Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Spider-Man Edge of Time

In the year 2099, Walker Sloan, a scientist at Alchemax, is researching time travel for the sole purpose of re-writing history so he can introduce all of Alchemax's discoveries early and take credit for them.  Miguel O'Hara, a.k.a. Spider-Man 2099 can't let this happen.  Especially when he finds out that in this new timeline Walker Sloan is going to kill Peter Parker, the original Spider-Man.  So, Spider-Man 2099 creates a chronal link with Peter Parker so he can talk across time and warn him.  And then things get really complicated...

Throughout Spider-Man: The Edge of Time, the other timeline (2099 if you're currently Peter Parker or Peter Parker's time if you're Miguel O'Hara) will pop up in the corner to show what danger they're currently in or what effect your actions have had on the other timeline.  All of these events are scripted and the ones you have to actually succeed within a certain time have a timer displayed to indicate that.  Generally when a game says "You have to do this immediately!" I will specifically take my time and do everything but that.  However, just like the Uncharted series, for this particular game, I went with the sense of danger and tension and it made the whole game a much more cinematic experience.  And ultimately, that's what this game is, a really long, really epic movie.

Make no mistake, this is a very linear experience.  As stated above, all time changes and dramatic events are scripted, so ultimately, it's just a bunch of fight, chase, and boss scenes gameplay-wise, but the story is top notch, the voice acting is perfect (Spider-Man 2099 is voiced by the actor who was Spider-Man's voice in the 90's cartoon show), and the difficulty is just right.  Aside from the story, there are a large number of challenges (a Web of Challenges, in fact) that can be done to earn different costumes and concept art.  These challenges are unlocked as you go through the story and can be replayed individually at any time. They are just difficult enough to require skill, but there is just enough of a margin of error on all of them that they don't require you to be perfect.  I guess you're supposed to complete them as you complete the story since they award you with upgrade points you can use to make the game easier, but I waited until the very end to complete them all and the game wasn't too difficult.

I would highly recommend this game to anyone who is looking for the video game equivalent of the summer blockbuster, especially if you're a fan of Spider-Man (the loading screens are chock full of fun Spider-Man trivia).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cartoons I Grew Up On: Pirates of Dark Water

Mixing alien worlds with piratical themes, The Pirates of Dark Water is all about one man's quest to recover the thirteen treasures of Rule to save his planet from a mysterious dark substance in the water that eats whatever it touches.  He is joined by a gruff pirate (who turns out to have a heart of gold), a feisty female, and a monkey-bird.  However, the evil pirate Bloth wants the treasures for himself, so he and his crew are constantly chasing Ren (the main character).

This show was awesome because not only was it action packed, but since it took place on an alien world (Mer), they didn't have to follow our reality at all.  So the fact that Ren's ship could essentially transform into a glider or that parts of the planet were constantly in flux were just normal to all these adventurers, but to a little kid it was fuel for the imagination.  Also, like Avatar the Last Airbender and Greek mythology, this show liked to combine animals we know together in strange ways (like Niddler the monkey-bird).  Also also, there are pirates, which have always been cool (except if you lived in a time with real ones most likely).

Ever since college I've been waiting for these to show up on DVD, but apparently I stopped my hunt two years ago because I just discovered today that there is a DVD set of the whole show that you can get from Amazon that was released in 2010.  Unfortunately, the show itself never got to conclude, so you'll have to use your imagination to come up with how the final treasures were recovered and what happened when all of them were brought together.  If someone wanted to do a reboot/reimagining/retelling of this series and finish it, I would be totally okay with that.  Unless his name was M'Knight or Michael Bay.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Have A Corgi Christmas!

In lieu of a real post, I offer this as a Christmas present to you, the 12 Corgis of Christmas (none of these are my Corgi since I do not have snow where I live)!

1. Corgi Confounded By Snow Maze!

2. Corgi Snow Tunnel Training!

3. More Corgi Snow Tunnel Training!

4. Corgi Army Practices In Snow!

5. Corgi Attacks Spy While Doing Snow Exercises!

6. Corgi Snow Ostrich Discovered!

7. Corgi Wrestlers Unfazed By Snow!

8. Corgi Outwits Snow Field!

9. Corgis Train In 100 Times Gravity (a.k.a. Deep Snow)!

10. Guerrilla Corgi Fighters In The Snow!

11. Corgi Outwits Owner To Enjoy Snow!

12. Corgi Determination Defeats Snow and Stairs!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Chrononauts

If you have ever wanted to see how saving the Titanic or assassinating Hitler would effect the timeline, Chrononauts is your game!  From the creators of Fluxx and Are You The Traitor?, this 1-6 player game takes between 20 and 45 minutes to play.

At the beginning of the game, each player is given an identity, a mission, and three cards.  On each turn, you draw one card and play one card.  You win if you restore the timestream to match your identity (you restore your proper timeline), you fulfill your mission (find 3 specific artifacts), or you have 10 cards at the end of your turn (you get more cards from patching time paradoxes).  The timeline is an 8x4 grid of cards made up of ripple points and linchpins.  Each linchpin has one of two states (e.g. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated - the true history and Abraham Lincoln was wounded - the alternate history).  Changing a linchpin will cause specific ripple points to flip over to their paradox sides.  Paradoxes can be patched by causing alternate events to take place (America never joins WW2 because they love German cake too much).  Each ID card requires one event to be in its true history side and two time cards to be either patched or on their alternate history side.

This game is a lot of fun because it combines the simplexity (simple complexity) of Fluxx (all you're doing is drawing one card and playing another each turn - that's not complicated) with hidden win conditions.  There are also cards that can cause you to get a new identity (Your parents never met!) or get a new mission, so if someone seems close to their goal (which can be hard to tell sometimes), you can essentially make them start over.  Or if someone has a lot of cards in their hand, you can cause a Discontinuity to rotate hands and you get all their cards.  Having the ability to go for three different goals at any one time makes it really easy to change strategies quickly, which you'll probably need to do often if the other players are doing their job.  If you love Fluxx, but want a little bit more (i.e. any) strategy and time traveling doesn't hurt your brain too much, I would highly recommend this game.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Anime I Grew Up On: Flying Castle Laputa

In the States, this film is known as Castle in the Sky and Wiki says its Japanese name is Laputa: Castle in the Sky, but I swear I remember this being named Flying Castle Laputa, so that's what I always call it. Even if I'm horribly wrong because my memory is really terrible.

Castle in the Sky is (like most Miyazaki films) about two kids going on a fantastical adventure.  This particular one it involves airships, air pirates, and flying castles.  Really, that should be all that's necessary to convince you to watch this: Miyazaki and airships.

This movie is a big part of my childhood because not only did my brother, Adam, let me sit and watch it with him and his friends (being the annoying youngest brother, this was a big deal), but also it was the very first anime I ever watched.  So, I was especially surprised when many years later, my nieces had a DVD with them from Disney called Castle in the Sky and that it was one of their favorite movies.  Clearly, I don't have to worry about how my brother, Jason, is raising those kids.  Also, this was another thing that makes me really appreciate Disney and am fine with them buying up Marvel and LucasArts.  I would argue that Miyazaki films are the best way to get a non-anime watcher into watching anime.  Especially since if you watch them in English, they all have really good voice actors (this one in particular has Anna Paquin and Mark Hamill among many others).  They are all fairly light-hearted, are generally missing the more embarrassing anime stereotypes, and take place in very unique and fantastic settings that vary wildly from each other.

Monday, December 17, 2012

There's Too Much Math In My Game!

One thing I've realized while designing both my board and card game is that one of the easiest ways to slow a game down is to have a lot of math involved.  More specifically, if you have to frequently add or subtract a lot of small numbers.  If you have combat in your game, maybe an easy way to figure out who wins is each side has a total strength value and the highest value wins.  That sounds simple enough, especially if there are only a few units on each side.  However, if you have a lot of units, that combat gets significantly slower when adding all the numbers.  This gets even worse if you both add one unit at a time back and forth because you have to keep recalculating things.

Let's give an example.  Say you have a combat card game where each player has five card numbers whose values range between 1 and 5 with both positive and negative values.  Each player goes around the table and places a card either in front of themselves (to bolster their strength) or in front of others (to weaken their position).  The first round is easy enough, generally everyone will have a single card in front of them.  The second round isn't too bad, the third may start to get a little confusing, but then the fourth and fifth round get really confusing for anyone who has a bad short term memory or who got distracted when someone else played a card.  "I've got 2+1+3+2+4, you've got 3-1+4+5-2, you've got 4+4+3+1+1, and you've got 1+1+2+4+1..."  Maybe those calculations aren't hard for you, but if you have to do that every round of the game, it will slow things down.  Even worse if those calculations do take you a minute or two.

On top of the calculation slow down, another issue with math heavy game design is you always have to decide what happens with a tie.  Who do ties benefit?  What if every player somehow tied in something involving more than two players?  Of course, this is something to keep in mind while designing any game involving numbers (no matter how few).

I haven't quite figured out a great solution for this issue without imposing (seemingly) arbitrary limits, but it's yet another simple system that overcomplicates a game that I am on the lookout for.  I've also been trying to think of any game I've played that has a lot of math involved frequently.  The games I can think of that have point addition are at the end of the game like Dominion.  The combat games involving numbers are a one number vs. one number affair like Risk or Nexus Ops.  Maybe I've just stumbled upon an easy rookie game designer mistake to make?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Overcomplicating Through Simplicity

One goal I have for all of the games I design is to keep things simple.  That's a great motto and is useful to keep me on track, but some recent changes in my card game have made me realize that there's a lot of ways to simplify a game and sometimes simplifying a game in one way will complicate it in another.

One of the goals of my card game is to make it cheap to produce.  If I can keep the card count at or below 99 cards, then I can put the game in a smaller and cheaper box.  So I've constantly been on the lookout for ways to cut down on the number of cards the game requires.  At first, the game had a whole lot of simultaneous actions taking place, which required everyone to place cards face down to select said actions.  For one phase of the game, there were 4 different options players had, so they each had 4 cards.  The game was designed for up to 10 people (another goal of the game was a large player count), which meant that phase of the game cost me 40 cards immediately.  There is also a phase where three players vote for other players, so there are three stacks with 10 cards in each, which puts my card count at 70.  This means that if I wanted to stay under 100 cards, players would only have 29 cards to actually play the game with, which is way too few.

Also, after numerous playtests, I was starting to see a trend that that first phase was confusing to a lot of players and there wasn't as much strategy involved in it as I had expected.  So after some careful consideration, I cut that phase of the game.  This saved me 40 cards and made the flow of the game simpler. However, every decision has its costs and cutting that phase ended up making the game take a lot longer to play (which I knew was going to happen) and it took out a lot of strategy from other portions of the game (which I didn't foresee).  So by simplifying the flow of the game and reducing the card count, I introduced two large problems that needed to be fixed.

I'm still working on fixing these issues and a couple others (and the game seems to be getting farther from print to play rather than closer), but this has made me realize that I should be just as wary and careful about making the game simple as I am about making the game complicated.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Movies I Grew Up On: Elm-chanted Forest

My family had an RV growing up and we would go on a lot of trips.  I vaguely remember on one of those trips watching the movie Elm-chanted Forest while my parents were away at some church related event.  I also remember watching this with my sister when I was a little older and we'd both crack up at how ridiculously cheesy a movie it is.

The movie is about a painter, Peter Palette (clever) who falls asleep under an enchanted Elm tree and wakes up to find he can talk to animals and his paintbrush has magical abilities (I don't remember what exactly, but briefly watching a clip on YouTube, it can't instantly paint an animated picture of a fox on a canvas).  The forest is being threatened by the Emperor Spine (basically a big round cactus guy) who wants to turn the forest into a desert , first by trying to burn it down and later by trying to flood it.  If I remember right (spoiler alert) it ends with Peter making Emperor Spine's flowers bloom and then he becomes as horribly cheery as everyone else.

If you have super young kids, they may enjoy this movie, but I think for your sanity's sake it's probably not a great idea to go and find it.  Not to mention there are plenty of other far better options to distract your kids with.  If you have 83 minutes to kill and love watching bad movies, though, then maybe this will float your boat.  :)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gaming Pet Peeves: Early Shuffling

Everyone has pet peeves while gaming.  These can range from game components not being lined up right (see #4), other players not following the rules exactly, game phases being skipped, discard piles not being face up, people not paying attention, people not strategizing during other player's turns so their turns take much longer than they should, or any other number of issues.  I've noticed each of those pet peeves in enough other people to realize it's not just me, but one pet peeve of mine that I seem to always get odd looks for is that I hate people shuffling a discard pile back into the deck before the game tells us to or the draw deck is empty.

I understand that in most cases, people are trying to save time by shuffling the discard deck into the draw deck when there are only a few cards left, but I don't think people realize how that affects the probability of getting cards and how much that can affect the game.  With a full deck, each card has a completely even chance of being drawn.  When the deck is empty, each card will have been drawn once.  When you shuffle the discard pile to form a new draw deck, all cards have either been used or are in someone's hand waiting to be used.  If you shuffle that discard deck early, the cards that were in the draw deck had no chance to be used, which means they will show up less frequently.  This means that the more powerful or popular cards will show up much more frequently since they will go into this discard pile and back into the deck much more frequently.  This sounds good, but there is a reason the game came with more cards than just the popular/powerful ones.  The balance of the game is being destroyed with this early shuffle.

Let's take it to the extreme and say that every time a card gets used, instead of putting it in a discard pile, we randomly place it somewhere in the draw deck.  If we place it above any other card in that deck, we will see the used card more often than those cards below it.  If we place it at the bottom of the deck (and repeat this every time to make sure all cards can potentially appear the same number of times) then once we hit the end of the deck, we will be playing the same game we were at the beginning since all the cards will be in the same order.  The whole purpose of the discard deck is to have a separate place to store cards that have been used from those that haven't had a chance to be used yet.  So give every card an equal chance at serving its purpose.  Don't shuffle early.

Friday, December 7, 2012


This past week, my Bible Study group had a potluck in lieu of our regular meeting.  While chatting, we had Big Bang Theory playing on the TV and at some point the topic of sitcom variety was brought up and we started reminiscing about ABC's old Friday night line up called TGIF.  Throughout the years, the 4 shows shown during TGIF changed, but they all had a common theme: they were all very family friendly.  The better shows had some humor for adults, occasionally they'd broach a harsh subject, but for the most part, they were just feel good shows trying to teach good lessons.

Looking at sitcoms today, I can't think of a single show that fits that same category.  Every single sitcom I can think of has at least one character whose sole focus is to have as much sex as possible.  (By no means are those examples a definitive list, but it's pretty clear there's an easy trope to use in a sitcom.)  Most of these shows are also about adults in their 20's or 30's dealing with life rather than about a family dealing with life together (or just dealing with each other).  I understand that kids who grew up on those shows (like myself) are now adults and are looking for something more grown up.  At the same time, there are plenty of parents that (I'm sure) would love to have a show they could watch with their kids that is good and wholesome and teaches good values.  I find it strange that there is such a gap in our programming.  Does the modern day TGIF group of shows exist and I just am unaware of it?  Where is our Cosby Show (not part of TGIF, but it totally could have been), Family Matters, Perfect Strangers, Boy Meets World (oh wait), and Step by Step?

I'm not saying every show should be family friendly because that would be ridiculous in the opposite direction.  I'm saying that just like how not all superhero shows need to be dark and gritty, not all sitcoms need to be about bar/coffee shop/comic book shop dwelling 20-30 year old singles.  Of course, my friend Jason is probably going to tell me the same thing that the market doesn't want this type of show, but personally, I think there's more than enough room for both and if we're going to let the TV babysit our kids (as seems to happen frequently in the US), then why not give them a babysitter with good morals and values?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Games I Grew Up On: TaskMaker

Most computer games I played when I was little were what was known as shareware.  That is, they were either free to a point (essentially a demo or lite version for the game) or free with occasional pop ups for donations.  One of those games that had a big impact on me was one my brother bought me for my birthday one year: TaskMaker.  A lot of the games I played back then were top down, turn-based RPGs.  What stood out for me with TaskMaker were two things: the open exploration of the game and the puzzles scattered around.

In the game, you play an adventurer who keeps going up to the TaskMaker (the leader of the land) to be told what to do.  Really generic, honestly.  But the tasks would lead you to the town you're supposed to be in and give you some idea of where you're supposed to go.  However, you had complete freedom to go anywhere in the world you felt like.  The only repercussions were that the monsters in areas you weren't ready for would smack you down quickly.  But even within a town, it was fun to find all the nooks and crannies and unlock all the doors to collect the hidden goodies.  I always found it funny when I found the town's trash dump and I would rummage around the trash pile and find some awesome piece of equipment (or just as likely, just find a bunch of trash).  A lot of these buildings would have secret doors or passages that were unlocked with puzzles of some sort.  Maybe stepping on a button would open a wall across town.  The game had a nice map system, so it was easy to see where you have and haven't been.

Another amusing thing is that when you died in the game, instead of getting a game over screen, you would be sent to Hell where you must find the exit in a maze of flaming walls, fight a demon to open the exit, and then leave.  However, any items that were on you when you died will be dropped, so usually loading an old save was a better way to go.  Especially since whatever killed you will still be sitting around your corpse when you come back to reclaim your items.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Infiltration

One of my regular game night buddies one night declared he was tired of all the fantasy board games we were playing and that he wanted to play something sci-fi.  Since that moment, I've been on the lookout for more sci-fi games and haven't found many that won't take an entire day to play through or are only for a few people.  I haven't had the greatest of luck, but one of my other friends found this game and it seemed to satisfy the sci-fi itch at least a little.

Infiltration is essentially a cyberpunk thief movie in a board game format. Players take on the role of thieves trying to break into a high-tech corporation and steal all their precious zettabytes of data.  Like any good thief movie, there is a lot of backstabbing because the person who makes it back out of the corporation in time with the most zettabytes wins the game.  Plot and strategy-wise, it's a lot like Pyramid of Horus, but the gameplay is fairly different.  The "board" is set up as 6 face down first floor rooms, 6 face down second floor rooms, and 1 face down secret room (which you may not be able to enter depending on the first/second floor rooms).  Traveling through the building is linear, you travel through each first room floor in succession and likewise through the second floor or you can backtrack through those same rooms in reverse order.  In each room, you may download any information it has, interface with it to do something special based on the room, or break a tech lock/kill a lab worker for more zettabyte tokens.  After everyone has taken their turn, the first player rolls a d6 to see how much the proximity alerts have gone up.  Once they reach 99, everyone in the building is captured and loses.  Anyone who has already escaped will count their zettabytes to see who has the most.

The higher into the complex you go, the more information there is to download and more powerful the interface abilities, but it also means it will take longer for you to get back out of the building.  You might also get wounded at some point, which means you can only advance or retreat every other turn.  So far in my experience, being wounded essentially knocks you out of the game because you either can't escape the building or your friends take all the goods before you can get to them.

Despite the fact that players choose characters with classifications like The Muscle, The Brains, The Inside Man, etc. there is no difference between the characters at all, which I find odd.  It make sense to me that they each have a special ability they can use once per game or something.  I think I'm going to work with my friends to come up with some for next time.  Aside from that oddity, the game is fun because there is a lot of risk/reward choices and strategy, a lot of direct and indirect player interaction, and games only take between 30-60 minutes.  For the $25 it seems to cost on Amazon, I would recommend this game.