Monday, July 22, 2013

Aubrey Hodges: New Projects

Regular readers of my little blog here are already familiar with my fondness for the soundtracks composed by Aubrey Hodges for the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 versions of Doom and Quake so I'll try not to bore anyone here by being redundant. (Though I must admit that after reading more about the system limitations he faced with those projects my respect for Mister Hodges has doubled.)

I bring this subject up again because this well-known composer of video game soundtracks recently left a comment on one of my previous posts concerning his works. While I confess that I'm tickled pink to see a renowned member of the video game industry visiting my casual little gaming blog, today's post is not intended to boast of that fact. Instead, I wanted to make this new post to convey some info that Aubrey mentioned in his comment that I don't want to be overlooked by readers whom it might interest. (I'm happy to provide some free advertising; I like the guy's work that much.)

So without further suspense, here is what Aubrey Hodges had to say:

Thank you for sharing my album links and I really do appreciate the kind words regarding my music. I have a ton of new material on the horizon that I have a feeling you will enjoy. Visit my site at for the latest releases. The next release will be in August, 2013 and is titled "Journey Into the Sacred Places" and is a similar ambient style... only beautiful and peaceful. Ok... gotta get back in the studio now. Regards, -Aubrey Hodges

Some of you might wrinkle your noses at that "beautiful and peaceful" part, but not I. My tastes in music are more eclectic than my gaming habits, ranging from as soothing as compositions by Beethoven and Mozart to as tumultuous as albums by metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel. From what I've heard of his soundtracks for games other than my favorites I think its safe to say that the range of Aubrey's composition talents is just as diverse and his new works will definitely be worth checking out. I'll certainly be keeping an eye (and an ear or two) on his Bandcamp page.

So I once again say thank you Aubrey Hodges, not only for your music but also for your comment here; it truly means a lot to me. Sometimes as I'm taking screenshots of games and typing I honestly wonder if anyone reads this apart from the handful of friends I've made along the way, so hearing from you really made my day.

Thank you and may you enjoy continued success. -Dianna

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Marvel Heroes

It's been awhile since I've actually reviewed a game here so this post should be a refreshing change of pace for both my readers and for myself. Furthermore, this game was released actually quite recently so for a change I won't be boring you all with my ramblings about stuff that's nearly twenty years old which nearly nobody cares about anymore.

Normally I avoid MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) games like they're the Black Plague for what I believe are very good reasons (though I'll not bore you with my ranting of those reasons right now) but recently I've started playing an MMO that I'm actually having some fun with: Marvel Heroes.
Though I dislike MMOs I was attracted to this game because it's also one of my favorite types of games: free. Usually such games come with some sort of strings attached or (like the plethora of browser-based games that I must endure endless advertisements for) simply are too generic for me to waste my time trying to play. However, Marvel Heroes is a full game that's playable from start to finish without ever forcing the player to spend any real-world money and furthermore without forcing the player to join some kind of multiplayer party.
Some of you are likely skeptical, so let me explain this a bit further; there is indeed what you could call a catch and in fact there are actually two or three such catches, but they in no way hinder a person from playing the entire game for free if they wish to do so. At the beginning of the game your choices of which hero you can play are limited to something like half a dozen; more heroes can be unlocked and added to your roster as you progress through the main storyline. This limitation of the initial roster is where Gazillion Entertainment will hook fans of the most recent Marvel box office hits who are too impatient to wait for their favorite characters to appear at some random point in the game. For example, Iron Man is not among the heroes that are initially playable but for a mere 1450 G one can pay to instantly unlock this character. What's a "G"? The current conversion rates are pictured below:
So, for something like 15 USD one can unlock the famous Iron Man. Not really all that expensive, I suppose, but it's at that point that the game has stopped being free for the impatient Iron Man fan. Furthermore, if you're really impatient and have some real-world cash that you simply must get rid of, you can go straight to the Marvel Heroes Store on the official website and pay the minor sum of 199.99 USD to purchase a pack containing every hero in the game. (At the moment that would be 21 heroes in all, but it's my understanding that once this is purchased it will automatically update every time new heroes are added to the game in the future.) Oh, and lets not forget the multitude of costumes that can be purchased for each hero.
It should also be mentioned that these Gs are not earned in-game; the currency used with NPC vendors and the like are called "credits". Still, all that spending of real-world money to buy Gs to purchase characters and items in the game is as far as I can tell entirely optional, so as long as I can be content to play as Scarlet Witch in her original costume I'm going to continue to refer to the game as being free. My ultimate goal is to unlock and play the entire game as Squirrel Girl.
While signing up for the game, downloading it and installing it are all in fact free, here I should probably warn any interested readers of one initial annoyance that I had with that entire process. Regardless of your internet speed and bandwidth, the downloading and installing part of the process will likely take an entire day and maybe then some as the Gazillion Entertainment servers feed you the data at blazing speeds of up to 600 kbps. (I actually started playing the prologue portion of the game when this process was only 50-60% complete, but I was unable to progress into the first chapter of the story until after I had left my rig on overnight to complete the installation.) Fortunately (as far as I can tell at the moment) this is the only time that you'll be held up in such a manner. After the game is fully installed you can play all you want for free... unless of course you lose your internet connection or worse you're one of those folks that gets charged by your internet provider according to usage; in these cases the game will likely be 11-12 GB of wasted space on your hard drive.

So, what's the gameplay actually like? While it's more dynamic and enjoyable than browser-based free games like Wartune or Tynon that practically play themselves, players who prefer games with intricate plots, open sandbox environments and lengthy conversations with NPC characters will likely be disappointed with Marvel Heroes. However, players like myself who occasionally like to hack 'n' slash (or bash 'n' smash or blast 'n' burn) their way through endless hordes of enemies will likely enjoy this one. First of all, you never really die in this one; when you're defeated by an enemy you simply get zapped back to the last waypoint you've unlocked or the last HQ you've visited. There's also a handy gizmo called the bodyslider which lets you teleport from an area back to the HQ to sell all your excess stuff and otherwise take a breather and then return to the exact spot you had left. Like most such games, you'll advance by earning experience points through defeating enemies and completing mission objectives, along the way collecting increasingly beneficial inventory items and maybe even occasionally unlocking a new playable hero. Unlike in your average experience-point-driven RPG where said points are automatically added to your experience pool, in this game you pick up said points in the form of yellow orbs that are dropped by defeated enemies or found in special chests in special areas. Each time a new level is gained the player also gets two skill points that can be distributed to increase the character's special abilities and unlock new more powerful abilities. You can also sell excess gear to vendors back at HQ, buy new items and even work with Ant Man to craft new elements that can benefit you by being used to create elixirs or to simply add a nice glowy effect to your cape. Since it's a MMO the various missions that make up the storyline are all repeatable, including the boss encounters, so when you do add new first-level heroes to your roster you can always go back to familiar areas to level-up and maybe even find some things that you had previously missed. On the side there are also daily missions of various difficulty levels, Survival Challenges and of course PvP arenas. And of course you can always team up with your buddies to go on a rampage through New York and a number of other popular locations taken straight from the Marvel Universe.
How will this game perform on your system? Let's take a quick glance at the system requirements:
I'd say that if you have a computer that was assembled anytime in this millennium you should be able to run Marvel Heroes well enough. I haven't seen any outrageously high-resolution textures or models in the game thus far and the main drain on system resources seems to be the lighting effects associated with most of the special attacks (and visual effects that one can optionally have attached to one's costume). With my video setting at the default medium (as seen in all these screenshots) I've only once or twice experienced a very brief minor FPS hit when battling sub-bosses like Electro or Venom alongside about a dozen other heroes with enemy flunkies running all about as well.
The video settings have been made either very easy or very restricted, depending upon one's point of view. As you can see in the image above, there's only one slider that controls everything from lighting and shadows to anti-aliasing by switching these things either on or off depending upon where the slider is set among the five presets. For gamers who are accustomed to fine-tuning such settings via a variety of options this might be something of an annoyance but I've yet to find it detrimental to the game as a whole. If I had to guess, I'd say that such a system was likely devised to accommodate console gamers who aren't accustomed to having much control over such things and thus never needed to be concerned with them.

I should probably mention here that at the time of this posting I have no intention of joining any teams of super heroes. There are some of you who I've met on the internet that I think I'd actually enjoy playing this game alongside, but in the end such an alliance simply would not be fair to you due to my sporadic gaming habits. By this time next week my eclectic interests are likely to be focused upon something entirely different and it would be unfair of me to leave my team hanging just when they need me to help defeat Doctor Doom and I'm instead off playing Hexen or something else from bygone days. So please don't take it personally if I reject your invitation to join your League of Badass Heroes; as I've said I normally avoid MMO games and this is actually one of the reasons why. I like the friends I've made on the internet and I'd hate to lose any of you over something silly like the fact that I left you hanging somewhere in the Savage Land while I went off to play Morrowind.
Anyway, at the moment Marvel Heroes is serving as a nice break from my usual shooty or slashy games, and since it's (almost) entirely free I'd recommend it to anyone inclined to play such a thing; you really don't have much to lose with this one but time... and 199.99 USD if you're one of those impatient sort of gamers that simply must have it all and have it right now.

So until next time, True Believers, game on...

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Time to trim the fat.

Though my week off from work is almost at its end now, I haven't had much time to enjoy actually playing any games.

The week began with me ready to once again immerse myself in Oblivion, only to discover that one of the mods I was playing with (which still remains unidentified, by the way) was making the game instantly crash to desktop whenever I attempted to remove a specific vanilla item from defeated enemies. I could systematically open each active plugin with one of the editing tools and look for anything modifying that item, but instead I first chose to try the process of elimination method and in the process somehow borked the game so that now I can't even start a new campaign.

So I decided to turn my attention to one of my old favorites, classic Doom -- more specifically, Doom run with the source port GZDoom. With the latest version of my favorite source port I had only been running the game for about 45 minutes when suddenly the framerate deteriorated so drastically that I could progress no further. So what's the first thing I do in this situation? I go make a fool of myself in their bug report forum, of course. After a bit of posting and simultaneous testing, I came to the conclusion that there wasn't anything wrong with the source port but instead that the problem was somehow being caused by the mapset I was trying to play. So I switched to another megawad and, by the third map of the set, the framerate again went to crap -- worse, whatever is causing the problem is apparently preserved in the saves so restarting the executable in hopes that the issue will clear out of the RAM and GPU is ineffective.

I've read that the openGL support of AMD/ATI/Radeon video cards is becoming increasingly atrocious with each new series of GPUs they release, so I began to investigate further along that avenue. I tried several different versions of the drivers for my current video card, to no avail, then I went so far as to actually pull the hardware out of the tower and stick my older Radeon GPU back in. Still the problem persisted. In the end I decided that if I was going to get to play the game at all this week I'd have to switch to ZDoom, which is of course the source port that the openGL version is based upon.

But that wasn't the end; when things on the computer go good for me they go great, but when they go bad they go straight to hell in the proverbial handbasket.

I was playing Armadosia with ZDoom and by the time I was halfway through the second map the framerate again went straight to crap. WTF? It's not even openGL! I've been playing games like Oblivion at 1600x900 resolution with the details maxed! This should run like a racehorse! WTF?

I was only running the game with one other mod. The mod had never given me any trouble before so I had by default ruled it out as a possible cause of the issue... but just for the sake of being thorough I decided to disable the mod and launch the game one more time. Without that remaining mod the game ran without the slightest stutter, even in the openGL version; with the mod enabled again the stuttering returned and soon the game was unplayable. Anyone care to guess which mod was causing the problem?

Herculine's Doom Upgrade.

Now my critics can rejoice; my randomizer mod actually does make the game unplayable.

This of course has me very frustrated. I've been developing the mod and playing with it for over two years now and have never had such issues until now, though during that time the mod has steadily grown in its size and scope. Apparently it has finally reached a size where the source port engine can no longer handle the amount of information that needs to be processed, even if I enable the executable to take advantage of all my system's RAM. Again my critics can rejoice; all along they've said that the mod has too much stuff in it and now it seems that they're finally correct.

Readers familiar with ZDoom modding might ask: "Herc, what if it's just one item that you've recently added that's causing the problem?" While there's always a slim chance of that I suppose, I doubt that it's likely because the coding for all these things is basically the same. When something goes wrong in said code usually the worst that can happen is a sprite won't show up when it's supposed to or a monster won't do something when or how exactly it was intended. I really don't see how one could code a single monster or item to produce such a drastic impact on the graphics processing unless it simply had a ton of visual effects crammed into it, and even then the problem would have been abated by adjusting or even totally disabling the openGL options as I did while I was trying to locate the problem. Also, I think it would be safe to assume that the bug would only manifest itself when said object was actually spawned in a map, while this bug is persistent as long as the mod is active in any case. The only conclusion I can reach at this point is that the issue is the result of the sum of all the parts; too much data is being loaded at one time to be processed.

Thus the title of this post. The only option I see left to me at the moment is to create a version of the mod in which the content is at least halved. The easiest way I can think of to do so is to start a new mod from scratch and systematically add to it only the content that I refuse to omit and then work from there. That's not as bad as it sounds, though; in a way my critics are right in that the mod does contain some things that aren't really necessary. For example, of the array of weapons that are in the current version I only actually ever use about half of them, so logic dictates that I should only keep about half of them. Perhaps there really isn't any need for four different kinds of shotguns, after all. The list of monsters and power-ups that won't make the cut will likely be long in the end; things like the Time Imp and the Time Freeze Sphere, for example, are really cool but they depart from the original gameplay style drastically enough that they can be cut without really detracting anything from the ultimate purpose of the mod. Time to trim the fat.

However, fans of the mod up until this point need not despair; I'm not throwing it away. It will remain here in my DropBox folder, patiently awaiting the day that a version of the source port will be developed capable of handling it smoothly. But in the meantime, I'll be diligently working on a "lite" version of the mod and when it's ready for release you'll hear it here first. Until then I'll either have to play "vanilla" Doom or just go back to another game; hopefully the game I pick next won't be a crash-happy mess as well.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dooming (yes, again)

So, I had Oblivion all tweaked out and running smoothly (or so I believed) with all my favorite "must-have" mods installed when I abruptly discovered that every time I tried to take an iron cuirass from a fallen enemy NPC the game would instantly CTD. This led me to waste about two days (I'm on a not-necessarily-wanted unpaid holiday break) trying to track down which mod was causing the problem. Once I had totally uninstalled and then reinstalled the game, thinking I had finally nailed down the problem, I decided to start a new game from scratch. This of course resulted in the game instantly crashing whenever I try to exit the character generation menu, even with no mods activated. Now, I believe I possess the mental faculties and the working knowledge of this particular game's subtle nuances to eventually figure out what has gone wrong there but (being the temperamental female that I am) I don't always have the patience to persist in such endeavors without pause.

Maybe my brother is right, after all; all these things called mods are just cheats and we should be thankful to simply play unaltered what Bethesda has graciously given us as it was "meant to be played".

Yeah, riiiiiight.

Anyway, I need to take a break from Bethesda games (or at least from Oblivion) for a while until I regain my ambition to fix not only the game but the products of the modding community as well. In the meantime, what game would regular readers of this blog expect me to start playing again?

You guessed it: DooM! Not Doom 3 or that BFG Edition crap, mind you, but just good old-fashioned two-dimensional sprites-with-giant-pixels Doom. It runs like greased lightning on just about any computer built this millenium, never crashes (without extreme provocation, at least) and I have fun playing it. What else could I ask for?

At this point I would like to mention that the DRD Team is still plugging away at perpetually improving my favorite classic Doom sourceport, GZDoom, just as Graf Zahl and Randy Heit apparently are still working to improve official releases of their creations. At the following links you can download the latest official releases of both ZDoom and GZDoom, as well as the latest SVN builds of each. Thanks to everyone at those respective projects (and especially those dedicated individuals who are actually working on all of the above simultaneously); your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Anyway, today I started once again playing one of my favorite challenging megawads: Armadosia. I believe I've mentioned it here before but let me say once again that the author, Arma Kero, spent three years (or more) on this project and it definitely shows in the quality of the resulting set of maps. It's definitely one of those rare megawads that I don't mind replaying regularly.

...and of course I'm playing it with everyone's favorite Doom Upgrade mod, created by everyone's favorite Doom modder...

Yeah, riiiiiight.

But, on the off-chance that someone reading this is actually interested, I am still indeed working to tweak and fine-tune my GZDoom-based monster and item randomizer mod which I'm told totally ruins the game, making it totally unplayable. In light of such criticisms I continue to tweak the gameplay balance toward what I believe is fair for both the player and the monsters, and I also continue to add creatures and other modifications of my own creation in a vain attempt to assuage the naysayers who claim that all I've done with the mod is copy+paste a bunch of stuff created by other people. I'm not going to go into any greater detail regarding the current contents of the mod since (last time I checked) there are only two or maybe three individuals among my massive following of readers who would even be interested in this at all. However, for those appreciated friends I will mention that the latest incarnation of Herculine's Doom Upgrade can always be found at this download link. (It's my DropBox folder where I keep a current backup of the mod, which I update any time I feel I've made improvements worth saving for the prosperity of mankind. This link should always be good, at least unless something horrible happens to DropBox.) My heartfelt thanks to anyone who actually cares about any of this.

Anyway, that's what I'm up to at the moment and I have no clue why I felt the need to type a blog entry about it. Next thing you know, I'll be "tweeting" about what outfit I'm going to wear tomorrow...

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Once you go Redguard...

Really not much to report at the moment; just thought I'd share a few more screenshots. I'm still playing Oblivion and tweaking my ever-growing band of companions. Apparently I was in the mood for a specific flavor when I created these companions from one of my variations of the Ainmhi nekomimi race...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Into Oblivion

Today I got my hands on the latest version of Skyrim, the Legendary Edition. So what's the logical thing to do now? Well, play Oblivion of course!

I've spent the last two weeks working to get my current install of Oblivion into a heavily-modded state that I'd be satisfied playing an actual long-term campaign with, so despite the allure of another shiny new Elder Scrolls game this afternoon I decided to start an Oblivion campaign from scratch.

The first companion I picked up was Svatava, who was originally a CM Partners companion until I decided to graft her onto one of the popular GGC Companions (minus the face paint you'll see in the last screenshot of this post). I like the scripting of these companions so I thought this time around my followers shouldn't be exclusively CM Partners. However, once I had taken Svatava through Vilverin (fully enhanced by Martigen's Monster Mod and Francesco's Creatures and Items Mod) I decided that, despite the increased number of enemies, she was just a bit too powerful for me to be traveling with so early in the game. So, on the fly, I polished up one of my Ainmhi works-in-progress and added her to the game. (That's one of the great things about CM Partners: you can pretty much add new characters or remove them whenever you want without worrying that it might bork the game.)
In full sunlight Frona is a bit paler than I'd prefer, but I used a pale freckled skin texture to begin with and it seems to fit well with the whole pink motif she seems to have fallen into.

I'm also unusually satisfied with how my player character has evolved. Usually she looks a bit more rugged and butch, but this time she ended up looking a bit more glamorous somehow. Doesn't seem to be a bad thing, though.
So anyway, that's what I've been up to.

I'll leave you now with this last, older screenshot that's a nice example of how things can change as my creative process runs its course:

Monday, May 27, 2013


(Now that should increase the ol' blog view total...)

Though I'm still not back in the mood to type walls of text that (as the previous parenthetical quip suggests) I doubt more than one or two people will be interested enough in to actually read, I am proud enough of this weekend's Oblivion modding results that I thought I'd break my silence long enough to share a few quick screenshots:
These are all Nonyxia and half-Nonyxia (the latter of which I created myself) using the two original body textures as well as two texture sets which I modified myself.
The armor they're wearing in these screenshots is all from the Full Metal Bikini series by Cenobite (if you like these, he also did some cool stuff for Morrowind).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

More Aubrey Hodges

As I mentioned in a previous post, Mr. Aubrey Hodges has at long last made some of his best game soundtracks available for public download. Though I'm still not in much of a blogging mood, this is something that I feel is definitely worth sharing in a follow-up post since more soundtracks are now available. Again, thank you Mr. Hodges!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My favorite type of magic...

I haven't felt much like blogging lately, but I couldn't resist the urge to share this:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

GZDoom v1.7.01

Just a quick post to pass along a bit of info to any of my fellow Doomers out there who might not have heard it already; another new version of the classic Doom sourceport GZDoom has been released. This time around it's version 1.7.01. And as always, don't forget to occasionally check for new svn builds as well. Enjoy.