Archive | Other Non-MMO Games RSS feed for this section

The Sims 3 University Life guide, part 2: general content

University Life, the latest expansion pack for The Sims 3, has just landed within the last few days, and there’s not much in the way of comprehensive guides out there. I’ve already posted Part 1 of this guide, covering the process of preparing for, enrolling at, and attending University; this part discusses the other new content in University Life, including social groups, new careers, new skills, new traits, new lifetime goals and rewards, and more.

Read on for more information about University Life content...

The Sims 3 University Life: Sims University map

I’m still working on Part 2 of my Sims 3 University Life guide, but in the meantime I thought I’d share this, in case others find it useful. It’s a map of the Sims University sub-neighborhood. Unfortunately, more distant areas look somewhat warped, due to the way the Sims 3 map view works, but there aren’t many spots of interest in the upper reaches of the map anyway.1

Click the image to see a bigger version of the image (1280*720), or download a 1920*1080 version here.

Sims 3 University Life - Sims University map.

Read on for more about the Sims University town and what you'll find there...

  1. This was created by stitching together 12 overlapping screenshots of the map. If anyone knows a better way, feel free to let me know!

The Sims 3 University Life guide, part 1: attending University

University Life, the latest expansion pack for The Sims 3, has just landed within the last few days, and there’s not much in the way of comprehensive guides out there. I thought I’d put together some preliminary information to help people out. This part discusses the process of preparing for, enrolling at, and attending University; the second part will discuss the other new content in University Life, including social groups, new careers, new skills, new traits, new lifetime goals and rewards, and more.

Read on for more about enroling and studying at Sims University...

A closer look at Warframe

Unexpectedly, my attention has been grabbed by a game I mentioned in my last post about games I’m anticipating — Warframe. I thought it deserved a bit more than the few sentences I gave it, so let’s have a look in more depth.

Warframe: The Ember frame's Fire Blast ability

Warframe’s setting is our solar system, at some future point in time. You play a Tenno, a member of an ancient warrior race, and for various reasons the Tenno are seeking to establish a foothold in the area. The game starts with a brief tutorial, teaching you how to use your weaponry — each Tenno carries a main firearm, a secondary firearm, and a melee weapon. The game itself is a third-person shooter and supports both solo play and co-op missions for up to four players. It’s worth noting that adding and removing friends from a solo play session is pleasantly smooth — if you log in to find a couple of your friends are already playing, you don’t have to wait for them to finish their mission; you can just “join session” from your contacts list and you’ll warp into their combat mission right at their heels.

Warframe: Let's go kill things!

Once you’re through the tutorial, you’re presented with a solar system to explore by way of doing combat missions, which usually send you to an enemy facility or spaceship to conduct sabotage, raids, thefts, assassinations and exterminations. Completing each mission unlocks the next, and as you progress you’ll unlock multiple mission branches, so it’s not entirely linear. The missions can be replayed, and although the objective remains the same the mission area layout changes each time, so even ‘farming’ low-level content can remain interesting.

Warframe: The missions of Mars

Character progression isn’t hugely revolutionary, but it’s well suited to the style of game. Your warframe (body-hugging power armour, basically) levels up as you gain XP, and as it levels up you can spend points unlocking new abilities and boosts to your stats. Each warframe has four thematically-appropriate powers – for instance, the Mag frame (which I’m playing at the moment) gets:

  • Pull – pulls enemies to your melee range
  • Shield Polarize – refills an ally’s shield, or depletes that of an enemy
  • Bullet Attractor – makes a hostile target virtually unmissable for a short time
  • Crush – “magnetizes” the enemy’s bones (neat trick!) to inflict horrifying damage on them

Warframe: The Mag frame's ability unlocks

Your other equipment improves in a similar way, although new abilities only come from your warframe. All of your equipment can also be upgraded by adding mods to unlockable mod slots; mods are looted in game, and add extra damage or crit chance to your weapons, and extra defensive stats to your armour. You can upgrade and equip gear at will between missions; new equipment can be acquired via crafting, in-game currency, or the cash shop.

Warframe: Kris shows off the Ember's Overheat ability

It’s definitely still a beta — just last night, in fact, we encountered a mission that we couldn’t beat because the end-boss kept knocking people into areas where they’d get stuck. But the development team is quite active with patches and fixes, which is all one can really ask for.

The best thing I’m finding about Warframe is that it’s quick and easy to start having fun. Within 30 seconds of firing up the game you can be in a solo mission shooting Corpus crewmen or joining your friends’ session to help them exterminate a ship full of the Infested. There’s little overhead; it’s instant fun, with enough progression mechanics to keep one coming back.

Wait, I lied. The best thing is the mobility and movement system. Tenno warframes are agile and limber, and the engine allows you to scamper up vertical surfaces, wall-run across bottomless caverns, and zip-line from platform to platform. I’m adding it to the very short list of games (along with DCUO and Firefall) where just getting around is half the fun.

My five favourite games

I’m going to exclude MMOs from this list, otherwise the sheer volume of hours eaten by MMOs would outweigh every other game I’ve ever played. But here, in no particular order, are my five favourite computer games ever:

  • Civilization III

Thankfully I never encountered the original Civilization, else I might never have graduated from high school. As it was, Civ II nearly put something of a dent in my college career. But Civ 3 was, for me, the pinnacle of the series. Although Civ IV and V kept innovating, and I’ve spent hundreds of hours in Civ IV in particular, no other game has eaten entire days at a time like Civ III. You start playing on Friday evening, and next time you look up and think “oh, I should sleep”, it’s Sunday morning and you’re not quite sure what happened to the last 36 hours.

Just one more turn. *click* Just one more turn. *click* Just one more turn…

Civilization III

  • Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

Sid takes the Civ III model and applies it to colonising an alien planet – and then throws in awesome politics, environmental awareness, a deep and engaging unit advancement system, and narration by Leonard Nimoy. What’s not to love?

(Just one more turn. *click* Just one more turn. *click* Just one more turn…)

Alpha Centauri

  • Diablo II

I think this was probably the first Blizzard game I owned, which makes it something of a gateway drug. Look, I don’t need to tell you all why D2 was awesome, do I? Everyone knows. It was just pure unvarnished fun. I didn’t play on battlenet and rarely played online at all, so I didn’t have to deal with the hacks and cheaters, and I put a hell of a lot of single player hours into Diablo II. It’s no surprise that Diablo III was something of a letdown, really – no game was going to live up to the memories of D2 fun.

Diablo II

  • Heroes of Might and Magic III

I have very many fond memories of Heroes III, and it was somewhat unusual for allowing hotseat multiplayer games. I spent many many hours convalescing after a long hospital stay, chasing computer enemies all around the map in multiplayer games with my best friend. The graphics were nothing to write home about, and the map difficulties were inexplicable to say the least, but nothing beat converging on your opponent’s last town with half a dozen of your heroes all packing armies full of angels, archers and zealots.

Heroes of Might and Magic III

  • Mass Effect

I have a confession to make. I *mumble* haven’t finished Mass Effect. Or played ME2. Or ME3, for that matter.

Look, it’s not my fault, okay?! I was in the middle of my first playthrough ever, in uber-completionist mode, and then my gaming machine died. I managed to salvage my savegames, but by the time I’d got a new machine reinstalled and back up and running, I’d lost my momentum, and forgotten where I was up to in all the side missions. And I just don’t feel right ploughing on ahead with the main story mission without finishing off the side content, because I am – as previously mentioned – ridiculous about completionism. So I’m going to have to start again from scratch, and that’s going to be fruuuustrating. (And I’ve been dithering about this for oh, about two years now.) But make no mistake, I want to, and I will, because Mass Effect is so awesome it goes on my list of Favourite Games Ever even though I haven’t finished it. It’s just that good.

Part of it is that I’m a tabletop gamer, heavy on the roleplaying, and Mass Effect was immersive and enrapturing in a way I’d never encountered in a computer game before. A lot of it was that for the first time I got to play a female hero who kicks ass, takes names and saves the universe – that’s a pretty novel experience for women gamers, and it absolutely added to Mass Effect’s allure for me. And part of it is that I’ve discovered I really quite like military sci-fi. (Also, I sort of had a crush on my Shep, which is always disturbing with fictional characters.)

Engrossing storytelling, immersive character play options, interesting and non-derivative worldbuilding, awesome voice acting, and big armor and heavy weaponry. Mass Effect might just be the greatest game ever.

Mass Effect

What are your five favourite games? I’d love to hear in the comments…

The MMO edge: persistence and permanence

There’s a conversation about social play and soloing that’s been going on in the blogosphere, in one form or another, for years now. I was struck by one of Tobold’s recent posts, WoW the Single Player Game? — in response to a post from The Godmother about Cross-Realm Zones where she mentions that she “liked it when it was quiet“, Tobold asks,

[W]hy do people who “like it quiet” play a massively multiplayer online game? Wouldn’t let’s say Knights of the Old Republic be a much better game for them than Star Wars: The Old Republic?

Many of his commenters focus on the fact that WoW’s mechanics and systems aren’t set up to handle large player numbers in one area, discussing competition for quest spawns and resource nodes. Michael of Gaming for Happiness echoes my feelings, though, when he comments that “Why do I not just play KoTOR instead? Maybe it’s just me, but playing in an online world just seems to make everything seem more real. My actions more meaningful, my efforts yielding greater permanence than I can find in single player games.”

This really struck a chord with me. I’ve been playing a lot of The Sims 3 lately – I go through phases of this, and I’m well and truly entrenched at the moment. (I even bought some shiny new DLC as a birthday gift to myself.) I really enjoy The Sims 3, and Steam tells me I’ve racked up over 400 hours ingame – although I’m sure a lot of that is idle/AFK time. And yet, something about The Sims 3 feels wrong to me, and always has — it’s the fact that I’m completely alone in the game world.

Saskia's stylish pad in Lucky Palms

So my Sim is living out her life, interacting with her neighbours, winning hearts, making friends, and they’re all NPCs. In the houses I’ve never visited, NPC Sims are sketching out a rudimentary copy of sim-life, but the town is virtually stagnant apart from what I do.1 If there were other players around, even if I never socialised with them directly, my little town would feel a lot more real – I’d know that behind all those front doors, other Sims were living lives just as varied and interesting as my own Sim’s. Someone might buy the Perfect-quality fruit and vegetables I can grow. Someone might sell me a beautiful photo they took in Shang Simla.

But playing alone, nobody else’s actions will ever make an impact on my Sim’s life, and everything I “achieve” with her is equally meaningless. Any variety I encounter is just the result of a random number generator, not the dynamism introduced by other players.

Not that games automatically have to be ‘meaningful’ to be fun, of course. But I think MMOs have trained me too well to expect a certain permanence and persistence to what I do. When I make items to improve my crafting skill in an MMO, there’s someone around who’ll buy them from me. When I earn an Achievement, my progress is highlighted to anyone who cares to look. Even if I never say a word to another player, the world feels more real, more immersive and ‘alive’, because I know there are other people around all doing their own thing.

As one commenter, Josh, noted over at Tobold’s discussion, “[t]here’s a difference between quiet and silence”.

I talk to my neighbours, in RL, about once a year. Yet if they were suddenly replaced by timer switches who turned the lights on and off at the right times and robots who drove their cars off to work and back home again every day, I’d damn well notice the difference, and living in my house would suddenly start feeling very lonely and isolated. I may not want to interact with my neighbours, in game or in RL, but I want them to be there.

Saskia plays some blackjack in a nearly-deserted casino

  1. There’s actually a third-party patch that vastly improves the game’s background story progression and growth, but the patch author adamantly refuses to support the Steam version of the game, so I’m out of luck.