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)
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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.

Combat in Elder Scrolls Online: Good or Bad?

I was running some public dungeons with my guild in Elder Scrolls Online the other day, and we started talking about all the stuff we liked about the game. One guildie started gushing about the combat, about how fluid and active and engaging it is, and another responded with “Eh… it’s ok. I prefer tab targeting.” I was kind of torn about which side to take.

Personally, my all time favorite combat in any MMO was WildStar. It was an awesome mix of action and tab target where position mattered, and you were constantly ducking out of red telegraphs. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly was mine. Too bad WildStar’s developers decided that the best thing to do with their excellent combat was to push people into ultra-hardcore endgame raiding, leading to its ultimate demise. Two MMOs’ combat styles remind me a little of WildStar, and those are Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online. GW2 leans more toward the traditional, WoW-style tab target, whereas ESO leans more toward shooter-style action combat (which reflects the roots of each). GW2’s combat feels a lot better to me–I feel like I’m given better feedback when I’m doing something right, which makes me feel more like I know what I’m doing–but ESO has a lot more of the situational awareness/dodge-the-red-circles component, especially in dungeons (to a much more reasonable degree than WildStar).

Combat has, in my opinion, always been a weak point in The Elder Scrolls franchise. The main, numbered games’ combat boils down to “click to attack, click longer to attack harder.” ESO’s combat is a little more interesting, with five skill slots and an ultimate, times two swappable bars. Technically, that’s potentially more usable skills than WildStar or Guild Wars 2. So, while it feels watered down because you’re only seeing five skills at a time, if you think of it as having a ten slot bar with two different ultimate choices it’s not that different from other modern MMOs. That said, shooter/action camera has always felt unwieldy to me. I’d much rather my character only turn when I have the right mouse button down, and there are a lot of times where I’m left wondering if my fireball actually hit the things I was pointing at or if it fell just short.

I don’t hate ESO’s combat, but I don’t love it. I would rather it was a different style, but it’s not enough to overcome the things I do like about the game. It has incredible story, a great crafting system that is made even more useful by a pretty good housing system, and nice graphics. If ESO didn’t have any of that and was nothing but a bland murder hobo sim, I wouldn’t be playing it. But if the combat was absolutely painful to me, I wouldn’t stick around long enough for the things I do like.

So… I guess my position is firmly on the fence?

What are your thoughts on ESO’s combat? Do you love it, do you hate it, or do you just kind of put up with it?

ESO: To Elsweyr!

The official announcement is finally here! We’re going to Elsweyr, home of the Khajiit! And we’re getting the necromancer class! I’m excited. This will be the first expansion to come to ESO while I’m playing seriously, and its theme appeals to me a lot more than either of the other two we’ve gotten.

We’ve had a bit of a hype buildup already, starting, unfortunately, with a datamine (I tried to avoid spoilers, but they were pretty widely talked about). The Loreseekers made a good point on their podcast (S3 E9 around 26:15), that Zenimax Online did a great job of recovering gracefully from what could have been a PR disaster for them, quickly taking back the reigns of the hype train (that’s a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean). I’m struck by the contrast between them and ArenaNet, who, when their expansion info was leaked last year (basically because they weren’t releasing any info to hype the launch, so testers decided to take matters into their own hands), just stayed silent. They probably thought of it as refusing to negotiate with terrorists, but the way ZOS handled it feels so much better as a player; quickly acknowledge that there was a leak, and tell us when official information is coming. I can see why some would feel like this is giving the leaker the attention he or she wants, but the longer leakers are the only source of information the more attention they’re going to get from other players. I’m not sure if ZOS actually moved up their timetable for announcement in response to this or not, but either way, they handled the situation expertly.

Necromancer has long been number two on my list of classes I’d love to see added to ESO, just behind Dwemer Engineer (which will probably never happen), and I know it’s been widely requested across the community as well. (Other classes on that list include bard and monk, if you were wondering) Marvel Heroes’ Squirrel Girl and Rocket Raccoon taught me to love summoner classes, and now that that’s gone, there’s nothing out there really filling that void right now. It seems like MMOs tend to hate summoner classes, though (probably due to performance concerns) so we’ll see if necro summoner actually ends up viable. From what I’ve seen from the stream, it looks like they’ll have access to a number of temporary pets that do a variety of things, similar to Diablo’s necromancer, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

I’m interested to get more of the story, too. If anyone was going to get greedy and accidentally release dragons on the world, it would be Abnur Tharn. I’m hoping maybe this humbles him a little, but I’m not holding my breath. During the stream, they also really drove home the point that we’re not dragonborn, so we can’t actually kill dragons. I guess that way we have a reason to kill the same dragons repeatedly, maybe as dolmen bosses? We’ll see.

See you in the spring, and may your road lead you to warm sands.

LotRO: Never Mind, I’m Rerolling

You may recall that the last time I talked about LotRO and its Legendary Server, I had decided I was definitely going to see my warden through to 50. At this point, though, I haven’t played for a couple of weeks now because, for some reason, the last few weeks of December is super busy, and my enthusiasm for that character has waned, which has made it harder to want to log in. My warden muscle memory is getting a little rusty, and I’m so far behind the pack now (just finished up the Lone Lands) that starting over isn’t going to make much difference, though I still think I can catch up before Moria hits if I stick with it. Also, while playing warden is really fun, it’s also a little exhausting. There are so many things to keep track of! You’re constantly thinking about building gambits and gambit combos and trying to balance self healing with taunting and DoTing. I love that type of tactical, always-three-steps-ahead gameplay, and it’s very rewarding when you’re hitting everything just right, but I’m realizing that it’s not the kind of thing I want from LotRO right now. I’m more interested in a simpler, more relaxed gameplay experience. I figure, if I’m not happy with the class, I should reroll now and not feel bad about it.

So I rolled a lore-master. “But wait,” you say, “isn’t lore-master probably the next most complex class after warden?” Yes, it probably is. And I’m pretty sure they got a fairly sizable nerf not long ago too. But it has pets and DoTs and a little healing and crowd control! What’s not to love? Plus, it’s a different kind of complexity. It still has that always-three-steps-ahead feel I love about the warden, but with cast bars. You have to use all of your tricks to stay ahead of the game, but it’s more spread out and less frantic. Besides, I never said I made sense.

I’m making quick work of the lower levels. I just did most of these quests on my warden, so rather than reading and doing every possible quest, I’m trying to push myself by only doing on-level or above quests. Going from warden, a self-healing, self-buffing tanking machine, to a lore-master, a squishy caster, has been a bit of an adjustment. On a good day, though, I’m able to use my stuns to keep enemies at bay and burn them down one at a time. On a bad day… well, let’s just say I’ve been stocking up on food and health gear.

I still really want to level a minstrel healer some day, but I think lore-master is probably a better pick for me right now. My minnie is a farmer/cook, so he’s actually a decent level for never having left Ered Luin, just because of crafting XP. This has always been my problem with this game; all of the classes are so well designed that I want to try them all, but there’s so much content that I’ve never seen that I feel bad alting too much. I feel pulled in both directions and usually end up doing neither.