Thursday, April 19, 2012

Game Review - American McGee's Alice

Game Review - American McGee's Alice
Score +3/-2


American McGee's Alice is, by today's standards, a pretty primitive first-person shooter. It is loosely based on the story of Alice in Wonderland, with cameos from key characters and various elements from the story. The rest will largely be unrecognizable if you are looking for an Alice in Wonderlandexperience.
Where the game lacks in strong story and modern graphics, it more than makes up for it with a very interesting journey.
- The graphics are obviously dated nowadays. On the up side, you can run it with all the graphical bells and whistles you can enable through your video card.
+ Interesting and varied environments. Despite the simplicity of the graphics and what are considered very low-quality textures nowadays, the level design is very good; the variations take you to very different landscapes and thus different experiences; and overall it has a surreal, dream-like quality, a genre not often seen.
+ Gameplay is enhanced with interesting weapons that give you a wide variety of tactical choices. Commonly in FPS games you have a basic melee weapon, basic ranged weapon, long-range sniping weapon, some sort of bouncing grenade, and an explosive heavy weapon. Here you have all that, but in more interesting ways, such as a deck of cards that can track a target; a jack-in-a-box that can either explode like a grenade or sit for several seconds spewing out flame in all directions; and the Jabberwock Eye Staff that can call down an area bombardment.
+ Interesting events, characters, encounters, and cutscenes.
- The story is weak and token. A lot of it is borne in very boring reading in document files -- that hardly anyone will read anyway. In any case, it isn't particularly important and really only touched on lightly in the late game. Dialogue starts out quite strong and interesting, but falls off later.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fallout 3 Mod - GQ SkillBooks and Bobbles give SPECIAL Points

Fallout 3 Mod - GQ SkillBooks and Bobbles give SPECIAL Points
-- Download (ver: 2012-Apr-14) --
Alternate Download Link

Changes Bobbleheads and Skill Books so that they no longer give SPECIAL or Skill Points. Instead, they contribute toward a point pool, and at various tiers, a SPECIAL Point is awarded. At that time, the player may also change the allocation of their SPECIAL points.
  • Bobbleheads count as 20 points.
  • The Wasteland Survival Guide counts as a Bobblehead.
  • Skill Books and Pre-War Books count as 1 point, or 2 points with the Comprehension perk.
  • SPECIAL Points are awarded at 10, 30, 60, 100, 150... points.
    • No more points are awarded if the player's unmodified SPECIAL total reaches 70 (i.e., the maximum score of 10 in each attribute).
  • Only items in inventory are counted. All items that count toward points are set to 0-weight.

20 Bobbles x 20 points = 400 points
Wasteland Survival Guide = 20 points
In Fallout 3 (without DLCs) there are 25 Skill Books x 13 skills = 325, less 1-4 which are accessible only through purchases or perks = 321 points
And ~110 Pre-War Books = 110 points.

Total: 851, 1282 with Comprehension
SPECIAL Points awarded from this mod: +12 to +15

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fallout 3 Mod Review - Mart's Mutant Mod

Fallout 3 Mod Review - Mart's Mutant Mod (RC 6.2)

Summary: A few more monster types, increased monster spawns, monster loot, various tweak options.
Why Get This: NOT until you have finished most of Fallout 3. Get this if you need more things to kill, or more types of things to kill.

The main features of Mart's Mutant Mod are more monster types, and more monsters in general. The monsters added are lore friendly, and often drawn from previous versions of Fallout. Depending on where you are in the Wasteland, you may or may not see many of them. Some areas were specifically designated by the game to have certain types of creatures (e.g. downtown DC is almost exclusively Super Mutants), so you'll see a lot of them there. Boring, but aligned with the plot/background of Fallout 3.
Monsters new and old have some interesting death behaviours (like Glowing Ones exploding), as well as interesting loot or food items.

There is also the option of multiplying monster spawns by a factor of 2 or more. This has the side effect of slowing down your game because you have to spend more time killing in each encounter; and levelling you up faster because of more kills (in a game that already levels you up too fast for many people). It also often diminishes the effect of stealth because there are so many eyes looking for you from different angles. In a game where stealth is quickly too easy, this may or may not be something you like.

The main reason I CANNOT recommend MMM (at least not on your initial play through Fallout 3) is because it has a tendency to kill off interesting outdoor events (such as "unique" random encounters). Many characters and creatures are placed outdoors, either by vanilla Fallout 3 or some mods. The vanilla game already tries to protect them by keeping them away from spawn points (though not necessarily successfully, such as with the citizens of Arefu, who are somewhat close to where a Deathclaw could spawn).
If you have MMM's increased spawns, this becomes trickier. And whether you have that on or not, at night, MMM spawns large packs of Night Ghouls who can roam around very far. These can end up swarming and killing NPCs, thus causing you to miss out on various interesting placed encounters.

Another reason to be careful with MMM is that although Increased Spawns is generally nice, with the Broken Steel add-on, after level 25 you will start to see the "super-monsters", that have enough Health to survive a Nuka-Grenade or even a Fat Man, and have huge killing power. With Increased Spawns, you might suddenly end up with several of them and a no-win situation. That said, there's probably no reason you can't turn it on prior to your character being at level 25.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fallout 3 Mod - GQ Conveniences

Fallout 3 Mod - GQ Conveniences
-- Download (ver: 2012-Apr-06) --
Alternate Download Link
-- Requires the Fallout Script Extender (FOSE) --

Use the console command "player.additem <FormID> 1" to add one or more "Armor" items from the following list. When you equip one of these items, a script will run.

xx000800 Grab Items
xx000801 Repair
xx000802 Sell
xx000803 Storage (including Keys)
xx000804 Bullet Time
xx00081a Move Keys to Storage

"xx" is the hexadecimal number that denotes this mod's position in your load order.

All of these scripts are obviously cheats, so carefully pick what you want and don't want to use in your game.

Known Issues:
* None of the items have any inventory icons (will show as an error) or world models. If you drop one of them, it will not be visible in the game world, and you cannot interact with it. If you drop one, you should load a previous save to prevent savegame bloating.
* The reason they do not have any inventory icons or world presence is because this .ESP was designed to have no dependency on any .ESM -- not even Fallout3.ESM -- nor does it add its own meshes or textures. You can therefore put it anywhere in your load order and install it without fear of overwriting anything.

Equipping this item will cause a script to grab:

  • All inventory items lying free, except holotapes and other "Note" items.
  • All items in containers that do not have a "Key Only" lock.
  • All inventory items from dead creatures.
It will not take items from the ground or from containers if it will cause karma loss unless you are Sneaking.
It affects the current cell. Typically, for interiors, this will be the entire interior.

Known Issues:

  • It can grab things from locked containers and behind locked doors even if you cannot pick the lock or the lock is impossible to pick. This could possibly break quests.
  • It does not reliably detect when taking an owned item will not result in karma loss (e.g., when stealing from evil NPCs). Crouch into Sneak mode to force-steal.
  • Everything that is owned that you pick up will register as stealing. However, when the script grabs owned things from inside a container, it will not register as stealing and there is no karma loss.
  • Sometimes the game will not register that you have taken an item or emptied a container, even if the item is gone from the game world. If you equip the Grab Item to run the script again, you will get a duplicate of everything and get another set of items from the containers.
    • To properly update the game, make a clean save (not overwriting an old save), and reload that save game from the main menu, then reload it again in-game.
  • Sometimes causes crash-to-desktop, especially when new items are added to the ground, or some items are taken
    • Workaround seems to be to make a clean save (not overwriting an old save) and reload from the main menu.

Equipping this item opens the Repair Menu that you normally get when you ask a merchant if they can repair your items. The proxy character who is handling the repair will have a repair skill equal to your current Repair skill.
This is meant to be an alternative to using items for repair. Instead of accumulating items to repair your gear, and trying to remember what repairs what, you can use this to repair your gear at any time. In general, it will cost more than repairing with items because of the repair formula, which always gives you (5% + (15% of your repair skill)), in addition to a small fraction of the condition of both the item being repaired and the item used for the repair. However, you can repair in small increments instead of sacrificing an entire item to do so.

Equipping this item opens a special Barter Menu. The merchant has no bottle caps, only no-weight "cash" items. You buy and sell at a 1:1 ratio.
This is meant to be a sort of clutter-clearing option. Instead of dragging loot to the store, you can now convert them to an equivalent value in no-weight items, which you can use to barter with regular merchants.
To simply use this item as a garbage bin, sell the merchant various objects, but don't take anything in exchange. The script clears the merchant's inventory every time you start the Barter Menu, so whatever you sell is pretty much gone for good.

Known Issues:
* If you equip this from your Pip-Boy inventory menu instead of a hotkey, it will still work. However, after you have sold items, they will still be listed in the Pip-Boy, but in reality they have been removed. It is recommended that you DO NOT click on anything, and instead close the Pip-Boy and allow the game to refresh its information properly.

Equipping this item opens a remote container where you can store stuff.

Known Issue:
* This does not work if you equip the item from your Pip-Boy inventory menu. You must hotkey the Storage item and use it that way.

Equipping this item toggles 25% Bullet Time -- the game moves at 1/4 speed for everyone, including you.
The AI can calculate combat moves much more quickly and accurately than you in regular x1.0 time. By slowing the game to 1/4 time, it puts you approximately at the same level as the AI.

Known Issue:
* If you are in Bullet Time and enter VATS, after a VATS sequence time will be reset to 1.0 by the VATS system. But the Bullet Time script does not know that. When you next toggle Bullet Time, it will just reset Bullet Time to 1.0. You need to toggle it a second time to restart Bullet Time.

Equipping this item destroys all the keys you have (even quest-item keys), and reproduces them inside the container accessed by the Storage Item.
This is meant as a way to drop keys since you cannot normally do that. When you pick up a key, you no longer have the option of lockpicking the associated lock, and therefore you cannot gain any XP from opening the lock.

Fallout 3 Mod Review - The Mantis Imperative / A Touch of Class

Fallout 3 Mod Review - The Mantis Imperative (v1.08)
Summary: Two adventures, plus various optional game changes.
Why Get This: Solving puzzles, and if you want to inject some humour into Fallout 3.

The Mantis Imperative has six files, only one of which is The Mantis Imperative adventure proper. In this review, I will cover only Mantis.esp and Jello.esp.

Mantis.esp - The Mantis Imperative

Once you install this .esp, you will see the changes almost immediately, as it adds new monsters to the game world. Some ants will become either Mud Ants or Zebra Ants, some bloatflies will become Lightning Bugs or Fireflies, some Mirelurks become VenomLurks. There isn't anything particularly wrong here unless you are a stickler for "lore friendly" or Fallout 3 traditions.

The story itself has a poor hook and a very slow and meaningless start. Once you reach Mantis Labs, you are sent to get a trinket with which to gain access. Just getting in is a small puzzle. Once you are in there, the theme of the game really starts to show: Explore every nook and cranny looking for hidden objects, and solving puzzles with generally only one solution. Two problems here: The puzzles, and the story.

If you are the type who likes to figure things out, then this adventure mod *may* be for you. There are some people who genuinely like this sort of setup, and they will probably find the initial portion of The Mantis Labs quite satisfying.
However, if you are used to having more choices and not being so railroaded, then this will be an irritating mod, as it was for me. Puzzle mods can often get into trouble when you are meant to discover the one solution available, and especially if the scripting is iffy. This is not to say that the fault always lies in bad scripting. Rather, that scripting is hard, so sometimes it doesn't work out cleanly even if you think you've tested it enough -- probably the main reason that quests from the developers are often nothing very clever scripting-wise, and instead focus on giving you more solution paths and endings.

As for the "one solution available", it relies on the player's sense of reasonableness aligning with your own. If it is off, then you can get very frustrated players who are stuck because they have already done what they feel are reasonable things, but are not getting results. Example:
In one puzzle, you are put in an area with a DeathClaw. You need to defeat it to get key off it. The solution is:
  • Activate Stealthboy.
  • Sneak past DeathClaw into the room beside it.
  • Turn on the "power switch".
  • Use the terminal to enable the gas.
  • Turn on the gas.
  • Run into the shelter.
  • Wait for the gas to clear.
  • Collect the key from the DeathClaw.
Once you have solved the puzzle, the pieces fall into place. But during it, there are many steps which seem either reasonable or unreasonable. For example, none of the several terminals work initially until you turn on the "power switch", which just turns on the lights. Even when you do, only one terminal works, so if you happen to try a different terminal, you might think that none of them still work. There is a gas switch, but there is no feedback when you try to activate it, so you might well think it is a dud. You can isolate yourself in the room by closing the door, but that will not protect you from the gas. Therefore, why would the shelter necessarily protect you from the gas?

Other puzzles just waste your time. Example: You are put in tunnels with some strange locations: A ribcage amid glowing mushrooms; a basketball basket; a picture with a chair in front of it; a safe with a picture of a teddybear. The solution involves hunting around in the dark for a basketball, a camera, and a teddybear. Three small items in the dark. Duh. And yet, some people will actually like this "puzzle".

As for the story, we start with various puzzles, and there is only one way forward: More puzzles. By the second puzzle, I was getting impatient: Where's the story? Why am I jumping through these hoops? Why is this electronic voice on the radio, supposedly from Mantis Labs, bothering me with these little games? What does it want and why am I even here?
There is no story hook, no motivation, no reward. Only a profound sense of wasting my time.
The Mantis Imperative draws on your trust of the author's previous adventures to have faith that you will have a rewarding experience. As someone who's never tried any of the authors other works, I don't know their reputation, this story layout is giving them a very poor reputation, and in any case the story has already lost me. If The Mantis Imperative were a book, I'd have put it down long ago. At the Piggy-the-pigrat quest, I uninstalled the mod. There was still so much to do in regular Fallout 3 that was way more interesting.

This mod adds a small adventure, plus various foodstuffs in the form of drinks and jello, and new random treasure in the form of gems and precious metals. The descriptions for the foodstuffs are somewhat humourous, and the effects of the drinks and jello somewhat interesting and creative. But also a radical departure from just giving you Health and Rads, so if you are a Fallout 3 purist, then you might find this irksome.

The adventure, "A Touch of Class" involves a very basic Fedex quest where you follow clues to fetch items, and then bring them to the quest-giver. Basic, and made interesting by the notes you will find, giving you some backstory / insight into what happened, along with a touch of humour. Nothing too special here, but nothing bad either. It's too bad it's bundled up with the new ingestibles since that is a bit overdone for my taste.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fallout 3 Mod Review - DC Interiors Project

Fallout 3 Mod Review - DC Interiors Project (combo edition v2.7)

Summary: Opens up some of the boarded-up stores and houses in various settlements.
Why Get This: Collecting trinkets for your house. You will want to have a proper house to begin with. Try sifting through here for one.

Depending on what you aim to do in Fallout 3, DC Interiors can either be a fun time waster, or just a huge time waster. After investigating maybe a dozen places from the mod, the key things you can get are generally trinkets amid the junk -- toys, books, and non-functional appliances.
The collectables are kind of neat, but ultimately useless unless you want to display them somewhere. Therefore, if you are quest-focussed, there definitely are better ways to spend your time. Ultimately, I feel that DC Interiors is really just good for getting trinkets. Even then, it wastes a lot of your time sifting through junk.

The design of the spaces are actually very good: They blend in with the overall design direction for Fallout 3, so in general, unless there are too many third-party models that visually look to be of a different artistic quality, you will likely not realize whether you have walked into a location created by this mod, or whether it is a vanilla Fallout 3 location (although later you will come to realize locations over-cluttered with miscellaneous objects is one of the trademarks of DC Interiors). What DC Interiors lacks, however, is importance.

In Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, many locations feel "unimportant". BUT, if you insisted on looking for and doing every quest to completion, you will come to realize that every location and every person is involved in a quest.  There is an attempt to do the same in Fallout 3, though some quests got cut and clearly some people and locations were no longer important. But the principle remains.
A lot of mods that essentially add clutter to a game world lacks this essential trait -- importance. When something is ultimately of no importance, I end up uninstalling it, if even just to minimize mod incompatibility, or lighten the processing load on my computer, etcetera. In the end, despite the scope of the mod, DC Interiors just adds more unimportant time-wasting "clutter" class locations.
Compare this experience with the locations in vanilla Fallout 3. There is less clutter placed, but each location usually has something intrinsically interesting (skill books and bobbleheads don't count). For example, Springvale School, which at first looks like just a raider-occupied ruin, but there are notes from the raiders that give the place and layout some back-story and interest a bit beyond being just another ruined building. Or the Capital Post office, which starts out a simply laid-out location that feels boring until you discover the article about the Pint-Sized Slasher -- and then, in an eerie coincidence -- you discover a dead body downstairs, with a key and a note that points you to MineField.

There's nothing wrong to fleshing out the game world with more stuff and more locations, but Fallout 3 is a big enough game with enough to do that I don't need to wander into a mod location to kill a few molerats and sift through mounds of clutter. Each location has a lot of clutter and can take some time to properly investigate -- only to come up with nothing worth the time spent. The vanilla Fallout 3 locations tries to give you an experience in exchange for your time. I just didn't get the same feeling or return on investment with DC Interiors locations.

That said, if you are the sort who has nothing better to do than wander around after having finished the game, or just want to start up a collection of knick-knacks in your character's home, then DC Interiors offers you the chance to go out and "earn" those items by exploring. Whether this mod is worth the download really comes down to how you want to spend your time in Fallout 3.