Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dad Plays Games at Lunch Episode 2 - Grim Dawn

I continue to play games at lunch and tend to be all over the map on what I will play on a given day. For episode two of my series I played a section of a game I backed on Kickstarter called Grim Dawn - this is from ex-Diablo veterans and really echoes that early Diablo vibe. Dark, gritty, visceral and a lot of fun. The game is finally complete, with 4 acts and a ton of character types. I really enjoy this game, it is not as slickly polished as Diablo 3 (but what is really) but the core game is deep and satisfying....the enemies are really gruesome too which is awesome!

Monday, April 04, 2016

I have started a new series of media called Dad Plays Games at Lunch which is simply me (a Dad) working from home and playing games on my lunch break. I usually do this anyway and I thought it would be fun to record myself doing it and share it online. The first episode focused on the AMAZING game Darkest Dungeon. This is a brutal game that keeps me coming back despite it killing my favorite characters over and over again. It is a dungeon crawl that focuses on the stress and psychology of adventuring and what the terror would do to characters. You need to manage resources, items and skills as well as the stress levels and phobias of your characters. Great fun and a game everyone should try.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Keeping Healthy and Fit at 40

At the young age of 40 I have no parents, both of them were lost to horrible diseases, my Mother passed from Cancer over 10 years ago and my Father passed away from heart disease a year and a half ago.  I have always been blessed with a high metabolism and in my 20's and early 30's I was always active but I ate like crap and had no real plan to stay fit in a proper way.  In my 30's I made a decision to eat better, cut out soda (Coca Cola in particular) and work out consistently.

I want to be active and around for a long time to enjoy my Children and their Children. So to that respect I worked through a number of training regimes from Karate, to self directed, to Shaun T's Insanity.  I have now settled into a really great workout routine and when I started to document it I realized it is actually quite crazy.  I do this a minimum 3 times a week, optimally 4 times depending on work meetings (I have a gym at my office). I feel great, muscle tone is amazing, and I have the lean tone physique I have always wanted.  I just need to fully clean up my diet if I ever want to get rid of the lingering softness around my belly. :)

With this workout and overall better eating I have lost a belt size and shirts that were snug fit amazing now.  Another helpful thing I do is always use the stairs at work.  Each day that amounts to  20 - 30 flights of stairs.

Start - Cardio
  • Warm up the upper body with Tewaza routine from Karate.
  • Punch drills x 10  - Uppercut each hand, low punch each hand, high punch each hand, side punch each hand, cross punch each hand
  • 400 skips on Jump rope (200 traditional, 200 butt kick style)
  • 80 Traditional Jumping Jacks, 20 Power Jacks
  • 13 Minutes of High Intensity Elliptical (treadmill is a strain on my knees for whatever reason)
Stretching
  • 4 Deep Breath cycles (cycle is 10 seconds)
  • 3 squat stretch cycles
  • Knee stretch cycle - each side
  • Ankle stretch cycle - each side
  • 2 Low stretch cycles  
  • 2 Running stretch cycles - each side
  • Hamstring stretch cycle - each leg
  • 3 Deep Breath cycles
Core  Work
  • 4 Handstand drills (unassisted handstand holds)
  • 10 deep pushups - tapping alternating shoulders on rise
  • 10 Tricep pushups
  • 20 wide pushups - with alternating raised legs (always supported by only one leg)
  • 4 alternating raised leg Plank cycles
  • 4 alternating raised arm Plank cycles
  • 30 Alternating Leg lifts (back is curved, leg raised to ceiling) for Abdominals
  • 20 Bicycle crunches
  • 14 shoulder dips
  • 14 narrow pullups
  • 14 wide pullups
  • 20 Medicine Ball lifts alternating sides - 10lb medicine ball
  • 10 Medicine Ball overhand lifts  - 15lb medicine ball 
Weights
  • 20 Bench Press - 170lbs
  • 40 curls each arm - 25lbs
  • 10 tricep curls each arm - 25lbs
  • 10 shoulder lifts each arm - 25lbs
  • 20 Butterfly - 130 lbs (Pectorals)
Stretching
  • 4 Deep Breath cycles (cycle is 10 seconds)
  • 3 squat stretch cycles
  • Knee stretch cycle - each side
  • Ankle stretch cycle - each side
  • 2 Low stretch cycles  
  • 2 Running stretch cycles - each side
  • Hamstring stretch cycle - each leg
  • 3 Deep Breath cycles

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

My thoughts on Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a neat tongue-in-cheek concept, featuring the rise of Handsome Jack and set just after the events of the original Borderlands title. It’s a sequel to the first title and a prequel to the second (excellent) Borderlands game, a cute and effective title.
Those games were incredibly fun to play and hooked many a gamer (myself included) for many, many hours of crazy Claptrap-enhanced antics. So how do you make a new game sandwiched between the two original titles bigger and better? The answer seems to have eluded 2K Australia and Gearbox, as this game is competent and fun but just seems like more of the same.
Let’s back up a bit. The story of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel focuses on a group of new Vault Hunters hired by Jack (not labelled as ‘Handsome’ yet), who is essentially a Hyperion middle manager at this point, to investigate a vault on Pandora’s moon Elpis. This being a Borderlands game, all goes to hell on Elpis when the Dahl Corporation steps in and hijacks the Hyperion station Helios and starts bombarding the moon (for some convoluted reason, in place just move the story along). Jack tasks the new hunters with helping take over the station and stopping the Dahl incursion. Zany antics, weird plot twists and diverse locations are featured as you fight towards eliminating the Dahl General and placing the station under Jack’s control.
The characters from both previous games make appearances as allies and narrative devices, relating their stories about the rise of Jack and the part they played. This is a really interesting hook to tie the games together. The game has one of the characters being interrogated by the original Vault Hunters and relating their side of the story as it plays out during the course of the game. The voiceover narrative gives your characters perspective on events and fleshes them out in a really creative way. I really enjoyed seeing Jack’s transformation as well: he starts as a person seemingly trying to save Elpis while getting ahead in Hyperion, but discovers (and embraces) his sociopathic tendencies as he is forced to get his hands dirty. From a story perspective I quite enjoyed the journey, especially the anecdotes from my character, Nisha, as she progressed.
The gameplay and progression aspects of the game are certainly capable, but this is where I would have liked to see much more growth in the franchise. They have added a number of new tweaks, such as low gravity, butt stomps, an air canister-equipable item, and lasers that have different firing modes, but the core game is exactly as it was in previous installments. You get a mission, you try to solve the problem, it doesn’t work, and you have to go elsewhere to try a different solution, rinse and repeat.
The game has a large number of story missions and sidequests, but the challenges usually boil down to this: Go somewhere, kill things and hit a button, go somewhere else, kill more things and wait for the action to have an effect. I am not saying I have an answer to what else they could do, but the format is getting a little stale and more variety in mission styles and challenges would have been appreciated.
Thankfully all of those little tweaks the developers added do mix things up enough to make playing through Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel generally very enjoyable. The biggest and most appreciated addition is the low-gravity situation you find yourself in; jumps are higher, and you can glide to increase distance and butt stomp when you are surrounded and need a breather. The benefit to transportation from the higher, longer jumps cannot be overstated.
With all the back and forth required in these games (remember the mission structures are still generally fetch quests), the ability to actually enjoy moving around makes a big difference. There are vehicles again, but the game often gates you away from using them or has whole zones without them, so having this faster and quite frankly fun transport method makes a big difference.
The extra item you can equip is an air canister, and these have varying abilities such as extra stomp damage, quicker recovery, and extra air supply. This adds another layer of tactical thinking as you need to plan your air reserves, and the butt stomp can be a life saver when used effectively. Air pockets, generators, canister drops, and vents are numerous so your air supply is rarely an issue, but it is a nice tweak.
The new gun type, lasers, are quite interesting as there are some that fire bursts while others fire a continuous stream and all have elemental attributes. The lasers actually become the focus of a fun sidequest as the infinitely humorous Torque hates them because they never have explosive abilities (which are his speciality). The lasers are fun to use and add a new dimension to shooting that is not necessarily groundbreaking, but does add a tweak to combat that is appreciated.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel features some of the original characters, but all four playable Vault Hunters are brand new as playable characters, but are returning faces from previous games in one form or another. Wilhelm is the first major boss you face in Borderlands 2 and he is the Enforcer or Assault style character. He is interesting in that he slowly keeps adding parts as he levels closer to becoming the enemy you faced in the, err, sequel.
ClapTrap the Fragtrap is the crazy CL4P-TRP droid that follows you through all the games. This time he is armed and psychotic with his special ability randomizing to often hilarious effect. Athena is another interesting character, pulled from DLC from the original Borderlands. She is basically Captain America with a gun and shield, really as awesome as it sounds. The final character (for now; Jack’s Doppelganger will be added as the fifth playable character) and the one I played through the campaign with is Nisha the Lawbringer.
Nisha was the Sheriff from Lynchwood in Borderlands 2 (and in a relationship with Handsome Jack at the time of that game), and she is the sharpshooter and quick-guns character. I have only dabbled with the other Vault Hunters, but Nisha I know very well. One of the cool things about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is that the characters interact with the story; your character responds to Jack or the characters you are involved in all throughout the story. Nisha is snippy with Moxxi, flirtatious with Jack (and Janey Springs), angry at the world, and in general a really terrible person. The dialogue isn’t world-class prose, but it did serve to add depth to this character and actually gave me incentive to try the other characters through a complete playthrough which I had never done (nor wanted to) before in the previous games. In typical Borderlands fashion Nisha has three skill trees that focus on specific talents (sharpshooting, pistols, and law and order skills) and that refine how you play the game. The skills are well done and add nice depth to the game.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel on paper has a lot going for it and in fact the game is interesting and fun to play, but it gets repetitive gameplay-wise when you realize that it is the same old formula from the previous two games. The characters are interesting, the game looks fantastic, the weapons are crazier than ever, but there is a kind of fatigue that builds up as you play because you just feel that you have played this game already. It is really hard to describe; I like the game, I am playing the game and having fun, but I just feel that if 2K Australia and Gearbox had tried to innovate on the formula instead of recycling it they could have had a truly exceptional game instead of one that is just very good.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is available on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Extra Life 2014

For the last few years I have been joining some good friends over at Team Bombshelter as they participate in the Extra Life 24 hour gaming event.  For those who don't know Extra Life it is a 24 hour gaming marathon run once a year and proceeds are raised to directly support a local Childrens Hospital.  As we are from Ottawa, we choose the great Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), a fantastic facility that always needs support.

I have not participated as a team member as with my own kids and schedule it is hard to commit for the entire 24 hour period.  I do donate, bring food and join in the festivities and will look to participate a little more directly as a team member next year.

The event is absolutely amazing and the Team truly outdid themselves this year in scale and donations.  This team of dedicated gamers managed to raise far more than double their $2000 goal and is sitting at $4684 and counting (some late donations are trickling in).  It is a great accomplishment and one I was proud to be a part of in my way.

The event is staged at one of the team members house (@boozysmurf on twitter) and it was a doozy this year.  The goal was to have multiple gaming options.  Tabletop in the top floor, console gaming on the main floor and PC gaming/Rockband in the basement.

The Basement is always the epicenter of fun as the truly Epic Rock Band setup is down there along with the PC gamers.  The person who curates the Rock Band environment is a true fan and will never forget this sadly lost genre of band games.  He has a true drum and keyboard setup, 4 mics for harmonizing lyrics and 3-4 guitars.  The game is displayed with a projector on a huge wall (100+ inch screen in essence) and this lets us Rock out to the over 1700 songs he has collected.  Always a crowd pleaser even with my warbling singing voice.

The PC Gamers are also in the basement and bled out to the upper floor as well.  I was banished up there as I arrived late, but it was all good, I was surrounded by good folks and lost myself into the worlds of Middle Earth, Elpis and Alien.

The biggest and most impressive section was the console gaming section, these dedicated and charitable folks brought their consoles and TV's along for the party.  The end result was one room with 5 units setup and the other main room had an astounding 8 units setup!!  This was truly amazing with some folks doing essentially local fireteams in Destiny, others doing co-op Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and still others playing a truly marathon session of Forza.  The benefit of this environment is that around midnight we had an old school and epic hour or two of Halo 3 local Multiplayer with 9 players.  Great fun at anytime.

Of course there was tons of food as this acted as a potluck, with meatballs, piri piri chicken, three meat lasagna and dozens of cookies were on offer and consumed.  Add that to the copious amounts of coffee, energy drinks and mountain dew consumed you had a haze of gaming Nirvana.

The best thing about this event is the constant remembrance that this is for the kids, CHEO has touched probably everyones life in Ottawa directly and indirectly and it is a really worthwhile institution.  What amazes me every year is the generosity of the gamers here, everyone is welcome from kids and casual players to the truly hardcore gamers.  We were all there to have fun and support a worthy cause.  We did both and cannot wait to do it again next year.

Friday, October 24, 2014

My continuing thoughts on Destiny.

I have a lot of games, I mean A LOT!  Far too many really.  I would say I am midpoint through playing at least 40 excellent titles and have about 10-15 more I just haven't even started...plus older ones I want to get back to.  Just recently many amazing games have been released, Wasteland 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor and Alien: Isolation to name a few.  But Destiny is one game I cannot stop playing, and it is actually really astonishing as that kind of multiplayer focused re-play style of game is something I tend not to enjoy or stick around for.

I often play a story mission, a strike, a few patrols and a couple of multiplayer matches a night.  Right now my focus is strictly on levelling my vanguard rank and taking out Guardians in the crucible just to unlock this exotic weapon:

I am working through a really tough exotic bounty to get this weapon, currently I have to get 500 points by killing Guardians in the crucible using only void damage.  The catch is that any deaths set you back so you need to have a good kill/death ratio.  I am being really strategic when I play and have a void shotgun and heavy weapn but it is still a grind.  So why do I do it? Why do I keep playing when all other games that forced my hand in such a way turned me off?  Part of the answer is in my review for Destiny:

Destiny Review on Blogcritics

But deeper than than the fact that the game is slick, has great controls and plays buttery smooth, the game allows you to interconnect tasks that makes grinding completely addicting.  You have ranks you can get in certain factions, the base vanguard faction, a clan faction and when events like Queens Bounty and Iron Banner arrive you can also level in there as well.  The trick is you can only accrue experience in one at a time.  If you equip a standard cloak (or whatever the equivalent is for Warlock/Titan) you rank Vanguard, if you wear the Queens cloak or Iron Banner or Future War Cult colors then you rank with them.  You care about this because each of them have somewhat unique legendary items you can buy, but only if you achieve a certain rank!  This inspires you to level up so you can buy Legendary items which is much easier then waiting for them as drops.  I am currently Rank 2 in FWC and nearly rank 2 in Vanguard.  The goal being having all Legendary items equipped.  Why?  So I can level up.   Past level 20 you can only level by equipping items with light points, the Blues have decent points, but Purple Legendaries are better and Yellow exotics obviously the best.  To achieve level 30 you need the killer gear.

So Levelling is one reason to grind/play, but that would not be enough.  In order to make me want to do it Destiny has bounties which to me ties everything together.  I know I have to grind crucible matches to get my exotic Hand Cannon unlocked, so I take Crucible bounties as well, these could be melee 10 people from behind or kill 10 warlocks or take over 10 control points.  All of this reward me with experience (which convert to Motes of Light, which equals additional levelling and a currency).  By layering these bounties on what I already want to do personally it gives me that extra incentive to play match after match.  There are bounties for Strikes, patrols and other actions that make playing through the game sequences over and over rewarding on a continual basis.

Having all of these different goals, bounties are a way to keep me interested but Bungie also has daily story missions with extra rewards as well as weekly strikes and crucible matches with bonuses that sweeten the pot.  Plus the gameplay is just so damn fun.  I mean really flawless.  I have not enjoyed a shooter so much in ages, so much so that the gunplay in Borderlands: TPS seems frankly subpar.  Bungie has said that they will continue to grow Destiny and I see it in the content patches and Public Events.  I am hopelessly addicted to this game and frankly I don;t care, it is pure fun to me and I wish I was home playing it right now.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

PAX East 2014 Preview: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!

One of the surprises leading up to PAX East was hearing about the new game in the Borderlands franchise called Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Developed by 2K Australia with heavy partnership from Gearbox, this new title focuses on Handsome Jack’s rise to infamy in the period between Borderlands one and two. While the game was not playable by attendees at the show, Gearbox and 2K Australia had a developer-led playthrough of the new game that was focused on introducing new characters, environments and weapon types. It was a great presentation and alleviated my fears that this would be just more of the same Borderlands we are used to.
click to view larger imageThe presentation started with the character of Athena, a Gladiator class who was an NPC originally introduced in DLC for the first Borderlands. Athena’s abilities focus on a shield she can generate to absorb shots and then fire for tremendous damage.
As the presenter moved around the world, which is the moon orbiting Pandora, he introduced some of the new mechanics offered by this new playground. On the moon the gravity is lower, which allows for higher and longer jumps, as well as the potential to knock items and even people off the surface with enough force. The second major addition was an extra item slot called O2 Kits (but which looks like it says “OZ Kits,” a nod to the Australian development of the game); these slots not only give an oxygen timer but also have benefits similar to ones given on shield slots.
As they started to move around and explore, the addition of O2 kits and Oxygen itself started to really come out as a huge difference in this title. Certain areas have breathable environments being generated and others don’t; smash a canister when there is no oxygen/gravity and items float away. Kill a bad guy just right and he floats away into space as well. You can also fire at people’s helmets to cut off their oxygen supply, which could be a key tactic in some battles. The oxygen tank you carry can also be used tactically to trigger longer or higher jumps, but it depletes oxygen faster which is something you have to be aware of.
The O2 meter can easily be looked at as similar to the shield bar – you are in trouble one way or another when it starts to get low. Thankfully there are air pockets all over the place (and marked on the map) as well as atmosphere generators and buildings that can replenish your O2. Plus the O2 kit is another item type, so larger and more powerful ones can be found as you play.
click to view larger imageThe developer then took us to a loot drop in order to explain some of the new weapon types found in The Pre-Sequel!  The first was a cryo gun model that is a first for the series, giving the ability to slow, then finally freeze enemies with multiple shots. If enemies are killed when frozen they shatter, which actually looked really cool in the low-gravity setting. A neat moment occurred with this gun type later in the playthrough when an enemy froze and was shattered in low gravity with the bits floating away. When atmosphere was restored the bits fell to the ground all around.
The other major weapon type is a sustained laser-style weapon that can have whatever elemental power the gun happens to be created with, so you can have a fire, ice or corrosive laser. Of course all the weapon manufacturers have their variants as well, so assume some fire faster, some explode and others do other over-the-top actions you would expect from Borderlands guns.
The developer was playing alone as Athena and she was quite effective especially once the shield’s ultimate power was unlocked, giving her the ability to chain-hit many targets. Soon though a large horde appeared and another presenter jumped in and started playing as Wilhelm, who was the first boss from Borderlands 2. In Borderlands 2 Wilhelm is a giant robot, but in The Pre-Sequel! he is a cyborg and his skill tree is all about adding other robotic components until he is the Wilhelm we know.
His key power is called Air Power and it revolves around calling in Drones to assist you.  Wilhelm is a Defender class and he looked pretty interesting and will be the tank class in this title. Wilhelm and Athena took on waves of bad guys, working together to take advantage of frozen enemies and claiming oxygen-rich areas. Eventually they encountered a mini-boss called Red Belly who kicked Athena through the glass of the compound, and the demo ended with her flipping through space. There will be two other playable characters available upon initial release, ClapTrap the FragTrap and Nisha the Lawbringer (who was sheriff of Lynchwood in Borderlands 2), but they were not presented as part of the demo.
click to view larger imageInitially I did not have a lot of excitement for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! I assumed it was just Borderlands with a coat of paint, but the story of Handsome Jack becoming the head of Hyperion seems interesting and the new tweaks look fun. The inclusion of O2 kits and the new gun variants look to add depth to the game and we were even teased with a new moon vehicle that looks like it will be a blast to drive around Pandora’s moon.
Interestingly enough the game is coming to last-gen consoles (PS3, Xbox 360 and PC) so that the developer could focus on content and not engine changes to suit the newer-generation boxes. This also means we get to play the game that much sooner, and after what I saw at PAX East I am looking forward to finding a gazillion new guns in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! when it is released this fall.