Kerbal Space Program

Blaugust 2015 Day 09

KSP launcher screenI bought Kerbal Space Program in November 2013 during a sale, played for maybe half an hour, decided it was “popular but not for me”, and moved on to something else. Fast forward almost a year to October 2014 when I saw a Let’s Play video by Bevo, one of the YouTubers that I follow for Minecraft videos. He was showcasing KSP’s Career Mode and it looked like exactly what I needed for the game to click. I’ve been assuming that Career Mode wasn’t in the version I’d originally tried, but in researching for this review I found out that the KSP wiki says otherwise. Armed with better information, my second foray into KSP was much more fun. Career Mode added just enough progression and guidance to the base sandbox to really hook me. Steam has my current playtime at 807 hours.

KSP 2015-05-29 21-49-48-52In case you’ve not heard of it yet, Kerbal Space Program is about launching rockets into space. The game provides three modes: sandbox, science, and career. It also allows each game to be customized to adjust the difficulty at each level.

Sandbox mode is the original version of the game. All of the parts in the game are available for use and all of the buildings in your Kerbal Space Center are fully functional. There are no limitations on what you can do, but there’s also no guidance either. It’s a full sandbox experience, which usually leave me bored after a few hours, but may be right up your alley.

KSP 2015-05-22 01-07-37-01Science mode takes sandbox and applies some limitations. Your space center is still fully upgrades and ready for use, but not all of the parts are available. Instead you have to accumulate science by sending rockets into orbit, to the local moons, and to other planets and running experiments, collecting surface samples, planting flags, or just taking crew reports. Science points are spent in the Research and Development center to unlock node in the technology tree, each node unlocked adds one or more parts to what can be used in the Vehicle Assembly Building or Space Plane Hangar.

KSP 2015-01-21 12-08-14-87Career mode takes science mode and adds even more limitations. First career mode add two more resources: funds and reputation. Also you KSC starts out only partially functional. Your VAB and SPH have limits on the number of parts in a vehicle they can build, your launchpad and runway have weight limits on how big of a craft they can launch, and so forth. The Administration building offers contracts which provide recourse when completed, and also give players goals to accomplish. Building and launching a rocket in career mode requires funds, which you need to balance against the payoff of the contract you’re building the ship to complete.

While Kerbal Space Program is much different from Minecraft, they both fulfill a few of the same basic needs in my gaming life. They are both sandbox games with some progression elements. They both encourage creativity and exploration. Where KSP excels over Minecraft, for me, is in providing more configurability. In Minecraft, if you don’t want to deal with monsters there’s a peaceful setting, but that also disables the hunger mechanics. In KSP if you don’t want to deal with funds but you don’t want to deal with the entire parts catalog at once you can always use science mode.

Both games also have really large and vibrant modding communities that add a lot of functionality to their respective games. Minecraft’s developer Mojang however has always maintained an attitude of benevolent neglect. Mods have never been officially supported, and likely never will be. KSP developers Squad have taken the opposite path and embraced their mod community.  They have a “Modding Monday” feature on their blog, a mods section on their official forums, and they’ve hired/contracted in some of the more popular mod developers to add features to the stock game.

KSP 2015-06-18 01-55-07-27Aside from all of that, the thing I love the most about KSP is how well Squad has done balancing fun versus realism. Kerbin, the planet that the Kerbal’s inhabit and launch from, is about 11 times smaller than Earth. Distances in the Kerbin system are much smaller than our own but still large enough to give you a feeling of the vastness of space. My favorite example of this was launching a mission to the far moon of Kerbin, Minmus, and then launching a second mission to the nearer moon, Mun. I was able to complete the Mun mission with three days out, three back, plus a moon landing in the time it took for the Minmus mission to just do most of it’s nine day the transfer. The game allows for time warping, so I didn’t actually sit through a three day transfer, even if a Kerbin day is only 6 hours, but it was still interesting to realize the difference in distances even on a small planetary scale when I could fit one complete mission to Mun inside just the time it took for a trip out to Minmus.

If you’re curious about the game, I highly recommend checking out any of the KSP YouTube videos by Bevo, Scott Manley, and Tyler Raiz. Scott in particular recently did a whole new tutorial series when KSP 1.0 was release (part 1) and the game made the official transition out of beta. The forums are also an excellent resource are are both the main KSP subreddit and the Kerbal Academy subreddit.

As always check out the Blaugust Initiate Page if you’re interested in joining the blog-every-day fun.


Platformers are one of my least favorite genres. Aside from fighting games, nothing is as guaranteed to get me as frustrated. As a result usually I’ll immediately lose interest in a game when I find out it has platforming elements. Portal and Portal 2 being rare exceptions, in large part because they do such a good job of training you throughout the game and there aren’t any sudden difficulty increases.

That’s why I surprised myself by playing quite a bit of Ronin this weekend. I found out about the game on Friday when I saw a video from Enter Elysium, who I subscribe to for his Kerbal Space Program videos. I was interested enough from watching the first few levels that I bought the game from

I’m not good at memorizing levels and timing jumps. I usually really hate repeating levels too. In Ronin the platforming parts of the game are all turn based which gives me time to plan out my moves. There’s still quite a bit of trial and error repeating levels but so far it’s been very liberal with checkpoints so it’s not frustrated me yet.

I’m not sure how far in I am, but I’ve completed five levels so far and been really happy with the $9.79 I spent.

Space Engineers

space_engineers_square_1024If you love Minecraft and space, you need to check out Space Engineers. Two things I want to warn you about before you do though. One, it’s an early-access game on Steam so this is a more like a pre-Mojang Minecraft experience, and two, it will suck you in. Seriously my Steam client shows 171 hours played.

Space Engineers is a game by Keen Software House about building ships, bases, and anything else you can imagine (for instance an AT-AT that walks) using armor blocks, thrusters, pistons, wheels, etc. It’s been integrated with Steam’s Workshop for a while for sharing maps with custom build, and just released full mod support on Thursday. The SE community has hit the ground running with 260 mod entries already. To me the most impressive thing about the game is how Keen has managed to keep up an insane schedule of releasing an update every Thursday with fixes and new features.

Not being an insane building genius, I’ve been enjoying playing in survival mode. This involved spawning into a single player map with a default ship, finding an asteroid to set up ship in, and then progress from manually mining ores to building a series of small ships for mining and constructing larger ships. All in the safe shadow of the asteroid I picked as I have meteors turned on, which means periodically a storm of rocks comes hurling from the sunward side of the map. On the bright side, meteors leave behind all kinds of nice deposits.

SpaceEngineers 2014-08-11 22-14-33-76


Day 11 of Blaugust

Defiance the Game

I’ve been playing a ton of Defiance lately. It’s fun. You should try it out.

You want more detail? Okay fine.

It’s an interesting combination of shooter and MMO. I think it’s geared more towards MMO players than shooter fans though. If you’re a hard core Gears of Halo Duty fan, I imagine you’ll find Defiance too shallow. The only shooters I’ve ever played and enjoyed much were the Mass Effects and Red Dead Redemption, and Defiance has a fair amount in common with both.

Like those games, Defiance relies on story to get you through the single player campaign. The twist for Defiance is there are other people playing their single player campaigns around you, which is nice when there’s another player or two around to help with a trio of super mutants popping out of a chopper and shooting grenades everywhere. Unlike most other MMOs, there’s no kill stealing or ninja looting to deal with so it’s like Guild Wars 2 where passersby are more likely to help out than hinder you.

Despite there being other players about though, the game is kind of lonely. The chat window is a tiny box in the bottom right and I’m usually so focused on what’s going on in the game world that I never notice it on the rare occasions someone does say something. I imagine that’s why voice chat is built into the game, especially given it was intended for consoles as well. I disabled that after the first day though. I assume it works better on console platforms where it’s the norm, but PC players are used to push-to-talk systems and I was hearing a lot of keyboard and mouse clicking rather than actual chatting. It definitely could’ve been worse though.

Arkfalls will be familiar to anyone who’s played Rift or Warhammer. They are basically the same mechanic as Rift Invasions or Public Quests. I think they are more fun in Defiance. It just works better in a gun-focused game where everyone is highly mobile and there’s no holy trinity baggage.

Vehicles are surprisingly one of the most of parts of the game for me. First, it never stops being funny to crunch a hellbug or clip a 99er as I’m speeding down the road. Second, the boost mechanic and lack of falling damage make hills an absolute joy. There are some racing challenges in the game that are fun and occasionally frustrating, but definitely worth trying.

My major complaint with the game is the UI. EVE is notorious for theirs and rightfully so. It’s complicated but once you learn it its just awkward. Defiance’s UI is awkward in the way most UIs designed for console and ported to PC are. It’s not as complicated as EVE’s, but it isn’t simple.

For example, you begin the game with two loadouts. If you equip a weapon on either one then it’s no longer available to sell, which makes sense. Unfortunately there’s no way to see which loadout has the gun equipped without checking them all. Not a huge deal but it is cumbersome when trying to organize twenty some weapons across three loadouts. I also finally figured out last night why the modifications screen wouldn’t always let me add mod slots to items. That option only appears if the weapon isn’t equipped on any loadouts. Adding a slot takes ten minutes, so I can see why they did it, but I would rather they just allow me to unequip it from the mod window directly.

The UI has also had quite a few bugs. It took half a dozen tries the other day for MMOGC to get a clan invite to send to me. Even then my clan screen didn’t register that I was in one until I logged in later that evening. A few times my friends list has been blank on logging in, and there was a substantial rollback the other night.

Support seems to be on the ball at least. I had bought some Bits, which is what they call the store currency, and picked up a +15 slot inventory upgrade which i unfortunately lost when i logged in after the rollback. My Bit balance was the same as after the purchase though. I got a response to my support email within 24 hours and got the Bits refunded so I could repurchase the inventory upgrade. So all in all, not a bad deal.

Defiance is fun, if a little rough in places. I don’t think Trion has been a successful with this launch as they were with Rift. But Rift didn’t release simultaneously on three platforms. I can’t make any guarantees about it’s long term viability but if you’ve followed my gaming habits at all you’ll know that’s generally not a concern of mine. Besides, there’s no subscription so I can take a break whenever and jump in anytime I feel like hunting an Arkfall.

If you are a casual fan of shooters and enjoyed the Rift Invasions in Rift then I think you’ll have a blast in Defiance. If you’re a hardcore Call of Halo Warfare Gears, don’t waste your money.


I bought Dishonored from Steam. I considered getting it for my Xbox, but didn’t because I was hoping that it would be opened up for mods eventually and because the load times for PC were much faster. The load times were a major decision point for me as I don’t play many stealth games and I knew I would want to be able to obsessively use quick saves to avoid getting frustrated and I didn’t want to spend half my playing time starting at loading screens.
The game begins very similarly to Skyrim, although instead of a wagon ride to the executioner’s block, you are on a boat headed to meet with the Empress. Things go bad quickly with the murder of the Empress, disappearance of her daughter and heir, and Korvo, the main character, being framed for the murder then imprisoned and tortured. The rest of the game involves escaping prison and then finding out who was behind the murder and bringing the evildoers to justice.

Unlike Skyrim, Dishonored is not an open-ended game. It is split into nine missions plus some interludes, with each mission having a specific goal that Korvo must accomplish. The freedom in Dishonored comes from the many ways in which you can achieve the mission goals. All of the missions have optional objectives and offer both lethal and non-lethal ways of completing the missions, plus you have myriad choices in how to make it through the mission map and deal with obstacles and soldiers.

The actual stealth gameplay reminded me quite a lot of Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham City. So much so that I overly relied on sleep darts and the Blink and Dark Vision powers for more than half of the game. While it was fun to play that way, I was missing out on some fun by not making use of Possession and Bend Time as well.

I completed the game with the low chaos (good) ending in about 20 hours. I chose non-lethal solutions to all of the missions, although I did blunder around a bit in the first few missions so I didn’t completely get away without killing everyone. I say this just about every time I finish I game I enjoy that offers multiple endings, but I’m looking through to playing Dishonored a second time. Of course I never finish these second goes, although I think I have a pretty good shot and succeeding with Dishonored.

At one point in a mission, I was trying to get past a locked door but I couldn’t find the key. I realized could keep sneaking around hunting for it, which would take a long time while trying to keep from getting spotted, or I could look on YouTube, or I could make a save point and just go on a rampage until I found the key. I ended up taking the rampage option and had a lot of fun cutting loose with Korvo. While I never did find the key, I did figure out an alternate way past that door and had a lot of fun doing it.

In the time I spent playing more assassin than thief, I found that the game played quite a bit differently, and I think this’ll make a difference in keeping me engaged a second time through.

The Secret World

Funcom’s The Secret World is one of several MMOs that I had no interest in before release, just like Tera Online. Also like Tera Online, lots of friends and acquaintances were playing it and talking about how wonderful it was. So just like Tera, I decided to give it a shot.

I started off with a 24 hour trial key (thanks GC). For someone like me with a job and family responsibilities it’s kind of hard to get much more than four to six hours out of a 24 hour key, and frankly that’s not enough time to get a good impression of the game. I actually got about four hours of playtime in, which was enough to get through the tutorial and a few quests in the regular game, one of which was an investigation quest that the game is become well-known for. Based on that experience, I initially decided not to buy a full key. I ended up changing my mind though after about two days of near universal praise, something exceedingly rare in gaming. I thought maybe I’d just made some rookie mistakes on my initial play session, like choosing a weapon that didn’t really match my play style, and not picking up a second weapon right away.

So I ended up buying a game key and committed to trying the game for thirty days. I figured if the game hadn’t hooked my by then, it wouldn’t. Plus, I was really curious about what everyone saw in the game that I was missing.

I rerolled a new Templar character because I wasn’t happy with my original’s name from the 24 hour trial, but decided to skip the tutorial the second time around (which is a nice feature and one that most MMOs don’t include at launch). It also gave me a clean slate for skills and abilities, which wasn’t really necessary but I’m retentive that way.

Character creation is decent a little thin on customization. There just isn’t enough variety in available facial features and hair types compared to the amount of customization that can be done with clothing. Funcom has promised some improvements are coming soon, which I would normally be skeptical of, but they’ve gotten off to an impressive start with their first content patch already so I’m inclined to believe them.

The worst part of the character creation was coming up with a name. Names are made up of a nickname, a first name, and a last name. The nickname has to be unique across the entire game because of the way that players can group and guild across dimensions. In fantasy games I have no problem coming up with a good name that’s lore appropriate, but since TSW is based on the modern world I had quite a bit of trouble coming up with something I was happy with. I ended up just giving up and naming my character Bryn “Kaerr” Aev after my main in Star Trek Online. While it was a pain, I am happy that the names are unique so if Funcom decides to merge dimensions no one will lose their character names, although I would’ve preferred a Cryptic system with names unique by handle instead.

The combat system is pretty novel, although the actual combat mechanics are not. You can pick two from among various weapons (including three different types of magic). This allows for tons of combinations of weapons and skills to try to build synergies with. Even better is you’re not limited to those, if you decide to change weapons then you can put skill and ability points into as many different ones as you want so you don’t have to worry about rolling alts to try out different classes (there’s no point cap that I’m aware of). The actual combat itself though is very MMO-standard: you have an action bar and tab targeting.

The first questing area, Kingsmouth, is a Stephen King style New England town that’s under assault by zombies and Lovecraftian creatures. I spent most of the nine hours I played the game in Kingsmouth, so I can’t comment on the rest of the zones, but I can say it’s full of interesting and well-written missions. If you’re a fan of King, Lovecraft, or zombies, then it is a real treat to play in.

Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of King (except for some of his non-horror stuff) or Lovecraft and the zombie fad has really started to get old for me. Were Funcom to make a science-fiction game in the same style as TSW, I would probably be having tons of fun, but the horror genre is not something I’ve ever enjoyed.

This is a good fun game even though it’s not for me. I’m impressed with what Funcom’s done and how well they’ve been communicating and making updates. They’ve actually been reminding me of Trion, which is not a comparison I’d ever thought I would make. So if you like the idea of a modern horror setting for an MMO, I recommend you try it out.

Mass Effect 3: No Spoilers

I’m not going to give any spoilers or talk about the ending (see here for that), I just want to address the story and game mechanic changes from ME2 to ME3 and give my general impressions.


There was one often asked question when Mass Effect 2 was released that’s been making the rounds again, “Should I play from the beginning or just start at 3?” My recommendation from then is as true if not more so:

You don’t have to play the first to enjoy the second, but it is a better experience having played both.

The game is much better if you’ve played both 1 and 2. There’s two entire games worth of emotional investment in the characters and events. This is one of the few video game series where I’ve laughed so much, and it’s the only game I can think of that’s made me tear up. And ME3 did it twice.

I have been consistently impressed and amazed with how many characters from previous game I ran into. I got to see how people I helped from both prior games had gotten on with their lives and what difference my Shepard’s actions had made in their situations. My only regret was that it’s been so long since I played the first game that I often had to be reminded (conveniently enough there was always an option via in-game dialog) who they were.

One disappointment for me was how few crew from either the previous two games were available to return to my ship for use on missions. The extended dialogs available on the ship are great, but there are also some awesome lines available during the missions. Of course all of the ones that were most important to me were there, but after the wide selection available in ME2, the mission team selection screen seemed a little empty.


For the most part, the combat in ME3 is the same as ME2. You have powers to set an ammo type, thermal clips to handle reloads, and a cover system.

You are no longer restricted to certain weapon types because of your class though. Instead all weapons have a weight value, and the more you carry the slower your powers recharge and become available again. I really liked this as it let my Soldier Shepard load up on several different types of weapons to handle sniping, general combat, and close range situations, and accept a hit to how fast powers became available again. Had I been playing an Adept or something similar, I could’ve gone the other route and just carried the lightest pistol possible and had super fast power recharges.

The weapon customization system has also a changed. You can add two upgrades to any weapon. Upgrades can be found on missions or purchased (either at the Citadel or through your armory once you’ve visited a Citadel store the first time). I especially liked that you could put a scope on any weapon and have a scope sight when you actually aimed it. For someone like myself, who’s not all that accurate with a sniper rifle, having a pistol with a scope and damage upgrade was really good as a high rate of fire rifle replacement.

The pace of combat has sped up. Enemies will use grenades to force you out of cover (and vice versa), so tactical movement become much more important.

Speaking of cover, I’ve read a lot of reviews complaining about the fact that going into and out of cover as well as jumping from one cover spot to another shares the same button as sprinting. While I got caught on that a few times myself, I didn’t find it frustrating. I imagine that has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t play shooters often. Mass Effect is a hybrid RPG/shooter (action?) game and as such doesn’t do either as well as a more specialized game does. Someone who doesn’t play a lot of shooters won’t notice the rough edges as much.


I was really not happy about the addition of multiplayer to the game. It felt to me like something that EA was pushing so they’d have a way to add more revenue streams, like selling multiplayer maps. After seeing some of the videos I was a little less leary of the idea though, and I tried to keep in mind the lessons I learned from ME2 that the PR tone of a game often has little to do with the tone of the game itself (such as the aweful Jack promo videos).

Just after the game released, there was a bit of drama related to War Assets versus Readiness where people were upset that you had to play the multiplayer in order to get the best ending. Basically BioWare designed the system so that for every fleet or unit you recruit to the effort to free Earth you get points. However the points are adjusted by a readiness percentage, with the idea being that the more combat practice units get the more effective they’ll be. This incentivises people to play the multiplayer, which a lot of people didn’t want to do.

For myself, I had planned to give the multiplayer a shot, and I’m super glad I did because it turned out to be a lot of fun. How much fun? My final playtime for the single player game was roughly 32 hours. My overall playtime is 66 hours (or at least it was when I wrote this), and I’ve been continuing to play even after beating the game when my Galactic Readiness doesn’t mean anything.

I’m enjoying it so much because it’s co-operative multiplayer not competitive. You’re on a four person team fighting through 11 waves of enemies. You can revive fallen comrades for a short time and anyone who gets killed before they can be revived automatically revives between the waves.

An interesting side-effect of playing the multiplayer is I’ve gotten a chance to play the non-soldier classes, and this has started me considering additional play throughs of ME3 to try out the other classes in the full game.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve loved ME1 and/or ME2 but haven’t picked up ME3, you should. I know there’s a lot of drama around the final minutes of the game but that’s 15 minutes out of 32 hours, and even then it’s a matter of personal taste. Lot’s of people like the ending, lot’s of people don’t, but there’s only one way to find out for yourself.

Lost in Skyrim

Just so you know why I’ve been absent recently from the blog. This is by far the most time I’ve ever put into a game that’s not an MMO in the last twenty years, and I’m not even done with the main quest yet. At some point in the future I’ll write some more detailed impressions of the game. In the interim, if you have any questions leave them below.

I love Arkham City, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Batman: Arkham City is an excellent sequel to Arkham Asylum. If you are a fan of Batman, then I assume you’ve already played the standard game.  Arkham City is just like it except it’s more and better. Go play it now, although if you haven’t finished Arkham Asylum and intend to then do that first or Arkham City will spoil the ending for you.

It is the Mass Effect 2 of the Arkham series. Rocksteady has improved the combat with more animations, gadgets, and moves. I particularly like the smoke pellet and I can remember panicking and dropping down into a group of armed enemies in AA many times, so it’s nice to have a countermeasure. The boss fights are also better here. They are challenging but not stupidly so, there’s always a trick involved and they don’t require multiple deaths to figure out. There are no hitpoint sponges. In general, the game does a good job of introducing new mechanics, training you to use them, and then building on those with additional challenges. There are no sudden increases in difficulty, and no sudden shifts in play-style.

I played and beat the game on normal difficulty, which is the mode I usually pick. There’s a hard mode which removes the counter indicator and makes the enemies more difficult, but I prefer to err on the side of too easy than too hard. After all, I mainly play games for the story and the experience of the environment, not for any sense of achievement.

Besides the combat improvements, Arkham City has similar pacing to Mass Effect 2. The game’s plot is a combination of urgent main storyline and explorable open world with side-missions. I know that mix of pacing really bothers some people, but I’m not one of them. If you prefer to just focue on the main story, most of the side-missions are completable after the main story mission is finished (and the one or two that aren’t are obvious, or were to me). In some ways that might be a better way of finishing the game, since there are areas you can’t reach until you get certain gadgets which you don’t get until you’ve completed sections of the main story. I spent a lot of time trying to get to certain Riddler trophies before I had the means to actually do it.

One item I was a little worried about was the number of villains being added to the game. As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I’ve seen several comic book hero movie franchises including fall prey to the “too many villains” trap, where they try to pack so much into a single film in order to top the previous one that they don’t have from for plot, dialog (beyond one-liners), or character. Fortunately, Arkham City pulls it off. The main story focuses on Joker, Penguin, and Strange, and they are all fleshed out well (although the Joker steals the show as always). The cool part was the side-missions which included Bane, Mad Hatter, Deadshot, Riddler, Zsasz, and several others. The Catwoman/Two Face side story was fun too. With the exception of Joke and Riddler, I enjoyed the shift in focus from Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc in the original game. Hopefully in the third (I’m assuming they’ll be one) game Rocksteady can pull out a few more interesting villains for Batman to face off against.

So like I said at the beginning, if you liked Arkham City then Arkham Asylum is that plus a little bit more. More combat, more gadgets, more environments, and more villains.