Burgundian Lullaby – Some Thoughts on The New Order: Last Days of Europe

The New Order Last Days of Europe - Europe 1962 Map by et37

Map of Europe and North Africa as of January 1, 1962 in The New Order: Last Days of Europe. Created by“et37” on Reddit. Note in particular the state of the Mediterranean and the Germanization of city names in the former Soviet Union.

(I wish to preface this post by saying that the following should not be considered a proper review of The New Order: Last Days of Europe. I have never played the mod or vanilla Hearts of Iron IV, and I don’t really have any intention to do either in the near future. Most of my information about this mod has been gathered from Reddit and TVTropes, God help me, and the mod itself is still undergoing development, so everything I write is subject to change and misinterpretation on my part. I am writing this solely for my own edification.)

Lately I’ve developed a fixation with The New Order: Last Days of Europe, a massive modification to Paradox Interactive’s WW2-focused grand strategy title Hearts of Iron IV. The mod, henceforth referred to as TNO, pushes the game into the early 1960s and lets the player explore a world where the Third Reich triumphed during the Second World War. Ordinarily such a scenario would not interest me; while I have written in the past about media that explores this premise, I tend to find them very played-out, with most modern explorations rarely doing anything that hasn’t done dozens of times over the past 75 years. Much to its credit, TNO takes a different approach with its material, indeed going so far as to criticize the assumptions of earlier works depicting a Nazi victory. While the mod’s own utility as a critique is questionable, TNO nonetheless succeeds through its emotional impact, for turning a game in a genre typically seen as very dry and abstract into a genuine work of horror.

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Blurring the Design: Black Mesa Versus Half-Life

Half-Life - The Anti-Mass Spectrometer

The Anti-Mass Spectrometer in “Anomalous Materials”. The most famous piece of lab equipment in video game history.

I adore Half-Life. Ever since I stepped into the shoes of Gordon Freeman for the first time during my undergraduate days in the mid-2000s, I’ve long considered Valve Software’s inaugural 1998 title to fully deserve its reputation as a classic of gaming. I have walked through the Black Mesa Research Facility so many times that I know every lab, utility corridor, and meat pile like the back of my hand. I know every chapter name, and what to do in any given moment. I’ve also plumbed the depths of Black Mesa outside of the original game in the official expansions of Opposing Force (Gearbox, 1999) and Blue Shift (also Gearbox, 2001), as well as countless mods of various descriptions.

However, all this love and familiarity has left me in something of a bind regarding Black Mesa, the long-delayed fan remake of the original Half-Life­ that finally found a commercial release in March of 2020. It’s a big, beautiful game that just oozes love for its source material…but I don’t actually like playing it all that much.

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Playing Fallout: New Vegas, Part III: The DLC Stories, With a Particular Focus on Lonesome Road

Ulysses at the Divide. Art by amyoy on deviantArt.

This is the final part of my long ramble about Fallout: New Vegas, in which I take a moment to look briefly at the DLC stories.

There are four DLC stories for Fallout: New Vegas, all of which were built and released over the course of 2011. They take the Courier from the familiar locations and stories of the Mojave and drop them in new conflicts all around the western regions of the former United States. I must confess that I was not exactly fond of many of the DLCs during my first playthrough; the conflict in the Mojave was what drew me into New Vegas, and I spent a lot of my time in the DLCs anxiously wanting to get back to it. While I had varying levels of engagement with the various story DLCs, it was the final one, Lonesome Road, that has stuck with me the most. Not only does that DLC return to the central conflict of the main game, it is also a clear expression of Obsidian wrestling with how Fallout has changed, as well as how their own work on New Vegas itself has changed it.

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Playing Fallout: New Vegas, Part II: The Major Players and the Changing Face of the Wasteland

Fan art of the major players of the Mojave, care of leona-florianova on Tumblr (Sealinne on deviantArt). From left to right, top to bottom: Yes Man, Robert House, President Aaron Kimball of the NCR, Courier 6 (“Blondie”), Benny, and Caesar.

This is the second part of my long-winded ramble about Fallout: New Vegas. Here I will be blathering on at ridiculous length about the major factions in the game, how they appear and operate, and how the wasteland as a whole has evolved and changed across the franchise.

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Playing Fallout: New Vegas, Part I: A Long-Winded Introduction

This post really got away from me. I ended up writing it on and off over the course of a week, and it turned into a gargantuan ramble far bigger than anything I’ve ever put up on this blog. To that end I’m going to be dividing it into three chunks and release each part over the next few days. Today’s installment, naturally, is a giant introduction to the Fallout franchise as a whole and to the premise of New Vegas.

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It’s something of a minor miracle that Fallout: New Vegas even exists. The original Fallout (1997) and its sequel (1998) were landmark titles in the world of computer role-playing games, but even they weren’t enough to save their publisher, Interplay Entertainment, from its own internal problems, and the company finally fell apart in the mid-2000s. The Fallout license wound its way into the hands of Bethesda, who quickly set to work on their own reinterpretation of the franchise. The end result was Fallout 3 in late 2008, a great critical and commercial success that sparked the resurrection of the Fallout franchise in the public consciousness. Knowing a good thing when they saw it, Bethesda began looking for ways to give the world more Fallout, and in mid-2009 they struck up a deal with Obsidian Entertainment, an CRPG developer who had never really worked on a AAA title before, to deliver a spinoff title for Fallout 3 on a tight 18-month timeline. Such a project would be daunting for even a large seasoned developer, but Obsidian had two aces in the hole. Not only was Obsidian staffed by a bunch of devs who had actually made Fallout and Fallout 2 back in the ’90s, they had access to all the old design documents and concepts for “Van Buren”, the original sequel to Fallout 2 that had been shelved in 2003 as Interplay collapsed. Taking those rough Van Buren concepts as a base from which to build, Obsidian managed to get the game, originally named Fallout: Sin City before shifting to the more familiar New Vegas, together and out the door for October 19, 2010.

While critical reaction was generally favorable, a lot of fans who had jumped onto the franchise with Fallout 3 found it difficult to acclimatize themselves to Obsidian’s take on the franchise, while fans of the game had their experience marred by the swarms of bugs that even now a decade’s worth of fan patches have been unable to wholly quash. However, as the years have passed, Fallout 3 seems to have aged the worse of the two, while New Vegas has come to be heralded as a classic on par with the original games, if not exceeding them.

I have been fascinated by New Vegas for years, but it was only this past November that I decided to take the plunge.  That first playthrough ended up taking the better part a month and became one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in gaming. Despite this, I feel like New Vegas will ultimately be the only Fallout game I will play. While in terms of gameplay New Vegas is a wildly successful merger of the first-person CRPG model Bethesda adopted for their Fallout games with the story-and-choice-focused approach of the older games, the premise and story speak to a fundamental change in the setting. New Vegas is a game that is moving the world of Fallout in a new direction, a direction that even New Vegas‘ own developers seem uncertain in following.

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Be Seeing You, Friendo: Paratopic

Paratopic - Steam Splash Screen

Paratopic is the first game produced by Arbitrary Metric, a three-person collab of Tangiers dev Jessica Harvey, freelance developer and critic GB “Doc” Buford, and Lazzie “BeauChaotica” Brown handling the audio and composing the soundtrack. I first played the game upon its initial release on itch.io in late April of 2018, and I played it again when an expanded version was released on Steam in September of the same year.

Paratopic is about…

The story of Paratopic is a…

Paratopic opens…

Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? You can describe what happens in Paratopic, and even theorize about connections, timelines, and events behind the scenes. But divining some sort of ultimate understanding from Paratopic is not possible. Indeed, the game has been explicitly designed to make such divination impossible.

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Old England: Pavane, by Keith Roberts

Pavane - Cover
It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to get around to Pavane. Back when I was getting into alternate history in my callow high school days , I assimilated this idea that Pavane was one of the three great ur-texts of alternate history, next to Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and Ward Moore’s Confederacy-victorious time-travel novel Bring the Jubilee (1953). In retrospect, imagining these texts as any sort of unified canon was kinda silly. Bring the Jubilee has been mostly forgotten today, and even though I read it back in high school I certainly remember little of it. The Man in the High Castle has survived thanks to its connection with PKD, but my attitude on it has cooled over the years. I have little interest in most of Dick’s pet nostrums, and I feel his depiction of a Nazi victory has been superseded by other, more interesting writers.

Pavane is a much different story. I was finally able to get around to reading it a few years ago after ferreting an ancient paperback copy out of one of the countless boxes of books my mother had stashed in the basement. But while the book was old and yellow, the power of Keith Roberts’ words remained undiminished. Pavane is wholly deserving of its reputation as one of the greatest postwar works of British sci-fi, combining beautiful prose with a profound meditation on the nature of modernity, technology, and England itself.

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Measuring the World in Science Packs Per Minute: Factorio

Factorio - Linux Cover

Aside from the occasional outlier like Frostpunk, I’m not a fan of city construction and management games. I suppose my main issue is that I don’t much care for abstracted gameplay; there’s been many times in my life when I picked up a game that had a cool setting, only to discover that most of the game actually consisted of watching a bar of numbers tick ever upward or of staring at line graphs for hours on end. It is to the credit of the Prague-based developer Wube Software that they have managed to create a base-building game that appeals to both hardcore engineers and mercurial arts majors like myself.

Factorio is a game that has been in the oven for a very long time. Work started on the game back in 2012, and after a wildly successful Indiegogo campaign the game saw the light of day in 2016. Since then the game has spent almost four years in “public beta”, with the final official release expected for September of 2020. While public betas have gained a dubious reputation in recent years as developers kick half-finished games out the door to make a quick profit, Factorio is the sort of game that is ideally suited to the model. Factorio, like the sprawling factory complexes its players construct, is a game perpetually being refined and optimized to achieve the maximum possible performance under the most stressful conditions.

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A Curdled Disappointment: The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Parts Two and Three

TLOK - Ruins of the Empire 2TLOK - Ruins of the Empire 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This will be much shorter than most of my usual reviews. While the subjects of this post both disappointed and frustrated me, the feelings they provoked were sadly not of the creatively productive kind. For months I was actually thinking I would write nothing more about the final two parts of The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, as I felt there was nothing I could say that would not simply rehash earlier criticisms I’ve made on this blog. Still, this comic roused enough bile that I decided I would write a short piece just to flush it out of my system before I move onto something more enjoyable. So, with a quick link to my more hopeful review of Part 1, let the healing begin.
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The Mannikin’s Pagent: The House of Small Shadows, by Adam Nevill

House of Small Shadows - Cover

This is my second attempt to sample the work of Adam Nevill, one of the new stars of Britain’s literary horror scene. My first experience with him was with Apartment 16, a novel that seemed to have everything I could ask for (A haunted apartment! Modernist artists who flirted with the right-wing occult underground! Vorticism!). However, the novel didn’t really gel with me, so I put Mr. Nevill to one side for a time. Lately, though, I’ve developed the itch to read a little horror again, and after watching Netflix’s decent-if-truncated adaptation of The Ritual, Nevill’s third novel, I decided to give him another try.

For anyone out there unfamiliar with Adam Nevill’s work, I would heartily recommend reading this review by my old Ferretbrain colleague Arthur covering Adam Nevill’s first four novels. As it so happens The House of Small Shadows (2013), was Nevill’s first novel after the group covered in the review, and as such represents a major evolution in his work. Nevill has grown in confidence as a writer, able to deftly wield both psychology and the supernatural, and he pays homage to one of his major influences while making the work wholly his own.
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