Fire & Ice and Warcraft 3

Fire & Ice is currently available on Amazon Prime. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a 1983 fantasy flick animated by none other than Frank Frazetta. If you’re a pulp fan, you probably know who he is. Even if you’re not, you may have seen some of his work:

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So on one hand, Frazetta is awesome. On the other hand, the film was directed by Ralph Bakshi, whose name is also attached to the ill-fated 1978 animated Lord of the Rings film (not to be confused with the excellent Rankin and Bass movies).

I gave F&I a watch, and I have to say it’s okay. It’s not bad, and although Frazetta was a lot more skilled at stills than animation, I loved watching his art here. And that’s basically what the movie was – a vehicle for his art. The story wasn’t great, but it was serviceable in that role.

One thing that struck me – as far as I’m aware no one from Blizzard has cited F&I as an inspiration for pieces of Warcraft 3. But.

I mean come on. Also Frazetta was the master of thick chicks.

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Also Nekron is a gaylord.

-Bushi

bushi

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Orcs and trucks

I had given up on Shadow of Mordor, not knowing how near I was to finishing it. Every now and then I felt an itch to go back and make an attempt. Even if I wound up ragequitting again, killing orcs and pitting brute against brute was fun in stretches.

Well, I beat it this weekend. And I even ran into that Bloodlicker guy at one point near the end, no joke. He wasn’t alive long enough to do much licking, but.

The game’s got a lot going for it, and I’d heartily recommend picking it up during a sale (or for full price if you’re one of them rich folk with dollars to burn). That is, of course, dependent on a certain tolerance for (well-done, albeit) Middle Earth fanfic. The writers put together a decent story, but there are some pretty egregious changes to Celebrimbor and Sauron and the nature of the ring. If you can get past that and just slay some orcs, though, it’s good fun.

Mordor isn’t quite as barren and Verdun-y as I imagine it was intended to be, but there are all sorts of barby things and sinister towers. Orcs quarrel and grumble and brag amongst themselves as you slink around. Power struggles go on and orcs get promoted or die with or without your intervention.

There are many little touches that make for an immersive and enjoyable experience. You may kill orc captains, but they don’t really “die” until you cut off their heads, which so far as I can tell is random. I ran into this drunk orc (that was his “thing”) three or four times, and with each encounter he became more and more disfigured. At the end he was missing half his face, replaced by metal plating.

Being able to ride beasts was cool, as were many of the wraith powers. The biggest draw for me was the ability to dominate (ghosty-mind-control?) enemies. Not only can they help turn the tide of large skirmishes for you, but the ability affords you a bit of flexibility in accomplishing your objectives.

The quest I was stuck on was tied up in dominating a particular warchief, but he would only show up if you grabbed one of his followers and made him squeal for help. The problem was, this dude would always be hanging out in the middle of a fort with a big posse. Every attempt I made to lure him off by himself failed and led to a never-ending battle that ended in either retreat or the death of the follower.

Finally it occurred to me that I could just get one of my own lackeys to challenge the warchief. So long-story-short, I did. Little did the chump know that his bodyguards were also my creatures. And so I just showed up and it was no difficult task to overpower and dominate him.

It was pretty fun to send my captains and warchiefs on missions, too. By the end of the game I had a strong enough group that they were able to wipe out the Black Gate captains and forces almost on their own (I helped a little).

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So that’s Shadow or Mordor.

I’ve also been playing a bit of American Truck Simulator, which isn’t something I’d ever have imagined myself getting into.

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But with all the politics injected into everything and the culture wars raging, sometimes a game like this can really hit the spot.

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I mean, sometimes it all just makes you want to kill hordes of orcs. And sometimes it makes you just want to deliver construction equipment from Flagstaff to Carson City while listening to streaming country radio.

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-Bushi

bushi

1000 ways to kill orcs

Back at the end of 2011, I came across a little gem of a PC game aptly called Orcs Must Die! Featuring an obnoxious main character and a forgettable plot, this was…actually really fun.

The Mob – a horde of orcs, ogres, gnolls, and other beasts lead by a sorceress is invading the human world. As the Hero, you must stop them. I hope you like killing endless streams of baddies.

Orcs Must Die! is an action tower-defense game. The bulk of the gameplay consists of running around levels placing traps, physically picking off or kiting enemies, and sometimes triggering environmental hazards. Slain orcs (for economy of speech here, let’s just include all the other monsters in “orcs”) provide you with gold and sometimes health or mana potions. Sometimes the orcs will emerge from multiple entryways. If one makes it to the end of the level, it enters the rift to the human world and you lose some rift points. If your character dies, you likewise lose points. And you guessed it – if you get to 0 points, you lose the level.

The game’s strengths lie in a very clear understanding of what it wants to be. The graphics are cartoony and neat. Like a cartoon, the main character and the orcs are often comedic and kinda doofy. There’s a wide variety of traps – spike tiles, tar pits, spring platforms that launch enemies off cliffs, swords and axes that pop out of walls to slice and dice, and much more. Often the orcs will scream dramatically as they fall into a bottomless pit or shriek “every moment I live is agony!” as they dissolve in acid.

You’ll also unlock various weapons to wield, and a couple “guardians” – NPC archers and knights that you can plunk down to pick off enemies or tank bottlenecks (guardians can be downed, unlike traps, though).

The music is fine – nothing special but it gets your blood pumping.

It’s been a while since I played the first one. The other day I went back to replay the sequel (Orcs Must Die! 2). For the most part it’s the same deal. This time you can choose between the Hero and the Sorceress (the Mob has turned on her). There are more traps, weapons, guardians, and types of enemies. There’s even a multiplayer mode if you have a friend.

I’ve been doing runs of Endless. Basically you go to one of the levels from the campaign, but as the name implies, you just keep surviving for as long as you can. Periodically you’ll get little breaks between waves to inspect the battlefield and strategically place traps without the pressure of orcs trying to kill you. I’m all about acid sprays and hot coals. When you finally lose, you earn skulls, which can be spent you unlock or upgrade additional traps and such.

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Despite the simplistic and humorous tone of the game, I find the strategic elements to be be quite fun. In order to get the most out of a level, you must consider terrain when placing traps and guardians. Platforms or elevations out of harms way are great places for archers, and bridges are ideal for spring traps. Sometimes, though, you may want to place springs or other “movement” traps in such a way as to knock enemies back into other obstacles they’ve already passed (poor guys). As the Sorceress sometimes says – “I feel bad for the Orcs…! If I had any feelings…”

There is something very satisfying on an almost physical level in watching as an orc liquefies in acid or burns to cinders or goes flying in pieces.

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So in conclusion, neither of these games is a masterpiece, but if you like this kind of gameplay they’re quite good at what they do. Definitely worth a few bucks for the joy of slaying tens of thousands of orcs (I just unlocked a Steam achievement last night informing me that I had in fact slain 25,000 to date).

-Bushi

bushi

Love and hate for Nintendo, plus Ultima pulp

My relationship with Nintendo is akin to that of a spurned lover, or a spiteful once-friend. Back in the days of NES and SNES, Nintendo was my jam. The latter system remains my favorite system of all time, by and large. It was around the time of the GameCube that the company started to lose me, and I was gone with the advent of the Wii. I suppose it was the multiplayification and criminal IP serialization of each successive console that really did it.

SNES has arguably one of the best RPG libraries (or at least boasts the highest quantity of iconic titles) of any console part or present. Plus a mess of cult classics and smash hits of other genres! And yet as generations progressed, Nintendo became mainly the home of Mario (Noun) and Zelda (XXX of YYY), plus random increments of Metroid and smatterings of winners like Boom Blox.

Now I can understand the move to corner the “casual” and “family” segments of the market. It’s been a long time since I had two or three nearby friends to rub together (trouble me not about inappropriate idioms!), so not for me, but I get it. Even then, I remained faithful to Nintendo handhelds. In spirit, the DS was really the successor to the SNES.

But then they started doing stupid shit like region-locking. Granted I’m probably in the minority of consumers who would want to play both English and Japanese games, but now I’d need to buy a separate Japan-region 3DS. Fuck that.

Their official line is some bull-hookey about region-locking making content release more efficient, but lo and behold they followed the pack and did away with the region lock for the Switch. And yet they still refuse to unlock the 3DS (which is software, not hardware locked).

Smoke you, Nintendo!!!

And then came the NES Classic Edition shortages and discontinuation…

My embitterment is well-documented at this point.

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Still, we’ll always have SNES, I thought.

Alas, my fond, untainted memories were not to go unmolested. Someone on Twitter (which really ruins everything on so many levels) was waxing nostalgic about Ultima VII not too long ago. “Ultima VII?” I thought to myself. But Ultima VI was the awesome one! Indeed the False Prophet was an amazing game unlike any I’d played before at the time. Not only was the world open, but the main quest was ambiguous. You had to go figure out that crap for yourself.

Thinking back, Ultima was my Elder Scrolls at the time (before knowing of Elder Scrolls). That is, I’d just go wander around the woods killing gnomes and wisps and finding wizard towers to be looted. Sometimes I’d happen upon a cave or tomb with some random magical armor and some serpents or headless dudes to kill. Once in a while I’d run into those badass gargoyles and they’d murder my ass back to Lord British. He sure was swell for res’ing me all those times.

The turn-based combat, the ability to recruit all kinds of random NPCs, the looting and stealing of almost anything that wasn’t nailed down…man, what an awesome game. At the time I hadn’t yet gotten into the world of PC gaming, and the SNES port served me well.

I remember some years later I tried a ROM of the Black Gate and…everything was different. No turn-based combat; simplified inventory; the graphics looked almost worse, and I kept running into monsters in the starting town that would one-shot me. Man, what a bad game.

So I tried it again yesterday. I had a little more patience this time, but my experience went approximately like this — come through moongate and talk to my old buddy Iolo, explore and pick up some items, go into villager’s basement and get almost instantly killed by goblins shooting magic at me. I was then forced to repeat this process twice more, except I was killed by rats in a different basement, and something else on the ground floor of another house that killed me so quickly I was unable to identify it.

Brutal and unfun.

Still, this may partly be the fault of the SNES port!! Apparently the PC version was a bit different. At least it looked different. I can only hope it played differently, too.

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Above is the starting spot in the SNES version (top) vs the PC version (below). What gives, right?!

Anyway, apparently this is available on GOG, so I may be buying more games that I don’t have time to play! Yes, “games” plural. I found this cool video about Ultima 7, and the dude mentions two expansion-type games that don’t seem at all like expansions.

He describes Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire and Martian Dreams as weird Ultima VI-engine (!!) installments where you explore strange pulpy worlds rather than Britannia. It’s hard to imagine an Ultima game without Lord British, but I think I could be persuaded to play one set on Mars or in “the savage world of Eodon.”

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Lo! It looks like the Avatar has become John Carter of Mars!

So many undiscovered/unplayed gems. I was recently informed of my Sword of Aragon deficiency, too. Eventually, friends. Eventually.

-Bushi

bushi

This is the Police

 

One of my Pulp Revolution cohorts gifted me a Steam game called This is the Police not too long ago. I remember having seen this one but hadn’t really given it a close look. Well, a couple weeks ago I decided to take it for a spin.

First impressions – a cool, noir-ish setting, neat art style, decent voice work, and some swinging tunes (mostly jazz and big band stuff). Very interesting gameplay.

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This is the Police is a police management/RPG in which you take on the role of Jack Boyd, the esteemed police chief of the fair city of Freeburg. Within the first few minutes you find out that you’re being forced into retirement by a scumbag mayor and that while Jack is very well-liked by the community and has a reputation for being a straight shooter, he paints in grays. The chief subscribes to a 8/10 rule – that is, for every 10 crimes reported to the police, his goal has always been for 8 of them to be properly handled or solved. Sometimes a couple are uncrackable or else it may to the greater good for the paperwork to go missing.

As the story progresses, we learn more about Jack and get to make some decisions for him. So far as I could tell, they don’t affect the final outcome of the game all that much, which is a shame. Jack is dealing with some personal demons, including a search for his wife who suddenly up and left him. Meanwhile he (most likely) becomes entangled with the mafia and other unsavory characters and groups.

Before I get into my gripes and major spoilers, let me tell you what I liked about running the police station. As a management game, This is the Police provides a fresh yet relatively simple new offering for the genre. Each day you get up, get a glimpse of the morning headlines (and later on some insider political tips), and are off to work. You’ve got two shifts of regular cops and plain clothes detectives who work on alternating days.

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Police’ve got two major stats – professionalism (which reflects their competence and effectiveness) and energy level. As calls come in, you get to choose who to dispatch to the scene of the crime. Successful resolutions raise professionalism – this is the main way you’ll build up your cops. As the days progress, you’ll need to use your judgement when sending out police. You’ve got a limited number of staff, so if you send them all out on a call and another crime report comes in, you have to just shrug and hope no one gets killed. At the same time, certain jobs are more dangerous or tricky and may require more bodies or cops with more professionalism. A bank robbery isn’t nearly the same as going to pick up a kid who got collared by a store owner for shoplifting. You’ll also get a SWAT team and eventually a paddy wagon that you can use to supplement your regular officers. Sometimes your police will request backup or ask for your orders in certain circumstances.

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Some calls won’t be jobs at all. If someone demands a SWAT team to repel the yeti tearing up their lawn, you may well decide not to send anyone.

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You’ve also got to keep an eye on your cops’ energy level. Ordering double shifts is possible, but will run a cop down. And tired officers make mistakes. Also older cops don’t seem to recovery energy as quickly. Sometimes officers won’t show up for work or will ask for the day off (some excuses being more reasonable than others). It’s up to you how to deal with this.

In addition to micromanaging your police force, you’ve got to deal with factions like City Hall. The mayor’s office controls your budget and all requests go through them. Therefore if you keep them happy, you can request more staff slots (more cops is always a good thing), SWAT upgrades, and salary increases. If the mayor gets too pissed at you, he’ll cut funding and you may have to lay people off (hopefully not illegally, as you can be sued for that, no joke).

The factions are pretty much all scumbags, but they provide you with perks. For example the mafia can sell things you find and confiscate on jobs (like drugs or guns). One faction will provide you with a secret bank account to hide your illicit earnings, and another will keep City Hall from making certain ridiculous requests of your staff.

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The ability to collect more music as the game progresses is neat. I was also pleasantly surprised to go from jazz and big band to some random Ogre tracks later on.

Oh, also – there’s a mildly complimentary shout-out to pulp fiction. Though I’m not convinced the devs really understood it, as one character eventually talks about how the heroic comic cop protagonist is loved because he’s perfect and never makes mistakes. People would despise him if he made mistakes, we’re told. Nah dude – go back and read some real pulp. We love pulp heroes because they unflichingly do what’s right and because they’re real men; not because they never foul up.

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Ok, that’s the good stuff. Now I’m going to turn to negatives. Before traipsing into Spoiler Land, let me just say that the gameplay, while engaging, does get a bit repetitive over time. You won’t play ALL 180 days, but you’ll play a lot. Periodic cut scenes are welcome breaks in the steady grind of police work, but there could have been more.

Also, while the game seemed like it was trying to be evenhanded in painting everyone as potentially bad (and therefore potentially good, too), there was a lot of Catholic villainy. This may have stood out to me in particular because I’m Catholic, but there weren’t really any other “identity” groups painted as badly. There are some black criminals, but no Black Lives Matter or Black Panther group. LGBT people are frequent victims, of course. Not many Islamic terrorists to speak of (though the retro feel of this game could be a fair explanation for that).

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There is also a bunch of pro-lifer skulduggery, which made me roll my eyes and wonder if this games writers had done any research (violence against abortions and abortion clinics does occur, of course, but really uncommon).

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That stuff smacked of message fiction, but could be easily overlooked in light of excellent gameplay and story. And here be spoilers!

***

While I’d argue that the gameplay comes close enough, the story winds up falling flat. The plot and voice acting had me engaged for most of the game, but ultimately it all comes to naught! Jack’s wife has left him for a young rich man and she’s not coming back. His flirtation with the new city prosecutor goes to shit when she finds out he’s not squeaky clean.

In the final power struggle, Jack winds up with a knife in the back and loses his job either way. Even if you’ve saved a ton of money, Jack seems to somehow lose it. If you have too much cash, you wind up indicted by the Feds.

Oh, and forget even trying to play a straight cop. The game is about compromise – trying to limit the corruption and picking and choosing your battles. If you don’t play ball, you wind up with no funding and a shitty police force, or else dead (doesn’t do to piss off the mafia before you can gather evidence and make arrests).

So there is no good ending, and there is no real win.

I’d give This is the Police a 3/5 because the gameplay is creative and for quite a while it’s fun. I don’t regret spending my time playing it. Unfortunately there’s no satisfying end, and you may wind up feeling cheated at the close of the story.

-Bushi

bushi

 

I built a pie

I’ve wanted to build something with Raspberry Pi for a while now. But I never really came across any projects that interested me, and/or I didn’t want to solder stuff. But then Nintendo flipped everyone off with NES Classic Edition, and word is that SNES Classic Edition is now in the works. I’m not holding my breath that supply will be able to meet demand this time.

So F it – I’ll make my own! But better!

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I knew the Pi would be a relatively simple and straightforward little gadget to assemble, but dang. It was literally just a few pieces to fit and sometimes snap together.

Look at those cute little heat sinks.

I was surprised by how small this thing is. Fits in the palm of your hand.

So that was easy. Reformatting the microSD card (using the nifty little USB adapter provided in the kit) and loading up an image with the Retropie OS was really the hardest part of “building” it, mostly because there were several steps and a few little utilities to download.

 

The main hurdle was my display, actually. Damn Insignia TV was overscanning and cutting off the border of the Retropie’s display, and apparently this model has no fit-to-screen or overscan setting to toggle.

So I had to dig into the OS’s config file and play around with the overscan properties – lucky that’s an option! It was a little tricky when the text was cut off at the edge of the screen, but eventually got it sorted. Woot!

Now all that’s left is to load up some roms! Legally, I can only download and play games that I already own. But if I were to download the entire SNES, NES, and Sega libraries and do some sorting, and then select titles from other consoles like Dreamcast, PS, N64, and maybe some arcade games…well, I imagine that would be the most time-consuming piece of this project.

Anyway, it always feels nice to successfully build something. F you, Nintendo.

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-Bushi

bushi

Ringworld and Rimworld

Rejoice, dear readers – I live!

What have I been up to of late? My discovery of the Last Kingdom and first reading of EE “Doc” Smith are chronicled over at the Castalia House blog. But what else have I been up to? Certainly not writing blog posts, right?

Well, I’m nearly done with my first “Known Space” book. I read the Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle some years back and remember being impressed. Since then I’ve read one of Pournelle’s solo works and it was pretty solid. Time for Niven, right?

One of the challenges with going back to read these older series is sorting through the various collections that pop up, along with conflicting or sparse information on proper reading orders. I don’t think you can ever really go wrong following stories in publication order, but for some reason I settled on this order, starting with Neutron Star.

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It isn’t exactly publication order, but close enough. Neutron Star is a collection of short stories taking place in the Known Space universe. Once I’m finished I intend to proceed as chronologically as I can, though I’m eager to get to the famed Ringworld.

So far I’m really digging the setting and Niven’s writing. Stylistically his sense of humor and sarcasm come through without crossing over into silliness (a ‘la Douglas Adams). In my Doc Smith post at Castalia House, I noted my enjoyment of Smith’s aliens. Incidentally I’m also really liking that about Niven’s Known Space. Rather than space elves and dwarves (which I suppose you could argue some of the variant non-terran humans resemble), you’ve got space-faring cat folk, intelligent and honest yet cowardly monstrosities like the gentleman pictured in the above cover art, and physically weak, bizarre-looking yet honorable squid people. Then there’s the grog.

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So far most of the human protagonists blend together, but there’s a lot of cool technology, intriguing plots (especially if you’re into “hard”ish SF) and at least one rad alien character.

In gaming news, I recently powered through XCom 2, which was a flawed but ultimately fun preoccupation. Now I’m on to Rimworld, and oh boy this is a time sink.

If you’re unfamiliar with this title, it’s a scifi colony sim/survival game. There are several modes and difficulty variations to toy with. And holy crap is it detailed. When your colonists are injured, you can see exactly where – they might get a bruise to their torso or lose a pinky or toe. They can get scars and health conditions like asthma and infections and diseases.

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There’s crafting, of course. There are pets and animal taming. There’s hunting, cooking, and growing crops for food and medicine. You can build defenses like sandbags and turrets to help you ward off raiders and hostile animals.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of Rimworld is the storytelling AI. You can pick from among three AIs with different personalities and tendencies, and they basically generate events at certain intervals. The base AI, Cassandra, tries to ramp up the difficulty over time and keep your number of colonists at levels she likes (so if you have too many she won’t give you chances to get more or she’ll try to kill someone off).

The stories that can develop are nuts. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re sad.

For example, in my first game I wound up incapacitating one of the raiders who attacked me. I remember she was a doddering old fat woman named Delgado. She had dementia and was a pyromaniac. Still, people are resources and I lacked manpower. So I captured her and treated her wounds, and kept her locked up until she agreed to join me.

Eventually she did, and she ran around naked and unhappy until I was able to craft some garments for her. Things went well for a while. She could cook, and that was a skill my people sorely wanted for. One day, however, she snapped. She started wondering around and setting fires on the outskirts of my base. I had to send someone to beat her down and throw her in the clink to cool down.

Shortly after that we suffered a heat wave that I was woefully unprepared for. My colonists all collapsed into unconsciousness in the 50 degree (C) weather before I could figure out how to treat their heatstroke. With no one to rescue them, they all died. The end.

Another time in a succeeding game, I was hunting muffalos for meat. Usually they just try to run away. But this time they decided (or Cassandra decided) not to stand for that shit. They got mad and I wound up with a couple dozen alien buffalos chasing my colonist back to base. I was able to draft everyone and ward them off without any deaths, but damn.

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Meat for the meat god.

One of the saddest things to have happened thus far, though, involves one of the colony pets. Stupid me had no problem letting them all sleep outside despite the bears and wolves and crap wandering around. After one raid, one of my dogs was pretty badly wounded. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when a lynx attacked him. I was able to get the dick cat in time, but damn. Only a couple minutes later, a BEAR showed up for an easy meal. I was able to kill the bear before my dog kicked the bucket. But the damage was done, and the dog was down to two good legs.

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There was another raid, and the dog went in to help its master. I mowed down the invaders, all except one, and this guy was tagged and about to go down. So the piece of crap raider stops advancing on my entrenched colonists, turns to the dog, and slices its leg off right before he bites the dust.

It was a while before I noticed the dog wasn’t moving from the spot where my colonists had carried him to treat the wound. He would just lay there, periodically sleeping and being fed. I checked his stats, and…

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Yup. Down to one leg, and zero mobility. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.

It was just a virtual dog in a stupid little game, but it took me a good few minutes of inner deliberation before I euthanized it. Damn game.

But man if Rimworld hasn’t got its hooks in me. There’s already so much content packed into this thing, but I can’t wait to see what’ll be added next.

-Bushi

bushi