Category Archives: backlog

Cyberpunk romp Technobabylon shines with futuristic style

I desperately want to play Unavowed, but I have other point-and-click games from Wadjet Eye Games in my collection to get through first, along with nearly a  bajillion indie downloads from itch.io that all look super neat, such as Robin Morningwood Adventure and The Librarian. However, for this post, I’m talking about Technobabylon, which came out in 2015 and is a substantial reworking and expansion of James Dearden’s trilogy of freeware games that debuted back in 2010. I never tried them then, so this is all new information to me, but clearly Wadjet Eye Games saw something special in them initially.

Technobabylon is set in the city of Newton in the grand ol’ futuristic year of 2087. In this world, genetic engineering is the norm, the addictive Trance has replaced almost any need for human interaction, and an omnipresent AI named Central powers the city. CEL agents Charlie Regis and Max Lao are investigating a serial killer calling himself the Mindjacker who is tapping into the neural wiring of seemingly ordinary citizens, stealing their knowledge, and leaving them dead. Yikes. On the flip-side of this, an agoraphobic net addict named Latha Sesame might be the next target. However, Charlie’s past comes back to haunt him, and he and his partner find themselves on opposite sides of the law, with Latha’s fate stuck right dab in the middle.

Gameplay is your traditional, old-school point-and-click affair, and that’s perfectly fine. I know what I came here for, loving just about everything about previous works from Wadget Eye Games, namely the Blackwell series, Gemini Rue, A Golden Wake, The Shivah, and, heck, even Two of a Kind. You’ll acquire items into your inventory, combine them in strange ways, or simply exhaust dialogue options until you start making things happen. Technobabylon features multiple protagonists, and each one also has access to different bits of technology, such as the Trance or logging into Central. This helps open up options for puzzles while still keeping everything within the same system…though I fear it could become overwhelming down the line.

Speaking of that, there’s a ton of world-building going on here in Technobabylon. It’s seemingly a mix of things like Blade Runner, Black Mirror, and Ghost in the Shell…though I’m not sure how successful it is everywhere. For instance, I don’t fully understand how the Trance works, nor do I grok what “wetware” ultimately is or does, but maybe the point isn’t to fully explain everything happening in this dark, somewhat desolate future. You believe it works as they say it does and go with it. I also may not have paid as close attention to some bits of dialogue, so perhaps the fault rests on my shoulders.

I’m currently somewhere in chapter three of Technobabylon and am enjoying it greatly. I’ve only used an online walkthrough now and then after I felt like I had truly exhausted all my options, and the solution often makes me feel slightly stupid for not figuring it out on my own first. Oh well. That’s how some of these point-and-click adventure games go, I guess. If you miss picking up one single item, you are doomed, like I was for not finding the mag coil before entering Mr. Van der Waal’s apartment, which left me flustered on how to get the dang pistol out of the bloody Jacuzzi. And I do mean bloody.

I’ll keep plugging away at Technobabylon, though it seems like a longer game to get through. At least once I’m done I can move on to other point-and-click adventure games in my collection, many of which have been waiting patiently, for years, for me to…well, point and click on them. We’ll get there, I promise.

The fact is I hit 70,000 Gamerscore perfectly

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Mark the date down, for today, this twenty-ninth period of twenty-four hours as a unit of time, is yet another behemoth moment for Grinding Down: 70,000 Gamerscore. Hit perfectly thanks to Killer Instinct‘s “Stylish Fulgore” Achievement for 10 points, but really, this was a group effort. Those involved will be thanked two paragraphs down, but first, a summary of my long, meticulous journey to this point and the previous landmarks I visited along the way. Because I enjoy thinking about the trek, imagining myself as an unassuming Hobbit on a grand Adventure, one to eventually share with future generations, becoming legend. Hmm, methinks it is almost time to rewatch Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time.

Well, naturally, this all started in February 2010 with 10,000. After that, almost a year later, I slid into 20,000. Next, 30,000 was acquired another year after that in March 2012. The black sheep of this story happened in September 2013 as I wasn’t able to get the number I wanted because of stupid ol’ Fable III and settled on 41,000 instead. The gap between that amount and 50,000 was almost two years, as I backed away from the Xbox 360 for a while…for reasons. Here’s the kicker–it was only last June of this very year that I was celebrating 60,000 Gamerscore, which means I did a whole bunch of popping Achievements in the few months since then. Let’s examine where this exponential growth occurred the most.

Let’s see, let’s see. I dug back into my larger-than-necessary backlog for the 360, polishing off Hitman: Absolution and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as much as possible. In terms of the Xbox One, the games that really helped grow that Gamerscore were LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Costume Quest 2, Monopoly Plus, The Wolf Among Us, and, embarrassingly, Ben-Hur. Of course, I’ve dabbled in a number of other games, both large and small, both on consoles and mobile, and, as mentioned before, this was a team effort. Even the games where I opened them once and played for less than twenty minutes matter. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to thank every game individually, but they should know in their heart of hearts that they are greatly appreciated.

I feel like with every one of these posts, I try to convey an air of lukewarm detachedness. That hitting these milestones is no big deal, simply a little fun to have with a system designed to reward gamers for all sorts of actions, such as defeating a tough boss or simply watching a game’s credits all the way through. The truth is…I care about hitting these numbers very much. The minute I begin to inch closer to them, I immediately start scanning out the list of potential Achievements and begin planning my path forward. I find it entertaining, and maybe someone out there reading this does too–hey, let me know if ya do–and I’m genuinely curious about what mix of games will lead me to the 80,000 mark. I do have a bunch more episodic adventures from Telltale Games to go through, and those are pretty easy Achievements to pop. We’ll see.

With all that said, picture proof:

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Wait, I took a better pic, since that screenshot ended up being so tiny. Also, I refuse to change my Avatar’s outfit. The more likely reality is that I no longer remember how:

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Trying to thieve as a master thief in Thief

gd early impressions Thief xbox 360

The Xbox One recently rolled out its list of backwards-compatible games, and, no, Thief is not one of them. Not yet, at least. I’ll get to the connection shortly, I promise. I’m a big fan of this function, and it honestly was one of the attributes that resulted in me picking up this current-gen console over the other, despite all the hubbub around the possibility of PlayStation 2 emulation on the PlayStation 4. Anyways, with the fact that some of my Xbox 360 games are ready to be played on the newest console, this meant deletion and freeing up hard-drive space was imminent.

Once I deleted Just Cause 2 and moved my save game profile to the cloud–which is a technology that I’m still scared to trust–my Xbox 360 began downloading the next game in my queue, which turned out to be Square Enix’s Thief, released back in February 2014. It’s a stealthy game I’ve been eyeing for some time, though it was immediately strange and revealing going from sneaking around the Commonwealth in Fallout 4 to sneaking around the less-imaginative, ultra dark, Victorian-themed, plague-riddled City.

Here’s the story: master thief Garrett teams up with his former apprentice, Erin, on the same job from their contact Basso. It’s clear that Garrett and Erin differ on what it means to be a thief, with Erin happily murdering guards to ensure no one follows after them while Garrett would prefer to be less violent. Along the way, he steals her claw weapon. As they arrive at the Baron Northcrest’s manor, they discover some ritual taking place. Garrett calls off the job, but Erin refuses to listen, falling into the center of the ritual, which was nearing its completion, becoming engulfed by some mystical energy. Garrett is knocked out trying to save her, and only awakens from unconsciousness a year later.

It’s not a great story so far–I’m past the prologue and somewhere into the second chapter, after visiting a church–and a lot of that falls on Garrett’s cloak-covered shoulders. He comes across as a self-righteous do-gooder, stealing from the rich and keeping it for himself, but also always has a snarky one-liner to say for every situation, often to the point of mockery. I get the sense that he lacks empathy and could care less about what happened to his friend Erin, but we’ll see where things go. It’s hard to get a lot of story when your main character spends the majority of his time slinking around houses in the dark, half-listening to conversations through keyholes, not letting a single footstep be heard.

The focus of Thief is to use stealth in order to overcome a number of challenges, with violence often left as a last resort. I’m all about that. “The stealthier, the better” would make an excellent bumper sticker. Early on, I ran into the same problem that turned me off of Dishonored, in that once you are spotted, there is little chance of survival, which only makes me want to do perfect stealth runs, with no room for error. That said, I don’t think Thief plays or looks all that great; it’s sluggish and murky, with nothing distinctive-looking about it. So far, the coolest move, in my mind, Garrett can do is distinguish candles to darken a room, and I’m eagerly awaiting popping an Achievement somehow related to doing this.

Heads up: there’s also a lot of pressing X. You hit this button to pick up loot, of which there’s a ton. I think there was over 70 pieces to grab in the first chapter alone, and this loot translate into money, which you can later then spend on skill tree upgrades, weapons, and miscellaneous items. however, when it comes to desks and drawers, plan to press X a bunch and be disappointed when you find nothing. Also, I think I had a similar gripe with Batman: Arkham Asylum, but mashing a button to open a window or grate is beyond tedious, there only to pad out what little gameplay already exists.

I’d really like to see Thief become backwards-compatible on the Xbox One, but not because it is some much treasured entry in the series and fans are eagerly looking to play it right now. It’s more out of laziness. The further forward I go with my new current console, the less interested I am in switching on the 360, changing inputs on my TV, and plugging a controller into the system. Yes, I’m the same dude who is still working away at Final Fantasy IX, a PlayStation 1 RPG of old on my still-kicking PlayStation 2, but that’s on a different television in my bedroom. Okay, I have to get back now to looting dead bodies and hanging cat portraits on my settlement’s structures…oh wait, wrong game.

Never want to go back to Final Fantasy IX’s Oeilvert

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Last time I wrote about Final Fantasy IX, I expressed my concern over the fact that I just couldn’t help myself wasting hours and hours on grinding for permanent abilities for all potential party members. The siren’s call to fight Zemzelett over and over simply so both Garnet and Eiko had all potential summons at their disposal was too hard to resit. Well, all I can say is that, despite wanting to do more ability grinding, I moved the plot forward after my summoners stocked up on epic, screen-defying magical beings from beyond. I mean, it’s scary–2015 is nearly over, and I simply cannot let another year go by where I don’t see this adventure through.

Unfortunately, I was watching Giant Bomb‘s Drew and Alexis Extra Life 2015 stream–for the kids!–while playing, and missed an important piece of dialogue before selecting which party of members I wanted to bring to Oeilvert. Other than the name of a place that is deviously tough to spell, it’s also home to some mystical maguffin called the Gulug Stone that Kuja wants, but is afraid to gather for himself. So he kidnaps Zidane and his friends, and in order to save some of them from dropping to their death, tasks Zidane and three other people with traveling there and obtaining the thingy for him. The important part of dialogue I missed though was that Oeilvert is a no magic zone; naturally, because I missed this, I brought Vivi, Eiko, and Garnet with me, all three of which are heavy on magic casting and not so much on hitting enemies with sticks. This made Oeilvert much harder than it needed to be, but by then I had already committed to the task, plus saved my progress.

After you complete Oeilvert, you switch back over to Cid, now a frog instead of a oglop, as he helps free the other party members. How? Through a time-based stealth puzzle section where you have to also place certain weights on scales…naturally. It’s goofy and tricky, and I’m not going to hide the fact that I looked up a solution to the weights puzzle as I was running low on time and worried about losing a good chunk of progress. It’s certainly not the best part of Final Fantasy IX, that’s for sure. With everyone else freed, you get to search the Desert Palace, light candles, and fight monsters. However, now my party was made up of Freya, Steiner, Quina, and Amarant, none of which I look to for magic stuff.

See, in this area, you fight Grimlocks, which have different strengths and weaknesses based on what colored head is on the top. The red head deals out high physical damage dealer, but has a low defense to magic. On the flip, the blue head casts status-inducing spells and has low physical defense. Basically, it boils down to this–when the red head is on top, cast magic, and when the blue is on top, attack with weapons. Basically, I had to constantly wait for these beasts to don their blue heads and then attack with everyone, though Quina did have a water spell in his/her/its inventory. This made these fights extra long, and when you get into a random encounter every few steps, it can begin to feel a bit maddening.

Somehow, I got through it all and am now on my way to the Last Continent. It might not have been the clearest cut path–and that’s my fault for not selecting better balanced parties–but I’m right behind Kuja and his army of questioning black mages as they cross through Esto Gaza. Progress, people. Progress.

Look, I don’t know how Final Fantasy IX concludes, nor do I want to just yet, so please refrain from spoilers in the comments section. Somehow, I’ve remained blissfully ignorant when it comes to plot details for the end of this story, as well as Final Fantasy VIII, but I really do feel like we’re dragging our feet now. The conclusion to disc two felt more like a finale than anything else, but I guess then that would be too short for a JRPG from the mammoth Squaresoft. I’m not as invested in Kuja as a villain as I was with Garnet’s mother, and so I am simply following after the effeminate man because the game is telling me to. Also, I hope I get an airship like soon.

BEEP combines physics and platforming with cute robots

beep early impressions gd

Remember when I went balls-out crazy over the summer during the Steam Summer Sale and spent an astounding $0.74 on a bundle of four games? And then I only played one of them, the cute yet challenging Out There (Somewhere)? Yeah, I remember that too. Congratulations, we both have good memories. Except that I also promised to try out the other three–Polarity, Beep, and Camera Obscura–sooner than later, which were words written five months ago. I think I need to look up the dictionary definition of “soon” before I ever use the word again.

Beep tells the story of a lone spaceship that has been gliding through the emptiness of interstellar space for, like, ever and ever. An automated factory within this ship prepares a fleet of robotic explorers in search of gold nuggets–one of my sister’s least favorite words–that will help advance their race. Don’t ask me how, I’m not a robotic explorer. Gold also unlocks newer planets to explore. When arriving at a planet, a robot is deployed, and the player gains control, using platforming, physics, and laser beams to collect the necessary nuggets and reach the end safely.

Your little exploring robot in Beep–which I’m not totally comfortable writing as BEEP though that’s how it appears over at Steam–is mega cute. I mean, look at it. Anyways, it moves on wheels, which does affect how you climb up over some ledges or whether or not sliding is an issue on slanted slopes. The first few levels, namely on the Perilous Plains, slowly up the difficulty, but mostly introduce elements like moving platforms to climb on and dealing with antagonistic robots at a good pace. However, I found the little robot descending underground into dark sections with limited light and tricky jumps a bit too much early on. You do hit some checkpoints in the levels, which means restarting isn’t too punishing, and you can just keep trying over and over.

The graphics and bouncy tunes keep everything feeling easy and safe, even if it can get a little challenging in some parts. At first, I mistook Beep to be a prototype or student project–shame on me–but the graphics eventually fade to the background as you find yourself concerned with tossing defunct robot bodies out of your way or lowering a platform just so in hopes of being in line of sight of a nugget and using your anti-gravity gun to bring it closer. Using that gun to hurl rocks and dead enemy bot bodies with force is really fun, though it can bite you in the butt if you aren’t careful where you are aiming. For example, I wanted to hurl a dead opponent up and over my little robot explorer’s head into the gap behind it–you know, like a cool action hero–but instead tossed it directly into it, knocking both off the edge. Yes, I laughed, but I also quickly learned my lesson.

Beep‘s got some pedigree behind it too. I don’t know specifically who, but it comes from the minds of former LucasArts and BioWare employees and is clearly inspired by games like Cave Story, Yoshi’s Island, Trine, and Half-Life 2, all of which I’ve actually played in my lifetime. I’m enjoying it so far and expect to chip away at it slowly. I also can totally see myself just sitting on the level select menu, which is simply a solar system you can fly around and bump into drifting meteorites and such, all while a thumping, Blade Runner-like soundtrack plays. The shocking truth is that I really need to load up other things on my laptop other than Time Clickers.

Cthulhu Saves the World with an old-school parody RPG

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A copy of Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII: The Beginning have sat untouched, uninstalled in a folder on my laptop’s desktop, for a good long while now. I mean, the former came out in July 2011, and I guess I ended up getting a copy of it through some bundle promotion that I can no longer recall, but all I did was download it, not ever sure when it would be a good time to kickstart an old-school RPG adventure. Turns out, any time is good, and so I’ve been tinkering away at this pixelated 2D journey through labyrinthine dungeons brimming with treasure chests, a limited number of random encounters, and the moodiest soundtrack, with hard swings from cult-like chamber songs to a peppy, relaxing tune when exploring a village.

Now, technically, the game’s name on the title screen is as follows: Cthulhu Saves the World: Super Hyper Enhanced Championship Edition Alpha Diamond DX Plus Alpha FES HD – Premium Enhanced Game of the Year Collector’s Edition (without Avatars!). Oh boy. Quite a mouthful. We’ll just stick with the abbreviated title to save precious space, plus I have no idea how one even goes about abbreviating such a thing.

So, what’s the deal in Cthulhu Saves the World? Why would the lord of insanity want to save the world? Well, truthfully, Cthulhu was all set to plunge the world into madness and destruction, but his powers were suddenly sealed away by a mysterious sorcerer. Alas, the only way for Cthulhu to break the curse is to become…a true hero. Sometimes to save something, you have to destroy it at the same time. Everyone loves a good anti-hero in these days of Breaking Bad‘s Walter White and just about everyone from Game of Thrones.

I’d like to tell you that, as a writer, I’ve long delved into the works and demented mindset of H.P. Lovecraft, but the truth is, I really only became aware of the material due to the Munchkin Cthulhu card game from Steve Jackson Games many years ago. Still, I understand it on a surface level, and the game here seems to only demand you understand that Cthulhu is a monster forced to take on a heroic quest. At least so far. I haven’t really come across other cosmic entities yet.

Cthulhu Saves the World is a throwback to traditional 16-bit RPGs of yesterday, like Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy. You wander around towns full of houses and shops, buy potions, armor, and new weapons, and then traverse across an overworld to your next destination. That said, the battle system is a bit more unique here than your standard turn-based form, and this is what makes both playing the game and grinding for higher levels enjoyable. To start, enemies become 10% stronger for every turn they live through, feeding off of Cthulhu’s madness. This means you want to kill them as quickly as possible, as you’ll also regain more magic points the sooner the battle ends.

Here’s one of my favorite elements of Cthulhu Saves the World: random encounters are limited. When you arrive at a new zone, you can pop over to your status menu and see how many random encounters you will have to endure before they just stop popping up altogether. Praise the Great Old One! This means you can only grind for so long, though you can also start a battle if you want via a menu command. It’s both a nice and strange feeling to wipe an area clear of random fights, which makes going back for missed treasure chests less of a pain. When you level up, you have the option to pick between multiple spells or upgrades, and I’m focusing so far on Cthulhu doing big damage and Umi handling healing and attacking all enemies at once with her Flood spell.

I’m not terribly far into Cthulhu Saves the World, somewhere in Chapter 2, with both characters in my party–Cthulhu and Umi–at level 10. Like I mentioned at the top of this post, it’s a game I’ve been tinkering with over the last few months, playing it in short spouts, but always making progress. Its humor and engaging turn-based battles make it a joy to play, and, as always with old-school RPGs, I’m eager to see the next town and purchase better gear. That’s how you know you are getting somewhere, when a shop has more expensive items.

Participating in Extra Life for the very first time

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Hi, everyone! It’s me, your Grinding Down creator, author, and somewhat steady maintainer–Paul Abbamondi! I made a big decision recently, and that is to participate in Extra Life this upcoming Saturday, October 25. What’s Extra Life, you ask not knowing? Well, in their words, it’s “an online grassroots movement working to save local kids through the power of play.” Basically, people stay up for 24 hours straight playing games and asking for donations. Over the years I’ve watched others put in the time and raise money for children in need, and now, nervous as I am, I’m gonna do it too. First, some important links to click on:

My donations page: http://tinyurl.com/pabbamondiEL2014

My Twitch page, where hopefully you’ll be able to watch me stream: http://www.twitch.tv/paulwise

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s what I’m thinking. My goal is set at $100 (and we’re already halfway there!), but of course I’d love to raise a whole lot more for PennState Hershey’s Children’s Hospital. I plan to make a big dent in my Steam catalog, though I have to be careful in what I play as my laptop can’t really handle anything too strenuous and stream at the same time, thus the above list of indie/older titles. If I somehow run out of things to play there, I can always hit up the consoles or handhelds (I’ll most likely be getting Fantasy Life the day before), though I can’t really stream from them.

Tentatively, I’ll start streaming at 9:00 AM Saturday and won’t stop playing vidya gamez until 9:00 Sunday. I will be maintaining a “live” blog post here on Grinding Down, updating it hopefully once an hour or so, though these’ll be short, quick updates. Truthfully, I’m excited about finally finding the time to eat up some Deus Ex: GOTY more than anything. I am part of Team Giant Bomb, and I appreciate any support you can offer me–this is my first time doing anything like this, and I’ll be running at it solo (well, my cats will be around), so please, give me strength. And donations, too. FOR THE KIDS.