Review | 2016.02.20

Monster Jam Petco Park San Diego judging trucks
Monster Jam

Monster Jam Petco Park San Diego panorama

I judged Monster Jam at the ballpark because a friend/parts dealer needed a last minute replacement.

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It was a pretty cool experience - box seats in the Western Metal building and the knowledge that I alone (along with five other judges) got to determine the truest metric for badassery.

I did sort of end up playing the bad guy. For example, a truck would go for their timed run, hit a jump wrong and unspectacularly roll over mere seconds into their run.

The two boys who were co-judging with me: 8s and 9s (cause damage, I guess).

Me: the only lower score is to not make it off the line with mechanical failure.


Anyway, I gave plenty of high scores for some superb, technical runs, but I used all the numbers.
Cities: Skylines

Cities Skylines screenshot traffic management

During my recent urge to do some city building I looked to find a new game worthy of the SC2K mantle. The updated reviews to the new SimCity seemed to indicate that it was worth maintaining the boycott. The Tropico franchise received high praise, but so did Cities: Skylines. Since CS was on sale for Steam's Black Friday event, I went for it.

Cities Skylines screenshot streets traffic

It sort of goes without saying that it's lovely compared to SC2K, and has kept the core gameplay intact. You build power plants and hook up utilities, you zone for residential, commercial, and industrial, you place public services such that they benefit your sims. I recall the new SimCity claimed to maintain the life, commute, and welfare of each and every sim in the city - an assertion that I believe was later proven false. I'm not sure if the CS people have made similar claims, but they seem to have some rather complex modeling in any event.

It's not as tough to keep a balanced budget as SC2K. I started a couple cities to learn the interface and each of them seemed to fall into a budget deficit after 45 minutes or so, but this was easily resolved with a loan and some growth. After that I had no problem staying in the black, which is good because (circa 1995) Chris never could get out of a downward economic spiral.

Cities Skylines screenshot fire firetrucks

Another annoyance of SC2K was that there was always a disaster over the horizon. Planes could not stay up in the air, rivers could not stay within their banks, eyeball aliens could not choose a more tempting city like Tokyo or New York. And if you had any amount of tunnel vision, it wouldn't take long before you were playing SimAshes. Of course you could turn disasters off, but that's basically cheating.

Fires and burglaries do happen in CS, but they don't spread out of control (hooray for building codes). That said, if there is a feature that lets you auto-doze burned buildings, I haven't found it. Doing so manually is a total pain and the only way to convince people to rebuild the lot.

Cities Skylines

So in one sense, it's nice to not have to micromanage finances (and then deal with the fallout of underfunding your police) or worry about catastrophe. But without them... well there isn't much challenge. I'm going to throw in a dash of speculation (as I have not found a game over screen), but the endgame seems to be just clicking around your now-large city seeing stuff. Maybe it terminates at 2100 or something and you get stats or whatever. I will update when I get there.

The lack of an all-encompassing challenge isn't necessarily bad; it makes for a chill, lego-like experience. And you can create your own challenges. My greatest enemy in life - simulated and otherwise - is traffic. I once spent a solid thirty minutes rehashing an offramp/main street layout to significantly reduce congestion. And it was cathartic. I beat traffic using design where my irl city just throws stoplights at things. Okay, yes, I can bulldoze houses at will, but it's not like I went to school for this.

And of course aesthetics kick in - ones that are likely unappreciated by the CS sims. An oceanfront stadium is far more pleasing than one in the middle of office building hell... but unfortunately its radius of happiness increase is probably better spent in a landlocked locale.

So you build some neighborhoods. Then with more resources and experience you build some better neighborhoods. And then a bunch more because population unlocks cool buildings. But then you're like, "do I really want to build another neighborhood?" And maybe that's not as fulfilling as beating Gannon or telling Space Child that humans and synthetics can live in harmony.

But it was a damn good $15 game.

Cities Skylines
Sims do love their ice cream.

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Helldivers mech evac Pavis0047 KGTech AJKidd

This month's free game (with PS+ subscription) is Helldivers. It's a fun team shooter reminiscent of Mercs and Project Overkill with many themes borrowed from Starship Troopers.

Helldivers mechs artillery DinKay754 MinamiBotan

The formula is pretty basic: drop into a planet, complete a number of capture/destroy/escort objectives, get out before you are overwhelmed by bugs, cyborgs, or energy creatures. So while the gameplay isn't particularly varied, there are enough special weapons and unlockables too keep things entertaining. There are community goals as well, but I'm still not sure when the brave soldiers of Super Earth are going to make it to an alien homeworld.

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It gets pretty frenetic when you're waiting for extract, regardless of level:


Borderlands 2 screenshot Flesh Eating Rat Gunzerker Bar Room Blitz

Of course Fallout and Borderlands is still going on. And at some point Fire Emblem: Fates will show up at my doorstep.

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A year ago I looked at parsing my server logs. I've refined that a bit and added the top and hot posts [a] and photos [+] to the sidebar.

I updated the parsing to amalgamate hits into visits.
Dog weimaraner looking up

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