Thursday, October 31, 2013

Game Cinema: My New YouTube Channel

I've started a YouTube channel for the purpose of recording story-based games and posting them in an episodic fashion for my non-gamer friends. To explain my thoughts behind this project, here's me from half an hour ago:

I've had this idea for quite a while, but I was waiting for Nvidia ShadowPlay to come out, which allows me to record gameplay without taking huge performance hits.

The first game I am televising is Telltale's The Walking Dead. And here is me from 15 minutes ago to tell you about it:

I'm expecting my videos to be a little raw at the beginning, but it's a part of the learning process right? For example I have learned that ShadowPlay records in 3D when I play in 3D, so I have to turn that off if I want to be able to edit it at all. It also records Steam popups, so I need to remember to go offline in Steam before recording from now on. This won't stop achievement notifications to pop up though.

Of course I want to make sure that I televise games that you guys will enjoy! So go pick out a game you would like to see next! Obviously it helps if it is on PC, and it would be best if I already own it.

Oh, and as all the YouTubers say, likesubscribefavoriteshare. Seriously though, subscribing is a great way for you to make sure you don't miss any episodes, and please do share with any friends who would be interested in this kind of thing.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Gone Home Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

There has been an incredible explosion of first-person games that have absolutely no shooting or combat lately. Dear Esther, Proteus, The Stanley Parable, and Gone Home are probably the best-known games in that category. Luckily they are actually quite different, so once you've seen one you haven't seen them all.

You play as Katie, a young woman who has been traveling Europe for the last year. During that time her family has moved to a new house, and when she arrives there is nobody home. You spend about 2.5 hours exploring the house finding clues about what has been going on in everybody's lives over the last year and where they might be now.

The character you get to know the most is Katie's younger sister Sam. In addition to the notes that you find that reveal more about her, Sam's voice will read an entry from her diary at certain points in the game. Sam's story starts as one of struggling to find friends in a new school setting, to a teenager in rebellion, to a girl discovering her sexuality. It's rather odd feeling most connected to a character who is not the player character, but Katie's role is really to serve as a vessel for the player.

Katie's parents also have stories of their own, but they are not nearly as long or fleshed-out as Sam's. Katie's dad is a struggling author, and her mom works for the Forestry service.

The map was very carefully designed to guide you along a path so that you would discover items in the order that they would add to the story. In that regard they did a very good job, as there were only a couple of spots that I discovered out of order. There was one storyline that turned out to be a red herring, and a couple of moments that made me jump a little, but they turned out to be harmless. Talk about playing with my emotions.

I enjoyed the trip back to the '90s, which was a time that I don't remember very well (I was seven when we hit the new millenium.) Can somebody tell me if mixtapes were really that big back then? I doubt that this game would have worked as well in a modern setting, because nobody writes notes anymore. It's all on our phones and computers now. I also think that the game would have felt much less authentic if the family had not recently moved into the house. It would have been much harder to create a house that felt like it had been lived in for a long time.

All in all I really enjoyed Gone Home. It works much better than Dear Esther, which also attempts to convey a story through letters being read to you throughout the game. Dear Esther's setting was very disjointed from the story, and was difficult to understand. Gone Home on the other hand felt very real and relatable. It is best experienced in one sitting, as it would be very easy to forget important details.

A reasonable price for this game would be $10, which means you should wait for it to go on sale.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Stanley Parable Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

A lot of people think that The Stanley Parable is a difficult game to describe, but I don't think it is that hard. It is a game about storytelling and player choice in video games. It is very aware of the fact that it is a video game, and there are many jokes about how games operate and the kinds of choices that you are allowed to make in them. As an avid story-based game player, I enjoyed the humor immensely. If this kind of meta-humor sounds at all interesting, go try out the demo. Even if you know you are going to buy the game, play the demo anyway because the content of the demo is not in the full game. Because this humor is really the core of the game, the more I tell you about the game, the less you will get out of it when you play it; it is best to discover everything for yourself. Therefore I want you to stop reading this review as soon as you are convinced to play the game. If you make it to the end and are still not convinced, then you and I have very different tastes and I don't know why you take my advice on anything entertainment related.

A voice narrates your journey as you play as Stanley, an office worker who realizes that nobody is in the office building today. The narrator will tell you the path that Stanley took, but you are often free to try another path. The narrator will try to convince you to get back on track. At first he tries to rationalize why Stanley went the wrong way in the context of the story he is telling, but it doesn't take him long to break the fourth wall and address the player directly. There are many different branching paths in the game, but don't worry; the game starts back from the beginning when you get to the end of any of them.

One of my favorite wall-breaking moments involved the broom closet above.
The first time I played through, I tried to open every single door I came across. When the broom closet unexpectedly opened, I went inside. The narrator said, "Stanley went into the broom closet, but seeing that there was nothing in there he turned around and got back on track." So I did.
The second time I went into the broom closet again, and the narrator said, "Seriously? I'm not even going to narrate this for you. Just do whatever it is you think is worth going into a broom closet for, and then let's get back to the story. I can wait."
The third time the broom closet was boarded up. I laughed for a good 30 seconds.

There were of course the mandatory jokes about office life, and how pointless meetings can be.

If you defy the narrator enough times in one play through, the game world will start to deteriorate and the narrator will panic. That was a really fun thread.

There is also a museum about the game and the creation of the game within the game. That was probably the most meta moment in the game.

Then there was the time that the narrator tried to improve the game by adding more choices and global leader boards. He even decided to show you some other games that he did not make, namely Minecraft and Portal.

Most of these are very silly, but some were much more serious and/or philosophical. In one Stanley thought he was in a dream, because that was the only explanation he could think of for all of the video game logic (he couldn't see his feet, the doors automatically closed behind him, etc.) In another Stanley died.

Achievement hunting in The Stanley Parable is an absolute riot. Only a couple of the achievements are obtained through traditional means. Others are found in the main menu, or require you to exit the game and come back to it, or play throughout a Tuesday. Yeah, they're pretty intense.

Seriously, you should go get The Stanley Parable, it will be the best two hours of your day. Even if you think the $15 price tag is too much for such a short game, you should at least check out the demo. You won't regret it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Wolf Among Us Episode 1 Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

Last year Telltale Games proved to everyone that their strategy of making episodic titles based on existing franchises could work with The Walking Dead. It was certainly one of my favorite games of the year.

The Wolf Among Us is based on a slightly less well-known comic series called Fables. The premise is that the characters from the fairy tales that we grew up with left their homeland during a mass exodus and are now living among us. Specifically they live in a neighborhood of New York City called Fabletown, and the fables who can't pass as human have to use expensive spells called glamours to blend in. Because of this a lot of them have to live at The Farm, which is a community of fables located upstate away from the prying eyes of us mundies.

The player character is Bigby Wolf (formerly the Big Bad Wolf) who now works as Fabletown's sheriff. They make it clear that most of the fables either fear him or simply don't trust him, so I took the angle that he would want to prove that he had changed his ways. Unfortunately circumstances threw me into a few fights anyway.

The fights used quicktime events similar to The Walking Dead, but they seemed to go much more smoothly. There are also fewer puzzles; moreover investigating a crime scene is a lot more interesting than finding pills for a guy I thoroughly don't like.

The art direction is absolutely gorgeous. I could literally take my screenshots and make a comic book out of them. Being that it is set in the 80s everything has a slightly neon tint to it and all of the major events seem to happen at night. A little cliché, but there you go.

As with The Walking Dead the decisions you make during this episode will have consequences later on, mostly in the way you treat people. As much as I tried I think I may have done a few things that I will regret later on. This is a Telltale game after all.

EDIT: you can now read my review of Episode 2.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Audiosurf 2 First Impressions

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

Note: A "first impressions" is basically like a review, but for a game that isn't finished yet. Depending on how the game changes between now and launch, my final review could be different.

Audiosurf is literally one of my favorite games, so I jumped on the Audiosurf 2 Early Access (read: beta) as soon as it came out. For those of you unfamiliar with Audiosurf, it is a PC game that takes any song you have on your hard drive and creates a course out of it. Whenever the music is fast and exciting, the course is fast and exciting. You get points by gathering blocks as you go down the course.

The main idea behind Audiosurf 2 is to support mods, namely custom modes and visual themes. This is a really cool idea, but I'm not sure it will scale well in an Audiosurf game. My main concern is this: in the original game you choose a character who has a certain special ability. At the end of the song, your score is compared to all of the other scores in the level you chose (so if you chose a Casual character, you would be compared to all of the Casual scores, etc.) In Audiosurf 2 it looks like the scores are only compared within the mode that you choose. What if I find an unofficial mode that somebody made that I really like, but nobody else plays it because it's not built in? On the other hand there is no way for all scores to be compared in any meaningful way because the developers can't guarantee that the scoring systems will be comparable.

The menu is one thing that is without a doubt better than Audiosurf.
In the original game I started out playing Casual characters, and quickly found that Mono was the best. Eventually I worked up the courage to start playing Pro characters, and I did quite a bit of experimenting until I figured out how to play Eraser well. Unfortunately there is no Eraser mode in Audiosurf 2 (though I am sure it is only a matter of time before somebody makes a mod of it).

Most of the official modes are variants of Wakeboard, which was teased in a couple of trailers a while back. Most of the points you get in Wakeboard modes comes from the jumps and tricks you do.

The problem with this is that you have to wait until the song is about to get fast (which happens maybe three times in a song), jump, and push a few buttons to do some tricks. It doesn't feel like it requires much skill on the part of the player, so I've been avoiding the wakeboard modes as much as possible.

Here you can see a couple of modes that are more similar to the ones in the original game. I felt more at home, but again my favorite character isn't there. Also, playing Double Vision while trying to take screenshots is impossible.

Audiosprint is a good example of what is possible with community-created modes. It's designed to be a party game where you take turns playing. It's pretty simple: either jump over or slide under the obstacles as you pass them. The runner emits this horrible scream every time she hits an obstacle, which is really distracting and will probably make you hit more obstacles. It's pretty hilarious in a group setting, but utterly obnoxious when you are playing by yourself.

That's right, someone made Triple Vision. My roommate and I played a game of it, but I think it would work best with three people. It also would have helped if we had communicated more on what colors we should go for, because we filled it up quite often and lost a lot of points that way.

At this point Audiosurf 2 is not worth getting. Audiosurf still has lots of people playing it, and you'll be able to compare scores with all of them. If you don't have Audiosurf yet I would highly recommend it; as I said, it is one of my favorite games, and my go-to game if I have a few minutes to chill.