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[Review] Wasteland 2


January 14th, 2015 -- Posted by Endymian

Wasteland2artDid you enjoy Fallout 1 & 2? Was Fallout: Tactics lacking something essential that really just didn’t make it pleasant or fun? Let me introduce you to a friend of mine: Wasteland 2.

Way back in 1988, the game Wasteland was released. It was a bit before my time, and in my opinion it hasn’t aged well. But it turns out, that Interplay designed the first two Fallout games as “spiritual successors” to Wasteland when they were unable to acquire the rights to the Wasteland name from EA (Oh, those rascals. Always causing trouble.) I knew none of this until very recently, and certainly not before seeing a friend play this game and exclaiming “Whoa! Is that a new Fallout game??”

So what does that make Wasteland 2? I would describe it as Fallout 3, if hey hadn’t gone first-person and abandoned the roguelike single-character gameplay style. It’s not perfect, but I am loving it.

There is so much charm in this game that invokes classic gameplay with modern accoutrements. The game begins set in Arizona, where I have resided for my entire life in one region or another, and it didn’t take long to start finding actual Arizona landmarks that they have worked into the post-apocalyptic narrative. I personally loved that. But you also move into another region later on and I found that same attention to detail there. But that isn’t all, it’s just a great game. The story is solid, it’s incredibly captivating, I feel like I have plenty of meaningful choices to make and the replay value is extremely high.

The game isn’t perfect, it does have some bugs that can be noisome, but nothing too obtrusive. The map can behave oddly on occasion and I found myself confused a few times in new areas as I was obviously completing objectives out of order halfway through the zone when the designers probably should have set up more barriers and/or flags to prevent that from happening (NPCs talking about things that I didn’t know about yet but the game assumed my characters did…that kind of thing.)

So I can’t give this game a perfect score, but I can say that it has been on my top 3 to-play list for the past three months as I muscle through to whatever conclusion I have earned (and I hope there are several). I’m not finished yet, but I believe I am close. This game is especially notable because it is the kind of game (like Fallout 1&2) that I will return to every few years to slam out another playthrough in a way that I hadn’t before. This is not something I have yet felt compelled to do with Fallout 3 or New Vegas, despite that I feel those games are outstanding for different reasons.

Maybe it’s a sign of my age, or the games I grew up with that make this such a nostalgia trigger for me, but I don’t really care. If I am a little biased on this particular one, then I can’t help that. This is just an incredibly captivating game that is fun to play. There have been two patches that I know of that have fixed a lot of the problems though, so that is a plus. Hopefully more will come soon to tie up any loose glitches, but even so this game gets a solid recommendation from me.

Tales from the Hospital


January 14th, 2015 -- Posted by Endymian

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and good health to all! I hope everyone got through the holidays alive.

I, however, wasn’t quite so lucky. I survived, sure, but I feel like only barely.

In mid-December I developed a nasty cough which was accompanied by rolling fevers for about a week. This was pretty unusual for me, I have come down with aliments like this before, pop some advil every 8 hours for two or three days and it goes away. Well, this didn’t. Went to the doc and was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection (yaaay) got the proper meds and lots of them and went home.

Fast forward to a week later, Christmas Eve. I can barely breathe. I’m talking a couple notches on the dial away from complete respiratory arrest. My wife wisely drags me to the Emergency Room where after some very uncomfortable tests and treatments we discover that, no, what I actually have is pneumonia.

More meds, more lost time from work, and more silence here.

Well, I got better…then I got worse again! Last weekend I was diagnosed with bronchitis after a lovely three-day respite of feeling great, I’m sick as a dog yet again.

But, I had some time to play a really neat game I’m getting ready to review and post about (later today if all goes well), so look forward to that.

Thanks for reading!

PREZ MAINHello everyone! It’s been too long since my last post so I wanted to share with everyone what I’ve been up to most recently. In addition to my game design projects, I am currently working with Gamelyn Games on a new game that will feature Mecha combat. So stay tuned for that. But also (and the reason for today’s post) I have recently gotten involved with a separate firm who has been promoting their new card game, Qetchup.

Initially, the plan was to play the game and write an extensive review. For various reasons, we had some difficulty doing so and the end result was I was asked to be a part of the project as a consultant and help rewrite the rules and offer input to improve aesthetics and playability. So far, I like how everything it turning out.

Then this was dropped on me: Qetchup was just awarded the 2014 Game of the Year award by Creative Child magazine…and this was without the improvements that are coming in the revised edition I have helped them to create.

Release details on the new revised version are vague so far, but I was told to expect a holiday-season release if all goes well. I’ve recently finished the rules copy and we’re still going over visual improvement here and there but everything that has developed so far I am quite pleased with.

As for the game itself, it is very much a family/children’s/educational game. Very light on strategy and quick-playing. Your hardcore boardgamers probably won’t care much for it, but in a classroom setting it would be a grand slam. It is essentially a draw-one-play-one set-collection card game with various bumps and twists. Your goal is to complete a 5-card healthy “meal” and rid yourself of the rest of your hand. There are a few ways to do this, but there are also ways to disrupt other players’ progress.

I’m looking forward to seeing the final product and if you have young people in your life that you’d like to get involved in games, this is worth checking out when the new edition becomes available.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

[Review] Shovel Knight


August 25th, 2014 -- Posted by Endymian

Shovel_knight_coverThis game. This freaking game…

Shovel Knight is amazing. This game is what you get when you combine:

The fantastic music and boss design of Mega Man
The platforming challenge of Ninja Gaiden
The artifact collection and combat of Zelda 2
The overworld features and map encounters of Super Mario Bros. 3
And the treasure-seeking and pogo-jumping of Duck Tales

all inside of a single game that stays within the aesthetic design boundaries of classic NES gameplay (much like Mega Man 9 and 10 did).

Shovel Knight is retro done right. Too often do I see games that are labeled as “retro” that just get the whole idea upside down. A retro game isn’t using as few pixels as possible for your characters and doing as little as possible with comparatively unlimited technology. Good retro-style games create a brand new experience that evokes the sights, sounds, and feel of the classic games it is meant to imitate (or in this case, I think a much better word is “honor”)

There is nothing wrong with this game that I could find, just that I wanted more. The gameplay was absolutely outstanding, the controls were tight and I received no grief about using my usb controller (it just worked), it was challenging and frustrating but never unforgiving (no “lives” to worry about, you just lose some of your money, which you can recollect from where you died), and this game has charm dammit. Loads of it.

Shovel Knight is a nostalgia feast that won’t make you feel like you’d be better off just playing the old games you want to fondly remember. It’s the kind of game that makes you want five more sequels and a special release on an actual NES cartridge (likely impossible, but still.)

I have not been this impressed in a very long time, Shovel Knight gets top marks, go try it! (Oh, and it’s multi-platform too. So much love.)

http://yachtclubgames.com/shovel-knight/

News post! For reals!


August 5th, 2014 -- Posted by Endymian

MagnumOpus_3d

Hello everyone!

I have been swamped with projects right now (none of which seem close to completion but I just have to keep moving forward) but I did want to announce that Magnum Opus has shipped! Thank you again for your support, everyone. If you missed out, copies can be ordered directly from Game Salute right here.

I will also be at GenCon 2014, no booth or anything but I will be around wearing my GUGames badge. Come say hi!

Thanks everyone!

Zelda-Screenshot

I have a confession to make:

When I was very young, two of the earliest video game sequels I was ever exposed to were Super Mario Bros. 2 and Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. Due to this, for a long while I thought that it was common practice, or even a rule, that game sequels had to be dramatically, if not fundamentally, different from the previous installment.

Sometimes, I will think about these things and ponder the implications. I’ve taken to casually referring to this as “Contemplating the Weird” things about gaming in general. I do this with board games and video games and all kinds of games. It’s something that my brain has begun to do rather involuntarily as my roots have spread as a designer.

So, now that the explanation is out of the way, let’s get back to the topic… what if this was, in fact, the de facto rule-of-thumb for videogame sequels? What would Super Mario Bros. 3 have been like? Sure it was a massive improvement on the formula from Super Mario Bros. with the overworld map and storable items but it was a logical progression of improvement. We all know the story by how of how Super Mario Bros. 2 wasn’t really Super Mario Bros. 2 etc. etc. So maybe Zelda 2 is a better example for this.

Zelda 2 is easily my favorite game of the Zelda franchise. I know painfully well that I am in the minority there, but it is what it is. I enjoy action RPGs and the only Zelda game I consider to be an “RPG” at all in the loosest sense is Zelda 2.

So what if Zelda 3 wasn’t a throwback to Zelda 1 and was rather a departure even further from it…it might have looked something like this:

omgrngs For those who don’t know, this is not a screenshot from a real game. This is an image that circulated around as part of a Zelda 3 NES prototype urban legend/hoax. But look at it…it has combined elements from Zelda 1 and Zelda 2 but looks like it probably handles more like Star Tropics, doesn’t it?

What if this was real, and just how the creators of video games chose to design and there was no such thing as Madden after Madden after Madden that are practically the exact same game with cosmetic changes. Or [Insert series of Console FPS games] or [Insert series of JRPG games]…

…Or Super Mario Bros. or Zelda?

How much different would the world of Video Gaming be if what I believed was true as a child, actually was the case, and it was totally normal–by design–for game sequels to be this dramatically different from all games before it in the series. What if the next Final Fantasy game wasn’t a turn-based RPG but was an action-platform RPG instead?

I would play the hell out of that game.

I wasn’t really going anywhere with this. But I guess that’s why I decided to call this post “Contemplating the Weird” and hopefully it will stimulate your mind and help you go on to create more unique and exciting things as well.

[Tech Review] Pebble Smart Watch


March 10th, 2014 -- Posted by Endymian

Pebble I’m going to try something a little different today. That’s right, a tech review! As a gamer, I do enjoy many different gadgets as well (don’t worry there’s a tie-in to gaming for this anyhow)

I got a Pebble Smart Watch last Christmas and I have been using it long enough to the point where I feel comfortable giving it a full honest review.

Let me start by saying that I tend to buy watches that last. My last two have been Casio Waveceptor watches, that are powered by a solar-receptor face and receive daily time corrections by satellite. These are great watches and they still work great to this day. But I’ve been wearing my Pebble every day since receiving it (unless I am going to go do yard work or something, then I will wear my elder of the two Casios that I have)

For those who don’t yet know, the Pebble Smart Watch is, well, a Smart Watch. In the same respect that one has a Smart Phone. It is Bluetooth connected to your android or iOS device and is capable of sending notifications that are displayed on it’s ePaper (think first-gen Kindle) screen. The screen allows it to be highly power efficient. I have never had the watch die on me, but I am told that it lasts a week, sometimes more, on a charge. And the charger is magnetic–no plugs, so it can remain water resistant. Very cool.

Every time I get a text, email, phonecall, or notification (that I tell the platform I want to see on my phone, e.g. facebook or twitter updates) the message will appear on my watch screen and it will vibrate briefly to let me know something appeared. I can use the buttons on the device to scroll up and down or dismiss it entirely. This is especially useful when driving, I can ostensibly glance at my wrist to see if something is potentially important rather than digging my phone out and devoting my attention to it which is much more dangerous. If it is a phonecall and I don’t want to deal with it right now, I can dismiss the call to voicemail straight from my watch.

I was a little disappointed that they released a model with a metal band after the holidays, I would have much rather had one like that than a resin band, but it isn’t so bad, really. At $150 for the base model ($250 for the “steel”) though it really isn’t a big detraction. When people ask about mine I find myself telling them pretty often that most people, myself included, have spent more on watches that do a whole lot less than this. It is pretty unobtrusive too, I don’t feel like I have a small TV on my wrist, it’s very compact.

There are more features I’d like to see and I can understand that this technology is still largely in its infancy, but on the whole, this is a really great product and I recommend it highly.

Oh, and the watchfaces. The glorious customizable watchfaces. The watch can store 8 “apps” which range from a screen that will tell you the time, date, and weather conditions all at once, or one that will roll RPG dice for you (see? I told you I would get back around to gaming on this!)

PROS:
– $150.00 Price Point for the base model
– Highly efficient ePaper screen, long battery life
– Magnetic charger
– Water Resistant
– Great variety of watchfaces and apps, tons of nerd-candy to be found– including games!
– Awesome solution for “screening” communications that come to you- at a glance
– Vibration-based notification function is always noticeable no matter what you are doing
– Intuitive interface, good integration with phone (Android is my platform, I’m sure it’s similar with iOS)
– Too dark to see? It’s backlit, just shake to make it glow.
– Bluetooth tethering is highly reliable, best experience I have ever had using the protocol

CONS:
– Vibration unit only. No speaker in the watch. (This is my number 1, biggest disappointment with this product)
– Not a touch-screen (not incredibly necessary, to be honest)
Most communication is only one-way to the Watch, very little watch-to-phone functionality
– The Pebble Steel may be a little overpriced at $250. a $50 markup for the metal band seems more appropriate; but I haven’t handled one myself to say for sure if it is worth it.

MAYBE WITH THE NEXT MODEL?:
- Give me a speaker so my watch can make this sound when I get a message (in addition to viberation)
- Solar screen or kinetic charging would be nice
- Headphone jack to play music over bluetooth? (might cause waterproofing issues, so I can understand either way)
– If color ePaper screens ever get fully developed, this is a perfect candidate. (In contrast to the Galaxy Gear, which to my knowledge is a color LCD screen and has poor battery life)

SHOULD I BUY IT?:
If you have a smartphone, wear a watch every day, and tend to buy things that you want to last…then yeah, this is a pretty solid bet. If you tend to buy your watches off the bargain rack because you are paranoid about losing or damaging them, then maybe stay away because $150 is certainly a non-trivial expense. I buy my sunglasses at the dollar store because I have a 3-year-old at home…so I get it. But I stopped getting cheap watches about ten years ago and this is my third one since then, so this is a really good investment in my opinion. Awesome especially if your job requires a lot of communication via email or phonecalls. Makes things worlds easier to just look at your wrist; it’s a bigger benefit than it might sound like.

Is the Wii U really a failure?


January 23rd, 2014 -- Posted by Endymian

wiiuSo apparently this happened: Nintendo declared that the Wii U has “flopped”.

 

This, really disappointed me. Especially from them.

The problem is not with the Wii U as a platform. The problem Nintendo is having right now is the same top reason why I haven’t had any interest in getting a PS4 or Xboxone at all.: Software.

If these companies would make a stronger effort to have a non-trivial amount of quality titles available at launch (or heaven forbid, after an entire year) I think they just might see an increase in sales.

The trouble (in Nintendo’s case) isn’t with the hardware itself. They have a very unique opportunity with their platform and they just aren’t using it to its full potential. Once that happens, they will be fine. What concerns me is that they seem to be going back to the drawing board on it instead of just putting out games that people want. Nintendo isn’t experiencing any of the backlash from privacy problems, hardware failure, can-I-use-used-games-or-not snafus, et al. Their problem is the singular fact that their software library for a console more than a year old is simply embarrassing.

“4 players plus 1 with a touchscreen that has access to information the others don’t” is an amazing formula for success. (And that isn’t even touching in the idea of more than 1 tablet being used at a time, which I thought was a natural progression for them, expecting the tablets to be sold a la carte eventually.) People with very real talent have been throwing them ideas for free with regards to software that would bring them success, but seemingly aren’t listening.

The Wii U is not a failure, or a flop, its sales are poor because it currently lacks what people look for in a video game console: a healthy library of good games. Nintendo: Please, be honest about the problem, and let’s examine the cause: Is it licensing? Slow first-party development? Uncooperative third-party developers?

I honestly expected to see amazing things by now. A new Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles game maybe, Tactical shooters where the tablet-holder is a squad commander directing the other soldiers where to go and what to do based on the information only they have, Spaceship combat simulators with crews of 5 and the captain on the tablet with privileged information for his or her crew.

Honestly, middle-schoolers have more imagination. Hold a focus group, I guarantee there will be grand-slam pitches. The money is in the air guys, all you need to do is reach up and grab it. We still believe in you, don’t give up (and please don’t make people regret the investment they have already made in this hardware, that will probably cost you more customers in the long run.)

When playing Hearthstone (or any TCG), one of the most frequently made mistakes you can make is indicating to your opponent in some way that there is a way for them to defeat you on their next turn. This has afforded me a few narrow victories I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten if my opponent hadn’t tipped me off to it. Don’t give away your information!

 

(Posts should be getting more frequent, the Holidays are bonkers.)

6DIHKAXFU4QK1376700753421Very recently, Blizzard dropped two big bombs on the Diablo 3 community and there’s a lot of noise about it.

They are, respectively, the closure of the Auction House (both in-game gold and real money) and the announcement of the first expansion (with more to come hopefully), Reaper of Souls.

These announcements have been awarded with a lot of comments (over 6000 so far about the AH situation alone) and it’s time for me to weigh in on my thoughts about both of these things, and how they affect my expectations for my experience with the expansion.

I’ve been fostering something of a love-hate relationship with Blizzard since pretty much the point Activision got involved with them. Note that this is a correlation and not necessarily a causation, but World of Warcraft lost its appeal to me in a big way, They made some decisions that I strongly disagreed with in regard to Diablo 3, the only thing they have done recently that I have really been on board with was the mod support for Starcraft 2–but that fell short of my personal expectations when I discovered that the tools they included were incredibly cumbersome in my opinion and they apparently prohibit the use of any third party tools to help with that.

ಠ_ಠ

Anyway, let’s get to specifics here instead of getting into detail about that. Here’s my take on the Auction House situation:

Let’s rewind back to pre-release. They announced the Auction House and people freaked out. Everyone was so worried about the game “turning into” World of Warcraft (by what logic, I don’t know) but I was in the vast minority that seemed to understand a big driving factor toward introducing a Blizzard-sanctioned Auction House in the first place:

People are going to buy and sell items and gold no matter what the EULA says. Rather than fight a losing battle, make a safe-haven for people to make these transactions that both is easy to use, and benefits the developer directly.

It’s capitalistic as hell, but it makes a ton of sense. I can’t imagine how much grief Blizzard went through during the Diablo 2 heyday when people were getting scammed constantly, spammers took over in droves, and duping everywhere. Cut that middleman out, use the cut to improve your own game, and everyone wins, right?

Well, no. Apparently Blizzard got a new flavor of grief, now people bitching about the Auction House ruining the game and claiming that people “had” to use it to perform well. Which may have some merit to it as an argument, I guess. But I have never not once had to buy items with real money for any reason. The only real-money transactions I have made were for gems and only due to the fact that I had no other use for the money held captive in my Battle Net Balance at the time which was mistakenly put there rather than my paypal account.

Long story short, the AH is going away and they aren’t listening to any arguments to the contrary. I see this affecting the game in three huge ways:
1) Advertisement Spam (already a huge problem) will increase significantly
2) People will now complain about not being able to trade effectively.
3) People will be driven to third-party online sales sites, which will: not prevent purchase and sale of items at all, will send money overseas to “goldfarm” operations and less for Blizzard themselves which could be allocated to more frequent and significant developments and improvements to the product.

The way I see it, if players don’t want the Auction House, there is a perfectly acceptable option in the console edition of the game. Furthermore, Hardcore/Softcore segregation is not difficult to do, so why shouldn’t a AH/No-AH segregation plausibly exist to allow both camps to exist in harmony?

They established a very well thought out system with a specific purpose and now are scrapping it for the wrong reasons. Their new plan for Loot 2.0 is going to help make the game a better experience, we’re told, but Loot 2.0 and an AH are mutually exclusive by nature, of course. Right?

I understand it is in their best interest as a business publicly to listen to the majority of their players (fine time to start, guys.) But this is really just a disappointment in a big way. Instead of fixing the broken turn signal in your car, you’re ripping out the steering column and throwing it in the garbage. Fixing the smaller issues with the balance, loot drops, and spam would make the market self-correct. Adding options to participate in a separate realm without the Auction house would make the game more acceptable to those who disagree with the existence of the Auction house, and yet allow it to exist for those who enjoy that experience.

But, if Blizzard is listening to my advice on this, I’ll eat my hat. So let’s move past that now that I have said my piece and share what my expectations are as a player given this new shift in player experience. I expect none of these to be fulfilled, but if I remain silent I’ll have no right to complain later.

Reaper of Souls Requests/Anticipations/Expectations/It’s-Only-Fair-Since-Everything-Else-Has-Been-F**ked-Up-Now-Anyway

1) Now that the Auction House and cash-transaction filter is going to be removed from the game, the plausibility of certain barriers which existed as a security measure need to come down. They are as follows:
– Always-connected Play, and
– No modding
After the Auction House is dismantled, the excuse of protection of the money that is flowing through the game is officially null. With that gone, now is a perfect opportunity to continue listing to the majority and allow people to play single-player without an internet connection (because Lord forbid someone’s internet should go out, or the Blizzard servers should suffer an outage, or that someone might live somewhere that internet access is spotty or absent completely), and it’s time to let people do what they wish with modded game modes. No, I am not asking you to allow people to make mods to use on Blizzard Servers nor do I expect any permissions granted for anything that could be described as a hack. I am talking about the game overhauls that still make Diablo 2 one of the best gaming experiences there is. Median XL, Nezeramontias, Eastern Sun…all amazing Diablo 2 Mods. You have a framework in Diablo 3 for these kinds of experiences and more. Let people use them and don’t threaten to ban them for doing something that is not only harmless but now won’t affect your bottom line negatively in any way since the incentive to lock people onto your own servers (the auction house) is going away.

2) More Diablo 2 flavor.
One of the bigger complaints about Diablo 3 was that it deviated so far from aspects that made the first two installments so enjoyable. Stat selection with no way to undo changes is outmoded, and a skillpoint-free system streamlines the game, okay, I get it, but I miss finding gear with +1 to all [class] skills. Give us some more of the things that we loved from Diablo 2 or something similar to them. Socketable Runes, Jewels, Charms things that made Lord of Destruction such a necessary and fantastic addition to D2 Vanilla need to make a comeback. Even if you don’t want to upset the balance of the Gems that exist already, then add new types of sockets (Gem Only, Rune Only, etc.). I thought you were on a really great path with the Nephalem Cube in beta, but that went away really fast. I’d like to see crafting more dependent on materials than gold. The Horadric Cube was such a brilliant and unique addition to Diablo 2 and the artisans are a great addition for Diablo 3, but something still feels hollow about it. Like I’m not crafting things myself.

3) A worthwhile Collector’s edition
This isn’t really a gameplay thing, I guess…but the Collector’s Edition for Mists of Pandaria, and Heart of the Swarm were, to put it nicely, disappointing. I’ve seen more importance placed on the in-game glitter lately than effort toward creating a tangible bonus to really make people want to pay that premium.

4) A reasonable venue to trade things (the hard way) since we’re not going to have any other choice (according to the EULA)
I don’t know what your plans are beyond the very specific “On March 18, 2014 the auction house will be shut down” statement, but I’m sure you realize people are still going to want to buy/sell/trade with one another for other in-game items and gold. It would be very nice if there was an elegant trading method available to players to exchange things within the game. A chat channel of some kind where items can be easily linked is a good start, but I think you can do better than that, even.

Whatever it is, please don’t just leave people to their own devices. Then all we’ll ever see is advertisement spam from both players and the goldfarms. This will make people hate you and this game, and as much as I don’t agree with a lot of the decisions you have collectively made recently, I really don’t want to see that happen. I want to enjoy this game, I want to see other people enjoy this game and I want to see it live in perpetuity the way Diablo 2 does to this day.

Help us help you. Seriously.




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