Friday, September 8, 2017

The Working Girl's Game Review - Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4

It's been awhile since I finished this game but I've been so busy I haven't had time to write my final review of the game.  Well, here it is.

System: Xbox 360

Developer:  Traveller's Tales

The story is based on the movies which were based on the books and remain relatively faithful to both.  There are some creative ways in which the story is unfolded so that you are playing the main character instead of just watching what is happening around you.  It starts with the brief beginning of how Harry was placed on the doorstep of his Aunt and Uncle and grew up being tormented by his cousin Dudley.  But the real story of Harry starts when he gets to Hogwarts and learns to be a wizard.

As you play the story based missions you have interludes that take place in Hogwarts where you go to class to learn spells and can discover things around the grounds.  Not all areas are open for you at the beginning so you'll need to learn spells to unlock new areas.

While walking around Hogwarts can be fascinating and fun, it can also be very confusing and easy to get lost if you are trying to go to a specific place in Hogwarts.  While you are still playing the story missions Nearly Headless Nick will leave a trail of ghost studs of where you need to go next.  Once you complete the story missions those ghost studs go away and you are left to fend for yourself.  I had to go online to find a map of Hogwarts otherwise I never would have found my way around.

You had 6 levels based on each of the first four movies/novels called chapters.  I wish I could the story a full 5 penguins but some levels were long and tedious, while others seemed rush and short.  Inconsistencies in the flow of the story have me taking one penguin away.

Story Score:

There are already built in characters to the story that are absolutely wonderful.  Bringing those characters to life in Lego form was interesting at times.  There are character tokens you find while playing the game and once found you can go purchase them so they can be used in the levels.  Some characters, Hufflepuff for instance, will only be able to access areas for their specific house.  In addition to the main set of characters in the books (i.e. Snape, Dumbledore, Tom Riddle, Draco, etc.) there are a lot of other characters who's real value to the game is only in finding their token and buying their character.  There is no reason to have them other than to pad the character token collectibles.  And boy are there a lot of them.

Some of the really interesting characters I wasn't able to unlock until later in my play through of the game.  I wish I had had those characters unlocked earlier because they were fun to play with.  Unfortunately that isn't the case for a lot of the high profile characters.

Because of how the character tokens are spaced out and who you might need for each level you will probably end up playing each level several times as you unlock a new type of character which will unlock a new thing in a previous level.  If you want to wait and get any many characters unlocked as possible before playing the Free Play modes it turns out to be a lot of grinding (and getting lost) in Hogwarts.  And even then you won't be able to unlock everything because some characters you find in Hogwarts are needed for the levels, but some characters you find and unlock in the levels are needed for Hogwarts.

The downside to the characters besides way too many to find and unlock is that they didn't offer up a whole lot of variety in what they could do.  The evil witches and wizards have the Avada Kedavra spell but that's about it.  Depending on which version of Harry, Ron or Hermione you pick you might not get one that has learned all the spells yet.  Trying to defeat a Boggart?  Make sure the character you picked has learned Riddikulus.  The easiest way to fix that is to always pick a character from later in the game.  This usually means you play with the same 4-5 characters for all the levels.  Not much variety there.

Character Score:

Game Mechanics:
There is one game mechanic that I absolutely hated.  And another one that was annoying a lot of the time.

The one that was annoying was the camera.  You couldn't always move it around to get a better view of what you were doing.  There are 4 banners in the front hall that you have to zap and they unfurl.  When they do you will get a gold brick.  You need all gold bricks to get 100% in the game.  I had all the gold bricks except this one . . . but do to camera angles and such I couldn't get Slytherian and Gryffindor's banner to unfurl.  I watch who know how many videos on how other people did it (who didn't seem to have a problem when I did) and still it took about 30 minutes of trying on 3 or 4 nights before I finally got both of them to unfurl.  To this day I still don't know how I did it when it failed all the other times.

That was the worst offender for the camera but it was so annoying in so many other instances.  It was almost enough to make me pull my hair out and quit playing the game forever.  I didn't, thankfully, but I'm really hoping it's not too much of a problem in the next Lego Harry Potter game (or any other Lego game).  

The one game mechanic I absolutely hated is partially my fault.  But only because the game didn't probably explain things to me. 

In the previous Lego games I've played you collect red bricks that you can then purchase which gives you modifiers that can make your game easier . . . or just plain silly.  Do you want your Stormtroopers to carry carrots instead of blasters?  There's a red brick for that.  Usually you find those in the levels that you play . . . not in the hub world.  For Lego Harry Potter things were different and the game never explained that to me.

All the red bricks . . . and I mean ALL . . . can be find in Hogwarts.  Now I mentioned earlier that you walk around Hogwarts in between story missions.  That's great and all but it doesn't explain that you have to come back and walk around and do everything again to find the red bricks to get the score multipliers, the extra hearts, the invincibility, etc bonuses that make playing the game so much easier.  I didn't realize this until I was through playing the Free Play modes for the first 2 and half movies.  Because I didn't have things like "Character Token locator" or "gold brick locator" there were a bunch of things I missed while playing through the levels for the second time.  Which meant I was going to have to play them a third time.  

Once I figured out I had to go back to Hogarts to find the red bricks and then buy them I had to spend a lot of time grinding in Hogwarts before going back to the levels.  Once I did go back to the levels things were so much easier when I had all my helps turned on.  I wish the game had told me that.

Another thing that was annoying, but avoidable, was that all the extra spells that you can buy, but don't really need, are put in to one slot on your spell wheel.  If you wanted to use a specific one, like Glacius to freeze people, you'd have to wait until it's icon popped up in the slot and hope you cast the spell before it changed to the next one.  Now, you don't have to use any of these spells as you play the game, but they are hilarious to see what happens when you do.  But . . . if you want to get all the achievements you have to use the Glacius spell to freeze a bunch of people.  Now you could have just bought that spell so it's the only one in the slot but it's a lot of gold and there's cheaper spells to buy and equip.  So if you have multiple spells it's just a matter of watching the spell slot and hoping you time it right.  Annoying.

Game Mechanics score:

Art Design:
There wasn't really anything too special about the art design of the game.  It was whymsy and magically and it fit the game.  How they transformed things into the Lego shape and design was interesting but not as rigid as other Lego games.  It fit the mode and humor of the game and was enjoyable to look at.

Art Design score:

Overall Impressions:
Other than the items mentioned in the Game Mechanics section the only other real problem I had was with a specific level.  The Tome Riddles Diary level where you go back in time and play with Tom as one of your characters and the level is done in a sepia tone theme it glitched out on me 3 times . . . in 3 different places.  It was really frustrating the first time.  I held my breathe the second time as I made my way through the part where it glitched only to have the game glitch again a little further on.  And the same thing again a little further past that.  I was afraid that I might have a game breaking glitch and would never be able to get past that point in the game.  It took several attempts but I did.  After that, whenever the screen would freeze for a bit I was worried that the same thing would happen all over again.

It was fun to play the game and made me immediately want to start playing Lego Harry Potter years 5-7 but I've decided to take a break for awhile.  The humor in the Lego games is spot on for the characters and sometimes that is enough to make up for the annoying things that happen along the way.  The game isn't ground breaking or revolutionary but if you are a fan of the Harry Potter series (movies or books . . . or both) it should be something you sit down to enjoy.  If you're like me and do stupid mistakes it should provide you with around 60 hours of enjoyable game play.  If you're better than me at video games (and everybody is) you could probably complete it in 30-40 hours.  If you do play it I would take your time and enjoy the experience.  It's worth it.

Overall Impression score:

If you want to watch how I played the game (very badly), here's a link to my YouTube playlist for the game.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Steam Sale noobie

Okay, the Steam Summer Sale has ended and my bank account is heaving a sigh of relief. 

I figured it out the other night and prior to getting my laptop a couple of years ago it's been about 9-10 years prior to that since I've had a computer beefy enough to play games on.  Once I got my lap top I wanted to start getting back in to gaming.  Unfortunately my laptop doesn't have an optical drive so all those computer disks of the games that I own I didn't have a way to install them.  I could have gone out and bought an external CD drive but there have been other things I've had to spend money on.

This year I couldn't wait any longer and I started buying Steam games when I found something that I liked.  I had 7 before the sale started.  Games like The Witcher (the original), 7 Days to Die, Dead by Daylight, More or Die, RWBY: Grimm Eclipse, You Must Build a Boat and just prior to the sale Playerunknown's Battleground.  Now I have a total of 67 games.  I think I went a little overboard.

But the good news is that I really didn't spend all that much money (I love sales).  What's even better news is that I got some of my old games that I have on CD so now I don't have to worry about trying to find a way to install them.  Games like all the Thief games, the Half-Life games (please make Half-Life 3), and a metric butt-ton of Star Wars games among many, many others.  I've even gone back and got original games that started series like Fallout.  I always like to play series from the beginning so I can see how the game progressed through the years.

I don't know when I'm going to find the time to play all these new games (although I've have started playing Portal [love that game]).  And I don't have the hard drive space to install them all on my laptop.  My next goal to complete before my birthday next year is to build a really good gaming PC.  Then I'll probably just plant myself in front of it and play until my brain melts.  I can't think of a better way to spend my time.

Did you pick up anything in the Steam Summer Sale?  I'm curious as what games people got.  I know there were a bunch more that I wanted to get but my budget decided it wasn't a wise move.  And I was only looking in the "under $5" list.  Maybe next time I'll check out the "under $10" list as well.  I better start saving up now.

Begging for money in YouTube comments

I received a couple of messages on my YouTube channel that were saved for moderation in my spam folder.  And they were spam.  It was so obvious it should have been embarrassing.

The first message was on a recent video with the person saying they liked my channel and that they were collecting money to help the poor in some African country.  They said that donating just $1 would go a long way to help.  They even provided a helpful link where I could go donate.  It was a nice gesture to help less fortunate so I left that message in my spam file before approving because I don't want to censor people.  But I also don't want people dumping shit in my channel because I let them.  I decided to look at the next comment and come back to the first one later.

The second comment was from the same person on the very next video on my channel.  Once again they said they liked my channel and that they were starting their own YouTube channel and it would be very helpful if I donated just $1 to help another YouTuber out.  Strangely enough they provide the same link as the previous comment.  It was pointing to a patreon account.  The same one that was asking for money to help the poor in Africa.  Hmm.

Needless to say I deleted both comments and muted that person so they couldn't leave any more comments.  I don't think of this as censorship but more that I have the right to determine what kind of comments are on my own channel.  You can bitch and moan about me; how I play, how I sound, whatever, I don't care.  You can even complain about the games I play.  But my channel is not for you to solicit money from myself or anyone else who happens to visit my channel and watch my videos.  No panhandling allowed. 

I hate to have to delete comments, but it's got to be done when the ones leaving the comments are assholes like this person.  The only other comment I have deleted was someone who posted a link to a porn site.  That doesn't need to be there either.  It's way too easy to find porn sites on the internet without going to my YouTube channel first to look for a link.

Now if those people want to go leave their messages on other people's channels they can go right ahead.  If those channels want to leave those comments up for all to see, that's their prerogative.  For me, I'm going to delete them.  My channel was created for me to force myself to finish playing games and maybe entertain others in the process.  It's not for begging.  If you want to do that just move on to the next channel . . . after you've viewed my videos. :)  Feel free to leave a regular like or dislike message before moving on.  And thank you for watching.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Technical difficulties . . . please stand by

It’s been a stressful rough couple of weeks for me. 

For starters: I had 2 vacations planned back to back (not my idea or the original plan) and I had to take my car in for an oil change (overdue) and other general upkeep and maintenance.  Somehow that turned into a $1,200 bill.  Now that’s a lot of money.  My car is an older car (2001) and I’ve been thinking about getting a new one, but I wanted to be debt free (except for my house) before I got a new one.  That bill has pushed that thought back a couple of months or more.

Next: I bought a new mattress and box springs and had the delivery date changed on me 6 times before I finally got them to deliver the goods.  Of course I had to threaten them that I would cancel my order and take my business elsewhere if they weren’t delivered by a specific date.  They were but I only had 3 nights sleeping on that wonder soft fluffy cloud of heaven before I had to head out on vacation.

Vacation #1: My first vacation was stressful because I was traveling to a place I’ve never been and I was responsible for all the expenses.  It was a bit relaxing (almost to the point of boredom) even if I didn’t really get out of the heat.  It was nice to get away from the rat race, but also nice to get home again.

Vacation #2: I was only home for 3 days before I left again on a family reunion.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love my family but being trapped with all of them in one house (there were 16 of us which wasn’t everybody) for 3 days is not the relaxing vacation I like.  There was chaos, crying children, glasses broken, coyotes barking, howling and killing in the middle of the night and my brother snoring like a lumber jack and keeping me up all night.  It’s hard to go from my quiet, peaceful existence to something that resembles more of disaster movie than my idyllic life.  Like I said, I love my family but I’m not use to being around so many temperamental kids.  And don’t even get me started on being trapped in the very small back seat of a pickup truck for almost 6 hours going and almost 8 hours coming back (stupid construction delays). 

When I got home I was very excited to film some more videos and edit them for my channel.  I did.  And then I tried to edit them.

When I went on my first vacation there wasn’t going to be anyone home so I took all those valuables that I didn’t want stolen and secured them elsewhere so they’d be safe while I was gone and house was empty.  Unfortunately, when stashing my audio mixer, the settings got messed up.  For some reason I didn’t check them too carefully (I only checked the volume setting) and went and recorded a couple of videos.  I don’t know why I didn’t even do a mic check before recording.  I guess being on vacation really fried my brain.

When I listened to the audio recording while syncing up the files I realized how bad it was.  Oh shit!  I didn’t know what went wrong and I didn’t know how to fix it.  I did a lot of research trying to find a way to minimize the damage (there was no way I would be able to fix it completely) and I learned a lot . . . and learned that there is still a LOT more that I don’t know.  All of the videos I posted this week had bad audio.  Hopefully I know enough now to fix the problem with the things that I want to film this weekend.  If not, well I’ll have to think of something else.

Spring must be the season of technical difficulties.  I was having issue with the audio and gameplay tracks getting out of sync the longer the video was.  Then there was the gameplay audio was getting out of sync from the gameplay video even though they were on the same track.  None of these problems were evident while playing, but only were noticeable once I was editing.  It made things very frustrating.  I even changed up my posting schedule to give myself more time to editing some of the more difficult files.  I learned a lot then too.

To fix those problems I had to end up uninstalling both Audacity and Elgato and reinstalling them.  Once I did that, things were back to normal.  And that was when I went on vacation and I came back to another set of issues.  It is so frustrating because there are so many things I want to do with my YouTube channel and other things that I just don’t have time for because I’m dealing with all this crap.  I’ve been posting videos for 2 years now and it really doesn’t seem that long, but I also think I should be further along in my plan than where I am at now at this point. 

It also doesn’t help that I don’t have any support in what I’m doing.  My family thinks it’s a waste of my time and just don’t understand that I enjoying do things like this.  My friends just want to play games and aren’t interesting in making content with me.  It doesn’t really matter though because I’m going to continue to keep doing what I love whether anyone supports me or watches my videos.  The whole point of this was to finish games and have fun.  While I am finishing games (I’m almost done with 2 more that might be done before the end of the month), I’m really not having a lot of fun right now.  Things will get better.  Whatever else goes wrong I’ll figure out how to fix and I will move on.  So if you watch my channel and notice technical difficulties . . . please stand by.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pengwenn: The Origins Story

I've been thinking a lot about where "Pengwenn" all began.  It was in August of 2004 actually.

I love to write.  But writing can be a lonely endeavor.  I had a subscription to Writer's Digest and each year they put out a list of "101 Websites for Writers".  This particular year I wanted to find like-minded souls that I could commiserate with when things were bad, and celebrate with when things were good.  I checked out several of the sites listed and settled on as the one I wanted to join.  The only problem was I didn't have a screen name and I refused to use my own name to sign up.  The internet was for anonymity and privacy. 

My brother and I sent the day throwing names back and forth trying to find just the right screen name for me.  We just couldn't come up with something that fit my personality and that I liked.  We took a break for a while and we got back together my brother had the perfect name ready for me: Pen-gwenn.  That's how it wanted it shown so people would know my name right away but still see how to say it.  I took out the hyphen.

I signed up on the website and the rest is history.  Sort of.

When it came time to sign up to Xbox Live and create a gamertag I seriously thought about creating a separate name for gaming then the Pengwenn I had for writing.  After all, gaming and writing are two different things.  But the more I thought about it.  Pengwenn was who I really was.  Or who I really wanted to be.  It was me.  I've been Pengwenn ever since every where I can be online. 

When I created a Twitter account I couldn't use just Pengwenn so I used I_Pengwenn (or something like that).  I didn't really use that account and years later when I decided that I wanted to be more active on Twitter I had forgotten about that account.  I still couldn't use Pengwenn so I created a new one and settled on @PengwennGamer since I would use it mostly for gaming.

I grew up in a VERY conservative house and community.  Where "gosh darn it" was a vile swear word and we weren't allowed to say that.  We weren't allowed to get angry and yell at people either.  That wasn't very nice.  But being Pengwenn online I finally find a place where I can be me and break free of those conservative constraints.  I challenge anyone to play a game of Call of Duty online and NOT get angry or want to swear at someone. 

Pengwenn isn't an alternate persona for me.  It's not an act.  I'm very much Pengwenn in real life.  Except that Pengwenn doesn't have bills to pay, bathrooms to clean, laundry to do, etc.  You know, all those things you have to do in real life just to exist.  Gwenn has to dress a certain way to go to work.  Pengwenn can wear nothing at all if she feels like it (and when it gets up to 110 degrees or more who would want to).  Gwenn has to guard her tongue when she gets mad at work.  Pengwenn lets it fly . . . even if she's just made at herself.  I'm much more comfortable as Pengwenn.  No constraints.  No restrictions.  No limits.  And I actually prefer to be called Peng or Pengy instead of Gwenn or Gwenny.  Even in real life.  It just sounds more like me.

Don't get me wrong.  I love my name in real life.  It's unique enough without being totally weird and out there.  That's also what Pengwenn is too.  My brother explained that a penguin is a very unique bird.  It has feathers, but doesn't fly.  It's more agile and graceful in an area that you would least expect (water).  I'm not what anyone expects.  I dance and do other girlie things, yet I'm not a girlie girl.  I like sports.  Not just watching them, but playing them.  Yet I'm not a tomboy either.  I'm just me.  The unexpected, flightless, swimming bird.  We tried not to make comparisons to me waddling around when I walk but I think that part is coming true the older I get.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

2 Year Anniversary on YouTube

Today is my 2 year anniversary of posting video on YouTube.  I can’t believe it’s been that long.  Thanks to YouTube I’ve finished a bunch of games with several more about to be finished.  Before I started my channel I don’t know that I would have been able to say I’ve finished ANY games.  I’m not perfect.  Not even close.  But I’m getting better.  (I will never be perfect because there are just too many games out there to play.)

What have I learned:

It take a lot of time to get a video filmed, edited and posted on YT.  Sometimes I wish I could just film and someone else do the editing and posting.  Other times I wish someone else would play the games and I could just edit them.  I’m currently in a “I like to film” phase.  I’m hoping to store up a lot of videos to edit later when I’m in that “I like to edit phase”.

I still don’t have a rhyme or reason to what I post and when I do it.  With the exception of the month of October (scary/spooky/Halloween games) and a military game for Veteran’s Day in November.  It’s hard to pick a game around a holiday but those 2 holidays make it easier.  I’ve tried planning on playing an older game when a new sequel comes out but I can’t time it right so I never know when to start filming or posting them.  Maybe I’ll figure that out later.

If says it takes about 10 hours to complete a game it will probably take me about 18-20.  I thorough and ’m a completionist.  I like to check every nook and cranny in a place before moving on to the next.  And sometimes I have to check 2 or 3 times because I was talking and not paying any attention to what I was doing so I might have missed something.  It’s probably annoying to watch.  I know it’s annoying to me but I can’t help myself.  It’s a small OCD thing that I have that even gets on my nerves (but not as much as if I DIDN’T check everything a couple of times before moving on).

If I have to concentration and focus really hard to get through a difficult section of the game (like a boss fight or tough puzzle) I tend to get really quiet.  I don’t know how other YouTubers can carry on a conversation yet still focus on the problem at hand.  I can’t seem to divide my attention enough to do either one of those things well in those situations.  So I usually just keep my mouth shut and concentrate on the game.  Maybe I’ll get better . . . .

I don’t think I’ll ever get better at video games.  Even though I’m playing more than I use to, I don’t think I’m learning anything to make me better.  My reflexes aren’t getting any better.  My problem solving skills aren’t improving.  Sometimes I even think I might be digressing and going backwards.  I’m still having fun so I’ll keep playing.

Some games are so much easier to edit than others.  The Lego games are easy to edit.  Other games like Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits and Dark Cloud are a little more time consuming to do.  A lot of that has to do with load screens.  Some games have a lot of them.  Some have really long ones.  And some have a lot of them that last a really long time.  Personally when I’m watching videos online, I find it frustrating to sit there for 10 seconds (or more) staring at a blank screen because it’s a load screen.  Edit those dead spaces out!!!  I do.  For some games that’s tough.  For others it’s a dream.

I never thought I would like the editing process.  It seemed the most tedious and boring part of the whole thing.  At first, it really was boring and tedious.  The more I’m doing it the more I find I like it.  Even when I’m not really in the mood to edit.  There’s something about the editing process that makes it more creative than what I feel when I’m playing the game.  If I could find a way to do that for a living I think I probably would.  There’s still A LOT about editing that I don’t understand and know, but I’m willing to learn.

Every game I play (or plan to play) I think of in terms of “will this make a good video/series”.  There has been one game that I filmed 3 videos in and when I went to edit it decided that it wouldn’t be a great game to post.  The game itself is not bad, it just doesn’t lend itself to compelling gameplay that I would want to watch if someone else was playing.  People have made videos in this game, but I can’t watch them for more than a couple of minutes at a time.  On the other hand there are games I really want to play and I know they would make a great series but I don’t have the time to devote to those games now so . . . I don’t play them.  This sucks and I don’t like it, but I don’t want to start a game and play it for a while only to restart it later because now I want to film it.  Tough choices man.

I’ve decided that I will play and post videos of the games that I want to play.  I’ll try really hard not to think that I’ve only got to play and post new games.  Or games that are famous.  Or popular.  It’s not fun to play a game when you feel like you’re being forced to.  It takes all the fun out of it.  If I want people to enjoy my games then I’ve got to enjoy them myself.  Even if I lose.  Or die a lot of times.  That’s why there’s a long time between videos for Psychonauts and Rayman Origins.  I’m not feeling those games right now so I won’t play them until I’m more excited to do so.  This means that I might be playing a bunch of older games that have been around for a decade or more.  I like some of those older games.  But I’ll also try to play things more current because I like those games too.  My channel will just be a smorgasbord of the things I like at any given moment.

For some games I think I want to have a big chunk of the game recorded before I start publishing the videos.  I find it easier to remember what to do, or remember what the controls are if I keep playing it for a while before I get in to a schedule of posting videos.  Not all games are like that.  The Lego games are easy to sit down and record just one level here and there as needed.  Not all games are like that.  I also think that having a large part of the game already recorded before posting gives me a better idea of how long the game will last.  Maybe I can do better at scheduling topical games if I do that.

Doing this is like having a second job.  I’m spending 20-30 hours of week to get 5 or so videos posted.  It’s not leaving a lot of room for any other hobbies or things I’d like to do.  It’s a sacrifice I’m still willing to make even if my family doesn’t understand why I do it.

Right now I still love what I’m doing and I will continue to record videos and post online.  I won’t stop until I no longer find any enjoyment out of playing games and finishing them.  And I don’t see that happening any time soon.  I love seeing my audience grow.  Slowly.  Little by little.  But it’s growing.  I love that.  And when I say I’m open to suggestions of what to play, I mean it.  I really am.  I might not get to it right away, but I’ll put it on the list of what to play next.  So far I have 6 or 7 on the list.  Some suggestions by friends, some for other reasons.  You’ll learn more about those later on.  All in all, it’s been a good couple of years.

Things to work on this next year:  1) learn how to use Photoshop and 2) make better thumbnails.  3) Make intro channel animated slate for videos (might need a LOT of help on this one).