alexxkay: (Default)
My current gaming obsession is The Witness. I have not yet discovered all of its secrets, but I have found enough to want to talk about it, and to highly recommend it.

In form, The Witness owes a significant chunk of its DNA to Myst. You find yourself upon an apparently deserted island with some beautiful scenery, some puzzling mechanisms, and a few hints that there is a larger narrative story behind it all. The puzzles, however, are more structured than those in Myst. The first door you come to teaches you to draw a line from an open circle to an endpoint. Every other puzzle is an elaboration upon this. There are the expected variations of size and shape, a variety of symbols which impose constraints on how the line must be drawn, and so on. What I was not expecting, however, was the way in which the… level upon which the puzzle solving happens changes multiple times over the course of the game.

The game encourages, sometimes in audio or video format, but more significantly in terms of the gameplay itself, a mix of scientific and Zen thought. It carefully teaches you how to make and test hypotheses – and also how you must sometimes abandon hypotheses in favor of perceiving the actual world in front of you. Eventually, you will come to expect certain things from the game. Most of them are there, somewhere, or the game will teach you to stop expecting them. Play this game enough, and you will begin to see the world in different ways (and not just through the desire to draw lines on everything!).

I do have to dock a few points for accessibility. There are a few puzzles based on sound; even if you have good hearing, as I do, these may prove quite difficult/impossible if you are not good at identifying pitch. Some other puzzles require fine-grained color differentiation which will cause problems for some varieties of colorblindness. A very few puzzles near the end of the game contain elements of flashing light which might be dangerous for some kinds of epilepsy. And a very few puzzles contain timed elements, requiring not just cleverness, but speed. That said, several of these difficulties can be mitigated by judicious use of Internet spoilers.

I do recommend resisting spoilers. There are only rare situations where a single puzzle is a bottleneck. Most of the time it is quite viable, when apparently stuck, to employ the “go do something else and come back later” strategy without even leaving the game. And, indeed, I frequently had the experience of a seemingly-insoluble puzzle cracking instantly when I came back to it.

There are a mere two achievements on Steam. The first is titled “Endgame”, which is a lie. It does commemorate a significant landmark, and you could stop there if you wanted, but there is much left to discover. Steam tells me I got that achievement at the 24 hour mark; I have now played for 48, and think I may be closing in on “completely done”. I still haven’t gotten that second achievement. There are many puzzles and story elements that I don’t think are actually accessible until after “Endgame”. If you haven’t both “walk through the credits” and spent a goodly time listening to “Hall of the Mountain King”, then you definitely aren’t done yet. The vast majority of that time was racked up in 30 minute chunks, so even as a busy adult, it should be playable.

The Witness is available on multiple platforms. It sometimes comes around on the Humble Bundle (which is how I got it). It is Highly Recommended.
alexxkay: (Default)
Speaking of both frugality and fun, I recently picked up the latest Humble Mobile Strategy Bundle. Some I had played before and enjoyed (Kingdom Rush especially), but two are new to me and are proving particularly fun.

Hero Generations is a sort of highly condensed RPG. Each move takes a year of your current character’s life. When your lifespan runs out, it’s game over – unless you acquire enough fame before then to win a mate; if you have, the game continues with their adventures, starting with a hand-me-down item or two, or perhaps some other advantages. Each generation takes only a few minutes to play, so it can be rewarding in small chunks. However, there is clearly an overarching plot which will take a significant number of generations to complete. While a few things are constant, much of the world is randomized each game, so there is plenty of replay value.

Guild of Dungeoneering has many similar qualities: each session is relatively short, but the over game could take a long time, and there’s plenty of replay value. The theme is a little like the old PC game Majesty, in that there are lots of adventurers in the world, but you don’t directly control any of them. Instead, you act as a sort of Game Master, laying out dungeon tiles, treasure, and monsters in a way which hopefully will entice the adventure into challenges which will level them up successfully so that they can defeat this particular dungeon’s quest. The combat mechanic is a simple card game, but each character class has a different default deck, and what loot you pick up inside a dungeon also affects the cards in your deck, so it’s got a little bit of deck-building character as well.

Both games are recommended. If you like playing on an Android device, and act soon, you can get both of them and many more besides for a whopping five dollars. I expect (though have not checked) that these games are also available on other platforms, though you might have to pay retail.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
In the game Marvel Puzzle Quest, I've recently spent a lot of time playing both with and against a particular version of Black Widow (gray suit). When used strategically by the player, she is a *considerable* badass. The opponent AI, however, has no idea how to properly apply her powers.

I take this as an accidental-but-apt commentary on the character's recent treatment in the movies. The actors and directors make her badass, but none of the money people know what to do with her.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
This is a really hard game for me to write about, on many levels.

It’s a small budget independent game, but takes as its subject matter AAA game development. This is perhaps unsurprising, as about two thirds of the creative team were powerhouses on the Bioshock franchise.

I’d been looking forward to it for some time on that basis, but by the time it came out, I was terminally unemployed and broke :( However, a friend of mine recently gifted me a copy, so now I have (mostly) played it.

The main meat of the game involves wandering around in the side an unfinished game world, trying to fix (or sabotage) it, while the developers bicker and fail to accomplish much, like a particularly dysfunctional pantheon of gods. It’s delightfully meta-. Most of the story content is ABOUT the nature of story content in an interactive medium. Similarly, most of the gameplay requires the player to actively engage in thinking about how gameplay systems interact. Playing this main portion of the game felt a lot like being a QA tester again, reminding me how much fun I had when I first entered the industry.

The writing and voice work are both very good. Those not in the industry might be inclined to think that the satire was a little over-the-top. I have to say, not really. Compressed, maybe; you experience, in the course of a handful of hours, a range of craziness more typical of an industry year. But the extremes of what happens are all too accurate.

There were parts of the game that seems to speak DIRECTLY to my personal experience. Though I think they probably weren’t drawn from literal shared experiences, as these patterns recur across the industry. I felt similarly when reading Austin Grossman’s recent novel, _You_, based partly on his early years at Looking Glass. Several scenarios in that book were eerily familiar, despite the fact that Austin and I had completely non-overlapping time at LG.

I made it to (what felt like) the final segment of the game, but couldn’t actually bring myself to finish it. (Spoilers.) In this section, the player is dropped into what amounts to a simplified game editor, and tasked by one of the characters with building a small level and populating it with gameplay. I interacted with the editor for a little while, and then was suddenly hit with an overpowering emotional reaction. “I’m working on a gameplay design task, with no clear mandate of what I’m supposed to accomplish, and which will eventually be evaluated by standards I have no control over. I’m in HELL! AGAIN!” Just a horrible, visceral flashback to the worst periods of working with Ken Levine. Quit to desktop.

I’m reasonably sure that the game devs did not INTEND to spur that reaction. I can hardly be considered a typical audience member in this regard. But I’m unlikely to pick it up again anytime soon.

That said, I do strongly recommend the first three quarters or so of the game to anyone who is interested in the ins and outs of game development.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Talking with [ profile] rickthefightguy recently, he mentioned why he had stopped playing Vampire: The Masquerade LARPs. It was after the second time that he had built up a character with a great deal of power, both in terms of combat and politics, had started arguing that The Masquerade was a stupid idea which be abandoned, and had that character summarily killed by an extremely powerful NPC. Sensing the pattern, he declined to go through it again.

Now, on one level, it’s obvious why that happened. When a player attempts to undermine one of the very foundations of the game world, the GMs HAVE to stop that from succeeding. And The Masquerade IS one of the foundational points of the game; its presence in the title is no accident. It marks a genre distinction, between Secret History and Alternate History. In a Secret History setting, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief enough, you can just barely believe that the details of the setting might actually be true. By contrast, an Alternate History setting is obviously and irrevocably not the world we are living in. A Secret History can become an Alternate History, but it’s a very significant one-way change. An author might be willing to make that change for a setting of his (Charles Stross has done so twice so far), but GMs who are running a licensed setting are going to be understandably reluctant to make such a large and fundamental change to that setting. Even if they were willing in theory, making such a change is a LOT of work, for both GMs AND players.

Of course, all that is a Doyle-ist explanation, and I far prefer Watsonian ones whenever possible. So I started considering possible solutions from that angle.

The Masquerade IS, on the face of it, a pretty stupid political idea. It carries very high costs for very arguable benefits. But what if it WASN’T a political idea at all, what if it was an existential one? Not prescriptive, but descriptive? Posit a world where the Rules of Reality (a superset of the laws of physics) prevent vampires, werewolves, etc. from being acknowledged by society.

I have read a number of time travel stories where, when you try to change history, you can make small local changes, but the timestream “cancels them out” with a series of what would normally be considered low probability events. This is just a science-fiction gloss on one of the classic conceptions of Fate, or how one has to pay the appropriate “price” in a magical bargain. Technically, you can avoid fated outcome X, but that will just result in outcome Y, which is much worse. A really skilled sorcerer, who has anticipated many of the possible outcomes, might avoid X, Y, and even Z – but that just leads to an Omega which is nigh-apocalyptic.

So, imagine that that is what The Masquerade is designed to avoid. Before it was established, there may have been incidents where powerful vampire clans attempted to reach some sort of stable political arrangement with humanity at large, only to have those clans entirely wiped out by mysterious accidents. Maybe not just clans, but one or more entire mythological SPECIES. As soon as this pattern is understood, there is a strong incentive to create political structures that will prevent anything like it from happening again. The rank-and-file wouldn’t even have to understand the true reasons for The Masquerade, as long as they scrupulously followed the rules. (It occurs to me, I’ve just invented a Secret History of a Secret History. Yay, recursion!)

In a world like this, when a character like Rick’s started getting too powerful and threatening The Masquerade, instead of killing him outright, some of the clan elders would quietly take him aside and tell him what was really going on. In most such cases, the troublemaker would cease to cause trouble. (I’ve been rereading H.P. Lovecraft, and a very similar situation occurs in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. When the US military does a lot of violent, top-secret stuff in the vicinity of Innsmouth, at first, a bunch of newspaper reporters are very inquisitive about it. They are quietly told at least a piece of what’s really going on, and why they shouldn’t write about it, and they mostly shut up.)

As a further thought experiment, how might the Rules of Reality have come to exist in such a way? I’ve come up with one model, though doubtless there are others possible. Consider a universe that begins much like many primitive creation myths: at first there is formless chaos, but eventually gods coalesce out of it. The first generation of gods don’t do much except (perhaps accidentally) create the second generation of gods, which promptly overthrow and/or kill the first generation, and start building the physical universe out of their remains. This early version of the universe contains mankind, but is still pretty chaotic and “magical”. One God can declare something about reality and make it true, but another God can easily come along and declare something else, or even the opposite.

Eventually, more generations of gods happen, getting more sophisticated over time. As these gods gradually form more complex and stable societies among themselves, they begin to realize that a universe where the nature of reality is in constant flux is “bad for business”. The majority faction of the gods decide to impose a consistent Physics on the universe (possibly some time during the Roman Empire). But, though they are a majority, there exists enough powerful dissent that compromises must be made. Certain entities (e.g. vampires) which do not actually obey the laws of Physics are allowed to be “grandfathered” in – with restrictions. They are only allowed to exist on the fringes; if their presence became known, it would be a threat to Physics, which is not permitted.

Maybe what happens to a sufficiently determined vampire who avoids the vampire legal system and attempts to go public, is that he discovers, much to his surprise, that he is NOT a vampire, but an ordinary human being except for some broken brain chemistry that has driven him insane…
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
A recent post from [ profile] siderea included the sentence The whole Protestant work ethic thing is based on the notion that you can tell where you stand in God's eyes (and your neighbors') by how "prosperous" you are. This reminded me of some thoughts I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now.

A year and a half ago, when it dawned on me just how much my colleague Shane was willing to commit to our joint project, I had an unusual (for me) set of reactions. Gratitude, of course, but also a sense of disbelief and unworthiness, mixed with wonder. I was deeply grateful that it was happening, but I did not (at that time) understand WHY, nor did I understand what was going on inside my own emotional world.

As I struggled to find language to express these feelings, I kept returning to phrases like “blessed” and “by grace of God”. As a near-lifelong atheist, I noticed something odd was going on. I was experiencing emotions that didn’t seem to map to any prior models EXCEPT explicitly religious ones. This didn’t actually change my (non-)belief in God, but I do recall thinking “THIS is what they mean when they talk about ‘grace’.”

Then, being who I am, I integrated this into my existing moral framework with reference to a 20-year-old computer game :-)

From the mid-80s to the early 90s, the Ultima series of computer games spent an unprecedented (and never-yet-repeated) amount of effort on mixing gameplay with serious explorations of moral systems. These explorations were in many ways very limited, but the degree of engagement caused by mixing them with interactive game systems led to some uniquely powerful lessons. For me, anyway.

1992’s Ultima 7, the last one to deal with morality in any organized way, had one particularly cogent lesson.U7 introduced a new religion to the fantasy world, called The Fellowship. The Fellowship would ultimately turn out to be bad guys. Their moral principles had been carefully designed to make intuitive sense on a cursory reading, but to have distinctly regressive effects when actually put into practice.

One of The Fellowship’s principles was “Worthiness Precedes Reward”. Humans (primates) are hardwired to seek out “fairness”, even when we have to invent it. When positively valenced, this finds expression in ideas like “I worked hard to get where I am today” and “self-made man”. But it has a darker side as well. “You brought this on yourself.” “You must’ve been asking for it.” And so on…

This brings us back to where we started, with the Protestant work ethic. If you are poor, sick, or otherwise disadvantaged AND we live in a “fair” universe, then you must DESERVE to be in such a state. (And those who are better off, of course, have no reason to help you out.)

Of course, despite what our primate wiring would have us believe, the universe is NOT fair, not even close. Yes, there is such a thing as cause-and-effect, but the web of causality is so interconnected and complex that that really isn’t any help. Unfair stuff happens all the time.

I had been used to thinking about the unfairness of the universe when BAD things happened to me, but it was new to me to realize so viscerally how, sometimes, the unfairness could happen in a GOOD way. We are stuck with the bad breaks and no way to avoid them. When unreasonably GOOD things happen, we must accept this as well – with “Grace”.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I have spent a nontrivial amount of time over the last 24 hours playing the new iPad game Loot and Legends. I say “new”; actually, it’s a new slightly-simplified port of a PC game called Card Hunter, made by some ex-colleagues of mine a few years ago.

The gameplay is a unique combination of tactical wargame and collectible card game. You control a team of three figures, each of them can be equipped with many different types of gear. Whereas, in most games, deer would add directly to your stats, in these games gear adds cards to your deck. Each round of combat, you draw three cards (per character) that you can use over the course of the round. But you can’t just build an arbitrary deck, since each piece of gear comes with a specific set of cards. Once you’re out of the early game, you often find gear that has some great cards really want, paired with less impressive (or even outright negative!) cards that you have to put up with in your deck if you want the good ones.

The game’s aesthetic is one of old-school tabletop D&D. The miniatures are represented as little cardboard cutouts, there is a pimply DM who will taunt you, and each “adventure” starts by displaying a “cover” whose layout and typeface will be very familiar to most of my friends list.

While it is a free-to-play game, there actually seems to be no need to give them money if you don’t want to. On my antique iPad 2, I have found it to be quite crashy, but, thankfully, the programmers seem to have set it up to aggressively save state, so that despite these crashes I have never actually lost any gameplay progress. Moreover, after a crash, the game reloads quite quickly. It does require a near-constant Internet connection but is pretty good about reconnecting smoothly after your connection drops.

Highly recommended, especially for Rickthefightguy.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I've been playing tons of the new Sentinels of the Multiverse app. I've also, being me, been making lots of suggestions / bug reports on their forums. I have made myself sufficiently annoying/useful that they've invited me into their beta, so I can give more immediate feedback :-)

It occurs to me that my very first toe-dipping into the games industry was an unpaid gig as a beta tester for an early computer version of Magic: the Gathering. You can take the boy out of QA, but you can't take the QA out of the boy :-)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Tale of Tales is a tiny Belgian game company that I've been following with interest for some years (since falling in love with The Path). I don't think everything they do is successful, but they are out there pushing boundaries that no one else is.

Their latest game, Luxuria Superbia, is out now, and is fucking brilliant. Or perhaps I should say "love-making-ly brilliant". While it's got a floral/garden metaphor on its surface, you don't have to penetrate very far before you realize that this is an extended metaphor for sex. And a really well-made one.

Each 'flower', starts off blank, but when you touch it, color appears. Most games try to please the player; in this one, you try to please the game. You might call it a rhythm game, but it's nothing like the exacting precision required by most games with that label. Instead, it's about flow, and feedback, learning what kind of strokes will evoke the best results in the varied flowers. Just as with human partners, there are many similarities, but also subtle and important differences in response. You can use multiple fingers to deploy colors more quickly, but if you overdo it, you might 'finish' too quickly, leaving the flower unsatisfied. Conversely, chasing high scores feels so much more meaningful, when the game breathily* informs you "This is the best it's ever been!" [*OK, it's just text, not speech, so technically not "breathy". But the text fades in and out in a sensually suggestive manner.]

As someone who is fascinated by both games and sex, I've seen many attempts to blend the two in various ways. This is perhaps the most successful. It actually feels like I've been making love to my iPad. Which sounds creepy when I say it, but actually felt really joyful to do.

Here's a couple of good articles about the game:

Really, though, no amount of writing (or video) can tell you what it feels like to play this game, as it is such a tactile, feedback-based experience.

It was just released a few days ago, and is still having a launch sale, so you can get it cheap. It's available for many platforms, but you really need to play this on a device with a touchscreen; a mouse just isn't the same. If you care about Games As Art, or you enjoy sex, this is a Must Buy. Absolute Highest Recommendation.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Well, that was a bit of an anti-climax. Sort of inevitable, really, given a hundred-hour game, but still slightly disappointing. Nonetheless, I enjoyed most of those hours, so overall, thumbs-up. And the revelations after the final boss fight were both genuinely surprising, yet sufficiently foreshadowed.

Retraction of earlier statement: As the story goes on, all the notable female characters (PCs and NPCs) *are* increasingly defined by their relationships with men. Sigh.

XC has a "new game plus" mode, of a sort, but after dipping a toe in briefly, I don't think I'll be continuing with it. Other than letting you keep your accumulated weapons and skills, it doesn't change the *world* at all, just starts the plot over from scratch. I had earlier remarked how refreshing it was that there were some corners of the world which had monster way too high level for you to deal with when you first encounter them. Some of these were, as I believed initially, "come back later" scenarios, but many of them turn out to be "come back in New Game Plus", which is less enthralling. Also, there's a certain ludonarrative dissonance to be found when there are lots of monsters in the world who turn out to be literally a dozen levels higher than *god*!

This falls under the category of "If I was 12, and had lots of free time and no money for other games, I would totally engage with the New Game Plus mode". As it happens, money is tight and time is more available than usual right now. Still, as a result of several years of Steam Summer Sales, I have a *large* backlog of games I've been meaning to get to...
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Played a few games of Sentinels of the Universe (a cooperative superhero-themed card game) t'other day, including one that was truly epic. The heroes were facing off against Grand Warlord Voss, one of the toughest villains in the basic set. He incapacitated two of the five heroes before the heroes had managed to damage him at all! The third hero fell after getting him down to a 'mere' 80 hit points, but by that time the remaining two heroes were in the single digits each. But The Visionary ([ profile] herooftheage) managed to draw *just* the right card combo. He had an ongoing card that did (a small amount of) damage to all enemies on each of his turns, and he drew a card that made him completely immune to damage, but also prevented him from taking any actions during his turn. But the already-played ongoing card wasn't an action, so could gradually chip away at the baddie. Bunker was still in play, and managed to get her hit point total to exactly equal The Visonary's, which was great, because any time the baddies did damage to either "the hero with the highest HP" *or* "the hero with the lowest HP", The Visionary could opt to take it, and have the damage bounce off. It took a lot of rounds, and Bunker did very nearly fall before the end, but at last the forces of Goodness prevailed!

Also had an epic battle in Xenoblade Chronicles recently. One of the benefits of insanely-lengthy JRPGs, when well done, is that they get you *really* familiar with an aspect of the game, and then upend your expectations. This works for story elements in obvious ways, but also can be applied to gameplay. On rare-but-excellent occasions, it can be both at once. Minor spoilers follow:Read more... )

Gone Home

Aug. 16th, 2013 05:43 pm
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I've just finished playing Gone Home. If you have an interest in interactive narrative, this is not to be missed. It doesn't have much of what you could really call 'gameplay', but it tells a number of stories extremely well. Highly Recommended. If that isn't enough for you, here's a good review.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Saturday was the annual 21st Century Party. Most of it featured playing of Artemis, which Tom had requested I get set up in the living room. It's a great multiplayer co-op computer game, where each player takes on the role of a bridge officer on the starship Enterprise Artemis. It's an impressive achievement, and really captures the core fantasy quite well. There are still some bugs and kinks to work out, but it's already great fun, and still under active development.

Sunday morning, I did some final polish on my Sandman paper, and got it uploaded. If you read the last version, you'll be happy to know that it now has a Version History at the end that lists new stuff since last time.

After some thought, I decided that, rather than try and sell it in a traditional fashion, i would make it freely available, and just put a Paypal button on it. After all, I could never have completed it in the first place if lots of other people hadn't freely put the efforts of *their* scholarship on-line.

That said, I figured it was worth publicizing a bit, so I sent out announcements to a bunch of major geek news sites, in the hopes that they will link to it. No posts, as such, yet, but Neil himself has tweeted it, calling it "Astonishingly well-researched". That got me some readers, one typo correction, and (so far) two small donations. From this small sample, I infer that French speakers are generous, as one of them came from France, and the other from Quebec. This sort of cross-continental interaction seems *very* 21st century to me!
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Finished playing this last night. It's made up largely of pieces of genres that I'm apathetic about (RTS and Heavy Metal), so on the surface it doesn't seem that I would like it. But the folks who made it have such palpable love for their subject matter that it really elevates the experience.

You play Eddie Riggs, a long-time roadie for heavy metal bands who decries how much the genre has decayed since the 70s. Hit on the head during a stage accident, Eddie finds himself mysteriously transported to what he assumes are medieval times (obviously not much of a history student), but which to the viewer is clearly The Dimension Of Heavy Metal. The initial landscape is composed of black rock, molten lava, gigantic bones, and chrome. Later on, their are deep jungles, rivers of blood, and strategic locations include The Sea of Black Tears, Bladehenge, and The Dry Ice Mines.

And it's not just the visuals that are Metal, the gameplay is as well. Early on, Eddie acquires a pair of magic axes. One is a standard fantasy axe, with sharp blades for hitting people; the other 'axe' is a mystic electric guitar for belting out power chords (essentially spells). The setpiece battles are real-time-strategy combat re-envisioned as a battle of the bands. Each player's base is a stage, the production resource is "fans" (which you harvest by building Merch Booths). The units are visual parodies of traditional types of fans, or musicians, or people/things you might see on album covers. You earn upgrades by "pleasing the Metal Gods", who hold up lighters of "Fire Tribute" whenever you advance the story, complete a side mission, or find a collectable in the open world exploration part of the game.

This land contains some (approximately) human beings, oppressed into slavery by their demon overlords. Eddie joins (and eventually lead) a resistance movement to take down the bad guys and make the land safe for Metal once again. One of the delightful aspects of the story, for me, is how easily Eddie accepts his new environment. Sure, it's a strange new land where he doesn't know the rules -- but on some level, he seems to know that he's in a story, and that it will turn out alright. Not without some twists and tragedy along the way, but it *does* turn out all right in the end. It even has an uplifting moral about the true nature of heroism -- and being a good roadie.

Eddie is voiced by Jack Black, a perfect choice, who brings a great deal of sincerity and, again, love, to his part. Several supporting roles are played by actual Heavy Metal folk, including Lemmy, Rob Halford, Lita Ford, and Ozzy Osbourne (who nearly matches Jack Black in terms of total commitment to an extremely silly character). The rest of the voice cast is rounded out by very good professional voice actors, including Tim Curry as the main villain -- though I didn't recognize him, as he was pitch-shifted down enough to give my sub-woofer a real workout.

If (like me) you're not a regular player of RTS games, I'd recommend playing on easy. But I *do* recommend this game; it was heaps of fun.

ETA: Fun interview about Brutal Legend:

The Wager

Jan. 18th, 2013 11:06 am
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
The Wager is a free (Windows-based) game I just discovered about exploring a Carribean-like setting. Randomized, replayable, good in small chunks. Reminiscent of Strange Adventure in Infinite Space, only (IMO) meatier. Recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Jordan Mechner's classic adventure game The Last Express is now out for iOs. Please go buy it. If it becomes a runaway hit, maybe we'll get another like it, and I really, really want that. The story is complete (and excellent) in and of itself, but contains delightful hints of further adventures for the protagonist. Someday, I'd like to see those turn into full stories too.
alexxkay: (Default)
Lately, I've been doing a lot of gaming on my iPad. The iPad has a very nice surface, that can be easily cleaned. And after enough fingerprint smudges build up, you really ought to clean it.

What I am amused by is that most games have a very distinctive smudge pattern. When my iPad is off, and light is reflecting in such a way as to highlight the smudges, I can tell what I've been playing lately. The regular grid of dots that make a game of Oasis. The up-from-the-bottom strokes to play cards in Lost Cities. The over-from-the-side strokes of a game of Ascension. Plants Versus Zombies has a straight column of smudges on the left, and then scattered smudges all over the main playfield (though more dense at the left of it). The row of smudges for the Glyphs at the side of a game of Elder Sign: Omens. Not all the games I play have such distinctive patterns, but many do :-)

[All games mentioned in this post are highly recommended, by the way.]
alexxkay: (Default)
Yesterday was the 21st Century Party. It was fun. The highlight for me was a game of Battlestar Galactica, which taught me two things, one about the game, and one about myself.

About the game: If you have exactly 4 or 6 players, it's actually crucial for the human players to get at least one of their own resources down into the red zone before the Sleeper Agent phase happens. If the don't do that, then the Cylon Sympathizer who turns up during that phase actually *joins* the Cyclons, making a full 50% of the players on that side. Humans are pretty well doomed if that happens. This is actually a lovely bit of game design, because it gives any actual early Cylon players great cover for doing things that would otherwise give them away.

About me: Despite my penchant for hamminess, I *am* capable of keeping a poker face. I was a Cylon from the start of the game, and successfully stayed hidden until after the Sleeper Agent phase. I mostly played exactly the way a human player would, which certainly helped my cover, but I did manage to successfully sabotage one Crisis Check with no one suspecting. There was a very tense sequence, where [ profile] rickthefightguy had the opportunity to look at one player's Loyalty Card, and it was down to me or [ profile] learnedax. [ profile] learnedax was playing Boomer, who is sort of inherently suspicious, but Rick was more inclined to look at mine, because, as Chief Tyrol, I was the more important character right now (there were no Cyclon ships around us, but the Galactica had some damage to repair). I managed to keep a slightly amused, but not actually *invested* expression on my face, while sweating bullets inside. [ profile] herooftheage, bless him, swayed Rick by pointing out that I had actually helped out in the Crisis Check that was just now leading to this reveal, and [ profile] learnedax hadn't (admittedly, due to not having any cards of the useful colors). And I *had* helped, just enough to maintain plausibility, though deliberately much less than I could have. Rick passed me over, and I managed no to let out a huge sigh of relief.

A few turns later, the Sleeper Agent phase happened, and [ profile] herooftheage joined the Cylons (see above). Judging that subterfuge was no longer necessary, I revealed myself, and the two of us began to hammer the hapless humans. Boomer became Admiral, but, being Boomer, was in the Brig. We Cylons managed to thwart efforts to remove her for several complete rounds. Meanwhile (at [ profile] herooftheage's suggestion), the Cylons managed to solidify a monopoly of every Repair card in the game. After that, it was only a matter of time, and not very much of that, before Galactica took enough damage to explode, yielding my first win of this game. Yay!
alexxkay: (Default)
Just finished playing a great iOs game called Waking Mars. I really, really enjoyed it. It's a science fiction game about explorers on Mars, discovering the remnants of an ancient ecosystem, whose seeds are still viable. You study the relationships between the various organisms as you attempt to restore this ecosystem to full working order in the mysterious cave beneath the Martian surface.

The game is, in the broadest sense, an action-platformer, but doesn't require extremely high hand-eye coordination. (At least on an iPad. I suspect it would be a bit trickier on a phone-sized screen.) When you bring up the menu of seeds to throw one, the game pauses, making it generally easy to aim.

Besides being an enjoyable experience on its own terms, I got the strong impression that the makers of this game were making some implicit political statements about the possibilities of games, as opposed to the 'accepted wisdom' of the big game companies. This is one of the few games I've played lately that *can't* be described as "shoot, shoot, take their loot"; it's entirely themed around growth, restoration, exploration, and discovery. Yet I found it no less exciting, for all that. The two human protagonists (there are a few AIs in the cast, also) are a Chinese male and an African female, so there's complete gender balance, and not a single Caucasian to be seen. I didn't have any trouble identifying with these protagonists.

Very highly recommended.
alexxkay: (Default)
I just finished playing Dear Esther. It's available on Steam for $9.99 and well worth it. Highly recommended.

I say 'playing', though it isn't a game in any conventional sense. It's an interactive narrative experience that, for me, lasted about two hours (though I am likely to revisit it again). I knew very little about it going in, mostly just what I've said already, plus the fact that it had generated a *lot* of writing by the sorts of writers I respect. Sensing that here was a rare opportunity to experience a unique thing relatively unspoiled, I actively avoided finding out more about it. It would probably have been OK if I had, but I did enjoy going in blank.

If, like many of my colleagues, you *design* interactive narrative experiences (whether attached to more conventional gameplay or not), this is worthy of careful study. Dear Esther contains a lot of masterful design work, on multiple levels. But again, I think you're better off going in without preconceptions about what they are. If you're the sort of person who studies this stuff, you'll recognize them on your own. *Highest* recommendation for students of the form.


alexxkay: (Default)
Alexx Kay

September 2017

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