Ten Minutes with Need For Speed Most Wanted

Recently Trod asked me if was into racing games. While I am occasionally argumentative, I am not a very competitive person; Competition usually just means one person will have progressively less and less fun. The racing genre is, at its core, entirely competitive and with a new racing game about to drop this seems like a safe way to ask “hey, here is a game that looks cool but I’m afraid you will hate it.”

So, funny story. The ‘Raven’ in many of my online tags comes from the very first “Need for Speed” game where I spent every free moment honing my skills and becoming a racing god. The culmination of this was in “Need for Speed Hot Pursuit” for the PS2. It was fast, and fun, and the cops loved to try and stop me. Best of all it featured a varied and lengthy campaign, with each race rewarding new options and demanding new challenges. By the time of the last race I was playing on the hardest difficulty and without any of the silly rubberband game aid (rubberband physics being a method of either improving the players car or hampering the computer cars to give the player a better chance should he fall behind. Also, bullshit; you fall behind you lose.). I made it to the last race, with the fastest car on the hardest track.

The race was eight laps and it took about an hour to run because it was super intense. I practiced several times before running it. I got to know the car. I learned every nuance of the track. I ran practice races. Finally the day came and I loaded up a special playlist with inspiring race music. I was ready. In the final second of the race one lone car pulled ahead of me by inches. I came in second. I took the game out of the system and put it away. I have not played it since.

So I told Trod, “yeah, kinda.” and downloaded the demo for the new NfS game “Most Wanted.” Unlike any racing game I’ve heard of before this game features an entire city to run around in with each race implementing at a specific spot and utilizing the structure of a fully realized city. It’s pretty ambitious and a fun concept. It really helps pull you in and also lets you just cruise around if all you want to do is drive cool cars in a very fast manner. The game feels very artsy, with panoramic views of their city and the opening feels like some epic tale of life in the big city. It’s pretty cool actually, though I had already bored of the overly dramatic race intros before I had exhausted the demo. On the plus side, the city is pretty cool, or at least what you get to see in the demo. It looks nice, and feels very real, no doubt the inability to leave your car helps maintain the illusion.

The real problem seems to be how varied will the races feel? Take Hot Pursuit for example; I had races in the mountains, the desert, a woodland drive, and city environments. The map has a couple spots that seem to promise at least a more wilderness climate (also the intro to the game) but will that be the lone example? You have to have the dramatically different courses, it’s what “Need for Speed” was built for. People love getting behind the wheel of a Lamborghini and pushing it to the red line, but when the thrill of going fast begins to fade you realize it’s fun to go out and put the city car to its paces on gravel and mud.

Another double edged sword here is the freedom on display. With tracks existing merely as loosely defined areas of the city it gives the player more freedom to explore and search for shortcuts or simply alternate areas of access. But with this also comes the fact that sometimes you take an off ramp that in no way connects to the course and have now screwed up any chance to complete the race. Rare is the event more depressing than limping to the finish line minutes after even the worst cpu driver.

One huge factor with this game is the constant updates via your friends list. There are numerous stunts, speed cameras, and random races in this game and it tracks the progress of anyone on your friends list. It’s a subtle but effective motivator for real world competition. At one point the game told me how fast someone had ran a race and suggested I try and beat him. With the click of a button I was on my way. It’s fun, you hit a speed camera and it flashes your speed and a friend’s speed, a quick 180 and some nitro gives you a quick feeling of glory.

The ease of this seems to have seeped a bit out of the rewards. For finishing races you get extra bits to help customize your car. It’s a cool idea and there seem to be enough areas to have fun with but not overly complex like a few of the more hard core racing games. On the negative side, the game seems to actually have a ‘pay n’ spray’ which randomly changes the color of your car. I’d much prefer to keep my custom rides in my preferred color instead of being distracted during a race by the fact that I’m now in a yellow car.

By the way, cars now simply have to be found. Maybe I’m complaining over nothing but I preferred to race in a specific class, getting better and pull off a win to get a sweet new ride. There are cars I like in the real world simply because of the effort I put into unlocking them in the older games. You respect and treasure the toy you saved up for.

So, final impression of the demo. It’s a slick presentation and there feels like some obvious love went into it. I’m worried that it will feel to limited or my options will dwindle with actual play. But it’s a blast to race again and the cars feel right. I love the constant competition and honestly the open city does give me the ability to simply drive around when I’m bored. Perhaps it’s cliché or silly to say so…but for the first time in a long time…I feel it, the Need for Speed.


RPG Review: Call of Cthulhu

So I have been running a Victorian era investigative game focused on the supernatural and featuring magic that corrupts and destroys its users. I had been doing so by taking an existing system not made for such tasks and crafting a homebrew out of it.  Things appeared to be going somewhat smoothly but I could see the fault lines in advance and decided to seek out a solution.

This led me to “Call of Cthulhu” an investigative game where magic and the supernatural will corrupt and destroy you. Presently I’m really digging it. Also, I’m not really sure why I’m reviewing this. Call of Cthulhu (henceforth CoC) has been around and popular for thirty years, longer than most of the people I know.

CoC is often cited as the go-to game for horror role-playing and features a sanity system that is something of a standard in similarly themed game systems. It is, of course, inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft and strives to emulate his tales closely. This includes main characters dying off or going completely insane. The game makes this work.

Character creation is a simple affair and, with a little understanding, new characters can be rolled up very quickly. To begin you roll up your initial physical stats, then your mental stats, and finally an education stat. These are used to derive three values and your starting hit points, magic, and sanity.  The player then picks a profession which will list eight skills that he gets to allocate points to. After that the player gets a second point total to spend on ‘personal interest’ skills. There are a couple more minor options, such as pay grade and personal details, but for the bulk of creation that’s it.

There is even a program available to make the process even easier and quicker. Even better, it’s free and has been checked and rechecked over the years.

Once into the game it becomes primarily about investigation. CoC features such skills as accounting, library use, and astrology and each of these could come in handy at anytime. The player’s primary goal is to uncover ancient plots and put a stop to them, hopefully without dying or going crazy. The game, and in fact the rulebook, makes a very strong point about the limits of combat. It is fast and deadly, and not something you want to encounter very often. The maximum hit points a character can receive at start is 18, the highest I have rolled is 13; a modest pistol does 1D6 damage, twice that if a critical is rolled. Imagine now going up against a group of crazy cultists, armed with shotguns and hiding in a barn. Combat is purposefully made to be unappealing. Add to this a person wielding a gun usually gets the chance to shoot not only first but multiple times in a combat round.

All that aside, this game features a really nice listing of weapons. This is a system that could have gotten away with a listing such as ‘small revolver, big revolver, pistol, shotgun, rifle…’ but instead it lists enough diversity to pepper the world and flesh it out, even if most of the people will be carrying a .32 cal revolver. Even better each weapon is given a malfunction percentage, a range of percentiles near the top where the gun will fail to work if rolled. I really love the weapon listing and am wondering how well CoC would handle a modern day crime thriller.

This is why the sanity system is truly a beautiful thing. Rather than an option to make the horror work, I feel the sanity acts as a horror themed life bar. Your time in CoC should be spent researching, investigating, and going into dark places armed with naught but a torch and possibly an old notebook. The situations you encounter and you preparedness for them are what affect sanity. On a kinder level, of sorts, this means your hero never has to really ‘die’ they just go crazy and get to spend their life in a safe place. This is why I think other games fail on the sanity mechanism: they view it as a necessary gimmick, but it’s really a replacement for a feature not needed.

Characters will go insane during the game however. Part of advancing in CoC is the discovery of ancient tomes and the reading thereof. The horrors in their volumes always dictates a sanity check, so while the hero gets stronger he balances it by walking close to insanity. The other method of advancement is pretty cool as well. If, during a game, the player succeeds at a skill in a sufficient way  (breaking down a door while being chased is good, fast talking your way into a bakery to get a free donut is not) the Keeper (CoC for DM) will ask him to mark the skill. At the end of an adventure the player gets to roll on any skill he has checked, if he fails (i.e. rolls higher than his skill level) that skill goes up. So the players learn by doing, and learn easier at lower levels.

Simple, but effective. This is a line I feel captures the game as a whole. And it should, with three decades of writing and research behind this thing it is nearly as honed as it can be. I own version 5.5, beyond that is 5.6 and 6. From my understanding I am missing little and at this point they simply correct typos, recheck rules, and continue to cram more and more stuff into the book. This ‘stuff’ is pretty awesome in its own right.

The rule book contains the entire short story “Call of Cthulhu” and a nicely sized bestiary. There is also a  huge write up on insanity and a sizable spell selection. Even better as the line has progressed there have been certain supplements that have been included into the rulebook. Two such supplements are “Cthulhu by gaslight” and “Cthulhu NOW” both of which give information on how to play a game in either 1890 or 1990, as opposed to the traditional 1920. I really enjoy that they resisted the urge to update the supplements and instead put them in the core rule book.

“Call of Cthulhu” is one of the legendary games, a long standing king in this hobby of ours. I wish I had not taken so long to obtain a copy but now that I have I find it to be a robust system easily ran and picked up. The fact that the rules are streamlined and simple and that two-thirds of the book is dedicated towards helping you capture the mood is a great value for the cash. And with thirty years of publishing the amount of supplements, both fan and pro is plentiful. A fantastic game and well worth the price.


A Discussion of Green Lantern

I’ve been trying to write this Green Lantern review for a while but can’t really come up with any material.

The problem is there is neither anything truly terrible in the movie, nor is there anything that I would place on the amazing scale. It has a plethora of mediocrity. The corps is shown, ring slinging occurs, a villain is fought.

It had a couple nice bits, like his first rescue at a fancy party; I loved his rescue of a crashing helicopter. Also the sub-villain, Hector Hammond, was fun; the actor portraying him seemed to be the only person who experienced actual enjoyment doing his job. Problem is, he was the sub-villain in a movie where we need to root for the hero. Congratulations movie, you have made me root for a man trying to kill one of my favorite heroes. Way to go.

The majority of problems lay in plotting and organization. We are given an explanation of the corps, then told some back story, then shown the emergence of a big evil, and then we get to earth to discover our hero. Already I’ve become disconnected, at this point who cares about Hal, I’m fine with a movie about the purple guy who seems to already be established in this awesome Green Lantern Corps the movie told me about.

They should have started on Hal, and then dropped in back story and exposition as he got it; let us go on the ride with him, connect. There is a bit where he witnesses a speech by Sinestro, which he does apparently because it’s needed for him to do so. This should have been a thing brewing in the back ground as he trained. Frankly I felt a montage was too little, this whole movie should have been about training, up until he is needed to assist in the war effort.

But anyways, Green Lantern is an OK movie. It could be worse, but then I’d at least have something to talk about.


BONUS REVIEW! The Green Lantern Video Game cash tie-in

Honestly, not terrible.

It’s a God of War rip off, but with Green Lanterns. So it’s playable, and they try to do fun things with the rings like sprucing up your basic attacks (heavy attack is a big glowing fist, when upgraded it becomes a large hammer) and giving you increasingly powerful constructs to use. My favorite is a giant mech suit that allows you to trash enemies with ease. There are also flying segments that play like a rail shooter, and those are kinda cool.

As for problems…it’s very repetitive. Lack of enemy variety, and many of the same things keep happening. Also, that annoying thing in Gears of War where you touch your ear and walk at half speed while listening to annoying exposition? It’s here too. And you can’t fly at will, which isn’t a killing flaw but it would be nice to have the option to hover when I wished.

Also it has co-op so that’s pretty fun. The only real problem is it gets a bit confusing sometimes telling who is who. Also the second player plays as Sinestro who is not scripted to be with Hal at all times, so occasionally Sinestro will say something during a cut scene that makes little sense as he was just with you doing said action.

I played most of the game with a  friend a few nights ago, wouldn’t object to more playing but I doubt I’d buy the game to do so.

1941: Return of the Sentinels part Two

We now rejoin our regularly scheduled adventure, already in progress…

The next day our heroes received a call from the local police regarding some unusualness about the four men they brought in. Turns out each man was a working man with no criminal history. Each man also claimed to have been working late at night and then had no knowledge of attempting to rob an armored car. The heroes got information off these men and decided to set up a trap, assuming the person behind it all would try again.

They managed to set up such a trap, allowing a new group of thugs to steal some cash from an armored car and follow it back to the base. Aviator nearly got messed up bad here as he tried to hold on to the bottom of the truck as it sped away. He was tossed from under the vehicle and into another…but he survived.

The heroes pursued the men to an old warehouse and quickly seized the day. Inside they found four more thugs and a tall African man dressed in a vest, top hat, and skull paint. He declared himself Papa Justify, master of voodoo! And then he commanded his men to attack.

Wildfire and Aviator took out the thugs while Impulse kept Justify off guard so Sentry could knock him out. Each member of the gang turned out to have been hypnotized by some unknown means and Justify was taken into custody.

Notes: Things went pretty well this time, and though the write up is short that is more due to faulty memory than actual game night content. Each player even got a measure of spotlight, though aviator’s was a spectacular failure…

Speaking of Aviator…his player got arrested so no more Aviator in the group. I will probably have him as an important NPC from here on out; Possibly assisting with the war effort or something.

Papa Justify went down too easily though, I built him tougher but a couple lucky rolls on the player side took him out pretty quick. I also messed up a bit on the thugs, but that was my own mistake. I basically had them keep attacking after Justify was out, which was what I wanted to happen but time restraints meant I had to cut that short…just minor narration flubbing…nothing major.

Game Day at the Library!

I was so excited this past Saturday because the local library was hosting another game day. This time there was to be super hero role-playing going on and I was so looking forward to gaming. I had been pimping this event out for a while, telling everyone I knew who was in a gaming group and posting flyers far and wide (seriously, I covered some distance with those flyers).

The turnout was decent, not what I had imagined but probably about as good as we need. The miniatures war game had a steady group and three of us, all from my group, showed up for supers gaming. We ended up using an older version of the DC heroes gaming system, it is primarily D6 based (which I love) and ran pretty smoothly. The only problem is that the GM simplified it so I can’t get a full grasp on how the real rules work (but I had fun, and that’s the important bit. Rules that eliminate fun must be eliminated). The other is that it ranks things in how many dice you roll, which normally works fine but when one of the heroes has a strength rating of 23 the math hit us pretty hard.

We were part of a government project to establish a super team in the Midwest (specifically Fawcett City). I played as the noble Aquaman (who loves being in the Midwest), with my friends taking on a character named Argent and Captain Atom. Initially our main goal was to go to the fair where one of the Marvel family would be accepting a key to the city. With our based in Fawcett city it was decided we should recruit a Marvel since they are Fawcett’s first family.

While there a big brute named Mammoth tried to start some trouble but two tractors and a hell of an arm bar later her gave up that plan. We then interrogated him and discovered a heist occurring at the local museum. We quickly headed off to intercept the trouble but upon landing there seemed to be nothing going on. I had Aquaman scout the area and he found nothing wrong; however the other characters just saw him standing there doing nothing, I had apparently fell into a trap.

Captain Atom decided to try a different approach and flew down stairs, resumed his normal identity, and knocked. An old security guard came to talk to him and soon had him hypnotized and helpless. The guard also used him a shield and quickly set up a trap for Mary Marvel by readying a magic bow. Argent decided trouble was on the way and went ahead inside the building where she was attacked by a third member.

We are the best team ever.

However, Atom managed to break the mental hold on him, reactivate his powers, and throw off the shot. The villain thus gave up, having nothing but mental trickery. Argent won her fight, though just barely. Aquaman broke free from his own hold, realizing that he was in the grip of ‘the shark’ this surprised the villain so much that he also surrendered. Aquaman knocked him unconscious. I don’t trust mental villains. We then found what they were looking for, got it to a safe place, and took the villains off to jail.

It was a good time.

I think the plan is to have a monthly meeting, the next one being at the end of March. I have offered to GM something and also I will be taking “Betrayal at House on the Hill.”

1941: Return of the Sentinels

So this past Friday my group became somewhat smaller due to pregnancy. My friend who plays Liberty Belle just had a baby and she and her boyfriend, who plays Sgt. Freedom, will be out for a while due to much more important things.

That said, we decided to go back to the “Sentinels of Justice” campaign but switch over to the Mutants and Masterminds third edition rules. This meant tweaking the characters to better fit the new rules and with tweaks came come revamping.

We began with Aviator who had very little in the way of changes. I added a few extra bits, but by far the largest change was to his primary weapon. The intent was to give him a disk launcher that featured less-than-lethal ammo. In the old system he had disks that did normal damage and disks that became bolos upon firing so he could have non-damaging stun type ammo.

With third edition I removed the bolos. He now has the normal damaging kind and a alternate blast that incorporates the new ‘affliction’ power. This power works in degrees; at the lowest level it will daze an opponent, a bit better and it staggers them, and then further in it induces unconsciousness. It is Perfect for the intended result.

Next up was Wildfire. Her character was pretty vanilla, with all the details being in the role-playing of the character. With us losing Freedom and Liberty we no longer had any ‘tanks’ so I decided to go a new route with Wildfire. Since she is supposed to be somewhat common I decided that it should be hard for her to dodge bullets and engage bad guys in fisticuffs so I lowered her defense quite a bit. She now gets hit fairly often, however I added a ‘force field’ to her fire aura that gives her a much higher level of toughness. She has lost her alternate fire blast, but that shouldn’t affect much anyways since she rarely used it.

Impulse came next. I used this as a chance to really clean up his build. The player is too focused on increasing strength but in a team dynamic he doesn’t need to be the best at everything, but being the speedster he does need to be the best at that. So his strength took a hit, but points went into multiattack allowing him to do a lot of damage to one target on several small attacks to multiple targets. I have also done a bit of pre-research for his character.

MnM is a game in which if it’s not on your sheet you can’t do it (one time hero point powered stunts aside). Currently he can run 500 mph and has the ability to run on water. He wants to run faster but the next rank will put him past the speed of sound meaning he will break the sound barrier. So I have put together a sonic based area aura that will activate at these higher levels. Before he can level up he will have to buy this ability as well.

The final update was Sentry, who is now fulfilling the primary melee portion of the team. With this in mind, and the fact that out of all the characters he knows martial arts, I gave him a pretty high unarmed score. This allows him to hit nearly any foe, but being in the human range means he does minimal damage. In fact I gave him the power “I know karate” (a simple ‘damage 2, strength based’ power) simply as an excuse to bump up his damage a bit.

Also I managed to give him a cheaper version of an old power, which alleviates a bit of annoyance and guilt. The Sentry has a few tricks up his sleeve, one of those being that if you can’t see his face you can’t remember his face. In second edition that was a tricky power to build. Here it is a one point power called ‘feature’, and in fact one of the sample characters has something very much like it.

So going into this new era of the campaign we had: our agile blaster (aviator) and tank blaster (Wildfire), both of whom can fly, a speedster (Impulse) and melee champion (Sentry). A pretty good team all the way around.

The campaign began a few months into 1941, and involved the heroes on patrol. I described the  world as becoming very open to superheroes, with appearances and news of them spreading all over the country. As we opened the team responded to a series of gun shots, only to find four thugs armed with shotguns firing on one remaining armored truck guard.

Impulse quickly ran in and took out two of the thugs, while aviator distracted a third. Sentry used this advantage and took out said thug. Wild fire quickly came in and attempted to talk the final thug down but he was having none of it and opened fire, which of course did not help him. Impulse dropped him with a single punch.

The heroes quickly assisted with a downed guard and then proceeded to call the cops and check the thugs. It became readily apparent that the ‘thugs’ seemed like common business owners…

This was where the night’s events ended, as character creation had taken awhile.

Notes: the first half of this was notes. See?

Fear and Lightning

Last night we had a session that was both a success and a failure. Of the two I would have to say the success outweighed however, since the players seemed to have fun.

We began with the heroes cleaning up the mess from last session. Batman left. Wonder Woman and Zatanna were using the invisible jet to fly Cheeta to an acceptable prison. Green Lantern used his power ring to make a giant barrel and carted the now ordinary gorillas to a zoo. Martian Manhunter and Captain Marvel kept watch on Gorilla Grodd and then called Gorilla city to have a squad of troops come pick him up. Because neither of them are super strong and can fly there much faster than even advanced gorilla tech can manage. That was sarcasm.

As they twiddled their super thumbs a huge sonic boom resounded through the night and Martian Manhunter went flying. Captain Marvel flew up to observe the area and called for Mr. Terrific to teleport Grodd to the watchtower. You know, I’m a geek and even these names all rammed together is sounding funny. Anyways, Marvel soon found himself face to face with Black Adam, and with satisfaction I found my players to be quite distressed over this.

They tussled for a bit, calling Wonder Woman back to the scene. She would not arrive until it was too late. As they fought I also had Mr. Teriffic report back and say that Grodd was captured mid transport and the hovercraft from Gorilla City had been attacked and rendered inert. Batman decided to respond, since Batman versus Black Adam is like something easily broken versus my boot.

I would also point out that I meant to have Grodd rescued from the watchtower but misspoke and decided not to correct myself.

Meanwhile the men tussled. I got some bad rolls so Black Adam took a bit of damage and missed more often than he should have. Still, he held out against Martian Manhunter and Captain Marvel for quite some time, until finally I had him simply vanish. Then began the debate, with my players wondering “Can he simply teleport to the rock of eternity?” Finally Marvel decided to check, and yes, he could. And now that Marvel and Adam were gone, both GL and Wonder Woman showed up.

Meanwhile, Batman approached the gorilla transport and noticed it on fire, so he set the batplane to hover and began spraying it with extinguishing foam. And then I rolled to attack, but the plane could not dodge, and he rolled for toughness but the plane failed. So a huge yellow hammer crashed down and destroyed the batplane with one strike and Batman, the man who uses fear as a weapon, found himself facing Sinestro, the man who literally creates weapons with fear. And Batman called for help.

Back at the main battle the call was heard and Wonder Woman began to fly there, upset that she kept missing fights. Zatanna decided to teleport to Batman’s location to assist him faster. After they left, Black Adam reappeared and sneak attacked GL, knocking him into the water.

When Zatanna appeared she created a raft to assist Batman. Instead Batman dove onto the gorilla craft, brought the turrets online, and rolled a critical to fire at Sinestro.

And then I rolled a critical for my toughness check. And Sinestro simply knocked the beam aside. My player announced that Batman was now out of ideas. Sinestro on the other hand dropped the hammer on Zatanna and put her out of the fight. I was real happy with how the Sinestro fight went in the early rounds. Then Wonder Woman showed up and engaged Sinestro in battle while Batman went to save Zatanna.

Back at the primary fight GL used his one action to trap Black Adam in a force bubble, hoping maybe to suffocate him. Instead, Martian Manhunter phased through and hit him with a critical which put him out of the fight and shattered GL’s bubble which caused a bit of feedback but GL saved. However his ring announced only 5% power and sinestro was on the loose and they couldn’t simply leave Black Adam there.

MM flew off to try and help the other three. Marvel picked up Adam and flew off. And GL stopped to recharge his ring. He then flew off, passing MM, and arrived in time to help. What he did was grab the burning wreckage of the batplane and bash Sinestro with it, which fully took him out of the fight.

Then they cleaned up that mess too. Meanwhile Captain Marvel took Black Adam back to whichever fictional country he ruled, found a big statue, and then tossed the villain through it in front of his people, “Here’s your king.”

Notes: Fun session. You might notice that nothing actually happened, which was my fault. I had a plan, but some setbacks in the early fight caused it to not reveal itself, and then it all fell into a big fight. But it was a fun fight. To get a glimpse of the power being tossed around I would point out that a standard starting level character is PL10, think of Spiderman and that’s roughly a PL10. Heroes in this game soon get to worldwide levels of power around PL12 or 13, due to PL levels increasing things by a lot.

Martian Manhunter is PL14, Captain Marvel is PL15, and Black Adam is PL16. Black Adam held his own against the heroes very well, and would have probably destroyed them had I not rolled poorly early on. To add more scope into this, due to the damage being done and the knockback involved this fight went from Liberty Island to somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic in a French-ward direction.

I also like the Sinestro bit. When my player said Batman would respond I imagined a cool fight between Sinestro and the batplane, with lots of missiles and cool stuff. And then I rolled really well and just blew it to smithereens in one round. Same goes for Zatanna. It was pretty impressive, despite being random luck, and really helped sell the fact that Sinestro is a really powerful bad guy. Granted Batman and Zatanna were the ‘weakest’ members of the team, but that Sinestro took out two members of the Justice League with ease was a nice visual.

Next week I am fuzzy on what will happen. I have more to go with on the DC stuff, but maybe my players will want to go back to the original stuff. This would have been the last of the DC stuff, but since I didn’t use the plot…