Monday, April 29, 2013

Plot Twists (Don't Worry, It's A Spoiler Free Post)

Plot twists are amazing.  Plot twists are why I keep reading and playing games for stories.  Plot twists are also really easy to screw up.  What I didn't realize until this weekend is that I'm also capable of ruining the enjoyment of a plot twist by trying to spot it early.  There are certain genres, IPs, and creators that are known for having twists in their stories.  Whenever I peruse these for the first time, I go into it trying to spot the twist as early as I can.  I'm generally really good at spotting twist clues when I'm looking for them, so I generally predict the twists, or at least something very close, but I think this ruins the story in a couple of ways.  First, the impact of the twist itself is nullified, so even if it's a really clever twist, I don't get as blown away by it as someone who wasn't expecting it.  Secondly, I end up not enjoying the story itself because I'm analyzing it the entire time looking for what the twist could be.

There have been a couple games I've played this year that had twists in it I wasn't expecting.  Looking back at them, the clues were pretty obvious, and generally the twists themselves weren't anything unheard of.  But the fact that I didn't see it coming made the twist so much more impactful to me.  A logical conclusion is that I must now shield myself from whether something contains twists or not, but that's nigh impossible to do, especially due to the aforementioned things that are known for having twists.  I'm not really sure if there is an actual takeaway from this, I just found it fascinating that my hunt for the twist had a similar impact on me as knowing the twist ahead of time.  So somehow in the future, I'm going to have to keep my analyzing mode off, just like I have to try to keep my critique mode off when I'm trying to enjoy something.  Of course, if it's obvious that there's a twist coming, then I don't think I'll have an option.  Just like if something breaks my suspension of disbelief, my critique mode automatically turns on.  I guess like with most problems, just knowing about it and how to spot the problem is a good first step to taking care of it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Quiet! The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

I've always been an introvert.  I don't think I've ever tried to hide it, but it used to be something I struggled against.  I'm prone to purposefully spending weekends by myself at home because I find it infinitely more relaxing than going out to bars or parties or being overly social.  At some point I've learned to embrace my introversion, but also try to balance my life with some socialization since whether we're introverts or extroverts, humans are built to have relationships with other humans.  It wasn't until I read this book that I realized just many of my personality traits are tied to my introversion besides my aversion to large groups, loud noises, and small talk.

Susan Cain does a wonderful job of balancing anecdotal explanations and scientific studies to go into great detail about what it means to be an introvert, why it's awesome, the pros and cons between introversion and extroversion, and how to best structure your life to function best as an introvert.  For example, a developmental psychologist named Jerome Kagan did a long term study on a group of infants where they introduced the kids to a whole bunch of different stimuli and predicted which ones would be introverts and which would be extroverts.  He predicted that the kids who pumped their arms and legs in response to the new things were introverts and the ones who sat there unresponsive were the extroverts.  It turns out that introverts have amygdalas that react stronger to new and unknown situations.  As a kid, the response to this is to react to it.  As we grow older we tend to internalize those responses, but we feel much more aversion to new things then extroverts.

This explains why I've always been hesitant to try new foods, go new places by myself, interact with strangers, and so on.  I can get over these things, but I have a built in wall of aversion that I have to punch through first.  If I'm pressured to bust through this wall at a faster pace than I'm okay with, my reaction is to push back even stronger and refuse to do whatever it is.  This might be a separate trait from introversion, since this particular response never came up in this book.  I also am very opposed when someone tries to pressure someone else into doing something they don't want for a similar reason.  This empathy is a trait of introversion, since we generally pick up on other peoples' emotions and also apparently feel guilty really easily (which explains why I apologize much more often than I probably should).  But getting back to the book, if you think you're an introvert or know one and want to know how best to interact with them, I'd highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Movies I Grew Up On: Night of the Living Dead

I always thought I watched this when I was like 5 or 6, but clearly that couldn't have happened since it came out in 1990, but I completely blame Night of the Living Dead for my aversion to watching anything zombie related.  I did watch this when I was little and ever since then, zombies have become one of those things that if I let my mind stick on it, I'll start getting jumpy, and if it's at night...well...that's going to be a miserable night.  I'm fairly certain it was the 1990 version and not the original 1968 version, but I haven't gone back and watched either of them to confirm this.  I honestly don't even remember much from the actual movie.  There were zombies, there was a farm, people were boarding up a house, there was yelling, there was glass breaking, etc.

Because of this movie and the effect it had on me, I now flat out refuse to watch zombie movies (every once in awhile I get convinced to break this rule and almost always suffer for it), read zombie books (I do really want to read World War Z, but I can't imagine that going well for me), or play zombie focused games (broke this rule to play Dead Island, but could only play it in short bursts when there was daylight outside).  Sometimes people will try to convince me to watch zombie things to get me over my fear, but I'm not really sure I see the point.  Everyone is afraid of something.  If the worst thing I'm afraid of are zombies, then I'm pretty well off, since I'm highly unlikely to ever see them, and if I do I almost guarantee I'll be one of the first to die or else I'll be the guy that helps someone else hide their zombie wound and gets us all killed.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Suspicion Has Launched!

This past Saturday I officially launched my card game, Suspicion.  The game is half strategy, half social.  Players take on the role of wealthy business persons and socialites of the 1800's trying to gain more influence than their rivals.  The game lasts as many rounds as there are players.  Each round consists of two parts: The Power Grab and the Influence Shift.

In the Power Grab, players use their Arsenal cards (cards with values -5 to 5 on them) to try to get the highest point total.  The top three point totals get control of one of three Power Decks (Magnate - top score, Industrialist - second score, Robber Magnate - third highest score).  Any players who had tied point totals are out of the running to control the Power decks.

In the Influence Shift, the three Powers (players controlling the Power Decks) will use the Power Decks (which contain a card for each character) to vote for a player to take Influence from.  If all three Powers pick different people, a Deadlock occurs and the Powers must give one influence to other players.  If all three Powers pick the same person, a Swindle occurs and the targeted player gets to take 3 influence from whomever they desire.  If two Powers pick the same person and the third does not, the Powers have an Accord.  The two Powers that agreed take one influence each from the target.  The vote results are a little confusing to explain verbally, but the rulebook (which is available to download from the game's site) have pictures to try to clear things up.

To make things even more complicated, each player has a secret Agenda they are trying to accomplish.  If they succeed, they get to take influence from any player they want based on which Agenda goal was fulfilled.  Each Agenda card has three different goals of varying difficulty and once fulfilled, players will get a new Agenda to replace the old one.  Agendas range from having certain Arsenal cards played on you, playing certain Arsenal cards on other players, or having the Influence Shift go a certain way.  At the end of a round, if a player decides they want to give up on their Agenda, they can discard it for a new one.

I hope to get a video explaining how to play the game with visuals up soon to help further explain how the game works.  If you're interested in buying the game, visit the above link.  To keep up with the latest on it, check out the Suspicion Facebook page.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Gaming Pet Peeves: Backtracking

Running is one of the few ways I enjoy exercising, but I can never maintain a consistent regiment because I tend to get very bored running in the same locations and seeing the same sights over and over again.  Whether on a treadmill staring at the same spot on the wall, running on a track in an endless loop, or even finding an awesome trail and running it one too many times, I always tire of it after awhile.  I think this is what makes it even worse when I have the same feeling in video games.  At least with running in real life I'm helping myself stay healthy.  In video games, running through the same area repeatedly has zero benefit whatsoever.

I understand one reason why backtracking exists.  Game developers don't have enough time or resources to create infinite lands for us to explore and would rather spend those on creating a quality game and/or cinematic experience.  That doesn't make it any less lazy to make players travel through the same empty areas over and over again with nothing new to experience.  At the very least, players should be able to fast travel to previous locations they've visited.  I especially find this frustrating when the map visibly looks like it's setup to fast travel, like the cubes on Fez.  I'm not convinced the gameplay mechanic made famous in Metroid games where you can't access areas until you've found the right ability/weapon/gadget is a good reason to backtrack either.  Sure, it makes the game less visually linear, but functionally it's still linear only now the player has to run through the same area they already visited, killing the same enemy, making the same jumps, etc.  This also means that either the game or the player has to keep track of what the player was unable to access or they'll be just wandering aimlessly through places they've already visited, which is even worse.

There is really only one time I can think of that makes backtracking worthwhile and that's when the previously visited area has changed somehow.  Maybe you saved a town from an evil despot, so when you come back, the town has flourished (or maybe even gone into utter chaos from lack of leadership).  Maybe the bad guy destroyed something in retaliation for your actions.  Maybe destroying the orc encampment made the goblins more brave, so they invaded the forest you traveled through to get to the orcs.  These are amazing reasons to backtrack.  The level most likely won't have changed, but there is something new to see and experience.  Even if the level does change, it's still based on the same geometry, so there is much less work for the environment artists to do for even more payoff than a whole new area since players will feel like they are having an impact on the world.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Outnumbered!

A follow-up to Midnight Rescue!, Outnumbered! was the next game in the Super Solver series that helped further my education.  This time, the Master of Mischief is trying to take over a radio and television station and it's up to you to stop him before midnight.  You don't know which room he is hiding in and the only way to know for certain is to obtain information about the rooms by solving math puzzles in each room of the station.  But watch out for his evil robot, Telly, who will try to knock you out with discs, sound waves, lightning bolts, energy stars, or just running into you!  If you can zap him before he zaps you, you'll get another chance to earn clues as to which room the Master of Mischief is hiding in. There are also live power cables (literally!) that you'll need to zap or jump over.

Just like with Midnight Rescue!, Outnumbered! will give you a point total at the end of each game that will add to a lifetime score.  This score has ranks associated with it at certain levels, which not only increase how awesome you are at life, but it also increases the difficulty of the game on further plays.  Not only is this game quite enjoyable (at least it was when I was a kid), but it's also good about how it integrates learning.  The math puzzles aren't just simple "What's A + B?" puzzles, but large word problems that require a little more critical thinking to understand (although the end results of deciphering the word puzzle could be that you're just adding the values of A and B...).  On the other hand, Telly will just show you quick math problems like 5-2 = ? and 1+3=?, which just requires basic math skills.  The background songs are 8-bit versions of some very good classical songs (or maybe I just think they're very good since I heard them so many times while playing this game?), which I always find to be a nice touch.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Batman: The Brave and the Bold

You know how last August I said I wanted superhero shows that were okay being campy?  Well, it may not be a live action show, but I definitely got my wish with Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  This show seems to not only celebrate all things Batman - from the list of villains, to superheroes, to references to previous Batman iterations - but have fun doing it.  It's definitely a campy cartoon more in the style of the Adam West Batman series than Batman The Animated Series.  It's not quite as campy as Adam West, which is made obvious when there's an entire episode made in that style with the vertical wall climbing, the Holy ___, Batman! lines, and the giant POW!, BIFF!, and BOP! bubbles appearing when people hit each other.

The general formula of the show seems to be this: start with Batman teaming up with one superhero against some villain near the end of a fight/crime, show them being awesome and quippy, then capture the villain and play the show's theme song.  Then start a whole new crime to solve with a completely different villain and superhero team up that has nothing to do with that first one.  I like this format because you get to see even more of the ridiculous villains and superheroes of the DC universe, like Crazy Quilt (a guy who REALLY likes colors I guess?), Ace the Bat-Hound (exactly what it sounds like), and Detective Chimp (essentially a Sherlock Holmes in Chimp form).  Since the show switches characters so frequently, you don't really get any back story on anyone, it kind of just assumes you'll know about them or can look stuff up on your own.  At least that's my impression.  I do believe every one of these characters comes from either Batman's roster or one of the other superhero's rosters based on some of Green Lantern and Iron Man's earliest villains, so it really makes me want to go back and see where these ridiculous ideas came from.

The cast of the show is pretty phenomenal.  Wil Wheaton makes an appearance, Michael Dorn, Kevin Conroy (in one of the most amazing reversal episodes ever), Adam West, Paul Reubens, Will Friedle, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris (of course starring in a musical episode), and a whole bunch of other people I'm sure I recognize, but don't know their names.  I don't know how good this show would be if you don't get any of the references to things, though.  Like if you don't recognize the Batman: The Animated Series intro, then when they spoof it in one episode, you're not going to understand how totally awesome and clever they are.  If you don't recognize that show's Batman, Lex Luthor, or Lois Lane, then Kevin Conroy's episode won't be nearly as entertaining.  But if you are someone who grew up on and adored that show and all DC cartoons in that era, then this show is an amazing homage to that, with plenty of entertainment on its own to offer.  It is definitely a kid's cartoon, though, so if you're looking for something serious or with any continuity past two episodes, this is not the show for you.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Final Suspicion To-do List

Just this week I got the first copy of Suspicion from The Game Crafter.  For the most part, things turned out even more beautiful than I had anticipated.  There are some more tweaks I have to make before I can hit that Publish button, though.  Some of these were planned, some not so much:

  • Take a picture of the game box and contents laid out to display on the back of the box
  • Shrink most of the other stuff on the back of the box
  • Lighten up the group shot on the front of the box and everything on the front of the rule book
  • Shrink my box on the front of the box (I didn't think it looked that big on the computer image...)
  • Redo the Influence tokens to be color coded to the characters (they were much smaller than I expected, so you can't really see what's on them right now)
  • Color code the character cards
  • Double and triple check the play tester credits
  • Use rounded card images in the rule book
  • Make a Facebook page for the game and for Mythfit Labs
Most of these changes won't take that long, but I'm planning to have the official launch day be the 20th of April.  I will be sure to keep everyone updated next week and post the appropriate links to everything.  I'm super excited to see how my work does in the wild!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Fireball Island

I mentioned this game briefly once before as one of the games that taught me how intricate and cool board games can be.  Fireball Island is like a much more complex Mouse Trap...well...much more complex gameplay-wise, not so much with the intricate device that needs to be set up.  The goal of the game is simple, get the jewel from the top of the island and get back to the boat to escape.  Unfortunately, as the name suggests, this island has some fireballs on it.  Namely, there are five different locations that fireballs may roll down a set path.  If a fireball hits a player or another player piece hits your player piece, you must spend a turn getting up from the nearest smoldering pit.  So basically, once you get the jewel, everyone will be chucking fireballs your way.

The fireballs each have their own path to roll down, with the exception of the one in the awesome Tiki head, Vul-Kar who rotates and may drop his fireball down one of many different paths.  There are a few safe spaces on the board where no fireball can hit you.  There are also caves you can try to use (with a lucky roll of the die) to shortcut around the board.  You also get action cards to try to make things easier.  These cards will either let you roll a fireball, take another turn, give a player trying to steal the jewel a fake jewel (so you keep the real one and they keep going), counter someone else's card, or help mitigate the luck of the die roll for your next turn.  The game is definitely heavy on luck helping you to win, but there's (I think) just enough strategy to keep things interesting.  Plus, it's way fun to try to roll fireballs into each other and the few times you knock one player into another is just awesome.

Now that I actually have a better understanding of how much games cost to buy and produce, I'm curious how expensive the game was (the whole island is a custom plastic mold and Vul-Kar is pretty darn intricate).    I would also love to know where our copy went or if it got lost during a move or something...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: Mark of the Ninja

Before playing it, I had heard good things about Mark of the Ninja, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it exceeded even my initially high expectations.  The game starts out with you as a ninja waking up in the middle of an attack on your home base.  After saving your leader, he orders you to take revenge on the man responsible, so you take on the Mark of the Ninja using special ink that gives you special abilities, but will also drive you insane.

Gameplay itself involves sneaking around heavily fortified areas, using darkness and distractions as your tools to either bypass guards undetected or take them out.  Other guards will investigate and raise alarms when they see dead bodies, so you can either hide them or use them as bait to lure the other guards into a trap.  The representation of lit areas, enemy flashlights and fields of view, and sound rings make the sneaking aspect of the game crystal clear when you're safe and when you're not, which is exactly what is required for a good sneaking game.  The game also gives you plenty of ways to get through/past guards in most cases giving plenty of replayability to try different play styles.  You also unlock different outfits that enhance certain traits, but cause disadvantages (e.g. one suit is completely silent when running and lets you equip two distraction items, but you can't equip a sword, so you can't kill anyone) so even if you're not good at a certain play style, you can try with the different costumes.  It really does make it a very different game when you go through normally vs. going through not being able to kill anyone.

Once you complete the game, you unlock New Game+, which I was questioning the purpose of the entire time since you can select any previously beaten level to play at any time.  It turns out New Game+ really ups the difficulty.  You no longer see sound rings, your field of view is more realistic (you can't see everything that's behind the way you're facing), and there are more guards.  This gives even further playback to the game if you really want a challenge.  This game is now tied with Dishonored for my favorite stealth game ever.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Review: Darksiders 2

Following the events off the original Darksiders (or at least some of the events?  I'm still a little confused by this), Darksiders 2 has players take on the role of another horseman of the apocalypse, Death.  Death is on a mission to redeem his brother, War, by trying to resurrect Mankind.  Unfortunately, to fulfill this mission he has to follow a seemingly endless amount of people saying, "You should go here, but first help me!"  Also, my post about a lack of collectible maps and the downsides of random loot drops were caused by this game.

It seems very strange that the first game did a good job with reminding you where collectibles were so you know where to go once you have the right items and this one failed so miserably at it.  Also, the random loot drops made any special items you unlock through skill and hard work (like working through 25 waves of enemies in The Crucible or fighting a super hard optional boss) were really worthless, thus making it feel like a crappy accomplishment.  This was only slightly mitigated by having Possessed weapons (that would randomly drop...) that you can "feed" other weapons to make them stronger.  So you can craft an uber weapon to fit your play style.  Of course, once you do that, you have little reason to care about any further weapon drops because they can't top your weapon.

Yet despite all the incredible gameplay failings this game had, I still want a Darksiders 3 to come out (which will prove difficult since THQ is no more...) because the art, character design, and universe they have built is still phenomenal.  I want to play a third game as Strife (although I hope it doesn't become a console FPS since they've made him use guns as his weapons) and a fourth as whatever they've named the fourth Horseman (the only female of the group).  I just hope that if someone gets the IP and they make another one, that it has more enjoyable gameplay.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Planescape: Torment

One of my all time favorite games I have ever played is the game Planescape: Torment.  Taking place in the D&D setting of Planescape, players play as The Nameless One, a man who not only can't seem to stay dead, but loses his memories every time he dies.  The game starts in a mortuary where The Nameless One is just waking up from his last death when a floating skull comes up to explain what little is known (you're in a mortuary, you were just dead, and you have a back covered in tattoos instructing you to find a man named Pharod).  It's then up to the player to discover how to escape the mortuary (there are many different ways to accomplish this), navigate the harsh city of Sigil, and find Pharod to explain...well...anything about The Nameless One.

This is one of the best games at giving the players choice and reacting well to player actions.  The multiple ways to accomplish tasks last throughout the game even up to the very end where a skillful player can talk their way into getting the final villain to kill himself.  You can switch classes throughout the game by talking to the right trainer.  Your alignment switches throughout the game based on what you choose to do and react to given situations.  Your teammates might turn on you based on your actions.

The one flaw of the game (and everyone including the developers seem to agree on this) is the combat system.  It's definitely not forgiving and it almost always feels like a bit of a struggle (or maybe that's because my last playthrough was with a very non-combat-oriented Nameless One).  Fortunately, there are plenty of companions to take with you to help cover your weak areas.  Unfortunately, you can only have so many in your party and they are all incredibly well written, so to fully experience them all requires multiple playthroughs.  Fortunately, the game is well worth multiple playthroughs.  Unfortunately, the frogurt is also cursed.

<shamless plug>The best part is that most of the people who worked on this game (including my brother!) are making a spiritual successor and the Kickstarter ends in just a few days!  </shameless plug>

Monday, April 1, 2013

April 1st: The Best and Worst Day For Gaming News

Today is April 1st, better known as April Fools' Day.  Today is the day to play pranks on your friends and get away with it by saying, "April Fools!"  Today is also the day for gaming news to have the most awesome and outlandish news all year to entertain your customers.  For example, every year, Blizzard will announce new games or features in their existing games that are so utterly preposterous that everyone knows it's a complete joke such as the ones on display here.  Occasionally, you get things that sound super awesome and would love to have in a game, but you know that's never going to happen.  That's the trick to an April Fools' joke announcement is that it can't be something people actually want/are expecting like last year when Capcom announced they were going to un-cancel Mega Man Legends 3 and then because there wasn't enough of a response, they re-canceled it.

Some companies, like Think Geek seem to use the day as both a day to make people laugh (as most of their descriptions and products are already for), but I swear they also use it for market research.  They'll have scattered throughout the site a whole bunch of fake products.  Some are actually somewhat feasible while others are completely ludicrous.  Then a month or so after April Fools, some of the more realistic and popular products actually go on sale.  I have absolutely no problem with this because their April Fools' products cover such an array of the bizarre and awesome that I think it's actually very clever to use it as market research.

Then there's the small subset of gaming news that comes out that's actually real.  There has been an announcement to announce (which is a joke in and of itself, really) that this year they are going to announce a sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  I am super stoked for a sequel for this game, so I really hope this isn't a really bad joke, but then that makes me wonder, why not just wait until April 2nd to make the announcement?  Is that one day going to cost you anything?  If this is a legitimate announcement, why even take the chance people will think it's a joke?  It does not make any sense to me.  But in any case, I hope this year's April Fools' Day brings with it some awesome ideas from the Overlords of ThinkGeek and gaming news around the world.  Have a great day and be careful about what you trust until tomorrow!

UPDATE: Turns out Eidos DID make a terrible April Fools' Day joke.  Way to make fans angry at you.