both of these services will fail. They just don’t have enough going for them. But, hey, I didn’t think tablets would have a market in the long run either. The only thing predicable about technology is its unpredictability.

GW2: The Siren’s Song Calls Me Back

Back in the griffon saddle again

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about myself, it’s that blogging about why I’m not interested in playing a game anymore is the fastest way to end up playing it again. Not long ago, I blogged about how Elder Scrolls Online never holds my attention, and I’ve hardly missed a day since. More recently, I blogged about why I’m not playing Guild Wars 2, and not two weeks later I patched up, and, before I knew it, I was logging in every night again. As much as I love the story and lore aspect of Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2’s combat is just so much more appealing to me. It’s easy to pick up, builds are more intuitive, and tab targeting is just so much more accurate than action combat. I missed all of that.

The first thing I did was log in to a bunch of different characters and give them a try. I’ve got at least one of each of the nine classes at 80, so deciding who I feel like playing at any given time, especially when it’s been a while, sometimes takes some time. It’s also interesting how a little break from a game can change your tastes. For instance, I didn’t really care for the mirage mesmer when Path of Fire launched, but now it’s really clicking with me. After getting comfortable playing my characters again, it was time to catch up on the latest Living World story. No spoilers, but it was definitely worth coming back for! All of the feels! My next project is going to be braving World v World to get that new Warclaw mount. I’m not a big PvPer, but I’ll try anything if you reward me with a new mount. Gotta catch ’em all! Sorry in advance to anyone who happens to be in the same instance as me.

I was also reminded of just how pretty this game is, even though it’ll be seven years old this summer. Elder Scrolls Online might be more realistic and technically impressive, but Guild Wars 2 just has a certain style about it that is a lot more attractive to me. It’s colorful without being cartoony. It’s whimsical and doesn’t cling too tightly to the usual fantasy tropes, but not so far out there as to be unrelatable.

Coming back to Guild Wars 2 feels like coming home, and I hope I can keep coming back to it for a long time. I think my return had, in some part, to do with the mass layoffs that happened at ArenaNet recently, including some really long-serving ArenaNet veterans. I want to support the game, because I still think GW2 is one of the best MMOs on the market today, if not the best. I don’t think it’s going to shutdown next week or even next year, but it’s sad to see such a great game gutted of a lot of its talent. Hopefully they can recover gracefully and keep cranking out content for years to come!

Retro Reprise Episode 17: The Shareware Show

A few weeks ago, Syp, MMO blogger over at Bio Break who produces the Battle Bards podcast and its spinoff, Retro Reprise, put out a call on Twitter for a co-host for a podcast about 90s Shareware titles. How could I pass up an opportunity like that? There was a complicated application process, a panel of judges, a talent contest… ok, actually I was the only one who applied so he was stuck with me.

This was my first time recording a podcast, so I won’t be winning any awards for my part in it, but Syp is a good editor and cut out a lot of my “um, so, like, yeah, and stuff.” Thanks a lot to him for having me on the show. It was a lot of fun!

Anyways, without further ado:

Retro Reprise Episode 17: The shareware show!

They might not have been the AAA-budget titles of the 1990s, but shareware games were perhaps even more well-known due to the proliferation of these demos. Studios such as id, Epic, and Apogee made their mark with these titles — and the simple but memorable tunes from each got lodged into our brains. Joining Syp today is Chaos Constant from Occasional Hero, who is a self-professed retro game music fan and has plenty to say about the shareware era!

Show notes (episode download, episode page)

  • Intro (feat. “Cruising with Stryker” from Major Stryker and “The City Streets” from Duke Nukem 3D)
  • “Title Theme” from Halloween Harry
  • “Toy Factory Table” from Epic Pinball
  • “Main Theme” from Duke Nukem 3D
  • “Welcome to a Kick in the Pants in Good Old Hillville” from Commander Keen 4
  • “Main Theme” from Mystic Towers
  • “Spiders” from Jill of the Jungle
  • “Shooting Star” from Major Stryker
  • “Episode 1 Levels 4-6” from Stargunner
  • Outro (“Beach Bunnies” from Jazz Jackrabbit)

ESO: My Top 5 Pre-2019 DLCs/Chapters

With yesterday’s Wrathstone DLC kicking off the new Season of the Dragon, building hype for May’s Elsweyr chapter, I’ve been reflecting on the other DLCs and chapters (what normal people would call expansions) in The Elder Scrolls Online. I’ve been revisiting some of them on my various alts (I’m currently finishing up my stamina DPS sorcerer, and trying to decide on a healer to level next), so here are my top 5 favorite DLCs and chapters for ESO.

5: Summerset
Ah, Summerset, land of contradictions. On the one hand, it’s really beautiful. On the other hand, it’s almost too beautiful; it’s sometimes so perfect that loses its sense of realism. On the one hand, you have snooty, racist high elves (there’s a lot of racism going on in Tamriel, but the high elves take it to the next level). On the other hand, you have Razum Dar, one of the best and most memorable NPCs in the game. Quite honestly, I almost didn’t put it on this list. Its story felt like warmed-over leftovers from Morrowind: it’s about a different island of different elitist elves trying to stop (some of the same) bad guys trying to steal a different super powerful magical something-or-other. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good and had a lot of content, it just felt a little weaker than some of ESO’s other stories in my opinion.

4: Thieves Guild
This is the only DLC on this list that I haven’t actually finished. The story, while it has a cool “Robin Hood meets Indiana Jones” feel to it, is a little fragmented, and it relies heavily on stealth missions (as you would expect), which sadly don’t work that great in ESO. Yes, you can sneak around, but it’s more efficient to just sprint past all of the of guards, then jump in a basket, which makes them all forget about you (because video game logic). You’ll probably end up doing that anyway, even if you attempt to do everything by stealth, because the detection in this game is a little wonky. What I like best about this DLC is the effect it had on the rest of the world. It introduced stealing to the game, which is more fun than it seems like it should be, and is a great source of money for minimal effort.

3: Murkmire
I love argonians–they’re so weird and awesome–so the fact that we get to finally travel to their homeland alone gives it a place on this list. That said, it honestly wasn’t the most engaging plot–I’m still not sure I understand what the point of the central plot device was–but it was entertaining. And one of the main characters is The Epic Voice Guy from Honest Trailers in argonian form, so that’s a plus. It was also a surprisingly beautiful zone. I was expecting a swamp to be boring and ugly, but ZOS came up with some of the most interesting plantlife and legitimately beautiful vistas and widely varied flora and fauna for this one.

2: Morrowind
While I’m no fan of elves in any universe, ESO has some particularly dislikable ones. But at least these elves have a cool island! It has some of the most unique plant and animal life of the franchise, and plenty of dwemer ruins to explore, which was the biggest selling point for me. Yes, I’m aware that dwemer, despite being called dwarves, are technically elves, and I’ve spent half this post complaining about how annoying elves are, but that just goes to show you that the best elves are extinct elves. Other bonuses include sidequests involving becoming dark elf Batman’s sidekick, helping a mostly-naked nord that was hit with a freezing spell, and pushing an annoying elf “treasure hunter” down a well. It also introduced the warden class, which is by far my favorite for both tanking and healing.

1: Clockwork City
I absolutely love Clockwork City. I really prefer sci-fi to fantasy, but I love the (MMO)RPG genre, which, for better or for worse, is largely dominated by high fantasy settings. So any crossover of the two already has a big draw for me. The sci-fantasy/steampunk/magitech motif is everywhere, with clockwork robots and cyborgs as far as the eye can see. It’s cool seeing Elder Scrolls’ take on a completely synthetic world. Also, about half way through the main quest, there’s a detour involving the Blackfeather Court, a group of sentient crows they brought back from a particularly memorable public dungeon in Stonefalls. In retrospect, they feel a little shoehorned into the quest line, like it was originally designed as a sidequest but some lead designer saw it and said “Dude, we have to make that part of the main quest!” but it’s so goofy and fun that I don’t even mind.

So, what are your thoughts? Any DLCs you would add or remove? Is the order all wrong? Let me know in the comments!

Wargroove: Advance Wars Meets Super Mario Maker

I love turn based tactical RPGs. Games like Shining Force, Fire Emblem, and Final Fantasy Tactics. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea (especially here in the West apparently), but they’re some of my favorites. Intelligent Systems, the Nintendo subsidiary that created the Fire Emblem franchise, also created a series called Famicom Wars in Japan, which is known as Advance Wars here in the States. If you know your Nintendo trivia, you’ll recognize Famicom as the Japanese name for the NES, and that the Gameboy Advance came out fifteen years later, which tells you how long it was a Japan-exclusive franchise. It was kind of like Fire Emblem with a Civilization spin, with RPG elements removed and unit building and resource collecting added, in a more modern setting (guns, tanks, planes, etc. rather than overdone fantasy RPG tropes). Personally I prefer the Fire Emblem style RPGs, but Advance Wars was pretty fun too. I always appreciated the simple twist that a unit’s health equated to strength, which encouraged more aggressive strategies, as counterattacks always deal less damage. Apparently bringing the game stateside wasn’t enough to make it profitable for Nintendo, because the last one was released on the Nintendo DS over ten years ago.

As so often happens when a big company abandons a niche franchise, it was up to indies to pick up the slack. Chucklefish, who you may know from the “Terraria in space” game Starbound, recently released a new game called Wargroove in the Advance Wars tradition. This would have me interested in and of itself, but they went one better by adding a map editor that would allow you to upload your maps and campaigns to the cloud or play others’ custom maps, à la Super Mario Maker or StarCraft II Arcade. The Advance Wars games had a map editor, but with no way to share maps online, you were pretty much stuck playing maps you designed yourself, which isn’t terribly exciting. Quite honestly, I had forgotten it was even a thing in Advance Wars until it was mentioned in some Wargroove reviews.

The graphics are really nice quality pixel art, with smooth animations and bright colors. The story is pretty good, with plenty of memorable characters, including a playable commander named Ceasar who just so happens to be a majestic golden retriever. The campaign does a great job of slowly introducing new units and their strengths and weaknesses. I like that each unit has a “critical” condition. This isn’t a random “rolled a 20” type critical as you might expect from the name, but rather a condition that, when met, allows a unit to do extra damage. For instance, if a Pikeman is standing next to another Pikeman, they do critical damage, or if an archer hasn’t moved this turn, they do critical damage. I don’t think this mechanic was ever present in an Advance Wars game (though I haven’t played them all, and it’s been a while, so I could be wrong) and it adds a surprising amount of depth to unit placement strategy. I haven’t ventured into multiplayer yet, but it includes both co-op and skirmishes, both locally and cross platform online multiplayer (between PC, Switch, and XBone only; Chucklefish recently made headlines for stating that they wanted to include PS4 in cross platform play, but were denied by Sony, despite their supposed openness to cross platform now). Casual players will be happy to know that there are a number of difficulty adjustment settings, which is nice because my one complaint about the campaign so far is that it has a few difficulty spikes.

It’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy strategy games, I highly recommend this one!

Why I’m Not Playing Guild Wars 2


For a long time, Guild Wars 2 was my go-to game. Those of you who follow me know that I tend to bounce around from game to game a lot, but Guild Wars 2 was a constant for a long time. It’s hard to pin down exactly how long, but I’m going to say it was more than five years. Then, suddenly, I realized that I really didn’t have much of a desire to log in. Normally when a game falls out of favor with me, it just sort of tapers off. There’s no moment that I can pinpoint when I am suddenly not interested anymore, I just log in less and less until I’m not logging in at all. With Guild Wars 2, however, it was fairly abrupt. There were a variety of factors, so let’s talk about them.

The first is that it seems like Path of Fire didn’t have as much to it as the previous expansion, Heart of Thorns. In retrospect, I think a lot of the reason for that is actually one of my favorite things about Path of Fire, and that is the much more reasonable difficulty. There are some masteries I still haven’t gotten in Heart of Thorns, and I didn’t have many of my elite specs filled out even by the time Path of Fire launched. PoF was a lot more solo friendly, so you didn’t have to beg zone chat for help every time you needed skill points or mastery points. It’s also a lot less grindy. It’s a weird paradox of game design that players don’t want to do boring repetitive tasks, but when those are eliminated, they also complain that they aren’t given enough tasks to do. It’s a balancing act, and I think Arenanet swung the pendulum too far in the other direction following negative feedback from HoT.

Second was that it was kind of replaced by The Elder Scrolls Online. I usually have one main MMO and one or two side games (online or off). ESO had been off-and-on one of those side games, but at some point it finally clicked and I really fell in love with the game. It’s not perfect–I voiced my ambivalence toward the combat last time–but no game is. Plus there is what seems like an endless amount of content in front of me, with most of the zone stories and some of the DLCs completely untouched. By contrast, I’ve seen and done just about everything in Guild Wars 2, aside from raiding, which doesn’t really interest me that much.

Finally, there was that one PR disaster. I don’t want to drag it back out, but the short version is that a story designer was chatting on Twitter about story design, and a player (who happened to be an Arenanet Twitch affiliate) said something in a way that was maybe a little insensitive, which she took offense to. She went off on him, which shouldn’t have happened, but Arenanet responded by firing her and another employee who got involved, which was equally excessive. Reddit trolls got involved (on both sides), and it was just a big mess. It seems weird that drama that’s completely tangential to the game like that could kill my interest in it, but it did. It made me not really like the company, and it made me like the players even less.

I can’t point to any of these things as the single root cause of my sudden, total lack of interest in Guild Wars 2, but when all of them happened at once, it made me lose all motivation to come back. That’s ok, there are plenty of other games out there, and the great thing about buy-to-play titles like Guild Wars 2 is that I can come back at any time if I feel like it. I’m sure I’ll be back next time there’s an expansion, if not at launch then when it inevitably goes on sale. But for now, Guild Wars 2 is going back on the shelf.