The Elder Thoughts

RPGs, miniatures, books and other rants

Book review: Red Mars

Red Mars book cover

Red Mars, from Kim Stanley Robinson, is the first part of the Mars Trilogy, and as you might guess by the title, it tells a long story about the colonization and terraforming of Mars.

I've read numerous times about the books, sometimes with great praise, others less favourable, but in general it is considered a good source for fiction regarding theories about how to sustain life on Mars and in general how it would be to live there. So I decided to give it a try. And... while it is true that the ideas are very nice, the book bore me too much so as to not continue with the trilogy after finishing this first volume.

The scientific (fiction) is cool, really cool. Lots of ideas of what would be needed to sustain life, of how would humanity progressively prepare settlements and cities, and build diplomatic structures, and handle Earth problems, and their own ones. Don't want to get into details because I think the book is better enjoyed not knowing too much, just reading and discovering. But it also spends too much time on the human relations part. Maybe it's just me, but there are too many pages about conversations, about "characters thinking", meanwhile almost nothing happens. And then, all of a sudden "a few weeks later", a "a few months passed"... I was expecting either more detailed descriptions of the surroundings, of the actions, or just more events happening, but instead you get half of a book dedicated to relations between humans, true that almost all at another planet, but still, more about sociology than science.

It is a big book, and there are quite a few relevant "situations", so if you're patient things progress and unfold and new changes arise, but almost everything feels too slowly paced to my liking.

Status Update: December 2020

I don't yet have my miniatures nor paints, so hobbies have been more on the reading and playing videogames side.

Fiddling with emulation I ended up starting again Zelda: Breath of the Wild (this time the WiiU version). The game is a masterpiece and a second playthrough is great both because of the amazing mechanics and story, and because of the memories it brings back. A nice extra is that I was able to finally finish the Master Trials DLC, which I desisted on the Nintendo Switch .

Zelda: BOTW master trials complete

I have also finished Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition - Future Connected, the DLC that the Switch version brings. It provides with a few hours of extra content, it advances the story a tiny bit (set in the near future after the main events), but it is too cheesy and the changes in combat, mainly the Nopon prospectors specials, is more of an excuse to force you to do all side-quests than a real amazing mechanic. But hey, was free, had new enemies and items and was good enough to be worth investing time on it.

I try to mix in a few old games now and then, as there are many old jewels and classics I wish to play. A really old adventure with RPG aspects I just finished is Veil of Darkness. While the RPG components are just basic stats and die rolls in combat, the game at least attempted to be something more than a mere isometric adventure. The results... are mixed.

And finally, I'm playing the one game everyone is talking about this 2020 xmas: Cyberpunk 2077. A game that makes people go to the extremes: either you love it, or you hate it. I'm not going to enter discussions about its state, I'm playing the PC version and while it has some bugs I'm having no serious issues and had actually worse "launch experiences" with GTA IV and V, Red Dead Redemption 2, Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, to name a few.

So, into the game... It is an insanely ambitious game, trying to combine mechanics from so many places: Deus Ex, GTA V, Dishonored, Borderlands, Fallout 3 & 4, Skyrim... And while due to a non-trivial amount of bugs it's not yet there, I'm having a great time with it. Doing very frequent quick-saving as it is true twice quests glitched, and the physics can go crazy, but still it feels almost alive (if you try to role-play and ignore the glitches, the city is really awesome).

You have hacking, pretty much like Fallout (mini-game based), but with more choices than a Deus Ex: camera hacking, pinging to detect other devices in the network, distracting enemies, opening doors... And the experience levels are dual: you get general experience, level up and can increase basic attributes, but then have lots of perks, which also live inside sub-skills and those skills increase by using them (shooting handguns, running, moving stealthy, and the like).

The main storyline has incredible quests, they really stand out, but then side quests are sometimes really funny. Overall, once bugs are solved it would be a great game, but if the creators add more stuff (content cut from previous videos or promised but not present), it can be an incredible cyberpunk setting videogame.

Cyberpunk 2077 Evelyn Parker screenshot

Status Update: October 2020

We recently moved to a new house (twice in a month!) far from home (but still in Spain), so life's been busy outside of fantasy and sci-fi worlds.

I played some Diablo (cheap legaly available and with Hellfire expansion applied) and, while for short bursts is still awesome, it's also true that I've played it so much that gets repetitive. And I don't feel like levelling up a barbarian Hellfire character from scratch.

I tried to play Diablo II also, but it has aged way worse than the first part. The sockets, gems and crafting system is still great and makes the game last almost forever, but graphically looks too "wrongly pixelated", probably the pseudo-3D effects looked cool back in the day (although I remember toggling them off) but now makes it feel worse than the predecessor.

Keeping with the trend, I played a few hours of Path of Exile. It feels different enough to invest real time on it, and levelling based on your item gems and an insane skills tree means you can go as deep as you want with specific character builds, but the graphics are a mixed bag of incredible 3D effects & models here, amiss 3D models there. Shopkeepers all look like giants, character visual customization is very limited (probably tied to selling cosmetics as the main game income, which is free to play by the way) and playing with graphic settings at max sometimes it's hard to discern enemies, the path to follow, etc. Here the expertise of Blizzard in Diablo III is apparent, both are fully 3D but Diablo simply looks better and more defined.

And lastly, I played 20-something ours of Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor Martyr. I'm glad I bought it discounted (and without DLCs), because while the idea isn't bad, the implementation is a) really boring and b) again 3D modelling is a hit-and-miss. It annoyed me the most that your character is way too small compared with every single enemy, from Space Marines (which are huge and ok, some inquisitors have human-size, but mine looks as big as a Space Marine in videos) to imperial guard or renegades, even compared with other Inquisitors. But was also dull and repetitive, there are lots of enemies (all sorts of chaos demons & humanoids, imperial guard, space marines, dark eldar, ...), a few vehicles, huge bosses... but it's mostly killing all that moves, and when isn't (protecting someone or something) the fear of losing the mission weights more than the fun factor (they tend to not hold up much). It has story, lots of missions an nice lore and voice acting, but I got tired of it quite fast.

My main achievement these past months has been playing and finishing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. Around 50 hours poured in (and still pending finishing the Future Connected extra missions), while I prefer Xenoblade Chronicles 2 gameplay, the first one is also quite fun and the story is, apart from deeper than you'd imagine at first, quite engaging and interesting. It's one of those games you finish and say "wow, now I have to digest all this and maybe play it again knowing what I know". It features a New Game+ mode so I'll probably come back to it in the future. JRPGs tend to have the classic level grinding moments, but here is not so steep, mostly following the story and doing the "main side quests" (there are tons of quests) you'll level up accordingly to the expected enemies and bosses.

So, no painting and no real RPGs, but for now computers compensate for it with CRPGs.

Status Update: June 2020


Stonekeep: An old PC title I finished once but so long ago I wanted to replay. The UI, runes and NPC interactions are still quite cool, but the game itself gets a bit boring in later levels, instead of exciting and with scarier enemies. I would even dare to say it feels rushed on its final chunks (some of the late enemies are ugly and a bit crappy). Still, overall a great experience.

System Shock: With a remake on its way, maybe I should better have waited, but on the other hand I've felt "the original experience" (well, the enhanced edition one, but it is just minor tweaks). An immersing game, great for its era and with an intriguing setting, lots of tension and decently sized (not too long, not too short). The graphics really feel outdated, up to the point that I lowered the resolution to 800x600 to feel it "equally pixelated", but still enemy sprites are chunky and need some imagination. The maps can also get tricky to navigate, it's best to memorize your path as you go because the space is so packed that sometimes you look at a map and can't even make how to reach a certain elevator or door.
Having it freshly finished I can say that the remake looks really faithful but at the same time awesome in the visual upgrades aspect (enemies, cameras, and overall lighting and textures are spot on).


Diablo III: It seems I can't quit it. While not playing as much any more, I'm still from time to time farming all companion pets, using one of my secondary characters, the barbarian, to also improve a bit his equipment.

Final Fantasy VI: To some "the best Final Fantasy ever", so I wanted to see why so much praise. I'm a dozen hours in, and my remarks are that it feels "more japanese" than future titles would be (by mixing a quite serious plot with jokes and flirting between characters), the mechanics and subtleties are indeed more advanced than other games (from "special battles" that require special actions/items, to puzzles and minigames), and for an SNES title really good looking. I'm still not as impressed as I was with FFVII and FFVIII but I know enough to wait until story progresses further.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition: My main time sink for the following month(s), I poured +70 hours in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (and have pending a New Game+ run) and I don't expect less in this title. Gameplay is similar to its sequel but some mechanics are new, small tweaks make for a more streamlined experience (not needing to return to the giver to complete trivial quests is nice), and what's most important, the story is completely new, just in the same universe.

On Hold

Pillars of Eternity: One of my first Kickstarted backings, I had forgotten it and decided to play it on my Linux laptop. It is great and brings me fond memories of Baldur's Gate with its similar look and feel, the story is interesting and the gameplay is great. I simply paused playing it because is insanely long: Any quest can involve half an hour on its own, your watcher powers translate, among other things, into tons of text when you feel and see people's past, and even the interesting Stronghold maintenance, evolution and quests "side game" can take quite some effort. I think this game is like a good wine, best consumed in calm, spaced intakes. If not, can be a bit overwhelming, to me at least.

Zelda: A link to the Past: I feel really bad, as the game is great, but I reached the Dark World and it feels a bit tiring, especially since in Zelda: A Link Between Worlds There's an evolution and I also felt it dull sometimes.
I'm sure I'll finish the game in the future, is just not the appropriate moment.

Zelda: A Link To The Past

Book review: Building Big

Building Big book cover

Building Big by David Macaulay it's a 190 pages entertaining title about huge human constructions, from bridges, tunnels and dams, to domes and skyscrapers. Combining explicative illustrations with easily understandable descriptions, you will learn some building secrets, from why steel pillars are I-shaped to how many different methods of constructing a bridge exist.

The images are very well chosen to give you the proper context and/or represent critical diagrams, the text never gets too dense but also never feels short of important points, and I cannot really complain about anything.

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