Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hard West video game

Dangit Steam. I'm trying to save money for other things, and then someone had to go and make an awesome weird west game! So yeah, I forked over the cash because I seem to be physically unable to resist these sorts of purchases. This is Hard West!

Hard West is a turn based combat game with superb cell-shading and a solid combat system. It's clear that it's a lower budget indy game since there are no cut scenes or lots of voice acting, but blast it they utilize what they have to its fullest potential. Most cut scenes are done in the form of hand drawings with a bell-toned narrator that does a good job of setting the mood, or more often we get text pieces telling the results of actions in what feels very much like an RPG. You probably wouldn't expect that from a game like this, but there are an insane number of choices you have to make throughout the game. These aren't the predictable ones either, where you can choose to obviously walk the good path or obviously evil. No, different actions will really affect you in ways that you wouldn't normally expect. This makes every choice, while usually minor, feel like you have to take your time to consider it. This is great for replay value too.

The cell-shading is top notch and makes the maps a visual feast whether you're an artist or not. And the different environments have awesome art direction. At times you'll be in a rough and tumble frontier town, others you'll be in a Mezo-American jungle. The cell-shading really makes these places seem eerie and even magical at points. I often found myself just going over levels to take in the grotesque beauty of these places. It's like looking at Gothic mansions with ghost history to them. Spooky but beautiful. The character portraits are top notch too. Whoever the artist was for these knew how to dabble with facial expressions which adds an extra layer of humanity to the characters you're playing with.

The stories here are gritty, dark and overall pretty awesome. There are a handful of campaigns where you're either an optimistic Mexican noble looking for a lost city, a cursed man seeking for solace in this harsh world, a young man out for revenge against the world, a scientist looking to cure a spread of bizarre madness, an evil Inquisitor looking to murder the scientist and his followers, and a beautiful clairvoyant looking to survive and rid herself of her gift. All of these stories are awesome and connected. Each also has mini-games unique to them. They don't feel tacked on either. They all make sense and add an interesting flavor to keep you on your toes. This is also one of those games that is very dark. And not stupid trying too hard dark, but legit grim-dark with deals being made with the devil, demon slaying. evil men, corruption, and madness spreading from other-worldly forces.

You have cool travel mechanics for different locations and of course can go shopping at different places, and I am most enthused to say that I drooled at the selection of western weapons they give you. They give you guns that no other western game has bothered to throw in. You can use pepperbox revolvers, four barreled shotguns,  harmonica guns, volley guns, muskets, four-barreled Deringers, flintlocks, a frigging Lefouche 18-shot revolver and a wealth of others. They even go the extra mile and make some mythic-level looking guns that have tiny stories of their own. I can confidently say that when it comes to weapons of the era, Hard West is the best game out there. Upon completion of certain missions or encounters you'll get playing cards with special abilities that your characters can use. Depending on which you equip you can get special hand bonuses, and it took me a heck of a time to figure that out.

Oh, and all your posse members you collect are cool. All feel like they have histories and personalities so they shine pretty darned well. Most are expendable, but because I want to survive I do my best to keep them all alive through fights. The mechanics for combat are very simple. You hide behind stuff, try to maneuver to good positions, shoot the other guys. The simplicity is kind of deceptive though. See, you think you can just hide behind a wall and trade shots until the other guys bleed out, but there is a luck system in place here that actually does not suck. I usually hate games with luck involved because Murphy's First Law of Combat applies triple to me. But in reality it's almost all skill and forethought here. See, every time someone shoots at you some of your luck meter goes down until eventually it runs out and you take a hit. But when you do get hit your luck recharges. It sounds odd at first, but in reality it works out very well.

This game encourages you to pick good positions. When in full cover you can still get hit, it's just that it's way harder and you'll take minimum damage. If you're in the open you take a crap-ton of damage upon being hit. So if you want to deal lots of killing shots you need to find ways to flank your enemies or get behind them. Thankfully this game spoils you with different types of things to hide behind. I'd love to airsoft in maps like they give you, which are all gorgeous by the way. The maps feel really gritty and dirty. You'll want to take a shower after finishing some of these maps. Sometimes you have to be careful getting close to enemies, because if you get too close while moving they'll take a shot at you even though it isn't their turn and it'll hurt. I still haven't figured out why some of these guys have that and others don't, but it made me pretty mad the first few times it happened. But once I got really comfortable with the mechanics and got some real guns I was able to lay slaughter to these peons. Hooray!

You have action points here as well, although it's a bit too simple in many cases. In combat you always have two action points. You can use these to move, shoot or reload. And thankfully it doesn't charge you action points for opening doors or switching weapons. I hate that crap. What strikes me as odd though is that whenever you shoot it uses both action points. So if you're in a good spot and want to shoot someone and then take his position, it doesn't work that way. You shoot and your turn is over. But if you move and shoot, or reload and shoot, it only takes up one point. Iunno. It's not a huge deal but it did make me raise a brow.

You also want to exercise caution when running around in areas with lots of cover because guys in hiding won't always be obvious. Sometimes you'll round a corner and see a guy waiting there and you've run out of action points, leaving yourself open and giving him an invitation to put a slug between your eyes. For all my complaining the combat is really rock solid though. Only a few times during the first few fights did I ever get mad and insult it. If I can only get annoyed a few times during the learning phase and be fine throughout the rest then you're looking at a great combat game. Even in those times most of it was my fault as I was still learning the ropes.

With the Delear scientist story we get some juicy steampunk themes and ideas that border on Lovecraftian horror what with the landing of a meteor, the rising of cults and madness spreading in ways no one can explain. By gosh that was fun! When playing as Cervantes, an evil Inquisitor, you do some frigging evil stuff but it feels natural for him. Oddly enough more than any other campaign that one lets you choose to not slaughter innocents without negative repercussions.

If that isn't enough for you, you can murder demons with a harem of women and lots of gold. That's always a plus, right? This is also one of those games that encourages you to be evil. It's actually very much the theme. I'm always a goody two-shoes in games because I like being a hero. Here? A force of evil is screwing with every aspect of your life for certain characters and you go on a sharp decent into savagery and aggression. With the main character in particular you want revenge against the world and an evil entity has given you strange powers to help you on the warpath. Very dark stuff. Heck, at times you get rewarded for doing evil things like digging up graves for loot, slaughtering innocents or stealing. It's a real decent from being hopeful in a harsh world to losing everything and embodying everything hateful and loathsome. Nor is this an accident.

In the finale when you finally learn Satan's evil plan for destroying Purgatory his motives are chillingly logical and even reasonable. Basically Satan is spreading chaos and evil so that heroes can rise up. There can be no light without darkness, no heroes without villains, and he's just providing the yin to the yang. It certainly worked with your main character. This is way more philosophy and thought provocation than I usually get in a game about shooting things, so the story is a monumental plus.

So yeah, Hard West is an amazing weird west video game and one I wholly embrace and support. It's dark, brutal, has superb storytelling and a wealth of characters, the writing is stellar and worthy of a novel, the game mechanics are solid and really gives a sense of size and scale for each campaign. Go buy, support and play Hard West now!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Paco Kelly's Leverguns

In case some of you missed it, lever action rifles are by far my favorite class of firearm. I've heard stories from other lever gun users who get weird looks or snorts of derision when they show up for a hunt or shooting with a lever action. Thankfully every time I bring out my metal pet I get looks of admiration and envy. I might as well be carrying a piece of priceless art from the heart of the Amazon.

So as a passionate lover of everything relating to lever guns, I feel it is my duty to bring as many people as possible to by far the best site for such things, Paco Kelly's Leverguns.

Mr. Kelly has been around for a lot longer than I have and has accumulated a wealth of shooting knowledge. He is hero of mine and one of the few that's still breathing. His experience shows through every article he writes on this hub for everything lever action related. I come here all the time and find that every article gives me a boost in wisdom. He has a lot of guests relate stories as well and they are well worth reading. This is also the only site I've seen that lists perhaps every lever action rifle ever invented. And some of them are extremely obscure.

I highly recommend heading over and pouring over this treasure trove. You'll be glad that you did.

Clever Crocs

I've always known that crocodiles were cunning creatures. A lot smarter than most people give them credit for. But I just found a most fascinating development that shows just how adaptable and clever crocs and gators can be.

Turns out that not only can these living tanks adapt their hunting styles for different styles of prey but they know how to set up traps to lure prey in close. Now that is darned cool. Using sticks balanced on their snouts during the nest-building season for birds these saurians are able to make easy meals out of birds lacking caution. This only further goes to demonstrate the cold, calculating intelligence that these critters have. It's no accident that these monsters predated the legendary dinosaurs but outlasted them.

Those who have lived in places with crocs and gators know that they are some of the deadliest beasts to crawl over this little mud ball, and they aren't going anywhere. And you know what? That suits me just fine. The world wouldn't be the same without these dragons.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Papua New Guinea: One of the last frontiers

Some lands have always had an element of magic to them, far off places that seemed almost otherworldly. In the 1800's this was common to the peoples of Europe. Most of the world was only lightly explored, and those parts that were often had little actually reported. The American West was a huge blank spot on the map even though Spaniards and mountain men had been moving through it for years. The Amazon is even now a thick tangle of mystery. Africa holds onto its magical feeling even with the encroachment of modern ideas and technology.

Times change however, and the inexorable tread of civilization continues cutting away at the fortresses of the unexplored lands. The blank spots on maps are drying up like shallow puddles on a hot day. With the introduction of tight customs and travel arrangements the days of picking up a Paradox shotgun and chartering a voyage to some distant land who's name most couldn't pronounce are long gone. To the modern explorer there isn't much left besides being a tourist. I've heard it often said that Alaska is the last great frontier. I am glad to say however that it isn't. There are still a few pockets of wilderness left out there that few men have seen.

Today one of the last fortresses of unexplored territory lies north of Australia in the form of Papua New Guinea. Most people have never heard of it and can't point to it on a map. It is in fact a massive island roughly the size of Madagascar and is one of the thickest chunks of rain forest I've ever heard of. In fact, although there are airports, electricity and trading places, PNG is still one of the most poorly explored and primitive places in the world. There are tribes dwelling deep in the green haunts that have never set eyes upon white men, or who have only heard of them in passing. Most have had some dealings with them, but are in essence living the way they have for thousands of years.

In fact, so impenetrable is the rain forest on this island that there are tribes who have lived only a few miles from one another and never met! To the modern explorer, this is a place where real danger and adventures can be had. It is one of the few places that still has a wealth of wildlife that has the potential to be new to science, and not just small insects and lizards either. Very odd animals are reputed to still lurk in those jungles fit for pulp stories.

I've known about this land for some time and find myself once more bitten with utter fascination of this place. I've been scrambling to find literature on early explorers and adventurers who have traveled there and I'm glad to say that I am reaping a mighty harvest indeed! To you men and women who still have wild spirits I highly recommend doing research on this fascinating place.
A few older books can be found here at the treasure trove of free literature Project Gutenburg.

Happy hunting!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Some layout advice?

I'm hoping someone might be able to give me a pointer or two here on account of my tech illiteracy. I know for a fact on other blog pages you can post images and links to ones books on Amazon on the side bar. It is kind of nifty in letting newcomers to your page know that you have stuff they can by without them combing through your older posts. I don't expect them to, that's not fair.

Problem is I can't figure out how to bloody do it. Oh I've tried, and even tried looking it up a few times but came up blank. I know, I know, for some of you tech gurus this is the equivalent of tying your shoes, but in tech terms I'm a neanderthal smacking some rocks together and hoping fire will come. So if any of you could find it in the depths of your heart to give me some basic instructions I would be most appreciative.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Primal Frontier: The Shaman of Dread is up next!

I'm almost done with my newest Primal Frontier book, The Shaman of Dread. In this story Ansgar is pitting his wits and skills against an evil shaman who is on the warpath and using strange and seemingly supernatural powers to bend the beasts of Magna Terra to his will. Should Ansgar fail in stopping him a brutal territory war will commence and thousands will die. How will he fair against a dinosaur Pied Piper?

This one has been in the works for a little bit. Editing is almost done and I'm just going to have someone beta read it for final tweaks. I'm excited! Plus this one will have an all new book cover that I've commissioned just for this occasion! I've actually hired artist Rodrigo Vega for this one, which is kind of a small dream come true for me. I don't have a release date set yet, but I'm hoping to have this sucker out by late May.

Keep an eye out for updates and keep your wallets ready for the Kindle release. :)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sibling Quarrels

There I am at church, sitting on a pew with one of my sisters snuggled up next to me and doing her best to not die from boredom. I'm doing my best to pay attention with debatable success when out of nowhere she brings an interesting question to me.

"Can boys hit girls?" she asks innocently. I look at her in surprise.
"No honey, boys can never hit girls."
"Even if they are being mean?" she presses.
"Nope, not even if they are being mean. Boys can never ever hit girls." She meditates on this for a moment.
"Girls can hit boys?" This is where big brother EC slips.
"Oh yeah, totally." I realize I have suddenly stuck my foot in my mouth, since things may have changed since I learned fighting ethics from the kid days.

"Really?" she chirps, now very interested.
"Well, yeah but, um, you shouldn't."
"What if they being mean?"
"Like, you can but... yeah, you really shouldn't, but you can." Suddenly she grins impishly and a frightening light beams from her little brown eyes.
"My life is goooooood!" she proclaims proudly and I wonder what I have suddenly set in motion.

I need to work on my big brother skills apparently.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Quick wit

I don't know how my dad does it, but somehow he has one of the sharpest and fastest senses of humor out of any mortal man I've ever met. My co-workers think I'm hilarious, but I know that I am but a learner before the master when my dad is around. Here are a few brief stories of his escapades.

Dad pads downstairs bleary eyed and sleepy, having just woken from a nap while sick when the youngest of the clan pipes up with her munchkin voice.
"Daddy! Did you miss me?" she asks excitedly with a voice that would land her as a fourth in The Chipmunks band.
"Yeah, but my aim will be better next time," Dad unit replies as he shuffles over to the fridge.

At another point we're in the vehicle and Dad is trying to bestow some of his wonderful car engineering knowledge upon my slightly younger brother as I sit in back. Bro has his own vehicle but it keeps giving him difficulties. "Son, there is only one thing I hate more than fixing cars," he says with sage wisdom. "And that's paying mechanics to fix cars." Well spoken. Oddly enough, I quoted him a few nights ago to which he replies in earnest surprise "Did I say that? I'll have to say that more. That's really funny!" Yes, yes it is Daddy.