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  • beige 2:45 pm on December 12, 2012 Permalink  

    Hey Canadians, I know at least one of you is using a service similar to GameFly in Canada — we’ve discussed it on the box before. You know, pay set price, have X games sent to you… I want to put it in my Christmas list as something to try out but I can’t remember which of you gave me the original recommendation…

  • beige 4:39 pm on December 10, 2012 Permalink  

    Yep: Miasmata. Good stuff, assuming you accept:

    It’s a game about cartography…
    … and botany.
    … and, often times, hiding nervously and keeping still for long periods of time.

    You’re either in on that 100% or you’re not.

    Sure, it’s not anywhere near AAA, but I am in total awe that this game was made by LITERALLY two dudes. It’s atmospheric! It looks good! Not amazing, but good! Let’s see you build an engine that looks that good, buddy.

    Take Skyrim, remove all the fighting and leveling up and RPG trappings. Items, HP, just forget all that.

    Just a big ass world to explore with stuff (meaning mostly plants rare and not so rare) in it. Do you like exploring? The sensation of standing on a hill while holding a map and looking at some big crazy Easter Island head while saying “OK, well if that head is here, and Y is HERE, then that means I am HERE” then this game is for you. If you like saying “it looks on my map like I can reach camp X if I walk to the river and then strike out Northwest, but… shit.. it’s 4pm already, can I do it before it gets dark?” Then this game is for you.

    Triangulation. Here are the two things you can do with it:

    a) Find out where you are in physical space if you can visually identify two landmarks whose location you already know with 100% certainty

    b) Find out in theoretical space precisely where a third landmark is located if you can see that landmark from two separate places whose location you also know with 100% certainty.

    The game starts you off within the first 10 minutes with a scrap of a map that will provide you with your jumping off point for point A, above. For B, you’re on your own. Either find more scraps of map or triangulate those crazy things in the distance that you can see from somewhere you already have mapped.

    Most of the time following the map clues is easy. Many maps or map scraps you can find flesh out the world and give you at least basic dotted line style guidelines to other places you should be checking out. “That rare flower is somewhere in this vaguely circled hill shown on this scrap of map, and it likes to grow on the back sides of fallen logs in places where shadows are deep.” Great. I can work with that.

    Sometimes though? Fuck. Once you lose your orientation badly you’re hosed until you can pick it up again. At that point, hope your canteen has lots of water to survive with, cause you are well and truly on your own son.

    Common occurance: Running from the creature, slipped and slid down an incline by accident, rolled ass over teakettle, fell unconscious. Woke up in the dark, with a fever that (thankfully) we’d made some medicine for. Injured, total darkness. No goddamn idea where we are in physical space. Naturally, your position in spacetime is not magically shown and updated on the paper map you have in your hands. It’s a paper map.

    How disorienting can this be? VERY.

    When I was a teenager I was briefly lost in Algonquin park on a canoe trip with my dad. Like Miasmata, it was an island so I wasn’t going far, but like Miasmata the experience was EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE. All I could do was walk forwards through the pitch blackness of the forest trees trying not to slip and hurt myself until I hit the waters edge, listening for sounds and trying as hard as I could to figure out where I was. Miasmata at night? Pretty much exactly like this. Can you wander around blindly in the dark jumping at sounds until you die of thirst and exposure or are killed by a stalking beast? Yes.

    Fortunately your character is some kind of science badass so with the right recipes you can start mixing high-level concoctions that can do things like temporarily (or permanently, with super rare plant synthesis injections) increase your ability to run without falling over from exhaustion, scrabble up cliffs, and can increase your awareness of your surroundings with beneficial drugs. I really enjoy how “increasing your intelligence stat” in the game translates into practical upgrades like increasing your stealth or being able to always percieve the threat direction of the stalking beast if you crouch and keep silent. Yes, you totally can grab a bunch of crazy poisonous fungus and fuse it with an anti-toxin to make an intelligence potion that will let you know briefly where you are on the map. It works, bitches.

    Hell, just using a microscope in the first person – you know, to make slides of leaf cells like they taught you in biology class — was a new one on me… and I’ve been playing videogames since there were videogames to play. In hindsight, why has this taken so long?

  • beige 3:25 pm on December 10, 2012 Permalink  

    I can’t get both feet in Sinfony’s camp because, y’know… it’s me. Still, I have to say that I am coming to appreciate Sinfony’s perspective more and more.

    Basically it’s this: If you’re going to tell a story in your game, please try to tell a good one. That’s all. Walking Dead? Corpse Party? Persona 4? Uncharted 2? Planescape? We still talk about those stories, in some cases a decade later, because they were good stories with enjoyable characters and plot/pacing etc. I put your tears in a jar. Drake + Elena forever. We all love it.

    If your character can’t change, die, or go through a character arc or emerge from the story fundamentally different than when he/she went in however (which is the business case for most IPs) then you’re not going to have a good story, period.

    Directed experiences though, hmm. Most of the time recently they seem to be full of failure. I point you to my weekend fighting PVC-clad leather nuns in Hitman:Absolution as Exhibit A of why we can’t have nice things.

    Telling your story by observing/discovering things inside the world is a great concept pretty much unique to video games that isn’t nearly explored enough in the gaming landscape. I tells you what though, if I have to suffer through another game in which my cues about the world are told through lazy serindipity and audio diaries left myseteriously lying about I’m… well, I probably won’t do anything much, but I’ll be disappointed. This includes Bioshock Infinite.

    Think about Drake doing down with the torch in Uncharted 2 into the cave where Marco’s Men were holed up and talking about how “they all killed each other here”. Now think about that presented routinely in games with the intelligence of the audience respected. “What happened here? What is this place? What am I seeing? What can I piece together?” You can do this without the audio diaries people. REALLY YOU CAN.

    I get annoyed every time I hear Dishonored nominated for best of yadda yadda because honsestly, here’s the unvarnished truth: Everything that was good about Dishonored from the flavor of Dunwall to the factions to the world’s mythology was ripped off wholeheartedly from Thief and all other stuff it brought to the table on its own (including Corvo but excepting the constant emphasis on whaling for no goddamn reason) was just very generic an instantly forgettable. I’m not sure that it counts as deep immersive worldbuilding if you just crib from someone else’s notes.

    Stories told by exploring the world and things? Not utilized nearly enough. Journey was one of the better stories of 2012 despite not having a word of spoken dialogue. Dark Souls was maddeningly intriguing because it constnatly questioned the wanderer with weird place names like the Shrine of Artorias and the Sword of Artorias the Abyss Walker without telling you a damn thing about Artorias. It was clear that the Devs were in on the joke – they knew exactly what their own mythology was about.

    Spearking of Dark Souls: I LITERALLY did a happy dance in place when I first heard on Saturday that Dark Souls 2 was a thing that was happening. Initially I was sad that they weren’t doing another game called ________ Souls. (Darker?) but then Lynette reasoned “What if it’s set in the same world”, and I was like “OK.” Whatever. Doesn’t matter what they call it, I have no doubt that once again it will be Game of the Year in my mind for 201X whenever it comes out. Like Bowley said, a weird mix of trepidation and excitement. After seeing the crazy leap forward they did last time, who knows what evil design choices have been percolating at From since 2011? Viva la souls.

    Re: SpecOps. Oh yes, Kojima-tacular. Well, more like Western developers daring to go into that crazy fourth wall breaking world that so far only Kojima dares to approach with any regularity. I mean, hey, in the end there the game is LITERALLY talking to you, the player. I mean, yes, he’s talking to Walker, but Walker is just some avatar who Walks forward in 3D space (hence the Walking) who also happens to be voiced by Nathan Drake because, hey, that’s the voice of Action Adventure that comes standard issue with That Videogame Character. Jager is talking to YOU, no question.

    What is sophisticated about SpecOps IMO (and we’ll talk about this on the show, assuming we do one) is that the game neither moralizes nor directly preaches its thematic premise to the player – which would have been the easy route and no doubt the route taken by 99% of game writers. A good story should have YOU asking the questions.

    Here’s what Spec Ops does, and why I hold it in such high regard: Throughout the entire experience it constantly asks You The Player to evaluate how thoroughly you are enjoying the Modern Military First Person Shooting Enternainment Experience (TM) that Jager has been faithfully supplying at your request. Radar pings outward that inquire, but do not provide any definite answer.

    “Yes, 21st century video game enthusiast. Here is the experience you paid money to enjoy. Are you not entertained? Is this not what you wanted? Now you are having so much fun!” Walker himself is basically just a side note there by the end of things.

    I must have watched that last 20 minutes four or five time on YouTube and every time I’m thoroughly impressed by the fact that Jager produced something which is both encapsulated entirely within the boundaries of their videogame world and also so totally not. You can read it either way and it works either way which is – IMO – Fucking Genius.

    As mentioned earlier, just more evidence that the development community is getting “twitchy” about wanting to do more with their games than just Save The World Herp Drp over and over again.

  • beige 9:27 pm on December 7, 2012 Permalink  

    I’ve never played a MOBA game. -____- Well, I guess Monday Night Combat counts.

  • beige 8:41 pm on December 5, 2012 Permalink  

    Wondering if there might be something like a low cost PVR that has both a coaxial TV input and the abillity to record directly to either a USB stick or a DVD that would do the trick…

  • beige 2:55 pm on December 5, 2012 Permalink  

    Hey Squad: I’m going to post something here as opposed to on Facebook to see if one of my fellow nerds can help a brother out. There is basically zero chance of my folks ever stumbling across our little corner of the world and I need to ask a Christmas Question.

    I’m trying to get a nice gift for my parents for Christmas. Note: My folks are luddites. Here are some truths about them:

    • They do not have (and have NEVER had) cable TV, but instead siphon HD signals through the airwaves from Michigan using a digital TV tuner and a big arial on top of our house. They are morally opposed to paying for cable television.
    • Up until recently their favorite thing to do was to record TV shows from standard broadcast networks onto VHS tapes and play them back at leisure.
    • They also liked very much bringing these VHS tapes with TV on them up to their cottage so they could watch shows there in the evening.
    • The cottage has no Internet access, high speed or no. I believe our normal house has a basic, not great, DSL package.

    Their major pain point in life right now is that they have lost the ability to record and move their TV shows because, y’know, VHS tapes being extinct technology 15 years ago and all that. Also, HD signals don’t record to VHS anyway on any piece of modern hardware.

    They’ve been asking recently if there’s some kind of magic solution that can help solve their problem. I am considering the alternatives – a DVD Recorder would be the closest thing to a technology they understood, but even DVD Recorders are going the way of the dodo in 2012. I don’t want to saddle them with something that will just be obsolete again.

    Two christmases ago I bought them an iPod, and they’ve been able to successfully integrate both iTunes and podcasting into their lives. They can learn things.

    I’m at the point in life where pretty much all of my media comes down the fat pipe from my ISP. Netflix is a possibility for them (if I get some kind of appliance) but it doesn’t solve their problem of not being able to migrate their shows North to a place without Internet access.

    Anybody know if a device exists that can record a TV signal to MP4 format? Something that could play on a boxee? Any other solution would be considered as well.

    Confused, trying to be a good son.

    • Beige
  • beige 4:41 pm on December 3, 2012 Permalink  

    Hey, have you guys seen Miasmata? It’s a weird little title recently greenlit on Steam. I’m going to pick it up and give a report back.

    I can’t exactly tell 100% from the demo materials available, but it looks similar to that game I’m always yammering on about wanting to play in which a protagonist is “stranded somewhere” and as a consequence has to forage for survival materials Minecraft-style while exploring the wilderness, discovering things and learning about the capital-T Truth.

    From what I’ve seen online, this is basically what Miasmata is. Your character is some kind of scientist on a mysterious island (NOT in space) foraging for a cure to some disease or other. He has to hunt and collect plants, wildlife and resources from various places around the island. There are survival elements, hunting and I believe fishing — also there’s some kind of dangerous beast haunting the island that you have to constantly sneak around from and/or hide from. Plants to seek out and collect, chemistry and crafting that happens back at Home Base. Sliding down mud hills into secret gullies, even (yes!) doing actual cartography to find your way around using things like map triangulation and local landforms as points of reference.

    Anyway, no idea whether it’ll be great or just kind of indifferent, but I’ll let you know.

    @UMD We spent some pleasant time with Cargo Commander over the weekend. Not sure exactly if it’s my kind of jam in a “long haul” sense but it has a charming aesthetic and it does what it does well. It’s great at being exactly what it is, which is being a randomly generated score-based loot grabber combined with a risk/reward system that tempts you to overextend and die. Maybe I haven’t given it quite enough time to blossom fully yet into maturity. I’ll go back and keep exploring later.

    At the moment, I’m looking for something that scratches more narrative based appeal elements.

  • beige 2:46 pm on November 29, 2012 Permalink  

    Imma get me some Kerbal as well and we’ll see. We’ll see.
    Actually, I’m going to wait for someone to Squad Santa it to me. THEN we’ll see.

    TECTRON is bad ass. It should combine with its compatriots to form the leg of Harvestor.

  • beige 2:07 pm on November 29, 2012 Permalink  

    @unmanneddrone My god, it’s full of stars…

  • beige 9:51 pm on November 28, 2012 Permalink  

    Fellas! [Yeah] Fellas! [Yeah] Y’all ready to stop? [NO] Y’all ready to stop? [NO] Why? Why? IT’S TIME TO SLAM JAM.

    Is it weird that I actually felt nostalgic when hearing that Barkley music returning in the promo video?

  • beige 9:45 pm on November 28, 2012 Permalink  




  • beige 6:41 pm on November 28, 2012 Permalink  

    It’s pitch week here at the Squadron of Shame!

  • beige 4:43 pm on November 28, 2012 Permalink  

    @UMD You better not be kidding about Farming Simulator. I see that constantly on Steam and am always sort of morbidly fascinated by its existence. I demand writeups! I hate to admit it but it’s possible I would be able to get totally into SimFarm if it were more like Sim City and less like Farmville. That sense of slow progression has always appealed to me.

    @angryjedi As ususal, the games press is not focusing on the same appeal elements in their coverage of Hitman as I would. Now, to be fair, I’m only on chapter 5, so I can’t comment on the story beyond just “so far it seems interesting” and the graphics in the sense of “gosh it’s pretty”.

    Here are some (slight) spoilers: The mission I played last night involved escaping a building while a figurative noose tightened around my neck constantly thanks to escalating actions from the Chicago police department. This sort of “escape as shit goes south” mission hasn’t been seen since Hitman 1, and even then you were escaping AFTER assassinating someone. This time, no target — just “run for your life” which coincidentally was the mission name.

    This mission involved four EXTREMELY different and very tense sequences comprising:

    • A high-pressure, burning building sequence with tons of smoke and shadows and fire, slipping through smoke-grenade style thick covering smoke and embers
    • A whisper quiet sequence in a huge and super interesting environment with tons and tons of environmental detritus and tons of cops, all of whom were casting about with flashlights while bad electrical wiring flickered on and off.
    • A tense cat and mouse sequence with a helicopter that was trying to spotlight me through the windows of a condemned apartment building that bled into…
    • A raid on a huge and super well realized grow-op, with tons of hilarious scripted sequences, giant fields of cannabis ( that I could stealth through for a Challenge) hanging sheafs of hippie beads, blacklight sequences, a disco, a mudbath sauna room and a safecracking min-segment
    • A SWAT team raid on a tenement complex
    • A super impressively realized and extremely tense but veeeeery slow-moving climax escape sequence involving a hugely crowded subway platform and station completely packed with confused commuters. Dozens of cops pushing through crowds, shining flashlights into the faces and ripping the hats off of easily hundreds of NPCs packed shoulder to shoulder, shouting, angry, frustrated because the trains had stopped running. 47 could blend into crowds by standing still, looking away from cops, reading newspapers, fooling with vending machines, etc. Inching slowly, slowly, sloooooooooowly towards the portion of the station where he could flee and make his exit.

    All one mission — many completely different, totally separate flavors of tension with no target in sight. I’m sad that RPS seems bummed on the game, but for my money this kind of thing is exactly what I want in my cinematic exfiltration. It took me all evening to complete the way I wanted to, and it was STILL only 1 of 20 missions in the game. Challenging and tense, I felt exhausted when I finally succeeded in achieving my stealth goals after MUCH trying and retrying. If I go back and do it again, totally different playstyle. I’ll be grabbing swat guys and impersonating officers and walking through crowds using totally different means.

  • beige 3:19 pm on November 28, 2012 Permalink  

    Wii mini, I just… don’t…
    a) I already have a Wii and it doesn’t really do much that I want.
    b) See above.

    @Pete. Fair points, I suppose. I wish I could comment on the quality of Pandora’s Tower. RRRRRGH.

    Finished Resonance. Not much to say beyond my big screed earlier, apart that I thought it was pretty neat in a solid B+ kinda way and I remain a fan of Wadget Eye.

    Wishing there was more in the gaming world right now that was super narrative rich, but I’m on Christmas holiday rations so I won’t be buying anything for myself until after Dec 25. Finished Ep 4 of the Walking Dead, looking forward to its inexorable conclusion next Monday.

    My gaming downtime at the moment is being handled by Hitman: Absolution, which I got for free for trading in both Dishonored and Halo 4. Only 4 missions into it and this trade is already proving to be one of the best gaming decisions I’ve made all year.

    Haven’t seen any discussion about Absolution here on the boards, so I’ll educate the group.

    I’ve been a fan of the Hitman series since the very beginning. Anybody who played the original knows a few things about the series: It’s intelligent, it rewards careful, methodical gameplay. And it used to be BALLS HARD. Further games made the series more ‘accessible’ (Not a fan of that particular euphamism) and took 47 in the direction of more of an Xbox Shooter Kinda Thing with Stealth Elements. IMO this watered down the DNA of the series somewhat, and I’m VERY happy to see Hitman returning to its roots through an injection of a healthy dose of Dark Souls DNA. Seriously.

    Absolution scratches the ‘Mastery Itch’ in a way that Dishonored just couldn’t deliver. What’s REALLY remarkable about the game however is that this super punishing option is one of only a SERIES of options available to people who want to play the game.

    As I’ve mentioned before, the problem I have with stealth games is how they present violent gameplay options (Dishonored’s Guns, Snares, etc) while simultaneously incentivizing nonviolent gameplay. In my case, this results in a playstyle that mandates that if I want to “have the best run I possibly can” it ususally means also not killing anybody, not being detected, etc. As a result, 75% of my inventory never sees the light of day and I miss out on a lot of what these games have to offer me as a player.

    If you played Mark of the Ninja you noticed right away that the game incentivized violence SOME of the time, and stealth SOME of the time through various ingenously clever mechanisms. While you could always get a huge ghost bonus for slipping through a level undetected, you could sometimes get an even BETTER score (XP, mask unlocks, whatever) by fulfilling specifically set objectives like “Kill 5 guys with this weapon” forcing your knife out of the shadows on a regular basis. In my case, I really do need this psychological license from the developers to cut loose before I can be comfortable playing the path of the fist. Once you’re playing, of course it’s fun.

    Hitman innovates on this concept in an even more sophisticated way, and I’m delighted to find such a well designed and satisfying difficulty curve and risk-reward system.

    There are five different levels of playstyle mastery in this game ranging from the brainless to the super masochistic. These levels of mastery are represented on a sliding scale on the selection screen by the following icons: Two pistols, single pistol, silenced pistol, fibrewire garotte, gloved hand simply adjusting stickpin on tie”. I am playing on “Garotte” icon – 4/5 difficulty. Flavor text for this level indicates that I will not be able to autosave or set my own checkpoints and that I’d better be prepared to retry, retry and retry sections as a result if I want that perfect score. Great. I played Dark Souls. This is my kinda player contract.

    Choosing a difficulty level conveys penalties and bonuses.

    Penalties: In my case guards are very aware, stealth is hard, health is very limited, certain helpful interface elements are totally absent (!) and most importantly your pool of “instinct” (the magic resource that does everything from highlighting objectives to handling slow-mo, to “getting you out of trouble if people become suspicious” is limited to a finite quantity that will never regenerate unless you fulfil certain mission objectives. On easier difficulties this meter of magic juice constantly refills, meaning that you constantly can get out of problems by holding down the “save me” button. Not so on Professional.

    Bonuses: Hitman has a persistent XP system where playing on higher difficulties awards larger percentile bonuses to your cumulative XP total throughout the game. Said in English: Let’s say you manage to slip through a specific level undetected, alerting nobody. This will unlock a “mini achievement” called a Challenge that for the rest of the entire game will confer a permanent +5% bonus to all the XP you recieve for the other 19 missions. If you go back and replay the level, or any other, you will still have that +5% from the challenge.

    What is fascinating about this game is that these little Challenges awarded on missions cannot all be accomplished in a single playthrough. Like Mark of the Ninja, the game encourages you to play and replay levels as you master them, accumulating XP that unlocks various level bonuses for 47.

    Challenges are regularly mutually exclusive to one another. On every level for example you can unlock permanent perks by doing things like NEVER using a disguise (“suit only”) but also by using EVERY disguise (“chameleon”) and for executing your target in specific marquee ways – 5% forever for poisoning him, 5% for shooting him with the sniper rifle, 5% for pushing him down a hole, etc. etc.

    The net effect here is to encourage you to play, and then replay and then REPLAY the mission, attempting different strategies, figuring out different methods for winning. It takes quite a long time to get a “feel” for a mission’s character and individual quirks, but after you understand the lay of the land it becomes very easy to improvise as you go.

    My first playthrough of a level often takes between 3 and 4 hours because I feel my way through the level very very gently, discovering all the stealth locations, exploits, tips and tricks as I go. The NEXT playthrough can sometimes be as short as 10 minutes, after I know the lay of the land down pat. I don’t have to worry about re-achieving past accomplishments like stealth goals, so I’ll often do a Disguise Run, then a Ghost Run, then a Violence Run, then some kind of other run to snatch up all the weird silly off-case Challenges (“Capture the one rookie police officer and use him as a human shield at least once!”). My cumulative XP total soars, Agent 47 levels up like a beast. It’s rediculously replayable. Here is the Dark Souls DNA at work: Practice begets familiarity, familiarity begets competence, competence begets mastery. All of these are tangibly rewarded.

    Best of all, at last (finally!) the game uses your cumulative mission totals as a sort of scoreboard to rank your performance as a Hitman against your contemporaries. At the end of every mission I get to see both the worldwide performance totals as well as the Canadian totals.

    It’s difficult to describe the satisfaction of seeing once and for all your own name up there in lights on the scoarboard with statistics like “Average score for Canada for this level is 3,650 – Your personal score for this level: 165,230. This places you at position [X] on the national rankings.” That’s right, I’m a goddamn hitman.

    I’ll never beat those guys who are playing at 5/5 difficulty, but they’re crazy. No interface beyond a single crosshair. NO INTERFACE. Whatever. I’ll take my +100% XP bonus for my 4/5 and say thankya.

  • beige 4:39 pm on November 27, 2012 Permalink  

    @feenwager I don’t understand how I’m supposed to make my friend codes work without the internets.

  • beige 4:14 pm on November 27, 2012 Permalink  

    Allright, allright already! Cargo Commander purchased. Gee whiz. 🙂

  • beige 2:59 pm on November 26, 2012 Permalink  

    Man, Brendan Keogh’s missive on Spec Ops: the Line is really something else. Pete, you may not see directly eye-to-eye with this guy but I have to say that as far as his take on the game goes he and I are very much on the same wavelength.

    For my money it’s an extremely compelling read — that is, if if you find being walked moment-to-moment throughout an entire videogame while analyzing every little single detail and nuance a compelling experience. In tone, I guess it’s something akin to the first segment of our usual squadcast in purely text form. Really deep dive stuff with lots of cultural studies and citations thrown in the margins for that academic flavor. I’m discovering tons of little details that I’d missed in my 2 playthroughs by watching vicariously over the author’s shoulder.

    I guess the best praise I could give for it would be to say that this is probably very similar to the 150 pages that *I* would have dedicated to analyzing The Line if I’d felt like sitting down and writing for several weeks on the subject. It’s a very challenging game intellectually, and while it’s is never stated openly in the text, I think that The Line’s ability to affect its audience is basically directly related to how strongly You the Player have a historical habit of reading meaning and subtext into your video game experiences. If you’re a player like me, with a particular thirst for overlaying this kind of meta-stuff into every facet of your game, Spec Ops will be your crack – satisfying on a level rarely seen in this industry.

    Personally speaking, it definitely helps that in my case specifically the game leans its elbow firmly on all my Mark-specific pleasure points: feelings of guilt, horror, hard-boiled microwave tunnel brutality and film noir style chewing up and spitting out its protagonists in uncompromising fashion in service to a Truth your really don’t want to know but really kinda do want to know. This is me talking though – I’m a huge fan of stories that hold a big fat mirror up to the amorality and emotional brutality of the human condition. Feel bad movies of the year, they’re my thing.

    If you’ve already played the game — or I suppose more importantly if you have NOT played the game and have no intention of actually playing it then you should probably take a spin through this piece of work. It’s a long PDF, but a short book, and reading the entire thing will certainly take far less time than playing Spec Ops. Moreover, the process will definitely convey to you exactly why people like myself consider the game to be such a remarkable achievement. I agree 100% with the author’s statement in the introduction that The Line may not be “the best” games of all time but it’s certainly one of the most significant games.

    It’s the damndest thing for a piece of game journalism — 150 or so pages of prose and fairly wordy… but it’s a fast read full of screenshots and annotations that flies by quickly despite all that. Having someone who is NOT a videogamer editing for readability and approachability was definitely a good idea on the author’s part. I can definitely see forwarding this to some of my academic nongaming friends who are confused about why I spend so much time with these here whatchamacallits and saying “if your read only one thing on the subject of videogames this year, read this.”

    Trying hard and failing to think of very many games where dedicating this kind of time on analysis wouldn’t be pure wankery. In this case, it feels entirely justified.

  • beige 7:41 pm on November 23, 2012 Permalink  

    Just paid $2.99 to download a 50,000 word critical treatise on Spec Ops: The Line written as participant observation. This’ll make some unususal bathroom reading.

    Get it here if you’re curious: https://gumroad.com/l/fsdz

  • beige 5:11 pm on November 23, 2012 Permalink  

    Tangent time: Let’s talk about Resonance.

    I’m probably going to write up a larger post about this at some point in the future, but I wanted to float out the latest from Wadget Eye because I’m coming to believe that this crazy little developer is doing some super interesting things in the adventure genre in a totally underground way. Gemini Rue had some polish problems but as far as adventures go it was actually weirdly competant and surprising in how it handled mechanics like action sequences in adventure games and shooting (!). Also, y’know, the Shivah being the first game we ever did a podcast on and all.

    Elevator pitch: Resonance is an adventure game with four protagonists. At first you play the protagonists independently but as the story goes on they all meet up and start scooby-dooing it up as a team. As parties go, it’s a great cross section: A detective, a journalist, a doctor and a mathematician. All of the characters are interesting, if perhaps not super-professionally voice acted in the manner of most Wadget Eye games.

    Mechancially Resonance is impressive for innovating in a considerable way on the tired old point and click formula of “stroll around, use things on things” – no mean feat. Let me explain:

    The thing that takes the longest to get accustomed to in Resonance is how the game messes around with the standard adventure game format of inventory management. Instead of a single “bag full of your stuff” each of your characters basically carries around 3 totally seperate sets of containers, namely:

    “Inventory” – your bag of stuff – where your items and gear are held. Unique to characters. A large portion of your “everyday stuff” gear can be shared between protagonists but the really marquee items like Detective Bennett’s police badge or a credit card can’t.

    “STM” (Short Term Memory) – an “inventory” of things in the world that you’ve decided your character is paying specific attention to. ANYTHING in the game that it is possible to interact with or look at in the world, from an NPC to a bloodstain on the ground, can be dragged into Short Term Memory. This means that this inventory can potentially hold hundreds if not thousands of things.

    “LTM” (Long Term Memory) – Experiencing events in game will often permanently inscribe ‘flashbacks’ of Long Term Memory when they are experienced. Besides being actionable objects in the same manner as Short Term Memory objects long term memories can be clicked on if you need to “relive” that 5-15 second of time. For example, recalling that clue that someone whispered to you with their dying breath. You can’t manually assign long term memory the way you can STM, but you can unlock things like forgotten or repressed memories by doing stuff in the game.

    OK, so I know that sounds crazy, but let me boil it down for you. What Resonance does effectively through these 3 systems is prevent a player from simply herp derping their way through dialogue puzzles and soforth by just random persistent clicking on the screen or randomly smushing items together in your inventory.

    Through its hugely contextual nature, the game forces you in a much more overt way than most adventure games, to really evaluate WHAT you are looking at and think about HOW you want to handle what you’re seeing. Here’s an example: One of the very first things you do as Ray the Journalist is try to convince a person guarding a desk that they want to leave their post because it is 7:30. You can examine the notes on your phone to know that this person leaves at such-and-such a time, but you can’t just walk up to the desk and click “talk” to solve the problem. You must first look at the clock on the wall (noting its time) and then drag the clock to your “mental inventory”. THEN, when you talk to the person you can “use the item” stored in your short term memory to mention the time. You could have theoretically stored any one of the dozens of items in the room to your STM, the challenge (and the fun?) is making these leaps of logic between items, people and stuff.

    This may sound cumbersome but it’s actually fascinating because of the complex interplay of relationships between memories, items you see or find in the field and people. Just because you CAN file everything in the game in your head, it doesn’t mean you SHOULD. You have to be selective and use your brain.

    More complex example is this: Character A sees a person entering a door at one point and using a secret knock. This is an action which then becomes filed as an item in the Long Term Memory. The character in question doesn’t know jack about what they’re seeing, but she can “use” her long term memory on the Detective character, who does. “Describe this person” dialogue ensues, Detective DOES know this person, cue sequence in the police station. For reasons unexplained here, we need to use the mainframe in the cop shop. Now comes the interplay between characters.

    Detective: Can go anywhere in the police station, can talk to all people there freely, but knows nothing about technology.
    Journalist: Can hack computers, but can’t move freely through police station to get to mainframe.
    Doctor: Saw the actual event. Is sexy chick, can distract guard at main desk.

    Using these three characters’ unique skills, memories and items and working cleverly together, you can solve this puzzle.

    More than anything else, Resonance reminds me of a really really old skool LucasArts game called Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders. It’s a lot closer to Maniac Mansion than Monkey Island in its implementation, only crossed with DNA from a game like Commandos in which you’re using a power team of specialists to attack problems Mission Impossible style with your expertise.

    I really enjoy that each character brings with them a unique set of skills and problem solving tools based on what they’re carrying in their pockets, who the ARE, what they KNOW inherently and what they’ve EXPERIENCED or seen in the game. Having a doctor in the party who knows about medicine is useful. Having a character who has a relationship to NPC X is useful. Having a character who knows quantum mathematics is useful. Sometimes having unique fingerprints is useful.

    So far the story is interesting and pretty engaging, even if the voice acting is typical Wadget Eye B-list and the graphics are (charmingly) pixely. For every line of dialogue that’s delivered with community theater aplomb there’s some kind of surprising interface element, action sequence, minigame or ‘oh snap’ bit of programming or narrative trickery that impresses me.

    Further dispatches coming on this front, but IMO it’s a really neat offering and certainly worth a look for anybody in the Squad who’s got a mild interest in adventure gaming.

  • beige 2:34 pm on November 22, 2012 Permalink  

    No love for Front Mission, mech heads? I mean, yes, you’re not getting the PPC “throw the switches, damn the torpedoes” cockpit effect, but if you want to pore endlessly over spreadsheets waffling between the VBC-22001a at 600 pounds and VBC-X-2200b heating coil at 625 pounds for your heat sink solution, that game basically has it in spades. Also, Beige loves micromanagey tactical games of any kind.

    I love that cockpit feel. The WRZHRW WRZHRW of hydraulic legs stomping across a ruined street somewhere where, as Bowley says, ungodly weapons are deployed against huge behemoths.

    Basically, just that Samurai Jack episode which is 20 minutes of silence and stillness punctuated by gigantic mecha firing huge ridiculous lasers at each other, then silence and stillness.

    Samurai versus Mondo Bot from samurai jack on Vimeo.

  • beige 9:41 pm on November 21, 2012 Permalink  

    Playing the Walking Dead on console over here. Loving it. I’m sure it’s great on computers too, I just like my big TV and couch. Each episode is something ridiculous like 400 Microsoft points, so even despite the Steam sales it’s cheap at twice the price for one of 2012’s best.

  • beige 9:47 pm on November 19, 2012 Permalink  

    Annecdotal, but my good friend and semi-regular gamer Derek was just asking me about the Wii U. He owns both a Wii and a PS3 but when I started speaking to him he was surprised to learn that the Wii U was not actually just a fancy controller for the Wii, but was actually a whole new console.

    He’s not even slightly a casual gamer, just not one of the incredibly tehhardcorez. This is what you call a messaging problem for Nintendo.

  • beige 2:59 pm on November 19, 2012 Permalink  

    @cptcarnage You want some donations for that Squad constellation? I’m happy to chip in.

    Squad iOS users: In case you’re interested I had a fun time this morning with a new iOS game called Devil’s Attorney.

    Elevator pitch. Lawyer game, but not like Phoenix Wright. Turn based strategy (?) (!). I KNOW.

    You’re playing Max McMann — a delightfully horrible individual. Setting: Some ill-defined period obviously in the mid 1980s judging by the opening title movie, neon colors, shoulder pads and crass, hyper-materialistic overtones. Max is a defense lawyer, but unlike Phoenix Wright he is a terribly amoral person and pretty much 100% of his clients are quite obviously guilty as hell from the get-go. Your job is to acquit these horrible people, gaining wealth, status and material posessions in the process.

    Cases begin with the mundane (defending Chinese hot-dog cart guy who is obviously putting questionable meat inside the hot dogs) and escalate in severity from there. Rival lawyers are suitably colorful, with plenty voice-acted zingers and one liners trading across the courtroom floor.

    Gameplay: Turn based. I’m particularly impressed by the fact that this game is the first I’ve seen in a long time to abstract the familiar mechanics of hit points, attacks, etc. into something besides just raw blood and guts and damage. You have a “case strength” (your own internal HP) and each of your “opponents” (lawyer, piece of evidence, witness etc.) has “credibility” score roughly corresponding to its own HP meter. Each round of questioning you must choose various “attacks” ranging from defamations of character, tampering with evidence, swaggering and posturing,etc. which carries various riders on each attack. Your job is to knock out and discredit each adversary using a combination of things like direct damage [interrogate: Does 2-4 credibility points of damage against human witnesses] and various contextual buffs or defenses [bluster: gain 5 case strength points for a single turn], etc. etc. Turn based strategy with, you know, legal stuff.

    Rival lawyers will all have schticks – some do more “damage” based on how many witnesses are in the box, some will gradually increase in “power” during prolonged trials, etc. etc. All have various personalities which you can exploit.

    Winning cases gets you money which you can spend on things like gigantic stereo systems, waterbeds and 80s wallpaper for your apartment. Spending money on these rediculous items levels up your three independent tech trees: Materialsm, Vanity and Decadence. I just bought a supremely tacky faux-ionic-column glistening kitchen makeover (“It’s like it’s classical and contemporary AT THE SAME TIME!”) for my apartment that raised my Decadence +2. As you level up in those three areas, new skills and powers are unlocked.

    Still early in the game, but the production values are very slick for something that costs $2.99 or whatever it is on your phone. Easy recommendation for people like me who love both that inimitable 80s flavor and turn-based gameplay on the go.

  • beige 3:05 pm on November 16, 2012 Permalink  

    A bold move Pete. I’d be in for that, though as you say collective projects can kill alliances. That said, I once spent damn near a year writing and illustrating sprites and programming maps for an old Unlimited Adventures module that probably only me and maybe 3 of my close friends ever played, so I know how using that kind of toolset goes. I’d be interested in doing it for sure, if we could scope a project that wasn’t so ambitious that we fell on our faces.

  • beige 8:41 pm on November 15, 2012 Permalink  

    @Mike I’d be up for that. Have we actually seen the kickstarter yet? I love Barkley but I don’t know if I, like, $1000 love it. Still, that kind of contribution is bad ass. Now that I think about it, I’d totally be willing to do this for some of my other kickfavorites.

    I remember someone asking a while back, so here’s what I’m currently backing on Kickstarter, in case it gives anybody Christmas Ideas.

    • Shadowgate
    • Project Eternity
    • Castle Story
    • Penny Arcade
    • Republique
    • Double Fine Adventure
    • Jane Jensen’s Meobius
    • Legend of the Time Star (unsuccessful)

    Actually, Christmas kickfunding as Christmas present is something that just occurred to me. Hmm.

    Also: It will soon be Squad Secret Santa time, bitches.

  • beige 3:39 pm on November 15, 2012 Permalink  

    Bowley: My second playthrough of Alan Wake skipped the thermoses and was much better for it. Doing that annoying collectibleshit seriously dampened my enthusiasm for the game. It was much better as a straight narrative shot.

    I think you’ll be happy with the resolution apart from one glaring chekov’s gun never firing style annoyance. Replaying Alan Wake, I was reminded what a cool, sophisticated story they were trying to tell here.

    I would say basically that the DLC isn’t really all that relevant to the main storyline, enjoyment wise. For me, it felt more like a bonus track or an Omake. Before I played it, I was raging at the mouth at how they “held the ending back for DLC”. Once I finished the DLC I kind of wished I’d been satisfied with the original ending of the story.

    Still love Alan Wake though. Killer soundtrack, killer presentation. Would buy again. Come on Swedish people, stop fucking around with Max Payne.

  • beige 3:33 pm on November 15, 2012 Permalink  

    Here’s the thing that I’m getting out of the Walking Dead: TV / movie length character-driven storytelling is fun to drive.

    Unfortunate that the Walking Dead (which is great) needs to leverage its TV / comic book branding in order to get noticed and picked up by a wide audience, but I can’t hate on Telltale for sticking with what they know and adapting licensed properties in episodic format. There’s a ton of gold there just waiting to be dug up by some savvy publisher.

    As (Jeff? On a podcast?) said once, “I just want all videogames to be the Walking Dead”. I dunno if I can echo that statement 100%, but what this is saying to me is that there’s a market out there for TV style stories that you play with a controller. Without the terrorists attacking, I mean. Without the apocolypse, even.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the hard emotional choices and whatnot inside the Walking Dead. But those are responses that arise directly from the setting. Same reason Amy Henning was forced to set The Last Of Us inside a postapocolyptic world – they needed something believable where the idea of human drama could mesh with “people shooting guns all the time” without seeming ridiculous in a Nate Drake Kills 10000 Guys Before Breakfast kinda way.

    I would absolutely buy and play triple-A relationship drama slash Breaking Bad slash The Wire if such a thing existed. I think what prevents adoption of this is just publishers being straight up terrified that if they don’t slam jam it out of the park on episode 1 all their hard work will wither an die on the vine because their franchise won’t be successful.

    Whether you can be financially VIABLE with this method though, I’m not sure. Let’s just take modern television as our stock boilerplate for what sells. Police procedurals, medical dramas…. “relatsionship dramas” I guess, if you watch the Women’s Network. Uh, The Wire. BBC shows.

    Anything in this mold – detective stuff, character driven stuff – could easily be done Walking Dead style. Luther? Misfits? Sherlock? I think you could probably also do all of that as videogame television. I’d love someone who knew something about producing TV to weigh in on this and let me know one way or the other what’s more expensive to produce: 2 hours of live action TV or 2 hours of videogame adventure a la Walking Dead. What is more expensive, renting trailers and caterers or rigging and character models? I have no idea.

    What you’re describing Pete is more like Gilmore Girls meets walking dead. This is something I would certainly play, if it existed, but I think what we’re missing is a) obviously, TV-watching-age women who play video games to shore up the market segment and b) is a publisher willing to take a gutsy move.

    This is why I was excited back in the day when Nintento mentioned offhandedly at one of their E3s that they were doing interactive DS mystery series written by notable (female friendly) crime writers. There was also an anime style one I think for teenage boys… nothing ever seemed to come of that. That’s really too bad. Odds are super high that I would actually buy a video game that was written in that style by a famous writer, romance plot and all.

    I think we’re talking about the bridge between Heavy Rain selling for 60 dollars and coming out every 5 years and Walking Dead selling for 6 dollars and coming out five times per year.

    Am I alone here? Well, we’ll never know. I won’t be buying BLOPS2 and I’ll be returning Halo 4 as soon as I’m done it’s unsatisfying single player campaign. To me, this looks like good publisher money left on the table.

  • beige 1:04 am on November 15, 2012 Permalink  

    Agreed. Cruising around listening to Foreigner and letting the neon wash over me like it was Hotline Miami was the definition of the age. Of course since I have the complete set of Billboard top 100 from 1980 to 1989 on my iPod (900 songs!) I get to do that in real life as well. Seriously, you should try those country backroads of Lambton County with some Jan Hammer synth playing at 3am.

  • beige 4:57 pm on November 14, 2012 Permalink  

    Guys. You know I’m not a huge champion of GTA or anything, but if the tone and flavor of the game is anything like the trailer, GTA V will be amazing.

  • beige 9:37 pm on November 13, 2012 Permalink  

    Some of you guys are def getting Spec Ops once steam throws up its Christmas sales.

    Edit: When I played through it the second time I kept my difficulty setting turned up high enough that I died on a regular basis. Dying is actually part of the experience, especially when you consider the kind of meta stuff they end up doing with the various loading screens. They start off very textbook but get very unorthodox and fascinating as you go. Just my two cents, and I totally agree with MJ’s basic premise that dying and restarting a thousand times doesn’t help the flow of the story — but IMO it’s still an important part of the package. For the “full treatment” you want to see those screens.

  • beige 12:27 am on November 12, 2012 Permalink  

    Hey guys, long time no talk what with all the developer’s conferences and kicking fools asses at curling I’ve been attending. Let’s see…

    OK, well just sat down for 2h 15mins of Halo 4. Started it up, thought “gosh this is pretty!” played it… and… yeah. After about 2 hours I was done for the day. Not because there’s anything WRONG with Halo you understand, it’s just… you know…

    I have no doubt I’ll go back to Halo eventually for a few hours per day again until I actually finish the storyline. Then, whoop, back to the store with ye for tradein credits. Perhaps I will convert it + Dishonored into Hitman.

    Speaking of Dishonored, I finished the entire game since we spoke last. I’m happy (?) to report that as a certified Thief evangelist, Dishonored holds the mantle reasonably high for the kind of sneaking around grabbin-and-exploring experience that the youth of today crave, though as Lynette says “This game just makes me want to play Thief again.”

    For fun’s sake, here is a bulleted list of how Dishonored basically rips off Thief whole hog and/or is basically a Thief fanfic or homage.


    • Mildly distopian historical periodpunk setting. Edwardianpunk vs Steampunk. Dunwall and The City are so close in their intangible flavorings that they might be sister cities.
    • Pagan faction vs Civilized Erathis faction as the primary social conflict.
    • No, seriously you guys. Overseers = Hammerites, Nature magic = whale magic (?!) They’re not even trying to be subtle about it.
    • Difficult to put one’s finger on “weird world” flavor that follows its own internal logic but delights in lording over the player the fact that it understands 100% of the micro-lore and world details while you, the player, do not.
    • “Goin to the [Hound Pits] [Bear Pits] Tomorrow?
    • Tons of extraneous flavor which is injected into the world but totally missable in the form of guard conversations, books lying around everywhere, hidden or off the beaten track rooms full of curiosities.
    • “Musta been rats.” Also constant whistling.
    • Choffers = Taffers
    • (grabs loot) bwing bwing bwing. Click those coins. Click them!
    • Enigmatic “Outsider” is totally not the Trickster in another name. Belay that, The Trickster is overtly more malicious… but it’s basically 100% the same thing.
    • Built in rewards for nonlethal play and scaling difficulty system that rewards elaborate, complex solutions. Your task list increases the more stylish and “pro-level” you want to be.
    • Tallboys etc. Are bascially hammerites / mechanists.
    • A straight-up Easter Egg homage in which some assassins recreate the opening moments of Thief 1’s training level, complete with verbatim dialogue rip.
    • “Leaning” and manteling
    • “Flooded Districts” and zombies that are totally not zombies
    • Steampunk magitech

    NOT the same, strangely:

    • Garrett speaks and has a strong personality. Corvo does not. Advantage Garrett.
    • Pickpocketing yes, lockpicking no. Why?
    • Corvo has a lot more magical power than Garrett. He can posess rats and fey step all over the place, the best Garrett ever does is a sword that doesn’t reflect light and some gas crystals. Still, advantage Garrett. Compared to Thief, Corvo just looks like some lazy trust fund kid who got access to his parents’ magical Ferrarri. I do appreciate that you can eventually put crepe rubber on your shoes… something we always complained that Garrett SHOULD be doing.
    • Totally bizarre but kind of endearing fixation on whales and whaling
    • Thief’s doodle maps totally kick the crap out of Dishonored’s not-maps.

    Bascially, at the end of the day, Dishonored was a cromulent homage to a more visionary forbearer, and while totally enjoyable falls somewhat short of the mark of greatness. Even on “as hard as possible” difficulty I found it possible to sleep through most of the stealth sequences without much in the way of real effort, which was a bummer. The gushing praise for Dishonered you hear all over the place comes from people who’ve never played the original Thief 1/ Thief 2 series before. To be fair though, we did certainly enjoy our time in Dunwall considerably and I don’t want to give it a bum rap here. If nothing else, they earn massive points for striking out from the mainstream template and creating a game environment and world resonant with a very distinct (Theify) flavor.

    It should also be said that perhaps some of these grumblings you here above are the result of us just playing that game as if it WERE Thief. I never once made a lethal kill in Dishonored, never used a single offensive power nor explosive shell, nor got into a swordfight with anybody, nor posessed a guard with magic, nor summoned any rats to devour bodies or did anything else that wasn’t basically just skulking around, occasionally nonlethally choking out fools. Your mileage may totally vary depending on how much you enjoy doing that sort of thing. As I said before when we played Deus Ex, we’re basically incapable of doing lethal manouvres if the game rewards nonlethality in any way or fashion. Ended the entire game with zero enemy fatalities, wished I was getting paid to rob people and be a guild hero instead of assassinate them.

    Dishonored’s ending and overall story arc are much weaker that Thief, but it was still OK fun times. B+

    Want to congradulate MJ for his journey though Spec Ops. I have a personal mission to see that we do a podcast on the subject of that game at some point in the future. If any shooter ever deserved the Squad treatment, it was this one. Still #2 in my end-of-year game review after Journey.

    OK, I’m going to chase my Halo indifference by going and pretending to be Sherlock Holmes in an adventure game now. ADIOS!

  • beige 5:46 pm on October 26, 2012 Permalink  


    Jesus christ, all my money is going to theoretical games in 2012.

  • beige 4:30 pm on October 26, 2012 Permalink  

    HELLO. I’ve been away for a while running flat out at work… but… games!

    Finished XCOM. Actually began the final mission, backed out, shot down a couple of battleships, researched the Blaster Launcher (always my favorite weapon from the original) THEN went back into the final mission and finished it.

    Much like Shingro, I could go on and on about the satisfying culmination of the emergent narrative here — how I took the world right to the edge of total panic, calmed things with satellites only to creep up again to total freakout mode after the satellite jolt of morphine wore off after a few months.

    I don’t know if everybody’s game goes down like this or not, but at the end there on Classic difficulty it absolutely came down to a nailbiter in regards to which countries were going to stay or go. Final tally: UK, Australia, China and Mexico were out, four other countries including the USA on the border between orange and red. I never ever had enough money apart from my giant one-time cash infusion from the Chinese. Always, always playing catchup with my underfunded squad, guys rolling out of hospital beds just to get shot up and put back immediately into traction.

    Only in the very very end – the last 3 or 4 missions – did I have anything approximating a squad that matched the vision in my head of what a fully equipped XCOM squad SHOULD be. Titan armor x2, Ghost armor, PSi-Armor and Archangel Suit plus one floating SHIV platform and all the best gear money could buy. Still, those last few missions were magical. Rolling up on Etherials and Mutons like Jesse Ventura with Ol Painless let fully out of the bag.

    Also, fantastic endgame segment featuring Tom “Angel” Taylor – aka the most selfless man in XCOM. Angel, my oldest Support class, had taken 100% of the healing perks trade offs in favor of damage output. He wasn’t a bad ass, he just carried a normal plasma rifle and a ton of medkits, but he was always right there first in line when the team needed him the most, serving up suppressing fire and patching up downed guys by running 3+ squares further to make the save every time. When his Psionic potential became self-evident, Angel took only the buffs that benefited the squad: Defensive cover, mental calming. It was no surprise to anyone in XCOM that when the crazy untested Etherial chamber needed a volunteer, Angel stepped up to the plate knowing that its effects were unknown and couldn’t be estimated on human anatomy at this time. Spoiler alert for my playthrough: Angel ended up going down guns blazing in the final mission, buying enough time so that the rest of the XCOM team could survive and evac savely. I want to picture his serene face there at the end. Sniff. Angel, you were always the best of us. Somewhere, there’s a big Normandy style plaque in XCOM HQ right now with that crazy Australian’s name front and center.

    So what now? Playing a bunch of pixelated, 2D sidescrolling survival horror, that’s what! Finished HOME last night (the whole thing only takes an hour to play end-to-end). Interesting. Can’t wait to talk about it on the podcast. Also sunk a couple of hours into Lone Survivor which is fascinating in a totally different 2D survival horror kinda way.

    Good Haloween times! Someone play Scratches, goddammit.

  • beige 6:03 pm on October 16, 2012 Permalink  

    Oh man, Xcom stories here we go.

    OK, so I’ve been so busy playing that I haven’t got time to swamp the box with tales, but I 100% agree with Shingro that Xcom is actually very strong on story simply by deliberately (and I believe very self consciuosly) creating an environment like FTL where the stories you tell yourself about what’s happening in the game take on tremendous significance.

    I could go on all day with my own experience in this, but here are a few highlights:

    Playing through on Classic difficulty, I’ve been up against the cash crunch wall pretty much constantly. I never, EVER seem to have enough dough on hand to equip Xcom with anything except Crazy Harry’s house of cheap ass armor. Skeleton suits? Laser cannons? Keep dreaming. It’s taking everything I can muster just to keep the terror track low, and since the UK was out of the fight from the second month (The game just would NOT give me any options to save it) there is no cash infusion coming beyond the USA and Russia. My net operating budget PER MONTH is somewhere around 100 credits, after taxes.

    … that is, of course, until the Chinese ponied up out of nowhere 2 days ago with a crazy proposal. Give us 7 plasma rifles and we will give you 1900 credits. You have 25 days.

    Now, my entire stash of rifles even after scrupulously and analy (heh) tasering every last greenblooded son of a bitch I could for the entire game was still something like 2. Blaaah. But the payout. THE PAYOUT! THis windfall had the possibility to fund Xcom and keep us in ice cream sandwiches and foosball tables for 3 YEARS. 5 rifles in 25 days? I had to make it happen. HAD TO. Only… if only the aliens would oblige.

    Of course, the one time I needed them to attack, they wouldn’t. I guess it was Alien Labor Day or something, because the globe just spun there chilling out with a no news is good news attitude. I watched the tracker tick down. I couldn’t afford the 60 credits it cost me to fabricate a SINGLE plasma cannon, not to mention the cost of alien alloys and whatnot. I needed those bastards to show their face. FINALLY, with something like 10 days to go, boom, UFO in the air. It’s a big one – destroyer class – but thank god I’ve been squeezing that stone and eating Kraft Dinner enough to choke out decent enough weapons and upgrades for my interceptors. We managed to bring it down after a tense, bloody fight. XCOM scramble, everybody has arc throwers. Come back with snake men, sectoids and mutons ALIVE or don’t come back.

    What followed was just a horrible goddamn slog of a mission. Easy kill shots passed up over and over in favor of horrible, injury causing close combat manouvers. Aliens punching me in the face, load, reload, reload. Get those plasma rifles. FINALLy when the mission was over, we had 3 more but it wasn’t enough.

    In the end I had to sell pretty much everything we owned that wasn’t already rented out or nailed down to make it happen. Alien power sources, entertainment, bodies. Stuff I had cued up in the research hopper, up on Ebay. All of it up on the grey market in the name of plasma rifle fabrication. We were able to beg, borrow or steal JUST enough to make the deadline – 7 plasmas with two days to spare. I pictured my sad, grumpy soldiers handing over the only good weapons they’d managed to dig up one at a time to the Chinese. We even got a little news ticker in the situation room after the deal. CHINESE POLICE DEPLOY POWERFUL NEW WEAPONS. Yeah, enjoy those guns you Maoists dinks.

    All was forgiven though when the invoice came in. Christmas and birthday both at same time! SHIV research, check. New planes, check. Excavation and satellite purchases, check check. PSI-labs, Officer training, Foundry research. Like the biggest homeland security bailout in the history of bailouts. I was thinking as we walked out of the dropship holding our regular ass rifles but surrounded by amazing tech, rovers, fast reloading clips and augmented pistols with satellites in the sky overhead that plasma rifles were a renewable resource.

    I’ve got a million of these stories, kids. Next up: Col Ivan who went from a totally vanilla and unremarkable squadmember to terrifying psychic commando and immediate battlefront lynchpin once his hidden psychic talents were unleashed on the alien scum.

  • beige 2:31 pm on October 15, 2012 Permalink  

    Can I just say that, yes even though it sounds like Deus Ex HR (because Michael McCann is doing the music in both cases) that XCOM has a goddamn fantastic soundtrack. For me, this thick electronic synth is pitch perfect for getting my little mans stoked up and into the zone. I can’t help myself. Every time there’s a lock-and-load gear up montage on the deployment screen, I want to fist pump with A-Team awesomeness.

  • beige 1:49 pm on October 11, 2012 Permalink  

    Xcom! XCOM!

    Oh man, booted up the console (360) version of XCOM last night. Thoughts:

    Nervous hope has been the name of the game since the series relaunch was announced. Firaxis is maybe the #1 developer I would have tapped to handle this sort of delicate task, so expectations were running high even from the get-go that the game might actually turn out OK.

    I knew I was in for a treat when I saw my square jawed Delta Squad bravos storming this German industrial warehouse during the tutorial sequence. Clean, intuitive interface and core gameplay ideas ripped straight out of Necromunda (have I mentioned I played a hell of a lot of Necromunda in college? Coincidentally at about the same time as I was playing X-Com?). Right away these guys were tickling my buttons with their cheesy beefthick guns and armor and overly serious mannerisms. I kind of love that Sci-Fi channel special feel that everything has — you know, B-movie played 100% straight for the sake of the audience?

    The tutorial forces your squad to be annhialated down to a single soldier, which I appreciated very much. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed hating on the sectoids and co. With their beady little eyes and hidin’ mindcontrolley ways they’re just thoroughly unlikable entities. Lots of enjoyable references to greenblooded alien scum, lots of ass whoopin’.

    After I got back to the base I was delighted by the little details Firaxis has put in there. Soft-spoken avuncular old boss engineer and little-too-excited-about-anal-probing German head scientist are interesting characters in their own right. I love the Fire Emblem 1 style gimmick of everybody speaking directly to you, the player, through the TV. (cutscene: Control, speaking to the other NPCs says “We’ll do it if the commander gives us permission” – cut to Control walking up to you and staring at the screen “Commander, the crew has something we need to ask you”…)

    Guys running on treadmills in the gym. Little vignettes of your actual squaddies playing pool or recouperating in the medlab if they get shot up on missions. Bagpipes in the memorial hall — the exhileration of watching the entire mission control pit crew erupt into spontaneous applause, whoops and high-fives “curiosity rover style” the first time you successfully shoot down a flying saucer. So much attention to detail and player experience here. It’s so obvious that whoever designed this game looooved XCOM.

    One thing though: No autosave by default with the console’s default settings. I was on mission 3, and my team was getting absolutely annhialated by snakeman fire. Decided to pull the plug and restart from the beginning of the level. Brought up my console and… what? No saves, no checkpoints, no “reload from…” Nothing. I literally had to start the entire game again from the very beginning, tutorial included. Boooo. When was the last time you ran up across this old chestnut? Save early save often kids.

    Why console? As vs PC? Dunno, apart from maybe a) Couch and 72″ tv and b) a sort of perverse facinatinon to see whether or not you could actually do actual XCOM, in 2012, on mainstream living room devices. I’m pleased as punch to report that the entire game controls buttery smooth with a controller in hand. Like a CSI investigator, I spent the whole evening scanning every portion of the available interface, watching how “hold R to view upcoming events” / “hold L to zoom around base” “Y = go to ! marker” was incorporated into a really, really smartly designed UI. I mean, it’d have to be, right? RTS on console is so crazy to begin with, the whole thing lives or dies based on whether they can actually design to the controller and, wonder of wonders, it all works beautifully.

    Little marching ants lines snapping intelligently to cover points, subtle acceleration cues on the onscreen cursor and commands that are a breeze to input, smart use of UI elements to keep you from being intimidated from the controls. It’s as well designed for a couch experience as Xcom could possibly be.

    Every now and then I run into a definite lack of something that only a series vet like me would even think to notice. No encumbrance, no “allocate ammo to your guys” no “picking up stuff off the ground”. No stamina guage, etc. Your dudes are promoted based off what the game guages as their strengths rather that just simply upgrading organically based on how you play with them. It’s much less micromanagey – maybe it’s a better game for it… but I miss the rediculous wheels within wheels that was the original experience.

    Still, the whole upgrading chain is handled by people who obviously put tons of thought into design. I appreciate the little Necromunda / D&D 4E touches with things like your leader class units having basically to choose between 2 equally good options every time they rank up. Will you go with “lead the attack” warlord powers or will you sacrifice team bonuses for the ability to snap shot a few rounds after you take a double-move action? The choice is yours.

    Also, damn, did they ever slam dunk the musical score. I love that soft synth that increases in intensity during those nailbiting evac runs.

    So yeah, basically XCOM is something you should play.

  • beige 1:32 pm on October 10, 2012 Permalink  

    I’ve been meaning to compare and contrast Home vs Sole Survivor – AKA, “those 2 pixelated 2D survival horror games”. All Hallows Eve is as good a reason as any to trot them both out and give them a wiggle. Also Slender, which I hear is supposedly both short and great.

    Amnesia? Yeah, awesome stuff. It was on our must play horror list for the last year. If you haven’t tried it you really should. It’s the the most solid experience end-to-end but much like Scratches (which I also heartily recommend for those of you looking to spook yourselves) it contains a number of memorable moments which will permanently ingrain themselves into your memory lexicon.

    I’d certainly be up for a horror show, if we were doing it comunally. Not sure RE6 counts anymore, as you say “sliding along the ground, dropping mines in front of zombies” is certainly a thing – but horror it ain’t.

  • beige 3:28 pm on October 9, 2012 Permalink  

    Today is a happy day. XCOM vs Dishonored. Two great tastes that apparently taste independently great.

    Today I’ll be strolling to the store (or clicking through to it at least) to pick up at least one or both of these titles. Dishonored, I figure, falls pretty squarely into the Bowley “Don’t buy this game until 6 months after release” wheelhouse, and I’d hold back if I thought I could. But who’s kidding who here? This thing is the spiritual successor to games like Thief. We’re playing it.

    My problem, I find, is now one of platform choice. Dishonored is pretty obviously a shoe-in for my one remaining “quiet” console (the 360) in preference to the loudness which is my Playstation 3. It just seems like a console title — though I have no idea which of the bizarre retailer-specific preorder bonus playstyle gimmicks I’ll go with. Almost certainly this means that I’ll be going with none of the above and playing vanilla Dishonored. Haven’t seen a preorder bonus yet that I couldn’t live without.

    Secondly: XCOM. Obviously this is going to happen but I’m having a bitch of a time deciding whether I want to go with the 360 version or the PC version. PC Xcom will no doubt run slightly better and have better graphics and more precise controls, but when you’re talking long games, when all is said and done I much prefer sitting in my pleasant living room on my couch with my big screen TV to hunkering down in the basement. If the experience wasn’t by all accounts so close, I’m sure I’d have an easier time with it. What are all yall considering?

    Either way: FUN TIMES ARE HERE.

  • beige 4:14 pm on October 5, 2012 Permalink  

    Yeah, Homeworld. Awesome stuff. What I most remember (as you’ll probably hear if you listen to our ancient Squadcast on the subject) was that while there wans’t much dialoge, the dialogue that WAS there was very well delivered. I still remember the “Kharak is… burning…” line delivered by one of your subordinates in a voice halfway between crying and deadpan sending a chill up my spine.

    You can go TOO far with this of course, and Infinite Space is the example. Guys, throw me at least some kind of characterization bone with your (admittedly very pretty) excel simulator.

    FTL strangely? Huge character and personality despite having basically zero dialogue OR voice acting whatsoever. I never get tired of watching slugs and mantis fire lasers at each other while little ion pew pews and beam zzzztttz fire back across my ship’s broadside.

  • beige 9:16 pm on October 1, 2012 Permalink  

    Yes, yes, HALO, I know. But this is still the kind of thing that I think UMD sees jumping over the fence before he goes to sleep.

  • beige 8:44 pm on October 1, 2012 Permalink  

    @Bowls: Torchlight 2 for sure this week. I’ve got to pick up a turkey on Tuesday so that we can have it for thanksgiving dinner on Monday, but otherwise I’m down.

    We’ve been spending some time in Tokyo Jungle, but only in fits and starts. I have about a 45 minute window per day where TJ remains entertaining without being overly repetitive, so I’ll go in there and unlock an animal and get out. Kind of like doing a crossword or a sudoku. I’m in for the long haul with this one, no rush.

    (Watching Lynette play) a lot of FTL, still loving it. Haven’t been able to take down the flagship yet, but we’ve fought it a few times and have reached at least Phase 2 of the battle where it jumps away after having the port side blown off and you have to start chasing it around the star map. Amazing stuff, and I have a ton to say about it. This is all percolating in a saved email that just keeps getting longer and longer, but I’ll let you know when it’s ready. Have you played this one yet Bowls? I have a feeling it’s up your alley.

    Went back to play P4 Arena after totally throwing that game under the bus in favor of Sleeping Dogs when it came out last month. Unlocked about half the characters now, working my way through the CRAZY LONG story modes for each character. Press X for half an hour, 30 second fight, press X for half an hour, repeat. It’s a very good thing that I love these characters enough to do that because otherwise this kind of behavior would be madness.

    The Last Story: Again, thrown under the bus and forgotten for about a month but it’s back on the table. My plan is to walk slowly towards the exit, crossing off sidequests on the way.

    I feel strangely sad to be in the negative nitpicker camp on The Last Story and find myself agreeing with reviewers who imply in a roundabout way that maybe the Gooch or the JRPG have lost their touch. Don’t get me wrong, I like the characters well enough but for some reason TLS isn’t quite grabbing me the way I want to be manhandled by RPGs. It’s weird, because all the pins line up on this one: Non iterative (ish) combat, a decent crew with great quality voice acting, Uematsu on music. How can this hit me with such indifference? Answer: I guess just by being more of the same RPG that you’ve played a thousand times. Zael is neither memorable nor forgettable. Same quest, mystic destiny, secret maguffin given to the protagonist, save the world, spiky hair, forgotten being, moustache twirling villains. You can’t really go back from Persona that easily. I’ve got a touch of spiky haired burnout in the way that I have shooter fatigue.

    Watched a bit of Misfits, played board games with friends. Took down the gazebo in the backyard for the winter. Good weekend. Good times.

    Anyone else feel bad about RE6? Part of me is happy to see some people unafraid to take down a AAA franchise on charges of boring, seen-it-before style gameplay but I kinda wish it didn’t have to be Resident Evil that bears this particular mark of shame. So many western titles like Infamous, COD or what-have-you are just as guilty of trying so hard to be The Video Game ™ that they end up forgetting who they are. Stand for nothing, fall over, sure… but the RE series has long had such a strong identity about itself, you’d kinda hope they’d have learned from the mistakes of RE 5 and gone back to the more identifyable, goofy franchise dumb horror schlock roots.

    I mean, Chris Redfield screaming about soldiers and shooting M-16s is the absolute opposite of what I was ever interested in when it came to the series. Leon doing suplexes, tiny midgets dressed as napoleon, railguns, green herb and STARS: Good. Also stupid huge scorpions or whatever: Yes. More of this.

    Once you’ve played Spec Ops: The Line you’ve seen the current apex of where the bar currently is for the “Military guys chaotically scream at one another” genre. You just can’t go back to the weaksauce, no way.

  • beige 1:50 pm on September 27, 2012 Permalink  

    Art project! We should do one. How many other people in the Squad have artistic leanings? Maybe some kind of exquisite corpse thing?

    Steam Users: If you haven’t played half-minute hero on XBLA it’s on Steam today. You should absolutely own this, it’s fantastic.

  • beige 2:15 pm on September 26, 2012 Permalink  


    I’ll be the one to level this report, since it sounds like I’m the only one here who’s actually interested in this bizarre little PSN number. Can it possibly live up to the hype?

    So, yeah, obviously going into TJ you want to keep your expectations in line with what ten bucks is going to get you on PSN. It’s not Assassin’s Creed III here. You’re buying character, not necessarily depth and polish.

    That said…

    If novelty is the rarest commodity in gaming in 2012, Tokyo Jungle has it in spades. You begin the game (after a brief tutorial) with the ability to begin “survival mode” with one of two characters: A pomeranian (predator) and sika deer (prey). Carnivores obviously survive by hunting and killing other animals, herbivores survive by eating plants, which you can find randomly lying around.

    TJ is roguelike in a lot of its sensibilities. You begin the (survival mode) game at age zero, and are immediately tasked with 4 randomly generated objectives like “find a mate” or “make 2 perfect stealth kills”. Every ten “years” of gametime (1 year equals one minute) your creature gets another set of four objectives to fulfill, with the catch being that animals only live into old age for 15 years. Extend your genetic line or die. Death is permanent, but you can live on through your children. Wait, what?

    My first playthrough my pomeranian was heavy on the exploration, but I ended up starving to death out in the wilderness. Then I lived for 2 generations before eating some rotten cats who were full of disease and died. Then I got fleas, but it’s OK since I picked up random pet shampoo that removes the “fleas” condition. Also a delightful knitted cap. At some point I tried to bite a cow and was kicked to death.

    Unlocked some “story mode”. Played a bit of the pomeranian specific “TOY DOG NO MORE!” plotline. Escaped my old sheltered life as an apartment dog, found a mate, holed up in an apartment block and had puppies. Sent them out to kill the neighborhood cat boss and dragged his carcass back to the apartment so that my family of pomeranian pups could feed and grow strong.

    Spent some time playing as a sika deer. Swift movement, double jumps. Fast escape, but I stumbled on a hyena accidentally during the night and was slain instantly by having my throat ripped out. Restart. Should have used the herbivore specific “throw family member literally to the wolves” command to sacrifice one of my brood to create an escape vector. Next time.

    My efforts as a pomeranian had unlocked the chick by this point in time. Floated around, experienced life as a slow moving defenseless mcnugget. Unlocked some more diaries explaining the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the human race. Slept the night away in a nest, woke up to discover I’d matured into a white rooster. Discovered that chickens (with their swift movement, flapping jumps and kicky feet) are totally badass as a playable character. Tried to find a mate, was slain and eaten by a pig instead. Restart.

    So… yeah. Basically it’s nutty as hell. I don’t know how long this will keep my interest, but for the moment Tokyo Jungle is a strange and unknown flavor I’ll definitely keep exploring.

  • beige 3:44 pm on September 19, 2012 Permalink  

    Hey Squad: Borderlands…

    I have only the most passing interest in Borderlands at all, but considering all the fun we’ve had with Dungeon Defenders, Diablo, etc. it may be time for another Multiplayer Mash. Who among you will be taking this out for a spin? I am only interested in playing it alongside other Squaddies, so I’m guessing that PC will be the way to go. Show of hands of who’s interested?

  • beige 8:19 pm on September 17, 2012 Permalink  

    Mark of the Ninja is a hell of a thing. You should play it. Just sayin:’

    I’ve been too busy enjoying myself in Dust: Elysian Tail to boot it up before last night, but damn if I wasn’t immediately impressed. I love me some stealth gameplay, even (apparently) in 2D. Big props for them including what I consider to be a “Thief Style” difficulty scale, in which you are rewarded for doing elaborately more and more complicated sorts of things.

    Just wish that (as is the problem with ALL stealth titles) that the “ghost mode” bonus didn’t always outweigh the “killing guys” bonus. Look, it’s not about killing guys, and this I totally get. I just feel sad that in a Ninja game (and, after discovering how COOL it is to, for example, hang down from a chain like a black widow and yank fools off the ground) I find myself buying powerups (jumping kick!) that I’m never, ever going to use because, you know, jumping and kicking someone in the face is a thing that amateurs who don’t sneak silently past guards need to do. Thank goodness that they put in some occasional incentives in the form of those extra mission objectives for things like “kill five mooks and stuff their bodies in five dumpsters” otherwise that ninja-to would never get used. Same reason I played through DX: Human Revolution without seeing an animation for a lethal takedown. Let’s take it back to Thief and just have “the purpose of this guy is NOT to kill people” mode. Except, you know, Ninjas. Their purpose IS to flip out and kill people. But you earn objectively less honor for this. You see my problem.

    Seaking of Dust: Dude, if you are one single person and you program / storyboard / illustrate / animate / design literally EVERYTHING in this package except for the music which you contracted out to someone else, then I salute you, sir. Lengthwise, experiencewise, stylewise Dust is right up there at the top of the genre. Sure, it may not have quite the scope and sweep of a Symphony of the night, but damn if it doesn’t still represent.. like… sistine chapel levels of dedication.

    Gorgeous art, tight controls, even up to and including one of the most ram bam slam final epic boss fights and conclusions I’ve played in a Metroidvania title. Who the heck IS this guy? He deserves a gold star, or at least all the money that people a popular one man show on XBLA can provide.

    Sorry for the wait on the podcast, but they’s a lot of games in there. Might be Alpha Protocol next – many have made a good case for it.

    … after Toyko Jungle, of course.

  • beige 4:51 pm on September 14, 2012 Permalink  

    Oh man, the Double Dragon Neon soundtrack, which you can listen to for TOTALLY FREE, is totally radical. Someone needs to buy this so we can play it together and freeze-frame fist bump. Tweedling guitar solo.

  • beige 3:41 pm on September 12, 2012 Permalink  

    Awesomeness: In light of the Steam TV interface: Reddit thread about how to build a steam box for your TV for the price of a console. For those of you who are considering it, like me.

    Also, if you love Wing Commander, you really should go to this page and enter “42” as the password. I don’t know what it’s gonna be, but I’m in line.

  • beige 5:37 pm on September 10, 2012 Permalink  

    I’ll put down my experince with MMOJ to being (thankfully?) totally ignorant of most mobile development paradigms then.

  • beige 1:43 pm on September 10, 2012 Permalink  

    Whoa! Cyberpunk text adventure outa nowhere. I’d hit that. Alex: Where does he find these wonderful toys?

    So I grabbed the Double Fine iOS’ joint “Middle Manager of Justice” before the Internet discovered that it was basically a leaked beta that ended up on the iOS store totally by accident. Oh well. Plays fine so far! I’m a bit torn on whether I want to keep fooling around with it or wait until they update their shizz and go back for the real game.

    Upside: Trademark Tim Schaffer style humor with great art and music. I have two superheroes who took down (“We get it! You have a skull for a face!”) villain Skullface at a boss lair battle today. Did some paperwork, improved morale of my team through use of a powerpoint presentation that had a nice acrostic for “S-U-P-E-R” on it.

    Downside: Razzum frazzum “energy” mechanic. I swore I’d never play one of these, but it’s Double Fine. I’ll give them a shot, but… gah!

  • beige 1:07 pm on September 6, 2012 Permalink  

    I like friends. I also like Natural Selection, such as I remember it. Will certainly be playing if the Squad decides that it’s a thing we’re into.

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