Sunday, July 28, 2013

Postmortem on: State of Decay  


Games: It’s no secret that State of Decay from Undead Labs has been one of my favorite games this year. 

Despite a lot of lackluster zombie-themed stuff overcrowding the market, these folks managed to bring an original vision and a brand-new twist to material that most people had already written off.

Now that the dust has settled and the game has been out for a while, I figured it was the perfect time to check back in and do a little (har har) post-mortem Q&A on this groundbreaking survival title. Answers provided by Sanya Weathers.


Hey guys, thanks so much for taking the time to chat.  To start off with, I’d like to know how have you felt about the game’s reception since launch, and how successful has it been in relation to your original expectations? I mean, it's the fastest selling original XBLA title in history, and you've moved well over 500,000 copies!

We have been overwhelmed. We never imagined anything like this. We expected our game -- our persistent world apocalypse simulator with permadeath, for crying out loud -- would appeal very much to players like us, but not so much a mass audience.

We are very thankful for each player who personally spread the word about the game. Now we’re trying to live up to the expectations everyone has.

It seems to have been quite a wild ride in terms of tweaks, additions  and patches since the game launched. Can you give a quick run-down of the major changes for players who haven’t been following the update news?

Well, some things were simply fixes. Your community should never have been freaked out by infestations that were too far away to see, for example. And some things were in response to players doing things we hadn’t managed, such as amassing a very large collection of survivors. We had to remove some unintended caps that had never been reached during testing.

We’ve made progress on making some visual optimization, in terms of screen tearing and glitching, as well.

The biggest change, as opposed to bug fix, was that we changed how resources (both human and material) are managed when you’re offline. We wanted the offline progression to continue along the path that you set, but it was doing a little too realistic of a job. Survivors were getting killed and resources were being used at an incredible clip. Now, no one can be accidentally killed while out on a raid while you’re offline (murder/suicides can still occur, though), and your survivors won’t go insane building things without your permission.

All the fixes that are live to date are here and we’re actively working on TU3 as of today! Preliminary notes are here.

How much more work are you planning to do in terms of technical performance on 360, and will the PC version have features the 360 lacks?

To the former, there’s not much more we can do at this time. There are simply some inherent technical issues that can’t be addressed, although we never say never and will do our best, as always.

The PC version will take advantage of the PC’s capabilities - enhanced graphics, higher resolution, improved framerate, and so on.

What was the most unexpected request or piece of feedback you got from the players after SoD launched?

To make it harder. We thought it was pretty hardcore already, and early reviews had people really struggling (albeit happily). But we have a sizable chunk of the community asking for one bite one kill mode, or harder special zombies, or weaker survivors.

We are doing our best to gratify their wishes with our upcoming sandbox mode.

What’s been the funniest or strangest bug that’s been reported or discovered?

Most of the bugs that are funny are visual in nature. Imagine a survivor crouching and then glitching through an elevated building, so all you see is the backpack like a shark fin. Or a pathing bug causing two zombies to get stuck in a bathroom in what looks like a compromising act.

One of the players sent in one with a truck upside down on top of a car and whizzing down the highway. We laugh at this stuff, same as everyone, even as we grit our teeth and try to fix it :)

What was one thing about the game that didn’t work as well out in “the real world” as you thought it would, and what was one thing that worked even better?

See above about what we changed in terms of resources. Offline resource consumption was just deeply frustrating, especially to new players. It made people feel powerless, as if every play session was about playing catch-up and not just playing.

We also changed how frequently some of the automatic responses would occur. Yes, yes, brought a pony, GOT IT THANKS.

Nearly everything else has exceeded our wildest hopes. People seem to really enjoy being the story, instead of being told a story. Permadeath has been embraced. The simulation is appealing to everyone’s inner sense of “what if.” We’re just thrilled at the way people are interacting with the world.

Now that the game has been put through singleplayer paces for a while, has the team changed its mind about the value of time progression when the console is off and players are away from the game?

Nope. Other than to tweak it to make it less punishing (since punishing was never the intent - we were not trying to build a game that you _had_ to play every day), the offline progression is what makes the game into a simulation, one where you’re a part of a living world and not a model builder. The element really sets State of Decay apart from other games.

Microsoft hasn't exactly been receiving a lot of love from smaller studios these days. How’s your relationship been with them?

They believed in the game from the beginning, supported our plan, and stayed completely out of the creative process. They even gave us more time than originally scheduled in order to get more done. We appreciate everything they’ve done for us.

Any word on what’s next for Undead Labs? Is the “Class 4” MMO still happening, or is the team starting to think about other projects?

We’re in discussions about the future of the SoD universe, and if there’s anything to announce, it’ll be on our website before you can say “BLUARRRRRGH.”

And we’re always thinking about other projects. Never stop trying for more.

If you could say one sentence to people who haven't taken the SoD plunge yet, what would you say to convince them to give it a shot?

There’s never been anything like our open world apocalypse simulator filled with awesome and zombies. Come be part of something new with us! Also, it’s only twenty bucks on XBLA.

Okay, okay, I'm sorry but I just couldn’t resist… this is the last question, I swear. Is there any way for you to know how many players have Marcus (the first character players get) survive until the end of the game? Basically, what's the Marcus death rate?

Hahahaha. You’re not the only one who wants to know. We wanted an achievement for that, and couldn’t squeeze it in, so... no idea.


Infinite thanks to Undead Labs and Sanya Weathers for making the time, and if you haven't checked State of Decay out yet... Do so! It'll be on my top ten of 2013 for sure, and probably yours, too.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Seattle Retro Gaming Expo 2013  


Games: Last weekend on July 13th and 14th, the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo was held at the Northwest Rooms on the grounds of the Seattle Center. 

Although I've attended the Portland gathering before, this was my first time checking out the scene in my own backyard, and it was a great time.

As expected, the space was split between two areas. The first was a sales area chock-full of vintage systems, used games and geek-friendly crafts. The second was a free-play room where people could check out titles for a wide range of systems, and there was also a system-link room dedicated to the first Xbox and a once-in-a-lifetime array of ten Steel Battalion units arranged for multiplayer. 

As expected, there was a pretty good selection of items on display.  I walked away with a perler bead decoration in the shape of the Black Mage from FF1, and also managed to snag a copy of Policenauts.  Although I don’t have a 3DO to play it on, it was in absolutely pristine shape and it looks fantastic sitting on my shelf.

Thanks to a happy coincidence in the summer visitation schedule, this was the first time I was able to take my oldest son (who usually lives with his mom in a different state) to a games-related event, and it blew his mind.  This was the first time he’d ever seen an NES, the original Super Mario Bros., and about a million other things.  I took quite a bit of time showing him things on shelves and talking about their history, and he was fascinated.

While I was there, I talked to some representatives for the Retron 5 – an incredible device which plays all of the cartridges you see outlined in the picture below.  

Unbelievably, the thing will retail for $100, so it makes coming to a show like this and actually playing the classic games you might buy a lot more viable.  I don’t know about you, but my NES stopped working many years ago, so having a reliable, updated alternative is sounding really appealing to me.

Surprisingly, there was a severe lack of Monster Hunter-related merchandise.  I mentioned this complaint to every vendor I stopped at, so hopefully some of them will take action!

My only regret at the show was that I didn’t hit the free player room first.  When I initially walked through, there was only a handful of people filling the large space.  I figured I would come back after I dug through the merchandise in the adjacent room, but time went by and before I knew it, it was standing-room only in there, and the lines were crazy.  The kids were a little disappointed that we didn’t get to try some of the things I had been telling them about, but there’s always next year, right?

For more information on the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo, please click on over to their site and tell them I sent you.  Also, infinite thanks to Kinsey Burke for all her efforts!


Letters On: Alpha Protocol - Conclusion  


Games: At last, here's the fifth and final installment of the letters between myself and @SparkyClarkson on Obsidian's underappreciated espionage RPG, Alpha Protocol

Miss the previous installments? You can read the first here. The second is right here, and here are the third and the fourth

And now, our closing statements on the cross-continental misadventures of Mike Thorton...


So, at last, we come to the end of Alpha Protocol, and it is terrible.

It doesn’t seem that bad at first. The level begins with a number of “conversation” missions, and even at this late point the conversations keep Mike’s relationships growing. My Mike kept things professional with Mina and Scarlet, knowing he was a target. Then he walked into the airport and gave himself up to Darcy.

This leads into the conversation with Leland we’ve been having interspersed between missions the whole game. Leland offers Mike a job, apparently unaware that Mike’s whole purpose in visiting is to put a bullet between his eyes. One sharp refusal later, Mike is in the queue for termination, chatting a bit with Marburg on the way. Timely intervention by Steven Heck saves the day, and Mike is off to get his revenge.

Alas, Mike’s final romp through the Graybox and surrounding areas is an abyss of crappy level design and terrible boss encounters, infested with bugs.

The big reveal of Scarlet’s role turns into a loose end for me because the game mistakes curiosity for a positive choice. The building blew up behind me as I was just trying to figure out the lay of the land, sealing off Scarlet’s cell (although I didn’t realize that’s what I had missed until much later). This is why making a compelling game is so difficult - bad level design can make your story worse.

I rescued Mina, a relatively easy task since the soldiers were nonchalantly patrolling the interior of a building that was in the process of exploding, then moved on to fight Parker. This is a highly variable fight. I remember that the first time I played it, Parker shot Marburg in the back and I finished the job. This time Marburg was absent, and I had to take down a bunch of turrets (I hacked them, but this did nothing) and soldiers. Then I had to do it again, because the game bugged out the first time and didn’t let me into the little room where Parker was hiding.

Should I feel something in response to killing Parker? The plain fact is that I haven’t seen this guy since forever and I didn’t really care about him then. This is part of the problem with this whole part of the game. We have a relationship with Leland, because we’ve been talking to him regularly throughout the game, but Parker? Darcy? Westridge? I can barely remember those guys. The boss fights feel rather weightless as a consequence.

Speaking of Darcy, the fight against him is awful, and the subsequent fight against a helicopter is even worse. By this point the game has started to feel like the worst Gears of War clone ever created, an impression it does nothing to dispel in a final fight where I had to dodge rockets being launched by Leland.

Again, this is bad design hurting the story. The whole point of Leland’s character is that he never gets his hands dirty personally, that he doesn’t understand the realities of the conflicts he’s starting. No matter how much danger he was in, Leland wouldn’t want to pick up a rocket launcher, and wouldn’t know how to use one if he did. Leland should be hiding in that little office and sending out waves of troops. That fight would still suck, but at least it would be true to the character.

In the end, Leland tried to make a deal again, but Mike just beat the crap out of him and then shot him in the face, because that’s what Mike does. Then the game had to go ruin things by including a strange coda with Marburg (it didn’t let me shoot him!) before Mike sailed off into the sunset with Mina.

You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about G22 in all of that. Another weakness of this mission is that it doesn’t share the “grand alliance” feeling of the Taipei missions. Albatross and SIE turned up as options for my handler, but rather than taking all the help he can get, Mike apparently brushes them off.

That’s a huge mistake, because the story of Alpha Protocol is not “Mike Thorton went around the world semi-defeating Halbech and then went back to the Graybox to Kill All The Dudes.” The story is “Mike Thorton went around the world making allies who helped strengthen him, and enemies who would oppose him, in the final push against the real danger.” Alpha Protocol is a game about relationships, and it really needed to honor and incorporate them in the final mission in order to make that feel like a culmination of the story.

Alpha Protocol’s last mission fails in so many ways. It’s a big, shooty level full of bosses that leans on the game’s worst mechanics without sufficiently engaging its conversation system. The finale doesn’t really have much story of its own, and it too easily gives up the strands of alliance that could connect it back to Mike’s previous missions. It centers on NPCs who are far in the past, and doesn’t pay enough attention to Mike’s ongoing relationships. The level design blocks off elements of story rather than drawing the player towards them. In all, I found it a bitter disappointment.

Alpha Protocol is one of the most ambitious attempts to reach the Western RPG ideal of mutability - a game as a virtual DM that presents a partially fixed story that flexes to fit the player’s choices. Unfortunately, that ambition was not matched by Obsidian’s ability to execute on gameplay. The game’s shooty finale is abysmal, but it’s part and parcel of a stodgy insistence on RPG tropes that simply weren’t a good fit. The Graybox showdown is to the rest of the game as the boss fights against Omen, Marburg, and Brayko are to the mission cities that precede them.

I feel like Alpha Protocol might have worked better if Obsidian had just chucked the combat entirely. We haven’t discussed them much, but the hacking, lockpicking, and bypass minigames are pretty decent. With a little more building they could have served as the core of an interesting game, and recasting Alpha Protocol as a stealth adventure might have saved it from some of its worst sins. The Walking Dead shows that the WRPG choice motif can be quite compelling in an adventure game context.

Wishful thinking, I know. Sega would never have supported such a game, and Obsidian seem to see themselves as RPG guys first and foremost. Yet what Alpha Protocol is striving for is so great, and its flaws are so significant, one can’t help but wonder what might have been.


Hey Sparky,

You know, before I get into the meat of this letter, I really want to thank you for inviting me to participate in this correspondence.  Although my original review of Alpha Protocol wasn’t exactly going with praise, there was an admiration there. 

As time has gone on, that admiration has only grown, and now that we’ve completed this recent playthrough and talked about it, I like the title now more than I ever did.  Strangely, a large part of this increase in affection has to do with the final mission – the very same mission which you found so miserable, I found to be quite satisfying.

To start things off by keeping it real, the level design and combat is at the same low level it always is, but the saving grace is that by this point in the game, my Mike Thorton had maxed out his Pistol skills, had Brilliance at his disposal, and was packing the best gear that was available. 

Most of the encounters were complete pushovers thanks to the godlike slow-mo-firing-six-shots-at-once ability and enough health packs to resuscitate an entire battalion’s worth of injury.  Even the bosses went down in seconds (except the helicopter you mentioned, which inexplicably manages to take six or seven missile strikes before going down) so I didn’t have too much difficulty in getting past the generally poor quality of the fights.

While there was little satisfaction to be gained from the gunplay, it’s the rest of the mission that really solidified things for me.  While you and I are on the same page about the missed opportunity of Mike not being able to assemble his entire team when mounting his assault on the Graybox, I actually did have something that echoed it in a scaled-back way.

Although it seems like our missions began with Leland trying to recruit our characters for Halbech (and really, I need to go and YouTube what happens if you decide to accept his offer) that’s where we diverge, for the most part.

From there, I was quite pleased to finally get the romance scene with SIE that I had been after.  This sequence of events and the way it played out was far more graphic than I was expecting, although I suppose I should mention that I was actively pursuing this option, so it was not unwelcome.  I’ve heard from people who weren’t SIE fans that the scene can also come off in a very different light, but really, who’s not a SIE fan?

In any event, in my previous time through the game, I was confused about which way to go at several points, and as a result, I missed rescuing Mina and failed to make contact with Scarlet.  Since I was consulting a FAQ this time around, I made sure not to accidentally miss them, and this extra effort paid off.

Since White Hat Mike had been playing nice with the ladies along the way, they were both happy to see him.  After Scarlet revealed her secret, she and I teamed up for the rest of the level, and having an on-the-ground backup with her skills was greatly appreciated.  Things with Mina went just as swimmingly, and not only did she provide me with a brief scene’s worth of assistance, she was around at the end before credits rolled.  I always felt guilty as hell for unintentionally leaving her behind, so finally correcting this was great.

However, those weren’t the only places where this mission changed for me.  Like you, when I encountered Marburg he respected me enough (and I had enough information on him from his dossiers) that I was able to convince him that his continued support of Halbech wasn’t in his best interests, so he acted on the wisdom of my words by leaving Leland high and dry.  

It was a similar situation with Parker.  After supplying him with some facts that he wasn’t aware of, the man’s cold, calculating nature led him to switch sides.  Rather than being someone to take down, he ignored me, swiped data from the Graybox servers and left town.

From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a quick reload to taking Leland down.  I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised to see him as the final boss – I had to fight a completely different character last time, so this final scene with him wheedling and pleading felt more appropriate.  Although I did not put a bullet in his head, I did smack him around a bit before deciding to take him into custody, so things wrapped up as I think they should have.

In general I totally agree with your criticisms – the story stumbles in several places, the combat is never anywhere as good as it should be, and there are times when the focus seems placed on the absolute wrong thing.  However, more elements clicked into place for me during this second time through the Graybox, and I did feel as though the work I had done throughout the game really paid off at the end, especially in regard to Parker.  

That particular scene largely recapped my “good” deeds and non-combat intelligence work in each country, so being able to connect the dots into the result I got was gratifying.  I was also happy to see that three of my teammates did manage to help out, and that due diligence paid off with Marburg.  When all was said and done it was far from optimal, but there was definitely a value to managing the relationships and spending time preparing for conversations. Unlike so many other titles, Alpha Protocol's key moments happen thanks to the time spent with the main character's finger off the trigger. 

If nothing else, it just (again) highlights what a shame it was that Alpha Protocol came out in a shaky state to begin with, and rubs salt in the wound of knowing that it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a sequel.  Despite all of the problems, I found it to be interesting and appealing on many, many levels, and with a little bit of design rework and a few more dollars pumped into QA, I have no doubt that a sequel following the same lines would really have been something else. 

Unfortunately we both know that it was not to be, but I’m hoping that an increased awareness of this title will inspire a young developer with stars in their eyes to someday carry on the torch that Obsidian and Alpha Protocol lit. There are definitely valuable lessons to be learned here, and to this day, I still haven’t played anything that scratches the espionage itch the way this game does.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Letters On: Alpha Protocol - Part Four  


Games: For tonight, here's the fourth installment of the letters between myself and @SparkyClarkson on Obsidian's underappreciated espionage RPG, Alpha Protocol

Miss the previous installments? You can read the first here. The second is right here, and here’s the third. And now, here's what we had to say on the continuing misadventures of Mike Thorton...


Hey Brad,

It’s a little strange that our Taipei experiences were so similar. I think you’re right that part of it has to do with making similar tactical choices overall. My Mike is aggressive and a bit murder-y, but I still play him with an awareness that he needs allies. That at least accounts for our similarity when it comes to G22. As for Hong Shi, I spent that conversation looking for a way to murder him and somehow ended up besties. He gave me a sword!

In Rome, however, our paths diverge. Let me just say that the people living la dolce vita in Rome are not impressed by murderin’ Mike Thorton. Mike managed to navigate the NSA and CIA facilities without leaving a trail of corpses, but that really strained his nerves, so he ended up shooting Jibril al-Bara in the face. I sure hope that guy really was a terrorist.

None of this impressed Conrad Marburg very much, the prick, and our relationship was ultimately pretty sour, which suited murderin’ Mike just fine. Perhaps less to Mike’s taste was Madison’s negative reaction. She seemed a bit put off by all the bloodshed and the businesslike attitude. That romance went nowhere: even the hot tub didn’t help.

Mike might not have cared for that, but it suited me fine. Madison was kind of a lump. She showed up, camped out in the living room, and kept asking me to turn on the TV, like a malfunctioning TiVo.

Once the action gets going it is, as usual, indifferent. Conrad’s estate is a totally perfunctory RPG prison escape, complete with the inability to take weapons from the guys you defeat and a Bag Full of All Your Stuff (TM). The ruins level is atrocious in pretty much every respect. The warehouse, however, had an interesting twist. It turns out that the Russian gangsters that attack in that mission work for Konstantin Brayko. My Mike had patched things up with Brayko by letting him have Surkov, so when they showed up they fought on my side.

That brings us to the museum, which culminates some of the best writing that’s been done in the game. In Moscow, you go to find some weapons traffickers, and then a bunch of stuff happens that doesn’t feel directly relevant to the larger Halliburton Halbech scheme. In Taipei, you go in with clear stakes from the start. In Rome, though, you arrive with little clear idea of what’s going on, and a coherent plot emerges from the missions.

You hear a snippet about a controversial and possibly racist museum exhibit on the news. You’re warned off by a rival operative. An arms deal with the VCI lures out Al-Samad operatives. Marburg’s men seem to be at work in a warehouse that stores art for the controversial museum. Then it pays off with a false-flag operation that’s diabolical, but makes sense in the context of the story that you have been playing. Rome is really the only place where that happens, and I like it.

There’s also a smart choice in having Marburg take Madison hostage. His ability to snatch her from your safehouse helps establish him as a credible threat, even if her lack of personality makes the chapter’s “hard choice” (which was a groaner) much easier. Having Marburg shoot Madison at the end felt a bit off to me, but that could also reflect some of my feelings towards the completely inconsequential boss fight that follows it.

So now we get close to the end. Having semi-foiled Halbech’s plans, it’s time to head home and figure out how Mike got into that TV room with Leland. Is your body ready?


Hey Sparky!

It’s interesting that you brought up the point about Brayko’s thugs.  There are several points in the game where certain groups of enemies can be either Allies or enemies depending on how Thorton has conducted himself, and this malleability is one of the things that I enjoy most about Alpha Protocol.  However, while I didn’t notice any problem on my original playthrough, the system seemed to fall down a bit for me in Moscow.

Before arriving in the land of snow and vodka, I was on good terms with the G22 faction and things only improved as time went on.  However, I had to fight G22 soldiers several times throughout this section of the game for no discernible reason.  The gunfight with Sis was explained in the cutscene that immediately followed, but none of the other encounters made much sense.  I suppose there’s a chance it might be explained in the final section of the game, but while playing through it, it seemed as though the developers needed to have an enemy in place and they somehow didn’t account for the possibility that they should have been friendly.

That’s probably my biggest complaint about Moscow this time around, although I will say that I’m glad I saved it for the end.  The gunfights with Sis and with Brayko are probably the most painful in the entire game, and by taking them on near the end, Thorton’s pistol ability was powered up to deific levels.  Rather than being the game-quitting struggle they were for me before, both encounters were over in a matter of moments.  A big improvement!

I don’t mean to sound so negative, though.  I absolutely love the level that takes place on a yacht, since there are few things I enjoy more than seeing a place or an area in a game that closely mirrors real life.  This is also one of the few sections in the game where I feel as though trying to be stealthy is a good fit for the architecture and enemy placement.  The yacht is small and has a totally logical layout, so sneaking in and getting to the goal without tripping any alarms was a high point.

SIE was also a high point for me here.  Apart from finding her brash, aggressive style totally entertaining, I was able to create an alliance with her, which was a big change from when I originally review the game.  At that time, her introduction became a boss fight, so to have her go from foe to friend put a different spin on things – so the fact that she later rounded up a Stryker and we crashed through the front gate of an area with mounted machine guns blazing was just icing on the cake.

In fact, I think Moscow was probably the level that changed the most for me this second time around.  Although I don’t remember the details of my original choices back then, I was surprised to find that there was an entire mission at the end that I had never seen before.  Even better, it’s possible to end this last part in several different ways, and trying to interpret the correct path for White Hat Thorton was an interesting challenge.  Would the most honorable thing be to put a bullet in the head of the person who’s been manipulating events, or would it be to have a simple discussion and accept the status quo as the lesser of two evils?  I don’t seem to run into situations like this too often in games these days, so when something pops up that makes me think a little, I’m all for it.

I was prepared to save my game and turn the console off when I got back to the safehouse, but I was surprised to find that the culmination of the relationship between myself and Mina occurred immediately.  This was one part of the game that I had mis-played back in the day by putting the moves on to soon…  It turns out that Mina’s got more if to say if you keep your lips in check for just a few moments longer than you think you should.  This particular scene is just one more example of what makes Alpha Protocol so impressive – every time you think you know everything there is to know, you check if the FAQ and find out that there are two extra layers you missed.

Now… On to the endgame! 


Look for the next installment of this series coming soon. And by the way, if you'd like to play along with us through this second look, copies are averaging about $4 the last time I checked... That's a pretty superb value for an interesting, informative experience, if you ask me! Hop aboard and share your comments with us!


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Quick Look: Four New StreetPass Games for 3DS  


Games: I was chatting with the wife today about the 3DS and it sort of struck me that its most prominent draw, the 3D, is a feature that goes TOTALLY UNUSED  by my entire family, and most of the people I know.  Instead, the thing that I find myself most occupied with (apart from the slew of fantastic games we’ve been getting lately) is the StreetPass feature.

It’s funny because when I first heard about it before I owned a 3DS, I didn’t think much of it. 

Passing people on the street to trade data?  How many people even had a 3DS, and if they did, how often would they bring it with them?  What were the odds I would pass anyone, even in a relatively large city like Seattle, and if I did, why would I want to trade data with strangers, anyway?

Of course, this just goes to show that sometimes the things you don’t expect have the most impact.  Once I started using StreetPass, it didn’t take long before the addiction set in. 

I think a large part of the appeal is that it’s kind of like getting a little surprise every day…  Will I have passed a fellow gamer without knowing it?  If I did, will we have any games in common?  And apart from these little unexpected discoveries, the games which take advantage of the function are clever and low-maintenance.  It quickly became part of my normal routine to check my 3DS for a few minutes before bedtime, and as a low-calorie bedtime snack, it fits the bill perfectly.

While the 3DS shipped with Find Mii (a simple combat game, soon joined by its sequel Find Mii 2) and the simple tile-based collection game Puzzle Swap, Nintendo recently created four more titles based around StreetPassing that became available in the most recent software update. 

Unlike the ones I’ve just mentioned, players must pay for each title - $5 apiece, or $15 for all four as a one-time-only offer.  Although I haven’t put enough time into these to deliver a full review, here are my initial impressions.


Mii Force

This title is a sidescrolling shooter similar to something like R-Type or Gradius.  The player controls a spaceship that flies from left to right and blasts any enemies that come along.  The hook is that the people who are StreetPassed act as weapons and powerups for the ship. 

For example, if you pass someone wearing a black shirt, that character will shoot bombs when attached to the ship.  Pass someone wearing a white shirt, and the ship will fire saw blades.  Once all available slots have been filled, further StreetPass characters can act as boosters, increasing firepower. The overall design is surprisingly deep and enjoyable thanks to a variety of weapons and great flexibility in arranging them for different effects.  

The only downside I’ve come across so far is that all of the characters collected in a given pass are dismissed after the end of one mission – for instance, I passed ten people today in use them to blast my way through a level.  Instead of continuing on to the next, the game ended and my resources were reset to zero, encouraging me to get out there and ‘Pass some more.  Disappointing, but I suppose that’s a good thing since I was eager to keep playing.


Flower Town

This one seems like the most laid-back and slow-paced of the group. 

Upon starting, players are prompted to select a flower seed which will grow at a rate which seems to depend on the frequency of StreetPasses.  Once the plant blooms, it can be further nurtured to produce seeds of its own, and these can apparently be used to combine hybrid flowers with various characteristics.

It was cute and I will certainly be checking it daily, but there wasn’t really all that much to do (yet, anyway) and out of all of the games and covering, I spent the least amount of time with this one.


Warrior’s Way

I’m a big Chunsoft fan, so although it’s not a roguelike, finding this one was still a pleasant surprise.  The gist is that the player starts their own kingdom at one end of a long, snaking map and has the ultimate goal of defeating every foreign country that lies in their path.  In order to do this, they must amass an army by StreetPassing, of course! 

People that are passed become available troops, and everyone that they’ve met becomes a soldier as well.  For example, my friend @Leggetron passed me today, so not only did he join my army, the other 700 (!!!) people he’s passed joined me as well.  I would imagine by continuing this sort of large-scale addition, the size of an available army would balloon up quite rapidly if a decent number of StreetPassable people were in the area.

Combat is a paper-rock-scissors affair, but a nice level of complexity is added by letting the player the divide their available troops into each category.  Although you can’t predict which way the enemy will go, this randomness can be mitigated by a nice little system which lets the player overcome a bad call with sheer numbers.  It’s a little too complicated to get into at the moment, but it's an elegant sort of complication, and I admire what I'm seeing.


Monster Manor

While I enjoyed all of the titles that were added in this cluster, this one is far and away one favorite. Monster Manor asks players to investigate a haunted mansion where all the rooms have disappeared. StreetPassed characters give the player a Tetris-like shape which can be placed on a map, and when these sections match up, the rooms of the mansion reappear.  By filling in and out of each map, the player will eventually find a staircase which leads to the next floor, and the ultimate goal is to reach the 30th.

Surprisingly, this title runs on an active-time battle system with an ingenious energy mechanic – the player has a number of guns to shoot ghosts with, but the ammo is a shared resource.  Trigger-happy players will find that they don’t have enough energy left to shield themselves from attack, and since it all runs in real time, it’s important to watch for enemy tells and take shots when there are openings.

On top of all this, add in a neat inventory system with upgradable weapons and a super-cool sidekick character with a surprising amount of charm, and this particular title is the runaway winner.  Although I think getting all for titles for $15 is the smart way to go for those who can afford it, if you’re only going to get one, then Monster Manor should be it.


One other thing to mention is that a new ticket system was included with the update in addition to the four games I outlined.  By performing certain tasks or meeting particular goals in these games, the player will earn tickets which can be exchanged for new hats which rotate on a daily basis.  Although it probably won’t do anything for people who don’t have an inherent gamehat fetish, it is a nice little incentive to check back regularly.

Overall, this is a great selection of titles which enhance an already-excellent feature of the hardware, and if my past history with Puzzle Swap and Find Mii is any indication, I have a feeling I’m going to be getting quite a bit of use out of these.

Oh, and one quick thing to know – my 3DS did not receive any message or prompt telling me to update, so I had no idea these games were ready to go until a friend told me.  I had to go into the 3DS System Settings and manually force an update myself, so if you’re wondering how to get these on your machine, you might have to do the same.


Syfy and Trion Worlds today announced a new contest that brings a gamer into the television world of Defiance, the groundbreaking online open world shooter and hit television series on Syfy. The “Play the Game. Join the Show.” in-game contest pits players against the game’s Major Arkfall events to see who can rise to the top and become the ultimate Ark Hunter. The winner will have their in-game character appear on the second season of the Defiance TV series.

The ten Ark Hunters who complete the most Major Arkfall events between July 8 (10am PDT) and July 30 (10am PDT) will compete for a chance to have their character written onto the show. These ten semifinalists will be fleshed out with a backstory written by the show’s writing staff, which will be featured on Facebook, where Defiance fans will choose their five favorites. From this pool of five finalists, a member of the Defiance team will select the final winner to appear in season two of Defiance.

The “Play the Game. Join the Show” contest marks the second time that players have been invited to make their mark on the world of Defiance. Earlier in the year, Trion Worlds and Syfy ran the “Most Wanted” contest, which saw gamers competing to have their likeness included on wanted posters on an episode of the TV show.

To enter, players must register for the “Play the Game. Join the Show.” contest at , then complete as many Major Arkfalls as possible between July 8 (10am PDT) and July 30 (10am PDT). Between August 12th and August 21st, one semifinalist backstory will be posted per day. Registered Facebook users can vote for the top five characters between August 26th (3am PDT) and September 6th (8:59pm PDT), and the final winner will be selected in September. Defiance season two premieres in 2014 on Syfy.

Defiance is rated M for Mature by the ESRB. For more information on Defiance, please visit


Shin Megami Tensei IV, the upcoming mature-themed role playing game from ATLUS for the Nintendo 3DS system, has a brand new limited-time offer for fans: players in the U.S. and Canada who purchase Shin Megami Tensei IV and Nintendo's hit turn-based strategy game Fire Emblem Awakening and register both games on their free Club Nintendo account will receive a $30 credit to use in the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS. The promotion begins on the release date of Shin Megami Tensei IV - July 16, 2013 - and runs through August 31. Both retail and digital purchases of either game are eligible for the offer, so long as both games are registered to the same Club Nintendo account by August 31, 2013. Specific details on the promotion can be found on the Club Nintendo website:

The Club Nintendo promotion is a first-of-its-kind offer from Nintendo and ATLUS. RPG fans, tacticians, strategists and other gamers who love deep story and turn-based combat that purchase both games and complete the promotion requirements will earn a $30 credit to the Nintendo 3DS eShop to put towards any paid content, including future games and downloadable content (DLC). After each game is registered to the same Club Nintendo account, players must complete a short web survey by the August 31 deadline to receive the credit. 


NAMCO BANDAI Games America Inc.,  and indiePub Entertainment, Inc., today announce that the retro-inspired 2D platformer Capsized is now available for download on the Xbox Live® online entertainment network for the Xbox 360 games and entertainment system from Microsoft.

In the futuristic world of Capsized, the player’s ship crash-lands on a strange and mysterious planet that is presented in a unique hand-drawn art style immersing players into a captivating yet hostile alien environment. Alone and armed with a grappling hook, jetpack, ship supplies and a diverse arsenal of weaponry, players must navigate through perilous landscapes and fight blood-thirsty creatures and Tribal natives to save their crewmates and escape with their lives.

Capsized features a stimulating mix between third-person-shooter and classic platforming gameplay with innovative physics-based combat that can be played through various game modes; including Story-based Campaign, Death Match, Survival, Time Trials and Armless Fighting (non-weapon combat) modes.

Capsized includes two-player offline co-op action and presents more than a dozen non-linear levels, along with exclusive levels and achievements for Xbox Live players to unlock.

Capsized is available now for download on Xbox Live for Xbox 360 for 800 Microsoft Points, and will also be coming out on the PlayStation®Store for the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system later this summer (2013).

For more information about NAMCO BANDAI Games America Inc., please For more details about indiePub Entertainment, Inc.,


Dark Horse is proudly celebrating twenty-five years of manga publishing in 2013 by bringing legendary Japanese creator and Eisner Hall of Fame inductee Kazuo Koike (Lone Wolf and Cub) to San Diego Comic-Con!

Koike will be signing at the Dark Horse booth, #2615, Thursday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., as well as Friday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.!

Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 1 is available in bookstores everywhere.

Look for New Lone Wolf and Cub on sale in 2014!


NIS America is thrilled to announce that the newest installment of the fan-favorite strategy RPG series, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, will release on the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system on October 8 in North America and September 27 in Europe.

About Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness:

The Netherworld – a place where might makes right and today’s friends are tomorrow’s enemies.  After a long journey with many ups and downs, Laharl finally finds himself as a full-fledged Overlord. However, the other denizens of the Netherworld do not see him as such, so he sets out on a journey with his loyal(!?) vassals to receive the respect he deserves.  Along the way, Laharl will meet a girl who claims to be his sister, demons with bigger than usual chips on their shoulders, and find out that even his own body holds a few surprises for him...


Deep Silver today announced that the 'Faction Pack' - the first piece of DLC for 4A Games' critically acclaimed Metro: Last Light - is set for worldwide release on Steam, Xbox LIVE® online entertainment network from Microsoft and the PlayStation®Network on July 16th in North America and July 17th in Europe and the rest of the world.

The 'Faction Pack' includes three original single player missions, each casting the player as a different specialist from the warring Factions. Returning to some classic locations from Metro 2033, these missions feature new weapons, the return of a truly terrifying mutant foe, and offer three distinct gameplay challenges...

• As a Special Detachment Sniper of the Redline, players must infiltrate a heavily guarded Reich Outpost at night, under the cover of a deadly radioactive storm...

• ...before defending the Frontline as a Reich 'Heavy', armed with some of the most devastating weaponry found in the Metro.

• Lastly, players take the role of a Polis Ranger in training, tasked with exploring the vast Library complex for artifacts and relics. Salvage can be exchanged for ammunition, filters and hazard suits allowing ever deeper exploration into the Library. Rangers are advised to ignite torches and leave a trail of lights, so they can find their way back to the base before their precious oxygen runs out...

The Faction Pack costs $4.99 / 400 MSP, and is the first of four DLC packs to be included in the Metro: Last Light Season Pass, which at $14.99 / 1200 MSP offers a discount over buying the packs separately, and also includes an additional exclusive weapon, the Abzats.

Deep Silver also revealed additional details on the content of the future DLC packs.

• The 'Tower Pack' presents a unique experience for seasoned Metro gunslingers - a challenge based game mode, with online Leaderboard support, as players fight their way up the combat simulator known as The Tower

• The 'Developer Pack' boasts a fully stocked Shooting Gallery, the AI Arena and Metro Museum... And a bonus solo mission - The Spiders' Nest - offers some new tools for dealing with an infestation of the skittering Spider mutants

• Lastly the Chronicles Pack will feature original single player missions that cast the player as three of the game's standout characters - Pavel, Khan and Anna - and explore their side-stories away from Artyom's adventure

For the latest news on Metro: Last Light, Like us at or follow us on Twitter @MetroVideoGame. 


Blob fanatics and extraterrestrial buffs can now devour the world in DrinkBox Studios’ Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack for $1.99 as part of the Steam Summer Sale. Starting today and running for the remainder of the sale, players who missed out on Mutant Blobs Attack the first time around will get the full game along with new updates, including an upgrade to the Telekinesis control for gamepad-only players. DrinkBox also plans to release Mutant Blobs Attack Steam trading cards for all blob players, while new gamers can download Mutant Blobs Attack from Steam here.

Set in a 1950s-inspired city with B-movie humor, Mutant Blobs Attack has players take control of an escaped blob with an insatiable appetite, eating everything in their path to grow into a giant, squishy mass of destruction.

Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack is also available on the PlayStation Vita for $7.99 here.


Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments VIDEO 


Life is like a hurricane, as Capcom today announced that DuckTales: Remastered will officially release from this August on all major platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC. In North America, the game will be available for digital download on August 13 (on PSN, Nintendo eShop on Wii U and PC), with an XBLA version launching September 11. Additionally, on August 20, a boxed version (with download code and exclusive DuckTales Disney collector’s pin) will be offered on PlayStation 3 at retailers across the country.DuckTales: Remastered is priced at $14.99 for the digital version and $19.99 for the retail version on PS3.


InXile Entertainment and Deep Silver today announced a distribution deal for inXile’s upcoming cRPG Wasteland 2. Deep Silver is a veteran publisher and already a long-standing partner for inXile.
inXile is currently working on Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera, both funded via the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The deal allows inXile Entertainment to focus on all creative aspects of developing the game, while Deep Silver handles the retail release of the game and the physical good fulfillment for the Kickstarter backers. Deep Silver will also assist inXile in the QA testing of the localized international versions of the game.

The link for the Wasteland 2 site:


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Letters on: Alpha Protocol - Part 3  


Games: For tonight, here's the third installment of the letters between myself and @SparkyClarkson on Obsidian's underappreciated espionage RPG, Alpha Protocol

 Miss the first installment? You can read it here. The second is right here

And now, here's what we had to say on the continuing misadventures of Mike Thorton...


Hey Brad,

Since we came to Taipei from different starting points, I’m eager to discuss changes in the way this segment played out. I think, however, that any discussion of Taipei has to start with Steven Heck, who is in many ways the best character in the game.

Where's my funnel? This guy's thirsty for bleach!

Heck’s a case where the writers absolutely made the most of the idea that in espionage nothing is as it appears. He apparently lives in a dump and sounds like someone who has been haunting alt.conspiracy since 1994. So, clearly not an actual spy, right? But our first moments in Taipei involve using a secret passage to get from an apparently dumpy apartment to a hi-tech lair. What’s more, some of the things Heck says, like belonging to a part of the CIA so secret nobody knows it exists and being sent out to do his own thing, exactly match the story that the player has been playing so far. It’s just ambiguous enough that we’re in the same place as everyone else - unsure whether Heck really is the world’s best spy, or just a deluded individual who has convinced himself he is.

Heck hit it off with my Mike right away, as they share a mutual interest in hurting people, a hobby Mike got to indulge while doing Hong Shi’s dirty work and slaughtering the Chinese security forces in the subway.

I hate that mission because it shows the game’s writing at its worst. They build up Omen Deng to be this super-dangerous threat, and then they give you this mission where he A) shoves Mike into a maintenance tunnel rather than killing him, then B) immediately sends dozens of minions to kill him, followed by C) letting those minions complete the deal for the precious data rather than showing up himself. And this in a situation where he’s convinced that Mike is coming to murder his beloved father figure! Ugh.

I much preferred the Hotel and Taipei’s final mission. Since I had good relationships with Heck and Scarlet, both of them showed up to give me a hand infiltrating the hotel, which gave that mission a bit of the feeling of an Ocean’s Eleven-style caper. The level itself is sort of railroad-y and unremarkable, but the narrative things going on there were neat.

The final mission had something similar going for it, even though it provided yet another chapter in the idiotic adventures of Omen Deng. My history with Albatross and my decision not to murder every G22 agent in the warehouse earned me some assistance from the four-eyed spies, and I also managed to swing some backup from Hong Shi. It felt a bit like a grand alliance going to war (in what may be the game’s prettiest level), and this time all the action points in the memorial building actually showed up on the first try, which was nice.

So Taipei ends up being a mixed bag. The main and side plots here fell flat for me, but Heck and the two missions I mentioned are some of the game’s high points. It will be interesting to see how all of this alters my Rome experience when I head there next.


Hey Sparky,

Good call starting the discussion off with Steven (not Steve) Heck.

If HK-47 from Knights of the Old Republic was A> human, B> a paranoid conspiracy theorist, and C> a murder-happy espionage agent, he’d definitely be a vague approximation of what players are treated to when dealing with this loose screw.  I mean, seriously…  How many other games can boast a character who’s concerned with the psycho-social effect of strawberries and who’s also assassinated someone by ramming a mountain bike through their chest?

It’s actually ironic that one of the best characters in the game makes his home in Taipei, because you’re exactly right when you say that this cluster of missions is a mixed bag.  For me, this part of the world shows both the best and the worst of what Alpha Protocol has to offer.  

Can I flirt with Scarlet without making Mina (or Heck) angry?

On the plus side, not only is every interaction with Heck pure gold, the hotel mission you referred to is great because you get to start things off with a four-way videoconference call between Thorton, Heck, Scarlet and Mina. 

I love it when the game takes the time to illustrate the planning and intelligence aspects of being a spy, so this chat before things went down was delicious.  What made it shine was the tension between everyone on the call.  Playing as White Hat Thorton, I’m trying to keep on everyone’s good side (in addition to trying to get a little ‘personal recon’ with each of the game’s love interests) so trying to give answers that satisfy each team member without pissing off the others reminded me greatly of several situations I’ve been in myself.  More or less, anyway... There are definitely fewer guns in my anecdotes.

On the other hand, not everything is peachy in Taipei.  In terms of level design, most of the sections are quite boring and come off as the sort of generic room/hallway scheme that you might find in any other standard shooting game.  This section also has much more action than Rome did, so it only highlights both how difficult it is to play stealthily and how janky the straight combat can be.  Although I haven’t gotten to Russia yet, I recall those areas being at least a bit more interesting than these were…  Taipei might not be as bad as Saudi Arabia, but I think I would rank it as the second-worst if we were to look only at the mechanical aspects and level design.

When we started this letters series, one of the points we were trying to hit was to highlight the differences between playing Good Thorton and Bad Thorton, but it sounds as though we’ve ended up on a similar path – although I know it’s possible to develop bad relationships with the supporting characters (thanks, GameFAQS!) I also had help from Hong Shi and the G22 faction, in addition to Heck and the rest of the cast. 

I wonder if that's a function of the game trying to redirect divergent players towards similarly-structured sequences, or whether it’s both you and I making the same choices because they’re the most entertaining and interesting?  This might warrant a third playthrough!

Anyway, I’m off to Russia…  I’ll make sure to stop off at that banya you recommended. No tipping, right?


Look for the next installment of this series coming soon. And by the way, if you'd like to play along with us through this second look, copies are averaging about $4 the last time I checked... That's a pretty superb value for an interesting, informative experience, if you ask me! Hop aboard and share your comments with us!