Friday, March 28, 2014

Dream: Aliens Invade a Board Game

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The really interesting thing about this dream is that nothing happens that I can't see happening in real life.

I walk in to find several of my friends playing a variation of the board game Axis and Allies. Now the traditional Axis and Allies is a strategy game that takes place in the middle of World War II. It appears that +Ian Decker had come up with a version that introduces an alien invasion in the middle of the whole thing, and the human nations have to start working together to fight them off. Wait, haven't I read a book with that premise?

I believe that +Caleb Buck and +Jonas Buck were controlling the human factions, and +Anna Haslow was controlling the aliens. Since I didn't have any units to control, I decided to create a civilian unit for me to essentially play an RPG with. My goal was to avoid the alien forces as they took over the world, which means that I was trying to get to Alaska.

I kind of want to try this out in real life, probably minus the RPG part.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dream: I Am (Almost) Iron Man

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At the beginning of this dream I was basically a pilot in Titanfall: I could run endlessly, double jump, wall run, and generally just be awesome. The only thing missing was a weapon.

As I ran around it became pretty obvious that I was being chased, so I tried to speed up a bit. Unfortunately it wasn't enough, and someone grabbed me from behind. I tumbled to the ground as he landed on his feet in front of me. Luckily I suddenly realized that I had Jango Fett's jetpack on as well as the jump pack. I lined myself up and activated the jetpack, slamming into the guy and carrying him up a ways before dropping him.

I knew that there were still others chasing me, so I kept going along the path I had been following before (it looked suspiciously like a linear video game map.) To conserve fuel I used the jetpack sparingly and started gliding with the wingsuit I was apparently wearing. I think I even had small jets attached to my feet to make navigational adjustments. Then a voice started talking to me, which turned out to be the wingsuit's artificial intelligence. At that point I was basically Iron Man without the iron, but I woke up before I got that far.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Indie Game: The Movie Review

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The struggling artist is a trope that we're all familiar with, but most of us don't associate it with video game developers. That is pretty understandable because until 2009 or so the only games we saw were big-budget games being put out by large corporations. With the indie game scene exploding in the last few years, it became much more obvious that there were people making games purely out of passion; people who put their financial stability and reputations on the line to create something beautiful. And that's art.

Enter Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary that sets out to tell a few of these developers' stories. It focuses on Jonathan Blow (Braid), Phil Fish (Fez), and Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy). In the case of Fez and Super Meat Boy, they interview the developers at several important points during the creation of their games. Fez faced a very long development and legal issues that drained Fish. McMillen and Refenes had to crunch to get Super Meat Boy out in time for an Xbox promotion. For all of them, the failure of their games would mean they would probably be finished with game development. Braid was already out by the time the movie was filmed, so Blow mostly talked about what is important to him about independent development. It wasn't nearly as emotionally intense as the other developers' stories, but it helped to frame them.

Even the music was indie game related. Most of it was by Jim Guthrie, and a lot of it was taken straight from Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery. Being that I listen to that soundtrack on a fairly regular basis, it was pretty cool to hear them using the music in such an effecting way.

I was hoping that Indie Game: The Movie would be the kind of documentary I could show my parents to convince them that game development is an art form, but I'm not sure it would work for that. The best audience are definitely gamers; those of us who are already invested in the indie scene will get a lot out of the movie, and gamers who have previously only been exposed to AAA games could be encouraged to expand their horizons. Obviously all three games that were featured have been successful and are very well-known, but during the credits they show many other indie games; even I hadn't heard of most of them, and you can bet I will be looking into them.

This movie is definitely worth a look for anyone who is remotely interested in video games.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stargate SG-1: Unleashed Review

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The Stargate franchise has had a pretty tumultuous relationship with the video game world. I remember hearing about an MMO called Stargate Worlds in development years ago, but their money ran out and the game was never released. A third-person shooter called Stargate: Resistance came out in 2010, but less than a year later they pulled the game from stores and shut down the servers. I was really disappointed that I missed out on it, but Stargate SG-1: Unleashed looks like it is here to stay.

Unleashed is a third-person adventure game for iOS and Android. I can understand the desire to bring console-grade gaming to mobile devices, but despite the fact that the power in our phones is increasing at an incredible rate I don't think this will ever be a viable option.
One very obvious reason is graphics. Unleashed tried to go for photorealism, and as you can see it's pretty bad. This could easily have been avoided if they went with a different art style; for example, some nice cel shading could have given it a comic book feel similar to The Walking Dead. My Nexus 5's Snapdragon 800 is about as high-end as they come right now, so the game ran smooth as butter. Even so, it drained my battery pretty fast so I usually only played when I knew I had access to a charger.

The other big reason that console-like gaming doesn't work on mobile is the way the game is consumed. When I play something on my computer, I have probably made sure that I have a decent chunk of time available. I play mobile games when I am out and about and I have a few minutes to kill. Unleashed acts like a console game in this area, expecting me to sit down and play it for an extended period of time. It doesn't let you save manually, instead relying on checkpoints. I ended up replaying quite a few sections because I had to step away before hitting the next checkpoint.
Gameplay and controls is another area where third-person mobile games struggle. Unleashed uses the expected twin-stick emulation in most areas where you move around, and it works pretty well. Combat is pretty simple: you are crouched behind cover and have to strategically decide when to pop out and shoot at enemies. If you get hit you can just stay behind cover until your character stops panting. Almost everything else in the game is based on quick time events. Seriously. Shimmying along a ledge? Quick time event. Taking out a guard from behind? Quick time event. Drawing a bucket of water out of a freaking well? You'd better be ready for a quick time event, my friend! Ugh.
Let's talk about some positive stuff! The story was well-written and interesting. Most of the voice acting was by the actors from the show, so it was both congruent with my expectations and it was quality voice acting. If the story or acting had been worse you can bet that I would not have finished the game.

Ultimately Stargate SG-1: Unleashed is only worth playing if you are a super fan of Stargate. I am interested in the story enough to get the second episode, but I am seriously disappointed in its quality as a game.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Walking Dead 2 Episode 2 Review

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

I wasn't really sure what to expect from the second episode of The Walking Dead 2 because the first episode didn't have much going on in it. I didn't know enough about the group of people I met to make predictions about what was going to happen. Luckily the second episode picks things up; well, it's not lucky for the characters in the game, but you know what I mean.
The most important thing that happens in this episode is the people in your new group get fleshed out more in a big way. The Walking Dead would fail completely if it didn't have strong characters that you care about. I found myself drawn to the people in the group to varying degrees, much as I would in real life.
The biggest challenge Telltale faces in this game is finding ways to give the player agency in ways that make sense for an 11 year old girl. For the most part I think they succeeded, though there were a few exceptions; for example, who would leave Clementine alone to figure out how to turn off a wind turbine?
Unfortunately I cannot go into the best things about this episode without spoiling everything, but trust me: The Walking Dead 2 is officially now worth getting. There were a lot of surprises, which I was not expecting. I thought I was prepared for anything that Telltale could throw at me, but I was very wrong.
Much like the first episode, they end with a huge cliffhanger. If you hate dealing with those, you might want to wait until the third episode comes out, but that will probably end on a cliffhanger as well. I'm enjoying playing it one episode at a time, but I wish I had somebody I could discuss things with.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fives Review

Fives is a mobile game that's all about combining like numbers. Numbers are arranged on a 4x4 grid, and your score is determined by how many you can combine before you have no more moves left. Here is an example of what the board might look like at the end of a game:
That might look a little confusing until you understand what you do in the game. On each turn you can slide the board up, down, left, or right. Every number on the board will move in that direction if it can (they will not slide off the end of the board). Twos will combine with threes to make fives, and every number after that will combine with like numbers (fives with fives, tens with tens, etc). When numbers combine the new number is the addition of the two old numbers. Also when you make your move a new number will slide in on the side of the board you are pulling from. So if you slide everything down, a new number will appear in one of the slots at the top of the board. As you can see above, there were no more moves I could make because there were no numbers adjacent to numbers they could combine with.
The board starts out will all twos and threes, and your score is determined by how many moves you made and how large the numbers are on the board by the end. It is a very good idea to pay attention to what the next number is, so that you can pull in a direction that will place it near other numbers like it. Otherwise the board fills up very quickly. Take the below screenshot as an example: Although pulling left here only allows me to combine one pair of numbers, they are the largest numbers on the board, and on the next turn I will be able to pull down and combine three numbers at once. Furthermore, I know that the next number is a twenty, so I am positioning it near several tens that will soon become twenties.
Fives has several monetization models; you can play the game for free with ads. These ads show up in a small banner below the next number indicator, and a large ad pops up after each game. You can get rid of these ads by paying $2, which I did. You also have a limited number of undos and chances to change the next number. You can earn these by scoring over 10,000 points (which takes a long time) or you can buy them for $1 a piece. This is not worth it in my mind, and I am sure that some of the global high scores exist because people spent a lot more money than they should have in order to get up there. Fives appears to only be available on Android.

I've enjoyed playing Fives but other than +Ryan Rampersad I don't know anyone who plays it, and he will never get anywhere near my high score. Much like Dots, I think I am done with this game.

Update: Fives is most certainly a clone of Threes! which is now available on Android, so I recommend checking that out instead.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Walking Dead 2 Episode 1 Review

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

If you have not played The Walking Dead Season 1 yet, you probably shouldn't read this. I reserve the right to spoil things that you would know by the time you play Season 2.

Sometimes we do things even though we know they will cause us strife. That is the only reason I can think of for why I started playing Season 2 of The Walking Dead. I knew that nothing good could come of it, but darn it I was not going to miss out on the rest of Clementine's story.
One of the things that I was most excited about was the fact that the decisions I made during Season 1 would carry over and have an impact in Season 2. And indeed, the game found my save files and imported them properly, but I didn't notice anything during the first episode that had anything to do with what I had done during Season 1. That includes the 400 Days DLC. The story didn't suffer as a result, but I spent most of the episode waiting for one of the characters to show up or some fallout from a decision I had made earlier to bite me in the butt. Nothing of the sort happened.
Being that Clementine is a lot smaller than Lee, the combat played out much differently. Instead of struggling with the zombies and trying to bash their heads in, Clementine usually runs and dodges away from whatever is chasing her. There were also far fewer puzzles, and those that were present were fairly straightforward. Honestly most of the episode was a continuous push forward, with few hub areas to simply explore and talk to people.
Overall I would call this episode a setup episode. Telling you what it is setting up would be a spoiler, but it might be in your best interest to wait and find out how good the next episode is before deciding whether or not to buy the whole season.
Interactively making a 10 year old give themselves stitches was quite the experience though.
EDIT: You can now read my review of Episode 2.