Life Is Strange: A Guide to the Optional Photo Achievements

I’m pretty proud of myself today: I wrote my first guide on Steam. It’s for the game Life Is Strange by Dontnod Entertainment, published by SquareEnix. There are ten “optional photos” you can have the main character take throughout the course of the game, and each one unlocks one of the game’s achievements. I’m a bit of a trophy nerd, and my friends who play don’t have all of them but love the game, so it’s partly for them and partly just to say I did it.

Life is Strange Guide

I don’t feel like it was a crowded market; the majority of similar guides are currently in languages other than English (Russian guides are pretty big on Steam). One of the English language guides is very succinct but lacks screenshots. I won’t claim my guide is some kind of magnum opus, but I like it.

If you play, check it out and please rate it if it was helpful to you!


Hungry Like the Wolf (Hyena)

Hyena Warwick

The jungling champion Warwick is a werewolf, but one of his skins is a hyena. Guess what I play?

Today I reached Summoner Level 11 in League of Legends. I feel I am nearly ready to face actual human opponents without (overly) embarrassing myself. I’ve also managed to earn enough IP through my games to buy a small stable of champions in the various roles that I’ve been able to practice with. Fear is honestly the only thing keeping me back now.

I have a lot of those moments, where I let fear of failure dictate my actions. I suppose I should say my inaction. I’m having a similar issue in school since I got behind. Just like it’s easy to continue fighting bots and not improving in League, it is easy enough to let class slip by and say, see, I screwed up.

But it is time to take the plunge and pass into the dark depths of the jungle. Both in League and elsewhere.

Anyway, in League the role of the jungler has proven to be a bit easier to grasp than I anticipated. I watched ScrapComputer’s guide on jungling, which is great, even if it is a little outdated for season 5. Mostly the monster camps underwent a change in the current season of the game. So I just looked up a guide specifically for that and things have been peachy.

N.B. If you have no idea about the term, League of Legends happens in three “lanes”, and between those lanes is a mass of twisty paths and neutral monsters called “the jungle”. A jungler is a character who basically wanders around this area and kills the stuff there. Since it encompasses so much, the jungler also weaves in and out of lanes to ambush (“gank”) enemy players, putting his or her team at an advantage.

Vi is a jungling champion who uses her giant mechanical fists (and justice) to crush her foes.

Vi is a jungling champion who uses her giant mechanical fists (and justice) to crush her foes.

Having a jungler in the AI levels has made a noticeable impact. I’d say the games end about 3-5 minutes earlier. I’m able to help out other lanes that aren’t doing so good, filled with players who are new and/or not so great. Typically, when playing the AI, everyone typically sticks to their lane until the AI Bots move around and dictate where the team fights happen. I don’t want to fight bots forever, I’m practicing to get prepared for human opponents, so I am trying to get a familiarity with those tactics even if the AI matches aren’t exactly mirrors of typical PvP situations.

The mid lane is still my strongest game, though. I still need to go into a custom game and work on upping my CS (“creep score”; how many enemy minions you struck the final blow to and thus reaped XP and gold). You see, in League you can’t just auto-attack everything and expect to get by. For maximum efficiency you need to time your hits so that you land the last blow on enemy minions. That’s how you increase your gold and buy better items, which give you better stats. I watched a video where someone said you should be able to easily get 70 creep kills by the 10:00 minute mark before you attempt playing ranked matches. I’m only going to be playing “normals” at the moment (non-ranked 5v5 PvP games), but improving never hurts.

Now I need to apply the same principles to my academic work. Heh.

See you tomorrow for another 500 words.

Getting into League: DeLUX Edition

For nearly five months now I have been a regular in the chat of DistractedElf’s Twitch stream. I recommend checking her out. I never thought I’d watch someone else play video games on a regular basis, but the chat is lively, Elf is fun and welcoming, and there are just a lot of good things to say about the experience.

One of the games she played most frequently was Dawngate, a MOBA that, sadly, announced its closing shortly after I joined. (Sorry, Elf and friends…) So I didn’t have much time to check it out. She began playing League of Legends–well, she got back into playing League, I should say–and I never paid much attention to it as a potential game I might play.

Then, a few weeks ago, the bug bit. I’m now endeavoring to be a not-terrible player. One of the characters I found interesting and approachable in the beginning was a mage named Lux. Sadly she passed out of rotation after I reached Summoner Level 6 and earned my way into the actual free rotation. I’ve been slowly saving IPs from my games in order to make her a permanent staple of mine. Tonight I finally reached that goal!

I’ve played quite a few games against AI bots; I’m not quite ready for primetime when it comes to facing other players. I’d previously heard from a lot of sources that League has a pretty awful player-base. Riot has allegedly been addressing this for some time now.

Despite that, most of the games I’ve played thus far have been pleasant. People have been friendly and understanding. Perhaps the work of Riot’s social scientists has paid off! (Not quite.) Nevertheless, there is a certain knowledge required to play League passably well, and I want to have those basics down to a comfortable degree before I start dragging the team down with me. If I am preemptive about being a better player myself, others may reciprocate.

A guy can dream, right?

I currently have three permanently unlocked Champions: Lux, a light-based mage; Sivir, a boomerang-throwing warrior woman; and Graves, who I haven’t played yet but I understand is a pretty decent selection in the current meta and he was on sale for a not-terrible price.

There’s a lot more going on under the hood than I originally anticipated. It’s not enough to simply kill enemy minions and Champions; there is a method to the madness. The last few days I’ve been watching tutorial videos on last-hitting and bot-laning and how to teamfight. ScrapComputer’s tutorial videos have been a blessing in this regard. Naturally, learning is one thing and implementing is another. Therein, as a Danish prince once said, lies the rub.

I don’t exactly have aspirations of professional play; I am mostly content to enjoy the game in my off time and eventually be able to hold my own with Elf and some of her friends in casual games. Should I mysteriously get good, well, I won’t complain.

This is also the start of my 500 words “series”. In order to stay up with the blog, and occasionally work on the actual craft of writing as opposed to vomiting words onto the screen, I’m going to post around 500 words a day. If something more substantial arises, I’ll be happy to use that as a daily post, but 500 words, minimum, about anything at all.

See you tomorrow.

A short interview with Tom Grochowiak

I currently have a few irons in the fire. Much of what I’ve been doing the last several months revolves around the independent video game development scene. I’ve had the good fortune to play quite a few excellent games, and am writing for one now.

A lot of good stuff is coming from Poland, lately. Since I also have a linguistic background, naturally I had to check out Polish. Well, I fell in love instantly, and am currently taking a Polish class in Washington, D.C.

Tom Grochowiak, the owner of MoaCube (creators of Cinders, which I have written about previously) was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and answer a few quick questions that I will be passing along to my Polish class. You are fortunate, blog readers, because you can see his answers too!  Continue reading

Cinders: The Irresponsibility of Freedom

When video games refer to having “mature” themes, they more often than not mean “darker and edgier”. This isn’t a bad thing by itself, but the novelty has certainly worn thin in a lot of ways. Adaptations of fairy tales, such as the recent rehash that is American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns, tend to be especially guilty of such a move.

So it’s nice to see a breath of fresh air like Cinders, a visual novel game by MoaCube. It is inspired by the tale of Cinderella, which everyone is familiar with. Unlike some adaptations of the story, Cinders does not attempt to present a bacchanal of sex and violence and declare itself “mature”; instead, it approaches the characters in nuanced, realistic ways.

FinallyAs the player, you assume the role of Cinders, a young girl who lives with her stepmother Lady Carmosa, and Carmosa’s two daughters Gloria and Sophia. Ever since Cinders’s father died, Lady Carmosa has ruled over the house with cruelty. Poor Cinders gets the worst of it, being treated little better than a servant, and without the pay. Carmosa's Scorn

We’re all familiar with Cinderella. The prince’s ball, the fairy godmother, these are all elements of Cinders as well. What makes it different from other adaptations of the story I’ve seen—apart from Gracjana Zielinska’s amazing artwork—is how it examines the motivations and feelings not only of the protagonist, but her family as well.

I started the game with biases from my own experience with Cinderella. Naturally I assumed I, the protagonist, was in the right, and that wicked stepfamily of mine was not worth worrying about in pursuit of my dreams.

Slowly, as the game progressed, I began to have more one-on-one chats with my stepsisters, and heard their side of the story. There were moments of warmth, but there didn’t appear to be any true reconciliation. They kept accusing me of not caring, of being selfish. I tried to come up with something to say, but when presented with the opportunity I continued to sneak out of the house and pursue my relationship with the captain of the guard.

IrresponsibleIn the end, I managed to escape from the house and run away with that very same captain, which in some situations could be considered a happy ending. I am content with it, for starters. One thing that really got to me, though, was that I hadn’t really thought about trying to stick around the house and patch things up with the family. They were the bad guys, after all. Although I warmed up to them, ultimately my desires took the forefront of my actions. Perhaps, as Carmosa said, I acted irresponsibly.

The game itself didn’t pass judgment on me, per se. The ending, by itself, was a satisfactory conclusion to the path I ultimately chose. It merely left me considering the consequences of my actions in a way that few games really end up doing.

I did enjoy the lack of black-and-white morality, and it’s my understanding that other endings are of course available. Perhaps I can reconcile my family issues and live, in a fashion, happily ever after.

Town of Last Chance

Here is a Dominion kingdom that I created, which my friends and I have enjoyed for a few sessions. I’m considering swapping Trader out for something else, because it appears to imbalance things a bit, but it is still pretty fun.

The Town of Last Chance (Intrigue and Hinterlands)

  • Coppersmith
  • Mining Village
  • Saboteur
  • Cache
  • Fool’s Gold
  • Ill-Gotten Gains
  • Inn
  • Spice Merchant
  • Stables
  • Trader

Tabletop Tales: Losing for Victory

During our last Pathfinder session we wrapped up one of the party rogue’s dangling plot threads. In a nutshell: he had agreed to retrieve an artifact for a crime boss named Barnabas. He didn’t, and went missing for a while. Barnabas figured he took the money and ran, so he put out a hit on the rogue. The rogue, clearly having chosen Wisdom as a dump stat, decided to confront the kingpin in his lair. Barnabas ran a brewery as a front organization, so that’s where we went.

The rogue had a 100 gold bounty on his head. As it turned out, Brithangel had the exact item that Barnabas was searching for. We still didn’t know what it did, and I was curious about the crime boss’s interest in the thing. I made him an offer: 250 gold, you take the bounty off the rogue’s head, and you tell me what’s so great about this thing you’re looking for.


Oh, wait…

Long story short, the rogue convinces Barnabas to give him three more days. So I keep my money. Almost immediately after leaving the brewery, he discusses how they need to get all the criminal elements of the city together and revolt against Barnabas. A little over the top, I feel, but it’s his plot line so cool.

Thing is, there were a number of times the entire thing could have gone south. There were several occasions I found myself wanting it to fail. Complications make things interesting, and the straight path to victory is not always the best one.

A particular moment came when one of the NPCs said, “You know, some of us are questioning if you’re doing this because you really want things back the way they were before Barnabus came to power, or if you’re just trying to save your own skin.” Part of me screamed YES! This is when we get ambushed by our former allies! Alas, despite the brief tension, nothing came from this incident. Even after we killed Baranabus and I bribed his hired tengu assassin to leave us alone, one of the leaders of the short rebellion had us alone for a few minutes and could have made any number of demands. Sadly, it was merely a happy ending.

None of this is to say that victory is a bad thing, per se. Yet in an ongoing campaign, stories need to fuel future adventures. Things like unexpected betrayal certainly add further motivations. It is enjoyable to wrap up a story in a tidy fashion like we did here, but it is still early in the campaign and I couldn’t help feeling there was so much more that could be done. Perhaps complications will arise in future sessions. We have a good GM, and it is easy to sit here after the sessions and say there was a lot that could have been done without being behind the screen. I know in my own games there are plenty of things I wish I would have done differently for my players. Nonetheless, it is good advice to follow: complicate things.

Next time, Brith makes out with a mind flayer.

Tabletop Tales: Dynamic Combat

Despite a few pointed efforts to the contrary, Brithangel Malraeneus survived to fight another day. The human he had cornered fled deeper into the mines, and the party decided to pursue. There they discovered strange machinery left behind by an older civilization. What at first blush appeared to be a frivolous attempt at increasing the rogue’s wealth had proved something else entirely.

Within the center of the mine, Brith and his companions found a large room containing six cylindrical chambers. A human woman was there, as well as a few guards and—naturally—another minotaur. They had prisoners who were bound. When they saw our heroes, the minotaur lifted up one of the prisoners, opened one of the middle chambers, tossed him inside, and slammed the door shut.

We rolled initiative, the party steeled themselves for battle, and on Brith’s turn he… ran right for the nearest chamber! Minotaurs, after all, had proven bad for the health of other party members, and the alchemist wasn’t sitting on a stack of hit points.

It’s important to me to play in games where combat happens in interesting environments. I do enjoy bashing some skulls in as much as the next person, but I’m always happier when there are other things going on. Decisions that need to be made, secondary objectives needing fulfillment, and so on. When I can put my character’s skills to use in a way other than bluffing to feint, tumbling to avoid attacks, and climbing to higher vantage points, I enjoy the game all the more.

Brithangel happens to be an incredibly intelligent alchemist, so his goal was to figure out what exactly the human and her entourage intended to do with these strange devices. Continue reading

Lords of Waterdeep


Lords of Waterdeep

I went to Labyrinth Games & Puzzles on Saturday the 14th to meet my friend Erin for an afternoon of board games with some of her friends. One of those games was Lords of Waterdeep, which neither of us had played. I commented that it reminded me of both Ticket to Ride and Agricola. Those are great games.

A little while later the owner came over, saw we were playing, and said: “Oh, I love that game! We call it ‘Ticket to Agricola’!” I was glad she and I saw eye to eye!