Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Atari VCS First Impressions

Hello team! It was Christmas just a few days ago, and I got a cool new present from Santa, an Atari VCS. Check it out!

Going Retro!

Lemme just do my best to quickly catch you up on the world of Atari VCS in case you have no idea what that is. A couple years ago Atari released a modern console that plays the Atari retro games you came to know and love back in the 70's and 80's in a brand new expensive package that includes an exclusive game shop, a few streaming video services, and even a blank slate PC Mode. It's Linux based, and it comes with an updated classic joystick controller, a more modern controller, and a free series of games known as the Atari VCS Vault.

Now for the bad news . . . just on the 20th of December (8 days ago as of writing this post), Atari provided a statement to Tom's Hardware that sounded troubling. Basically they stopped manufacturing the VCS with their current partner, but Atari swears up and down that they are committed to keep the VCS platform software chugging along. The best guess here is that the early adopters of the Atari VCS that accounted for a 2.44 million dollar hardware revenue in 2021 have fizzled out, and last year they only made $212,466 in hardware sales. That's a big drop in sales. (Honestly, the sticker shock of paying $250 plus for a newfangled trip down memory lane has got to be the big stopping point for many people.)

Over the past three days I've had a chance to dabble a bit with my new VCS and have some initial impressions and stories that I wanted to share.

Day 1

My first experience (after downloading updates and whatnot) was loading up the Atari VCS Vault and playing a few of the old classic stand up arcade games that they featured . . . and it was awful. I mean it. The classic joystick controller they give you is actually pretty cool -- they've tied a paddle controller function to the joystick so you can rotate it like a paddle, but even after turning the sensitivity down, it was still bad. This was exactly the same for all the games that would have traditionally required a paddle controller. 

Trying to turn the sensitivity down is an adventure unto itself

Side note: The VCS can't take screenshots . . . so . . . camera photos it is . . .

Atari likely knows this and simply doesn't care, but MAN . . . that's a really bad first impression to provide me with a classic game alongside a poor play experience.

Day 2

On my second day of the VCS, I dove back in to give it another shot and reloaded the Atari VCS Vault app after I read somewhere on the Internet that there were a lot more games in the vault than I realized.  You're actually able to go down a level from the classic arcade game cabinets and play a slew of classic Atari games.  It's just a menu selection down. (My bad for not reading the line of text at the bottom of the screen)

Adventures of the Atari VCS Vault

Now we were talking.  The classic Atari games really played well with both of the controllers, and it was an absolute blast down memory lane.

My favorite comment was from my youngest who was watching me play Slot Machine (an Atari game I never got to play with as a kid), "Imagine coming home from school and this was the game you were looking forward to playing."  It's got such bad graphics. LOL. On the other hand, I had a chance to talk to him about slot machines and how they work. By the end of the play session he was cheering me on while I went on a losing streak that amounted to losing 300 bucks of game money while trying to hit the jackpot. 

He then got in on the action and played against me in the classic Atari games of Basketball, Bowling, and Combat.  Good times.

Day 3

The VCS comes bundled with a game streaming app called Antstream.  You can download this app on to your phone by the way. You don't need a VCS to play, but the controls on phone are really lacking. 

It's all about the challenges! The Pac-man challenges that is!

Antstream asks you to subscribe, but you can play for free until your gems run out.  A little tip here. Don't use Facebook to log in to Antstream if you're also going to use it to login on Atari--also, don't use the number sign as a part of your password . . . for some reason the Antstream keyboard doesn't have a number sign.  

Anyway, with Antstream you can play "challenges" that give a new twist to classic games . . . things like, get a high score in Pac-man using only one life or play Pac-man with power dots disabled and see how high you can score.  Your score earns you a medal and a placement on the leaderboards.

So there you have it.  That's my first experiences with the Atari VCS. It's a quirky little machine that's probably being discontinued. You have to struggle a bit to use it, it doesn't take screenshots, and has some weirdness to it, but once you figure it out, there is actually fun to be had there.

Up next for me with the Atari VCS is actually buying some of the weird games they have for sale in their Atari game store for the VCS. There's some cheap games in there that look pretty fun. 

Happy Dueling!

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Who plays VR Dungeon Knight?!

I saw my son kick up a Steam game the other day, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to have some fun since I hadn't ever talked with him on Steam before. 

who else has the friendly necromancer blogspot in their description?

He cuts deep with those comments. I've taught him well. But he's got a point there, who else plays freaking Dungeon Knight VR?

Zero players online . . .

Apparently I'm it . . . at least anymore. There are 273 people in the official VR Dungeon Knight discord, so I'm definitely not the only player EVER.  It's far too good of a game to be the only player EVER.

The problem is that the developer was one single, solitary guy, and back on August 19th, 2022, he announced that amidst burnout and depression he was calling it quits on the "in development" game, noting that there were enough bugs in it that he wasn't confident calling it a full release. He also said that he was happy about the game in general though since it had become the VR Co-op Dungeon Crawler he dreamt of.

Where does that leave me, a guy who just bought the game in 2022? Well, it leaves me playing a solo VR dungeon crawler with an interesting progression system and some unique side systems. This is now my fourth VR dungeon crawler game. I started with In Death Unchained, then tried Vanishing Realms, then Karnage Chronicles, and now VR Dungeon Knight. It's a genre that interests me. From all appearances, Ancient Dungeon VR is next for me to explore. (Gonna be honest though . . . I hate the Minecraft look)

Right out the gate in VR Dungeon Knight, I ran into my first bug in the tutorial.  The enemy monster is buried in the floor.  Yeah, that's a sad first impression.

that bump in the floor is the top of the enemy's head

Just want to say that as far as VR tutorials go, this is a pretty great attempt.  Most VR games don't give you NEAR this much tutorial, so I have to give it up for the attempt. By the end of the tutorial you'll have learned how to climb, swim, swing a sword, shoot an arrow, cast a spell, and dodge a trap. Great!

I was kind of freaking out at first because the little wizard guide looked an awful lot like a squashed-small version of Merle Ambrose and the voice over sounded an awful lot like my old friend Damon Brown, who would make the marketing videos for KingsIsle. (It was close enough that I contacted him just to see . . . it's not him.)

I swear that's merle ambrose . . .

It's surprising how many weapons there are in the game, and I think the poor single dev bit off way more than he could chew here. It would have been so much better if all he had focused on was a couple weapons, and just got those polished and feeling good. The bow is incredibly difficult to use and the aiming just doesn't feel right.  The magic staves feel like they're shooting in slow motion. The magic books are strange.  The guns have awful reloading. In fact, the only thing that really feels good is a sword and shield, but the sword and shield suffer from exactly the same thing that most swords in VR RPGs suffer from . . . realism, messy combat where you can get inside the monster, and just generally feeling unsatisfying.

That all said, sword and shield is exactly what I would play in this game. It feels the most natural.

The inventory system isn't nearly as good as it is in Vanishing Realms or Karnage Chronicles. You basically have 4 slots that snap around your body. 3 at your waist and 1 on your back . . . although I couldn't get the back slot to ever work. I don't get it.

After you successfully navigate a dungeon, you enter a results room and earn "chests" based on your performance.  If you complete one of the three main objectives, you get to enter a bonus room and claim its prizes as well.

Seven rooms cleared! Yay!

These bonus chests are then used to unlock random weapon upgrades in your armory, which is a pretty neat mechanic, but since there are so many weapons, you can end up with a powerful weapon that is really hard (or that you just don't like) to use. 

As you delve dungeon you'll also be leveling up, when you do, you are allowed to assign points to dexterity, strength, or intelligence, but leveling each comes with a detriment to some other aspect of your player, so it feels . . . strange.

The dungeons themselves are randomly generated rooms, and that's pretty neat, but what isn't neat is once you aggro one enemy, you aggro them all.  They all come charging at you at once, which is kind of lame. I guess it does get combat over quickly so then you can spend your time hacking open crates, which, in typical Diablo flair, is extremely satisfying.

All in all, there are some interesting features here and I think I would like to spend some more time playing this game, but as far as gameplay, In Death Unchained and Karnage Chronicles have my vote for best VR RPG . . . so far.

I'll be hunting, and if you know of a good one, leave me a note in the comments below.

Happy Dueling!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Swearing Off Icarus Solo Play

 My Steam profile says I've put in 128 hours on Icarus this past year, and the last 10 of that was done completely solo over this last weekend . . . and I'm swearing it off. I never want to play Icarus solo ever again.

Many wolves, boars, and bears died to collect this data

The problem here is that up until a couple weeks ago, I was just jumping in to my buddies' games (one Lessah Ismorah and Mythery). I was happy with this: I was leveling, and I felt like we were all progressing along nicely, but then I found out that because I hadn't done a solo mission or two right up front, my progress in my friends' games was all for naught. None of what we had done was counting for my actual mission progression. 

The first half of the Olympus Mission line in Icarus

So, to explain, there are two mission progression paths in Icarus: Olympus and Styx. We've been playing missions in the Olympus quest line. You land on the planet, you fulfil the objective, and you blast off. Each time you start over, building everything from scratch . . . but with the money you earn, you can craft equipment to take down with you on subsequent missions.

When I discovered that all my hard work wasn't counting for anything on my mission progression, I felt a little . . . angry? Like I had fully been putting in a lot of time on these missions, but not getting any credit . . . simply because I didn't do the first mission on my own. I'm sorry, but that's kind of a bad game design call. 

I appreciate that I can just jump into my friends' games from day one, but there was no warning and no compensation. What it SHOULD have done was either warn me that I needed to do those intro missions or instead retroactively marked those missions I've completed with my friends as complete after I completed the first mission. It could have just caught up and counted all those previous missions as done. Yuck.

Since we decided that we wouldn't be playing much around the holidays as a group, Lessah put it out there that maybe I could use the time to catch up my progression line. That sounded fair, and I've already done most of these missions with them, so it should be a breeze, right?! It wasn't bad too be honest . . . right up until the grindfest known as Agriculture Supply Stockpile.

Beware the 15 day tasks . . . just don't do them solo

Now, Icarus always gives you way more time than you need to get a mission done. A ridiculous amount of time in fact, and because of that I had no qualms taking on a 15 real-time day mission. This was another that I had done with Lessah and Mythery in the past, and as I remembered it, it's just a bunch of running around collecting pumpkins and carrots and stuff . . . no big deal.

Blasting off a billion supplies into space . . .

I got it done, mind you, but I had completely forgotten about collecting and cooking 1000 meats in addition to running around collecting pumpkins and carrots and stuff. By the end of the day yesterday, I was so done with that mission . . . what an incredibly boring grind fest.

And with that, I'm done soloing in this game. I never want to do it again. There are plenty of other games where I don't mind soloing around, but Icarus just isn't captivating enough for me (at least at this point) without my buddies there to talk to. We each kind of excel at doing one or two things, and we do our jobs well. It's fun to play as a group! Solo . . . no thanks. I've got plenty of other games I can play to keep me happy.

Happy Dueling!

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Pokémon Violet's Post-Credit Victories

After the credits rolled on Pokémon Violet last week, I was left with the task to revisit all the old gyms and give them a workout on official Pokémon league business. I went back through the eight gyms post-haste and didn't really have any troubles besting them once again in their more powerful forms. 

It was pretty straight forward without a lot of surprises, and also pretty fun getting a little more insight into the trainers and their thoughts.  Who knew that Katy from the Cortondo Gym was holding back because she realized she was the first gym along the path for new students? I just thought she was naturally a chump.

Y'all know she cooks bugs into her food, right? Savage.

After the post-credit gym battles, it was back to the school grounds to participate in the Academy Ace Tournament, where you battled four randomized NPCs in a row to make it to the top and get awarded with a hat and a ton of cash for doing so. From what I can tell, if I wanted to do the Academy Ace Tournament again, I could? I haven't tried going back again to give it a second try.

Long live the gamer handle!

After this, you're given a master ball and alerted that five-star rating Tera battles are popping up all over the Paldea Region, and that you'll want to check 'em out. NOW THIS is where the real challenge is in Pokemon Violet. 

The Five-Star Tera battles seem to be the greatest skill check of them all. I've really only had a successful fight with one of them using an over level 80 Pokémon to fight, but the rewards for beating the Tera battles are pretty great. Rare candies, xp treats, and random items come gushing out of those little sparkling caves . . . not to mention interesting Pokémon that you might be missing from your Pokédex App.

Let's flesh this out a bit . . .

And really the spirit of "gotta catch them all" has to be the true end game of Pokémon Violet. Catching all the 350+ Pokémon seems like the ultimate goal.  The question I have is . . . why? Am I going to get something cool for catching them all? My gut is telling me that I won't, but just having a checklist is almost challenge enough.

As I was playing Pokémon Violet, I kept running into these weird spikes in the ground randomly and not knowing what they were.  I also was running into these covered mystical manholes randomly, and I remember thinking . . . huh . . . guess those are something to do with some future DLC? No no no . . . the spikes and the manholes are related.  You find all the spikes, pull them out, and it allows you to open the magical manholes.

Knock knock! Who's there? Wo! Wo Who? Wo-Chien the Legendary, that's who!

The magical manholes are actually "ruinous shrines" where the legendary Pokémon live in Paldea. There are four of these ruinous Pokémon in the game, and catching them is definitely on my agenda before calling it quits with Pokémon Violet. They seem to be the crowning jewels in your Pokédex App.

So, there you go, this is what Pokémon Violet has been like for me post-credits. It's been a fun game, but mostly what it's done is made me want to play through Pokémon Legends: Arceus next, which I haven't done before.  My kids played it, we own it, but I haven't touched its gameplay myself. It might be a fun Christmas Break activity for me!

Happy Dueling!