My 1st Year of Miniature Painting

It’s not very easy to take a good group photo of 69 miniatures

I’ve never considered myself to be a very artistic or crafty person. Most of my creative outlet took the form of writing: speeches, game reviews, etc. I did take a few photography classes in high school and college which I loved, but it was black and white film, and I never transitioned into buying a nice digital camera and editing software. Since then, some hobbies have stuck, and others only lasted a little while.

A few years ago I dipped my toes into Perler beads because it was a lot of fun creating pixel art from video games. I enjoyed it so much I even made a specialized magnet for every family member as a Christmas present. But eventually the Perler beads started to collect dust and I returned to playing video games and watching tv.

Perler magnets gifted to my family in 2016

After Perler beads, I caught myself watching my wife cross stitch. It certainly looked relaxing and was basically just a tiny version of the Perler beads with a lot more room for cool patterns. My wife graciously taught me how to cross stitch and I’ve been doing that off and on since the end of 2017 as a hobby. I’ll put on a tv show that I enjoy rewatching (Parks and Recreation, The Office, Friday Night Lights) and find myself cross stitching for hours as I split attention between the two tasks.

At the end of March 2019 I made a pretty big, and mostly spur-of-the-moment purchase, I picked up A Song of Ice and Fire Miniatures, specifically the Stark vs Lannister Starter Set. I had never played a miniature game before but I was really getting excited about the final season of Game of Thrones (oh you sweet summer child) and had loved reading the book series, so it was something that kept calling to me at my local game store. On top of that, it came with a fairly rare Hand of the King Kickstarter promo set. So even though I spent $150 on a 2-player game in a genre I had never tried before, I felt like I got a pretty good deal and I was excited to give it a shot. When purchasing the set, it never crossed my mind that I would learn how to paint miniatures to spruce the figures up.

I take a lot of photos on messy tables, but I get excited to show game purchases to my twin.

After a few conversations with friends, the notion of painting these Starks and Lannisters was starting to grow bit by bit in the back of my mind. But I was worried that I wouldn’t have the patience or the skill to do a good job slapping some paint on the figures. I mean, the miniatures themselves are really small and the finer details were definitely intimidating. Despite these mental obstacles, I decided to pick up a Reaper starter kit on Amazon that came with 11 paints, 3 miniatures, 2 paint brushes and an instruction booklet. “This is awesome!” I thought, a way to test out my ability with only a minimal monetary commitment. If I sucked at painting, it wouldn’t ruin my Song of Ice and Fire miniatures, it would only be on the test figures.

Thankfully, the test figures turned out much better than I had anticipated! The skeleton was smaller than the Song of Ice and Fire minis would ultimately be, and the Orc offered a larger canvas for testing out highlights. This was absolutely something I could get into and it actually jump-started me into prepping the Song of Ice and Fire miniatures. Instead of painting my third test figure, I primed and began painting Greywind, Robb Stark’s direwolf.

Greywind in action

I didn’t just jump in without assistance, of course. I watched some very helpful tutorial videos by TheMiniJunkie and looked through Mike Meeple’s Painting Poorly series since they were showing off the exact figures I was working on. Greywind is far from perfect, but I was really satisfied with the finished product. Putting the final touches on the figure: placing the fake snow and gluing bushes onto the base was fulfilling. It felt like everything on the figure and the base tied together so well and it pushed me to start more figures.

These finished miniatures would never win any awards. Instead, painting has become a meditative process for me. If i’m focused, I’ll turn on an audiobook and lose track of time. I once disappeared downstairs to start Gregor Clegane and my wife had to come check on me two hours later as I wrapped up his first coat. If I only want to focus on one task, I’ll swap to music instead. I’ve converted our bar area in our basement into a standing painting area (I mean, we aren’t going to have anyone over anytime soon).

A Lannister Guardsman before and after. I want to build a lightbox to take better photos.

I’ve learned a lot about miniature painting in the past year, and have spent probably too much money on different types of paints and brushes. I’ve gone through phases of intense motivation where I paint a ton of figures in a short amount of time, and dry spells lasting months with little progress to show. To push back against this I made a New Years resolution for 2020 to do some kind of hobby (cross stitching or painting) at least a little bit everyday that I’m home. In terms of miniature painting, it could be an entire coat on a figure or even something small like one color here or there. Ultimately, the resolution ensures some kind of forward progress. In total, I painted 69 figures from A Song of Ice and Fire in the last year, almost enough to field a full Stark army on the table (and a small section of Lannisters).

From those 69 miniatures I’ve also learned quite a bit about myself: I do have the patience and skill to apply a tiny amount of paint on a very small plastic figure. But at the same time, I can’t just turn on that patience like a switch. Some days I’m just not in the mood and I’ll rush a section because I’m feeling anxious. Especially given our current global situation, recognizing when you aren’t “feeling it” is important as well. A fun hobby won’t wipe out all of the stress of the world, but it sure is a nice escape from time to time.

Miniatures painted from April 2019-April 2020

Painted Miniature: Jaime Lannister, The Kingslayer

“And me, that boy I was … when did he die, I wonder? When I donned the white cloak? When I opened Aerys’s throat? That boy had wanted to be Ser Arthur Dayne, but someplace along the way he had become the Smiling Knight instead.” -Ser Jaime Lannister, a.k.a. “The Kingslayer”

Shortly after painting The Mountain, I started working on Ser Jaime Lannister to finish off the combat heroes included in the Stark vs. Lannister Starter set for A Song of Ice and Fire Miniatures Game. At first, the figure seemed pretty easy since I wanted to capture what so many painters in this game have done: the iconic gold armor that Jaime dons while fighting in the War of the Five Kings. A vast majority of this figure is covered in that garish color, but it initially looks so tacky. On top of that, the gold paint I’m using is incredibly difficult to spread around without looked a little uneven.

Luckily a quick wash with Agrax Earthshade darkened up the gold and added the much-needed detail on his armor. I went back and found the black clothing that he’s wearing underneath the set of armor and added that to give the figure a bit more contrast. Additionally, I do like how his blonde hair came out with a coat of Averland Sunset and Agrax Earthshade to darken the look. I’m also pretty happy with his shield. It could be cleaner, but some of those lines are TINY, so it’s better than what I figured it would look like given my abilities.

I would like to improve at layering colors so can better cover up the shading on his oh-so-very rippled cloak. But overall, I’m pretty happy with how The Kingslayer looks painted. I do have another figure of his, a maimed Jaime Lannister, but it will be quite awhile before I end up painting that one. Let me know what you think of my latest painted miniature, as well as if you’d like to see more of this quick reaction posts and galleries of painted minis!

Creature in the Well – Playstation 4 Review

A few years back my friend Sam was really into pinball. My twin and I would meet up with Sam at a bar, grab a pitcher of beer and take turns playing the one pinball machine around. I’m very fond of those memories and it even led me to tracking down pinball machines in my own city. I’m terrible at them, but I love the timing, the skill shots, and the fun kind of stress that pinball machines bring. 

So when I saw a trailer for Flight School Studio’s pinball inspired game Creature in the Well, I was definitely intrigued! Pinball video games can be fun under the right circumstances, but getting the feel of an actual machine is hard to digitally translate (unless we are talking about Full Tilt 2). But if the machine itself is hard to translate, perhaps the feel behind playing a pinball game could still make a great video game.  

There’s a lot of action, but it’s easy to track on screen. (Credit: Flight School)

Think about the frenzy caused by a multi ball in pinball. Creature in the Well nails that feeling by having you juggle multiple balls at the same time and striking them toward bumpers to either gain power or turn off hazards. Dropping a ball in pinball is awful, but this game continuously generates new balls for you to hit, either from a spot on the ground or stealing them from corrupted turrets. To me, this game is a great mashup of pinball and Breakout

You play as a BOT-C robot, reawakening inside of a massive sandstorm that has enveloped the world around you. Your goal is to dive into a massive mountain and restore power to the various machines embedded inside, which should clear the storm. Unfortunately for you, the mysterious creature inside the mountain will try and prevent you from accomplishing that task. 

The game’s namesake and villain: Creature in the Well (Credit: Flight School)

Every area of the mountain provides a branching path, letting you explore the different sections searching for secrets. You’ll definitely want to dig around in this mountain because the side paths and secret rooms reveal some great weapon upgrades. While you can find Old Cores to level up your character, the game never actually explains the benefit of doing so. I had to Google the point of leveling up (it allows you to add more charge to balls before striking them), which could have been solved with a quick description in-game. 

Creature in the Well features serene music to accompany its sci-fi theme. This is a nice way to balance the constant swiping as you swing your weapon to charge and all of the pinging of bumpers and balls bouncing everywhere. The graphics are smooth and I love the different colors for every section of the mountain. Unfortunately, I ran into a consistent visual glitch while playing on Playstation 4 which caused a strobing effect on some textures. At first I thought it might have been an artistic choice, it almost looked like a spinning fan overhead, but once I looked at some streams of the game I knew I encountered a bug. I also downloaded the game on Xbox One since it is included with Game Pass and the graphics were great there, no visual bug to be found. 

Dying in this game is a little unfortunate. While you don’t lose any progress, the creature throws you out of the well in town and you have to first run back into the mountain to heal. Then, you have to trek all the way back to where you died through the twisting turns and branching paths just pick up where you left off. I’m not sure why the antagonist of the game is reviving you in the first place, and the backtracking becomes pretty tedious. I also didn’t find the game overly difficult except for one fight in particular. Through the majority of the game I had only died 14 times, but this one battle killed me an additional eight times. 

Each pillar represents a section of the mountain to explore. (Credit: Flight School)

For anyone interested in playing Creature in the Well, I want to give you two tips to make the game much easier on your thumb. First, you can hold the charge button (square) to continuously charge up balls before striking them. I spent the first two hours or so of the game mashing square like I was getting tortured in Metal Gear Solid and my entire hand hurt about 45 minutes in. Second, remap the strike button (triangle). Since you are going to be holding down square to juggle balls, it’s much easier to change up the way you strike the ball by adding a different button. I used L2 and it gave my right thumb a much needed break. 

I finished the game in a little under five hours at 96%, and it took another 30 minutes to hit 100% with the Platinum trophy. I certainly enjoyed Creature in the Well, and for $15, I think the game nails the feel of a pinball table, while providing something fresh. Especially at a time where you can’t go out to a bar and get your pinball fix, Creature in the Well can scratch that itch. 

Note: While Creature in the Well was released in September 2019, it landed on Playstation 4 on March 27th. I was provided a review code of Creature in the Well for Playstation 4.

Painted Sir Gregor Clegane (The Mountain)

I was flipping through my memories on Google Photos this morning and I saw that it’s been a year since I picked up the Song of Ice and Fire Miniature starter set from our local game store. It was quite the investment at $150, but part of the justification for buying it was the free Hand of the King (Kickstarter bonuses) that came with the purchase of the starter set.

At that time I had never played a miniature game before, and there was no way I was going to be able to paint these figures! But I really loved A Song of Ice and Fire series and at that point I was pretty excited for the final season of Game of Thrones (oh you poor sweet summer child…)

Anyways, I picked up painting miniatures shortly after buying this starter, and I’m getting around to painting some of the heroes and villains from that core set. I’ll write a longer post here in a few weeks regarding everything I’ve painted in the last year, but here’s a photo set of my project over the weekend: Sir Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain.

I am far from a great miniature painter, but I’m pretty happy with how he turned out! The three dogs on his shield were a bit of a pain and I just left them be. Every time I tried to touch it up with black, I would get black paint where yellow should be and vice versa.

Bloodroots Review

I play a lot of video games, but when i’m not gaming I do have a day job: I teach public speaking at the collegiate level. One of the types of speeches that I teach is impromptu. Certainly terrifying to those with speech anxiety, impromptu speeches are given with little preparation and rely on a speaker’s instinct and gut reactions. The speech won’t be perfect, but given the circumstances, they are an efficient way of communicating a message. 

The traits of an impromptu speech were stuck in my mind while recently playing through the game Bloodroots. In it you help Mr. Wolf exact his revenge by tearing through stages, picking up anything you can use as a weapon and improvising along the way. The game was designed by Canadian developers Paper Cult, and was released on February 28th for the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and the Epic Games Store.  

The world is indeed your weapon in Bloodroots (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

There are obvious comparisons to make between Bloodroots and Hotline Miami. The fast-paced action is very similar, having you carve your way through sections of a level filled with enemies and quickly swapping out weapons as you kill. You can use swords and axes sure, but you can also use ladders, fence posts, and even carrots! Your character dies in one hit, and a quick reload is all that stands in your way before you try again. Perfect the area by defeating all of the enemies and you get to move on.  

Where Bloodroots shines is in the level design, giving players plenty of freedom in how they approach each section of every stage. There are no random weapon drops or enemy spawns, so getting a lay of the land is crucial as you figure out the best way to tackle every challenge. Multiple routes, buildings and cliffs to provide elevation, and an abundance of weapons give the game levels a unique feel which keeps evolving as you play. I normally groan a bit when I see ice used in video games, but I liked the added challenge as I tried to weave my way through the soon-to-be corpses.

The art is stylish and a bit gory (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

While you are running your way through the varied levels, be sure to slow down from time to time to appreciate the clean art style. This definitely isn’t 80’s neon and pixel, but a smooth looking game fit for 2020. The story is fairly straightforward, and pinning your actions on “revenge” helps explain Mr. Wolf’s willingness to slaughter so many people, while not really providing a lot of ground to challenge his motivations beyond calling the main characters “Beasts”. 

Once teaching you the controls, Bloodroots takes off the training wheels pretty quickly. The first few enemies you face are basically punching bags dressed up as humans, but they build up from there. Some enemies take two hits to defeat, which can be tough if you have a weapon that you can only use once or one that’s about to break. Some enemies cannot be killed with a melee weapon, others are immune to ranged damage. Some are gunners, shooting at you from a distance, some use area of effect attacks, or simply spin at you. Tackle each one individually, or cleave through several at a time. But don’t stop moving if there are bad guys near, or else you will die.

Use whatever you find to kill your enemies. (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

For the most part, I felt like Bloodroots’ difficulty curve was pretty accurate to continually challenge me as I progressed through the game. Unfortunately, there were certainly a few frustrating parts that I described to my dog as “bullshitty sections.” I know, not the kindest of terms, but only a small section of the game felt a bit cheap, including a platforming section that I wasn’t prepared for in Act 2. 

At times, there are so many items on the ground that it’s pretty tough to pick up the one you want. Specifically, some ranged weapons require you to reload with ammo like a bow and arrow or nerf gun. For some reason Mr. Wolf prioritized other weapons instead of refilling the ammo and even after dropping an item a ways away, he would snap jump to a weapon I didn’t want. However, pulling off a string of bow and arrow kills, it’s extremely satisfying. Being able to pull the arrows out of the air and seamlessly fire into the next enemy feels great. 

On top of the action, Bloodroots’ Beasts all wear different animal hats, which reminds me a lot of Hotline Miami’s animal masks. You can also unlock new hats as you progress through the game, which give you a slight power boost like a dash punch or starting an area with a gun. However, the hat powers are only available when replaying a previous level, so the game sets itself apart a bit here. 

I didn’t get a lot of “S” rankings, but I’ll take Top 5 in the world for one stage.

Bloodroots’ offers a lot of replayability since you earn points for every stage based on a set of factors including the variety of weapons you used, how mobile you were, and how well you maintained your combo of kills. I don’t think I’ll go back to replay too many of the stages, but it sets up completionists with a tangible target: hitting an S ranking on every stage. There are also collectible hidden wolves to pet and additional animal hats to earn, giving you something more to chase once the story is finished. 

I had a blast with Bloodroots, and if what I have described sounds interesting, it’s absolutely worth the $20. You don’t have to be a good impromptu speaker to excel at Bloodroots, but trusting your instincts will help you improvise your way through a challenging and fun game.  

Note: I was provided a review code of Bloodroots for PC.

It’s Never Too Late: Snake Eater Perfects the Metal Gear Solid Recipe

As I make continued progress in playing through the Metal Gear Solid series, I must admit that the third entry was the game I was looking forward to the most. Like MGS2, I bought Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater as a freshman in college for the Playstation 2. Unlike MGS2, my 18-year self was unable to finish the game after getting frustrated with the difficulty. Seeing this series playthrough as a way to right my wrong, I went into Snake Eater with a lot of anticipation. 

I actually finished Sons of Liberty back in January, it just took a little while to articulate my thoughts on the game. To be perfectly honest, I also finished Snake Eater in January, but the “It’s Never Too Late” series isn’t so much about when you play a game, it’s about the enjoyment you get from the experience. Let me tell you: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was a fantastic experience. 

Traveling Back in Time

Snake Eater bottles up the essence of the Metal Gear Solid series and hops in a DeLorean back to 1964. Solid Snake doesn’t exist back then, but the legendary soldier he was cloned from, Big Boss, does. But in 1964 Big Boss doesn’t have that title yet, he’s just called Naked Snake and is on the hunt for his defected mentor The Boss. That’s right, Big Boss and The Boss are different, but the game actually does a great job explaining the title and how it gets passed on. 

The story is much more straightforward than Sons of Liberty. America’s top agent/soldier The Boss has defected to Russia and is aiding a renegade group wanting to overthrow Nikita Khrushchev using a nuclear-capable tank named Shagohod. Getting to The Boss isn’t easy, as Snake needs to fight his way through the elite soldiers of the Cobra Unit while behind enemy lines. The parallels between Shagohod and Metal Gear are easy to spot, but setting the game during the Cold War adds a new level of desperation to Snake’s mission.

Back in the 1960’s, the Soliton radar didn’t exist, meaning Snake has to make do with a basic Motion Detector and Anti-Personnel Sensor. To add to the technological gaps, these devices use a battery, meaning they can’t be equipped 100% of the time without draining their charge. At first, I missed the radar showing me enemy positions and their field of view. But once I realized how reliant I had been on it for sneaking around, I let go and used the most basic form of tech out there: my eyes. It made sneaking around so much more tense, and fulfilling when I was able to pull it off.

Blending in and Eating Snakes

So what’s the best way to sneak around without your trusty radar? Well your first step is to blend in, and Snake Eater has you covered. This installment added wearable camouflage and face paint that could be changed by pausing the game, allowing you to become one with your environment. Whether you are trudging through a swamp, climbing up a mountain, crawling through the jungle, and sneaking through a building, there’s a camo set for your situation. Put on the correct clothes for your environment and your camoflauge % goes up, which makes it harder for enemy guards to spot you. 

I don’t think I personally saw a difference between 75% and 95% camo index in terms of gameplay, but I also played the game on Normal difficulty. However, the camo makes a lot of sense thematically, and certainly ratchets up the intensity when a guard is mere steps away but can’t see you. Sure, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that Snake would be carrying so many sets of clothes, but you’ll have to suspend your disbelief in the same way that Snake can carry somewhere around two dozen weapons at the same time. 

Along with camouflage, Snake Eater adds a new mechanic and gauge to keep track of: stamina. Naked Snake is dropped into the jungle with minimal supplies, meaning he not only has to acquire weapons on site, but sustenance as well. This is where the game earns its name: Snake Eater has you eating snakes and other animals, plants, and food left behind by enemy soldiers to restore your stamina gauge. You’ll want to keep the stamina gauge up because it helps restore your life gauge over time, and a growling stomach could even alert that pesky guard you want to sneak past. This felt like a much better health system than the previous two games where you just needed to pull out a ration mid-battle to recover your life. 

Killing snakes and harvesting mushrooms from the jungle floor is easy enough, but Naked Snake doesn’t like the taste of everything you feed him. Give him enough food that he finds nasty and he’ll throw up or even get food poisoning, which leads to another new mechanic in Metal Gear Solid 3, managing illnesses and injuries. Just like camouflage and food, you can access the ability to cure Snake through the pause menu. I really enjoyed patching up bullet wounds and burns from fights, but the game did give me a few too many medical supplies, so I never felt the sting of an untreated wound. 

Ending the Cobra Unit

After some disappointing boss battles in Sons of Liberty, Kojima crafted some excellent duels in Snake Eater. Taking on all of the members of the Cobra Unit was a lot of fun, and there was a ton of variety to the encounters as well. While easier than their Metal Gear Solid counterparts, I feel like this entry’s bosses echoed the creativity found in the first game. 

Going back to the stamina bar being introduced in this game, the oldest member of the Cobra Unit actually fights Snake in a battle of stamina rather than health. The End is a legendary sniper, but uses tranquilizer darts to whittle down Snake and plays a game of hide-and-sneak by camouflaging himself throughout three different sections of the map. This fight was intense in a much different way, taking away the high energy fight and replacing it with the fear of not quite knowing where you are being hunted from. This fight was hands down my favorite moment of the Metal Gear Solid series so far. 

The End also brought up a different way of tackling boss fights to me: neutralizing them in a non-lethal manner instead of killing them. Once I realized he was only trying to knock out my stamina, I swapped over to only hitting him with my own tranquilizer gun. Unfortunately, I missed out on grabbing the reward for the non-lethal takedown, but I love the fact that you can choose that option. It’s something that stuck with me for Metal Gear Solid 4

There were times when I thought Normal difficulty was a bit too easy. I took down Revolver Ocelot, The Pain, The End, and The Fear on the first attempt. I had to replay The Sorrow once because I didn’t realize I needed to use my self-revive pill, and The Boss took two attempts as well. However, The Fury was aptly named, as the pyromaniac caused a lot of frustration as I fought him. Similar to Metal Gear Solid, I enjoyed experimenting with my limited technology and weapons to see what worked best to tackle each foe. 

Kojima Gets Obsessed 

I didn’t like how obsessed the game was with CQC (Close Quarters Combat), which basically meant you can use your knife while you have certain weapons equipped. To me, they mention it at too many different points of the game, and it showed me that Kojima gets fixated at times on small aspects that he finds really cool. You can see this early on when EVA gives Snake his first two guns in the Snake Eater mission and he instantly (and feverishly) whittles the handle down on his gun so he can use it in CQC. It just seemed like such a weird reaction after gushing over the custom nature of the gun he’s handed. 

Although Big Boss and Snake had developed CQC together, it’s a good thing you aren’t forced to take her down using it. With his numerous failed attempts to disarm or fight Big Boss in cinematics, it would have felt weird to suddenly best her in close quarters combat. It didn’t stop him from trying, and the obsession stuck out throughout. This fixation over a concept is something I noticed in MGS4 as well, so I’ll cover more on it next time. 

Speaking of EVA, her outfit was of course, ridiculous. Others have written about Hideo Kojima’s disappointing history regarding female characters, and EVA really turns the corner in a problematic way. Beyond her, I’m not sure what caused the cesarean section scar The Boss has to reach all the way to her collar bone, and while I understand the need to show the snake-like shape of the scar, it seemed so odd for her to reveal so much of her chest right before she fights Snake to death. 

This cutscene prior to fighting The Boss felt a little out of place. Her monologue just stuck out when you remembered that a military strike was on its way to obliterating the both of you. However, Snake Eater’s cutscenes were very toned and trimmed down compared to Sons of Liberty, and I very much appreciated it.  

Final Thoughts

For some reason the younger version of Revolver Ocelot just never clicked for me. He mostly felt like a tool throughout, and I’m glad Snake was able to outwit him so easily. At least seeing his backstory helped establish some of his motivations for earlier entries, which happen to be set in the future. 

I also felt like the game started to morph into more of an action movie with the last hour or two once the escape sequence began on EVA’s motorcycle. This genre shift is even more present in Metal Gear Solid 4, and while I welcomed the change near the end of this game, I didn’t love the shift during Guns of the Patriots

Despite a few missteps, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is my favorite game of the series so far. Even though I didn’t get around to finishing the game until it passed its 15 year anniversary, I truly believe that it’s never too late to fall in love with the experience.  

The Tricky Difficulty in Wargroove

Wargroove Logo
Credit: Chucklefish

Like so many games that I get excited about, I bought Wargroove as soon as it released on the Switch. I played five or six missions and then it sat collecting digital dust on the shelf. I do this a lot, buy a game, taste test it, but then inevitably get distracted by something newer or simply something different.

Wargroove is a great strategy game that calls back to the likes of Advance Wars, a Gameboy Advance game I obsessed over back in high school. Complete with pixellated graphics and charming characters, Wargroove was absolutely a game I could get behind, especially with its price at $20. I started playing the game recently as one I’d like to finish as part of my Four in February, and right now is a great time to start playing – they just released a free co-op campaign!

An Emberwing roasting Greenfinger.
Combat animations are colorful and even skippable. (Credit: Chucklefish)

In Wargroove, each map has you leading a commander character to victory. Manuever your units around the battlefield, capture villages to earn more money each turn, and then spend that money on fresh units to bolster your army. Each soldier has strengths and weaknesses when matched up with an enemy, and you can set up unique conditions to have your soldiers land a critical hit when they attack. For example, your basic Swordsman will land a critical blow when positioned next to your Commander, or the Knight hits theirs when charging six spaces and then attacking. Your commander is “unit” in more ways than one, tanking a lot of fire and dishing out the pain every time they swing.

When released a year ago, Wargroove had a static difficulty setting, but also included individual sliders for three key components of the battle: Damage Received, Income, and Groove Charge (your commander’s special ability). Early players found the game pretty damn tough, and I felt the same way when I picked the game back up recently. However, a month after release, Chucklefish released their first major update that added shorter combat animations and five preset difficulty options: Story, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Custom). If you bump the difficulty down a notch to Medium you can still earn 3 stars per mission, but the highest rank you can attain is A, rather than S.

Wargroove's Difficulty Screen
Adjusting the difficulty is easy and great for small tweaks.

Thankfully, Wargroove’s custom sliding difficulty still honors stars based on the Medium/Hard benchmarks. So for example, once I got the hang of things again and found Medium to be a little easy, I was able to start ticking up the “Damage Received” from 80% to 90% without sacrificing the number of stars earned per mission. As the campaign progresses, I’ll likely keep bumping this up until I get back to 100%, the Hard setting.

I won’t be a completionist in any sense for this game, but I love the ability to individually slide pieces of the difficulty around to find that sweet spot: challenging, but not frustrating. The level of control offered in Wargroove is certainly a great step for a strategy game like this.

Emeric achieving victory
The best I can get at my current difficulty, I’ll take it!

It’s Never Too Late: Metal Gear Solid 2 Steps Forward, and Back

I love starting video games. The sense of mystery with the story to come, unique game mechanics that surprise you, but my favorite part is seeing how a series evolves with its next entry. If I have access to a sequel or the next game in a series, I’ll pop it in as soon as the credits roll on the previous game. That’s been the case for each Metal Gear Solid game as I work my way through the series, and the gap between the first game and Sons of Liberty is drastic. The leap in graphics is even more pronounced since I played the HD edition on Playstation 3.

After finishing the first Metal Gear Solid in early January, I decided to write about my experiences here. Is it too late to review a game that released in 1998? Probably. But with the “It’s Never Too Late” series, I show that you can absolutely still enjoy a game even 20 years post-release.

The Protagonist Problem

I know that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was controversial when it was released in 2001. Hideo Kojima subverted expectations by only letting players control Solid Snake for the first few hours of the game (the Tanker episode). So fans expecting a full Metal Gear Solid experience with their gruff protagonist were disappointed to be playing as a younger blonde guy codenamed Raiden. I can see why’d they were upset.

I didn’t mind having to control Raiden instead of Snake. To me, it was a cool way to have a “boots on the ground” supporter for the Big Shell mission, something more tangible than only radio guidance. This also allowed for cool co-operative moments like Snake/Otacon defending you in the helicopter during the Harrier jet fight. I loved escorting Emma along the oil fence, sniping enemies before they could hurt her too much as she tried to reach Snake on the other side.  

However, Raiden wasn’t nearly as interesting of a character when compared to Snake. They tried to create a deeper backstory near the end with the child-soldier/Solidus reveal but it honestly got a little too confusing. Speaking of confusion, was this mission all a VR simulation? The answer to that question is both yes and no, which is just frustrating. So many people google that question that it has its own dropdown search result:

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The trippy simulation reveal was a little confusing, I was wasn’t the only one a little lost.

The Sons of Liberty story was confusing to me, but only the last two or three hours. I still experienced lengthy monologues from bosses, Codec conversations, and double crosses. On top of that another character soiled themselves in fear (which is apparently a Hideo Kojima signature) so that’s fun. Regardless of the lead protagonist, players still get to sneak around, use cool tech, and occasionally get themselves out of sticky situations.

Streamlining Controls and Action

All of this action felt a lot smoother in Sons of Liberty, especially with the inclusion of more streamlined first-person mode. Although I do wish I had experimented more with knocking radios out using the tighter aiming controls. Raiden (and Snake) also had an amazing addition to their arsenal with the silenced tranquilizer gun, my favorite item in the game by far. Eventually I learned that knocked out enemies would wake up, which threw wrenches in my so-called “plans”.  I ended up putting most enemies to sleep with the tranquilizer and then shooting them in the head with my silenced pistol. Don’t look at me though, Raiden was cold-blooded.

I liked that there wasn’t nearly as much backtracking in this game as there was on Shadow Moses island. The mission felt varied as it took you from disarming bombs, to finding the President, to saving the President, to escorting Emma, to stopping Solidus. It was also a nice changeup from the very dark environment of MGS1 to much brighter and more colorful in Sons of Liberty, at least with the Plant episode. Whereas Metal Gear Solid 1 showed its age in clunky controls and hard to see graphics, its sequel cleared up a lot.

Bummer Boss Fights

Unfortunately, boss fights weren’t as compelling as the first game. I enjoyed the mechanics of the Fatman fight, but a bomb-loving boss sipping on wine while scooting around on rollerskates wasn’t very intimidating. I really liked the fight against Metal Gear Rays, but it became so easy to knock them out that they didn’t seem very threatening at the end of the fight as it became repetitive blowing apart seven or so war machines.

All in all, these boss encounters were also a lot easier than the first game. I found myself knocking them out on the third or fourth try compared to some of the harder ones in MGS1 like Psycho Mantis, Metal Gear Rex and Liquid. There weren’t as many bosses either, which was disappointing. Even though some of them broke my spirit in the first game, I loved the creativity of the original enemies and they were spaced out to bring some much needed variation to the overall experience. I was hoping the bosses would evolve just as much as the graphics and general gameplay.  

Overall Thoughts

Despite the setbacks in my book, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty pushed the series forward in important ways. It’s a crucial piece of the ongoing story and it was absolutely enjoyable. If you got through Metal Gear Solid, you should definitely give Sons of Liberty a shot, if only to see the major evolution in controls and graphics. If you find yourself finishing the game, then perhaps you’ll follow my lead and start the third Metal Gear Solid game that same night.   

It’s Never Too Late: Reflecting on Metal Gear Solid

I recently had an enlightening conversation with a good friend about time and video games. I’ve grown up with games my entire life, but when I was a kid a video game was a luxury. We wouldn’t get many video games over the course of a year (typically Christmas and birthdays), so each one was savored, replayed, and loved. Now as an adult, I have access to more video games than I could ever play simply through Xbox Game Pass, free games through PlayStation Plus, and using disposable income to buy new releases. 

I’ll never get to play every single game, nor would I want to. It’s important to remember that not everyone will get to play the same video games as you – it’s our ability to share our passion through conversations, YouTube videos, Twitch streams, or blog posts that allow us to nerd out about the experiences we love. 

With that in mind, I’d like to start writing about some of these experiences with a series called “It’s Never Too Late” – because while I do occasionally play a game right as it gets released, most of my gaming is months and even years behind. To lead off, I’d like to reflect on a series that I recently dove into: Metal Gear Solid. 

A Daunting Task

Whenever the Metal Gear Solid series came up in a conversation with my friends, I always told them the same thing: I had finished the first and second game, but put Metal Gear Solid 3 on a hard enough difficulty that I had gotten frustrated enough to give up. 

Looking back on the series now, I don’t think I ever actually finished the first game. I remember renting the Twin Snakes version for the Gamecube back in high school, but I don’t believe I made it all the way through the game. I also distinctly recall buying Sons of Liberty for dirt cheap as a used copy my freshman year of college and playing through its entirety in my dorm room (ah, back when video rental stores existed). 

A few years ago, I borrowed the Legacy Collection on PS3 from my twin, but it’s mostly sat collecting dust until the beginning of this year. An interest in Death Stranding finally motivated me to fire up the old PS3 and restart Metal Gear Solid. Over the course of four days I experienced a weird mix of nostalgia, an innovative blend of gameplay and narrative, as well as some truly frustrating moments. 

A Little Rough Around the Edges

To start off, I played the original Playstation game as a classic on my Playstation 3. So yes, the graphics were quite blocky and rough around the edges when it comes to today’s standards. I’ve never really been too concerned with how a game looks, and I’d like to think I would never scoff at graphics. Sure, I’ve been blown away by Read Dead Redemption 2 and Gears 5 in 4K, but I knew that MGS was released over 20 years ago. About an hour into the game and I felt like I had gotten used to the dark style, and my mind was filling in for some of the missing pieces like facial expressions. It felt right. 

What I had a hard time getting used to were the game’s controls. Around the time of meeting the DARPA chief I realized that the PS3 has a separate menu option for turning on the analog sticks, which certainly helped give Snake’s sneaking a little more fluidity. Even with smoother movement without the D-Pad, I encountered a very sticky railing early on in the Tank Hangar. I would successfully cling to a wall to sneak past a security camera, but then as I tried to move onto the stairs before the camera swept back, Snake would get caught on the railing and the enemy would be alerted. This happened three times in a row and irked me quite a bit. 

Tough, but Rewarding Boss Fights

Some of the touchy controls also bled into the penultimate boss battle against Metal Gear Rex. This was a doozy of a fight for me as I had a hard time avoiding the constant barrage of rockets so death was a familiar friend during this section. What made it harder to conquer was the constant flipping between items – bringing out the Chaff Grenade to block the boss’s targeting system, using R2 to swap over to the Stinger for a brief second, and then utilizing first-person aiming to hit the mech in the right spot. I felt like the timing of the boss attacks left very little room for error in getting this sequence down.  

I played through the game on Normal, and while many of the bosses were difficult, only Metal Gear Rex felt a little cheap. A few bosses took me three or four tries like Revolver Ocelot, Cyborg Ninja and Vulcan Raven. Some took around a dozen attempts like Liquid Snake and Psycho Mantis. Others were knocked out on the first try like the Tank, the Hind, and Sniper Wolf. Some of these fights were infuriating at the time, but ultimately I believe they will be memorable. 

Breaking the Fourth Wall

I’m sure one of the reasons this game is so unforgettable is due to its creativity. The bosses and their weaknesses were unique, especially Psycho Mantis. Revolver Ocelot didn’t just have slick gunplay for show, his bullets bounced off walls and nailed Snake directly. The game broke the fourth wall several times and actually made me chuckle in its execution. After a torture section where you have to tap O repeatedly, Snake’s ally Naomi directs you (the player) to put your controller on your arm and she’ll help the pain. A short controller vibration later, and I was all smiles at a small and clever little gesture. 

I dug the story for Metal Gear Solid a lot, and it never really felt too convoluted for me. Most of the story is told through Codec calls, which is a radio, but silent? I guess that never really clicked how Snake was able to have full conversations mere feet away from a guard, but I just rolled with it. The voice acting in these scenes, as well as the more animated cutscenes was fantastic, especially considering how long ago the game was released. A few characters could be overly dramatic at times (Otacon) or ultimately they were a melodramatic villain that I expected to tie my friend Meryl to railroad tracks (looking at you Liquid). 

Overall Thoughts

Metal Gear Solid is a sneaking game that forces you to be stealthy – it’s not easy to fend off an attack if you’ve been discovered. Other games like Dishonored give you some leeway once you are spotted: make a few quick kills and maybe the problem goes away. For MGS, you need to be patient to successfully sneak past guards and cameras. It’s a different skill set, and you certainly need to be in the right mood to take your time.

So with all of that in mind, was it worth playing Metal Gear Solid for (mostly) the first time, over 20 years after the game was released? Absolutely. If you haven’t tried this game or series, jump on in. It’s $10 on Playstation 3 and you’ll have a good time. If you enjoy it, there’s always several more games in the series to play as well. 

D.Va’s Day 1 Debut

The newest hero to the Nexus exploded onto the scene during Day 1 of the Mid-Season Brawl.

D.Va_HotS_Art

Saturday June 10th brought Day 1 of the HGC Mid-Season Brawl, where 12 of the top Heroes of the Storm teams from around the globe have gathered in Sweden with $250,000 on the line. Saturday also marked the first time that D.Va would be available for a professional series since her May 16th release. This gave fans a chance to see her in action in the big leagues, as long as an HGC team was confident enough with D.Va.

Luckily, ANZ’s Nomia was feeling pretty good about their chances with D.Va and included her in both of their games against China’s Super Perfect Team. Later in the day, China’s eStar Gaming also picked up D.Va in a win against Europe’s Team Dignitas. All in all, D.Va had a 100% win rate during Day 1 of the Mid-Season Brawl, appearing in 3 of the 12 games.

Of course, 3 professional games is a small sample size. However, these games do serve as the starting point when looking to answer whether or not D.Va is competitively viable. Perhaps an even more interesting question would be: What makes D.Va unique as a bruiser? Her damage, waveclear and self-sustain are all lacking when compared to Sonya. Instead, by using her Boosters and Self-Destruct in conjunction with battleground choke-points, D.Va can effectively disrupt the enemy team’s position.

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D.Va’s Self-Destruct serves more as a zoning tool than one primarily used for damage. “It’s more of the counter-play to it.” FAT94 explained after Nomia’s 2-0 win over Super Perfect Team. “It makes the comms for the opposing team hard because everyone is trying to play around it. Some have to run forward, some run back. It’s really good for splitting them up.”

To see the power of D.Va’s Self-Destruct as a zoning tool, let’s turn to Game 2 of Nomia versus Super Perfect Team. The large area of effect for Self-Destruct is incredibly useful on Infernal Shrines to not only clear skeletal defenders, but to also push the opposing team away from the shrine itself. That’s exactly how FAT94 utilized D.Va early on in Game 2:

https://clips.twitch.tv/JollyRudeButterflyKeyboardCat

Despite finding themselves behind by 10 skeletal defenders during the first shrine phase, Nomia was determined to keep Super Perfect Team from earning a punisher. Seeing the already scattered members of SPT, FAT94 engaged his Self-Destruct in the middle of the shrine, which forced all five players from SPT to the outer edges of the explosion zone. Super Perfect Team was already weakened from the prolonged battle over the shrine, and this zoning effort stretched them from what would essentially be 9 to 3 on the face of a clock:

Game2 1stimage

Low on mana and without a Radiant Dash charge, zZH’s Kharazim was an easy target for Nomia to single out. melodyc on Leoric fell shortly after, and Wings rounded out the death toll to 3 because D.Va’s Self-Destruct successfully split up Super Perfect Team. The blast also cleared 7 skeletal defenders in an instant, setting up Nomia to take the punisher and establish an early lead in Game 2.

In fact, this wasn’t even the first time Nomia had used Self-Destruct to shift the momentum of a game during Day 1. At the tail-end of Game 1, FAT94 used Self-Destruct to zone Simba on Uther completely away from the rest of Super Perfect Team. Fighting in this Cursed Hollow chokepoint led to Nomia wiping out all five heroes from Super Perfect Team, sealing a Game 1 victory.

https://clips.twitch.tv/embed?clip=PoliteCautiousCobraHoneyBadger&autoplay=false&tt_medium=clips_embed

It’s important to note when D.Va was drafted during Day 1 of the Mid-Season Brawl. On Infernal Shrines, both Nomia and eStar Gaming waited until the final pick of the draft to snag the newest Warrior in the Nexus. During the Cursed Hollow draft, Nomia chose D.Va during the 4 /5 slot, which meant Super Perfect Team only had one pick remaining to serve as a counter. Unfortunately for SPT, they had already committed to the hyper-carry Valla and wanted Auriel for their last hero.

As teams continue to gain experience both with and against D.Va, we are sure to see strong counters to her zoning efforts. Additionally, team communication and positioning will improve when reacting to a Self-Destruct. Until then, we can at least admire her explosive debut during the opening day of the Mid-Season Brawl.  

Other Notable Highlights from Day 1

  • Roll20 esports dismantled an underprepared MVP Black in Game 1, dishing out 22 kills and suffering 0 from the typically dominant Korean team.
  • The hyper-carry Valla (Valla + two Support) saw mixed results in Day 1, appearing in 5/12 games but only winning twice.
  • L5 showed off a well-oiled machine when it came to Noblese on Stitches with Malfurion and Kael’thas on the follow up CC during Game 1 against Soul Torturers.