Saturday, August 31, 2013

PAX Prime 2013 - Day Two  

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PAX: Today was the second day of PAX Prime 2013, and I’m a little sad to report that it’s been a bit disappointing. 

When I come to the show, I’m mostly here to check out the games.  This year, it’s been harder than ever, and frustration has been creeping in. The biggest problem is how crowded the floor is. I mentioned this yesterday, and today was even more packed. 



The Indie Megabooth has a fantastic lineup that I would really like to examine in-depth, but it’s so smashed in there that you can barely even walk.  At one point I was actually getting carried along by a crush of people walking in the opposite direction.

I eventually got tired of trying to physically fight the sea of PAX-goers in the Megabooth and moved on, but it was little better elsewhere.  Many of the booths had queues with snaking lines, and some even capped off the lines an hour (or more) before the show was due to close.  Having a string of appointments with different developers and publishers throughout the day, I just can’t afford to stand in line for an hour to play something for 5 minutes. 

In this regard, special jeers go out to Microsoft for their booth. Everything is roped off, tightly controlled (NO PICTURES!!!) and every title has a queue.  I tried to grab one of the PR folks to see if I could arrange for a time to come in and get a few minutes with a couple of the titles, and the response was “get here when there’s no line.”

Look, I get that PAX is not specifically for games media, but give me a break. We’re all busting our asses trying to give coverage to the slew of games at the show, and there’s never enough time for everything.  With a response like that, I had no choice but to write Microsoft off, and I won’t be covering any of their titles when there are so many other deserving ones.

With this in mind, I found it very interesting that Sony’s booth was wide open from every angle, and it was quite easy to get some time with the games on display, even when the crowd was thick.  Comparing these two, it seems like some rough parallels can be drawn between the booth designs and their corporate strategies, oddly enough…

So anyway, enough bitching and on with the games!





>Max and the Curse of Brotherhood 

This was a cute one from Press Play, the same developers who put out Max & the Magic Marker back in 2011.  It took me a little while to make the connection, but when I finally did, the developers laughed a bit and said that they felt their first attempt at this concept never really captured what they were going for.  They decided to give it a second shot, and I think they’ve been much more successful this time around.

The titular Max has his brother taken away to another dimension after making a very Labyrinth-esque wish, and immediately regrets what he’s done.  He goes in after his sib, and requires the ability to control a (wait for it) magical marker which can affect the environment in various ways.  The developers promised minimal combat, and a heavy focus on using the marker to solve puzzles.  Although the story seems to take a slightly dark turn towards the end, it looks like something that would be a good title for parents to play with their kids, and I mean that in the best possible sense.






>Legend of Dungeon

This one is a cross between a beat-‘em-up and a Roguelike, and it looks like a great time.  It’s actually the third title from Robot Loves Kitty, who were also responsible for Neverdaunt 8Bit and Tiny Plumbers. The goal is to get to a treasure on the 26th floor of a dungeon, and then get back to the surface with it.  When asked how difficult this was, the programmer told me “I’ve never finished it.” With up to four players in co-op, over 50 weapons to choose from, and a very pleasing aesthetic style, this one looks like a winner.






>Life Goes On

I didn’t get to spend as much time with this one as I wanted to, but I love the premise: the game is broken up into small puzzles which are solved by throwing an army of knights to their doom.  Can’t cross that it full of spikes?  No problem, just have a knight impale himself on the first section, have another step on the body of the first and then die on the next section, and then have a third step on both of their bodies and hop off to the exit. It’s grimly hilarious, and the developers are letting PAX attendees name individual knights and record their voices for the insane number of death animations that the average player will experience on the way to victory.






>Crypt of the Necrodancer

This was the game that everyone was talking about on the show floor.  It’s essentially a Roguelike, but the twist is that the player must move in time to the beat of an absolutely fantastic pumping soundtrack.  The synergy between the measured movement of this genre and the bass thumps being pumped through my headphones was a strangely perfect fit, and the two elements combined into a memorable experience.  For those who want to play the hard mode, the game is also compatible with a dance pad!






>Forced

Although I can’t say that the care much for the title, this top-down Diablo-esque game has a unique twist: up to four players can cooperate in each level, but the hook is that there’s a special orb that must be used to complete objectives.  While fighting off enemies, players give this magical orb directions, and try to make it activate things in the environment like traps or gates.  It can also give the controlling player some ability buffs that the other three must do without until they regain control, so it was a nice little layer of play on top of a solid formula.






>Batman: Arkham Origins and Arkham Origins: Blackgate

So, as someone who absolutely loved Arkham Asylum but was bored to tears with Arkham City,  it seems like switching developers from Rocksteady to WB Montreal might have been the best possible thing for the next installment in this series.  After getting an in-depth walkthrough of two chunky sections, I was liking what I was seeing.

Although the core of the game is the same (open-world, gadgets, rhythm-like combat) the developers seem to have gotten the sense of what went wrong in City and have actively worked to change it.  The biggest thing was that they wanted Origins to have a more organic story, and for Gotham to feel less like a contrivance.  To these ends, there are many shifts such as buildings being more vertical, crimes-in-progress picked up as police chatter, and Batman actually using his detective skills to figure out what’s happening in a much larger way.

As an example, I was shown an event where a helicopter crashes into a building and the pilot was killed on impact.  Batman arrives on the scene and uses his Detective Vision and the Batcomputer to create a virtual reconstruction of the events he just witnessed. (It’s possible to watch and rewind this 3D footage.) 
By tracing the fall path, Batman found the location where some of the wreckage landed, and then did another reconstruction.  At this point, it was noticed that a sniper bullet hit the helicopter from a distant building, so we went to that scene and found clues which led to the discovery of an arch-villain loose in the city.

This sequence was great, and really made me feel as though I was solving a crime.  It was also incredibly effective as a natural way to introduce a powerful bad guy loose in the city…  After all, not every villain introduces himself to Batman head-on.  The scene was clearly suggesting that someone was trying to keep his (or her) presence under wraps, and now Batman was on their trail. The developers told me that there were several sequences like this, and each one lead to a reveal of a major (and optional) sidequest that can be done either before or after the main story line is completed.


Other tweaks included some new gadgets like the Remote Claw.  This particular piece of tech can be shot to a target, and once it attaches, it shoots a second claw to another target somewhere in the room.  By doing this, it’s easy to set up a line near the ceiling where Batman can perch in order to get a better vantage point on the bad guys, or it can be used to attach two enemies together.  Watching the claw retract for a double KO when the skulls of hapless henchmen collided with each other was priceless.

As an FYI, preorders will receive Deathstroke as an optional character to use in the Challenge mode, and he also comes with a special map with a hundred-enemy takedown as the objective.  He can’t be used in the story mode, but fans of that character should be aware that it’s being offered.


In my final bit of Batman for the evening, I also spent some time with Arkham Origins: Blackgate on the Vita.  This installment is a prequel to the console version of Origins, and features Batman’s first meeting with Catwoman.  After that sequence, Batman goes to Blackgate prison to take down three separate bosses, each controlling their own discrete area.

I wasn’t quite sure how Batman would translate into being a 2D metroidvania, but the answer is ‘very well’.  Although things were pared down a bit, it looked quite sharp on the Vita’s screen and going through the environments was quite faithful to what Arkham fans would expect.

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That’s it for Day Two.  Look for my coverage of Day Three soon!

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PAX Prime 2013 - Day One  

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PAX: Today was the first day of PAX Prime 2013, and both @RichardNaik and I were there bright and early to start the day off right.

If you haven’t been to the show or haven’t heard of it (although honestly, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve probably already attended) Prime is North America’s largest consumer videogame event, and they’re not kidding.  The whole thing takes place in the Washington State Convention Center, and it’s enormous. 


Between the exhibitors, the play areas, the panels and everything else that happens, it takes up the entire building, and another one across the street. PAX 2012 had approximately 70,000 attendees, and although I haven’t heard any first-day attendance figures yet, today’s floor felt incredibly crowded and tight -- even more so than last time.  In fact, it was jam-packed to the point that it was often physically impossible to get through the halls and see the things I wanted to see.

I’m not trying to sound bitter, though.  It’s still great to be there, and seriously, it’s the only time of the year when I’ve got a realistic chance of getting a few hundred 3DS streetpasses in a day.

For Day One, my focus was seeing games in the exhibition hall, so here’s a quick rundown of what I spent time with and what I thought...


>Sony As someone who’s already pre-ordered a PS4, I was most curious to see what Sony would have in their lineup this year, and I couldn’t have been happier.  On display was a good mix between big-budget and smaller, indie titles and it was great to see such diversity.  It was especially heartening to find so much indie support coming to the Vita.  For example, I spent time with Hohokum, Tearaway, Resogun, Lone Survivor, Fez, Proteus, Metrico, Kickbeat and Doki Doki Universe, and these were just a portion of the titles Vita owners with a taste for indies can expect.  Although some of these have already seen release on other systems, these additions really beef up the Vita’s profile in a fantastic way.

Looking towards the slightly bigger games…





>Knack  it’s hard to get a good feel for this one, but I felt generally positive about what I saw.  The player takes control of some sort of creature which is made up of bits of rock, wood, another materials.  The more it absorbs, the bigger it gets.  If it gets hit, then it starts to shrink.  Although it was clean and attractive in terms of presentation, it felt a little simple and didn’t quite have as much personality as it might have liked.  It seems like the core of something really good is here, but I need to see more.





>Warframe  It looks good, but it was disappointing to hear that there won’t be a true campaign available.  On the other hand, I’m a sucker for (allegedly) keep character customization and this game’s visuals remind me a lot of Rengoku, which was one of my favorites in the early PSP days.





>Octodad: The Dadliest Catch   it was every bit as absurd and goofy as it looks, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.





>Rain  This downloadable title about a boy who is invisible when dry under cover and visible in the rain is exactly the sort of thing that doesn’t demo well.  It came off as very moody and atmospheric, and seems like a project that only reveals itself when sitting down with it on a quiet afternoon.





>Beyond: Two Souls  I’m definitely a David Cage fan, but it was hard to make up my mind about this one.  I only caught bits and pieces from the demo, but the story is apparently about a girl who has undergone some sort of experiments and then runs away, and her escape is aided by a ghost who is spiritually tethered to her.  It’s an interesting premise, but actually playing it gave me some pause. 

To start with, the graphics.  It looks pretty sharp overall, but there were some incredibly ‘uncanny valley’ moments, and striving for hyper-realism made it all seem sort of weird and more artificial than I would expect. 


Speaking of the gameplay, it was basically QTE: The Game.  When the girl initiates a motion, the action on screen goes into slow-mo and the player is supposed to “complete” the move.  For example, when she punches someone, her arm will go halfway and then the player should push in the direction her fist is traveling.  It sounds simple, but I found it surprisingly difficult to determine what the proper directions were, and when failing the inputs, the game just carries on. 

At other points the player takes over the role of the ghost, who then can interact with various ‘hot spots’ in the environment – knocking over someone’s bag, opening a hatch for the girl, etc.  It was interesting to see from the perspective of a spirit who’s hovering around and able to pass through objects, but again, my participation in the game felt very pre-scripted and limited.

Although I don’t think anyone would ever argue that Cage’s work has been perfect, I have admired the emphasis on storytelling and drama that he’s taken, and I am very curious to see where he goes with Beyond.  However, the demo made me feel as though I was simply watching a movie and nudging the controller every now and again, and that my involvement wasn’t crucial.  Hopefully that won’t be quite as true in the full version.





Diablo 3 – It’s Diablo.  I never played the PC version, and with all of the crazy marketplace stuff removed, I’m ready to get on board.

At this point I left the Sony booth and started working my way through the rest of the floor.  





>Bayonetta 2   It looks exactly like the first Bayonetta, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your opinion of the original.  Same general monster design, same over-the-top action.





>Wolfenstein  I sat down with this for about half an hour, and was shaking my head at how rote and boring and predictable it all was.  The graphics look sharp enough, but the opening level in a Nazi castle featured some poor level design which was quite confusing; so much so, that the developers felt the need to put bright yellow “go THIS way” arrows all over the walls.  The action? Basic ‘pick up all the guns and shoot all the guys’ with little to spice it up. 

After that first section, I laughed out loud as the main character was thrown into a vegetative state and then rested (immobile!) in a sanitarium for what seemed to be a number of months, only to snap out of it after his favorite nurse was kidnapped.  He then immediately knifed a Nazi in the throat and started dual-wielding heavy machine guns as if nothing had even happened.  Ridiculous and absurd. Toss in ‘ the same ‘break open crates for body armor’ and ‘can’t open any doors, even with explosives’ design that would’ve been appropriate for the mid-90s, and I’ve got to wonder why anyone thinks this is worth putting resources into.





>The Wolf Among Us  Telltale’s new game is based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book, and it looks fantastic.  They’ve definitely learned a few things since wrapping up The Walking Dead – the graphics and animation are both noticeably improved, and there are now obvious choices in the physical actions that the character can perform.  For example, when fighting an attacker, it’s possible to throw them into a sink, or throw them into a couch, and how the battle plays out after each choice is different.  The real-time action mechanics have been polished, and the emphasis on story that made TWD so popular seems to be in full effect here.  Expect five episodes for this series which is actually a prequel to the comic book.





>Sonic:Lost World  it still feels like janky Sonic, only this time it shamelessly rips off Super Mario Galaxy’s world design with spheres the character can walk around, and long flights through space to other areas.   





>Contrast  this heavily-stylized, puzzle-oriented title puts players in the role of a woman who can be in the real world or flatten herself into a shadow.  It’s a great effect, and uses light sources dynamically to create various paths.  In one example, the character needs to get to the upper balcony of a theater, but there are no stairs.  Instead, she positions a spotlight in a certain way, and then transforms into a shadow.  After doing so, she’s able to hop onto the shadow cast from a musician in the room, and uses that to leap up to a higher position.  The developers promised a combat-free, story-rich experience, and that sounds like a great thing to me.





>XCOM: Enemy Within   I sat in on a demo for this new XCOM content.  PC players will be able to buy it on its own, but console players can look forward to a new edition which combines the original game and this new expansion.  Highlights include three new classes of trooper: one with genetically-enhanced muscles who can leap to sniper positions without special equipment, one who can resist alien mind control and reflect it back for damage, and one who controls a hulking mech suit with rocket-powered fists and a chain gun that can destroy cover.  The presenter promised that this was only the tip of the iceberg, and if the rest of the stuff is as interesting as what I saw, then this turn-based strategy title will definitely find itself on my playlist again in the very near future.





>Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII   I’ve got to be honest here, I had absolutely no interest in this game at all until I saw the demo and now it’s on my to-play list.  I don’t know anything about the story except that the voice acting was atrocious, but the gameplay reminded me very much of FFX-2.  Main character Lightning has the ability to switch between three outfits at-will, and each one has its own set of attacks mapped to the face buttons.  Players can then move, block and attack in real-time.  Switching between the outfits and attacking was very fast and energetic, and the graphics were quite sharp.  I couldn’t have been more surprised at how enjoyable it was, but I’ve got my eye on it now.





>Dying Light   out of all the games I saw today, this one was tops.  Created by the same team that crafted the original Dead Island (but not the crappy semi-sequel-not-really-a-sequel Riptide) I think it’s safe to call this one the true spiritual successor.

The player takes the role of a parkour-enabled rooftop runner who’s in a city swarming with the undead.  Small areas of safety are protected by locked gates and barbed wire fences, and it seems as though humanity is holding on by a thread. 

Within just a few minutes of the demo, I was already impressed with the true open-world design, verticality of the architecture, and the frightening aggression of the zombies wandering the city.

The biggest difference between Dying Light and Dead Island is that in this game, the undead are much more of a threat.  Not only can they run and climb as well as the controllable character can, they are found in such great numbers that running away at top speed is usually the best (and only) answer when finding yourself in a trouble spot.  For instance, when I turned one particular corner, I found myself facing what must’ve been at least 30 or 40 zombies, and they all took an interest in me.  Just seeing that on screen was a little stunning, and not for one second did I think about staying there and duking it out.


Of course, I turned the other way and ran as fast as I could, and the sense of danger and adrenaline that kicked in was pretty intense while scrambling around trying to find some path back up to the rooftops.  Thankfully, the game gives players some pheromone decoys to throw the zombies up the trail for a moment or two, some are light-sensitive and can be quickly blinded by a flashlight, and there are also traps set up throughout the city to help runners escape.

Marked on the mini-map as a green dot, the player can dash towards one of these devices when in distress and activate them with a remote control while running past.  Some electrify the ground and fry zombies, and some are audio or visual distractions.

Other elements in the game include randomly-generated survivors which can be rescued and which affect both the character’s development and the story in various ways, shipments of supplies dropped by passing airplanes (they must be retrieved before bandits steal them), and skill trees which lead the player customize their character as they wish.  Examples given were increased parkour abilities, or builds more suitable for combat.

The feeling of running for your life and being in real danger of losing it isn’t a common mechanic in games these days, and Dying Light seemed to nail it pretty well.  I got sucked into it right away, and if what I saw was only a small slice, I can’t wait to see what the whole experience turns out to be.

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That’s it for PAX Prime 2013 Day One. My Day Two report coming soon!

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

SMT IV, Steamworld Dig, and Orange Is The New Black  

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Games: Although I count myself a Shin Megami Tensei a fan in general, I had some hesitation about jumping into SMT IV on 3DS.  I haven’t been the biggest fan of the portable SMTs and nothing about the previews was really grabbing me.  However, the Nintendo offer of $30 eShop credit when combined with purchase of Fire Emblem: Awakening (which I already had, and loved) was too much to resist, especially since I had a couple of games to trade in for credit. 



When all of that was factored in, it wasn’t much of a risk and I’m glad I didn’t lose too much of my own money on it, because I bailed at around 8 hours or so, and I didn’t feel conflicted about doing so.

I think the biggest issue I have with it was that the story wasn’t very interesting, and it didn’t seem as though very much effort was put towords the writing.  

For example, the plot is that the player is a “samurai” who lives to exterminate demons, yet you immediately begin recruiting demons and have them on your team like it’s no big deal.  None of the characters make much of a fuss about it, and if there was any sort of narrative explanation given, I didn’t see it.  It reminds me a lot of Blood Mages in Dragon Age 2 – they are seen as evil and reviled, but if the player chooses to go that route in building their character, no one in the world reacts to it. 

The rest of the story fell pretty flat for me.  Nobody responds strongly (or at all) to certain revelations, and it’s blindingly obvious that one character is ‘order’ and another is ‘chaos’ and that the player will eventually have to decide how the world will be remade.  It’s a recurring theme in this series and it’s fine enough, but I’m starting to get the feeling that the team is becoming a bit lazy.  That concept did not fit very well with the samurai conceit, and I wish the team had done more to rework things so that it all came together more tightly.

Otherwise, despite liking the navigation and playing dress-up with my main character, there wasn’t much to enjoy.  It’s the same basic demon-management game that all of the SMT titles are, but without strong characters or plot, I felt little desire to go through the motions again. 



I also felt like the SMT series usually has strong art, but IV was a mess.  The 2D presentation was very muddy and unappealing, and the demon sprites were all cannibalized from other games.  The variation in art style was quite jarring and made the game feel as though it lacked cohesion, visually.  What made it worse is that I recently revisited Etrian Odyssey IV (also a 2D dungeon-heavy game) and that title is absolutely beautiful – cleanly-drawn sprites, lots of color, nice animation…  It’s a joy to look at.  In comparison, SMT IV looks like a pile of dog food.

It’s not the worst game I’ve played by any stretch of the imagination, but with Persona 2, 3 and 4 easily available on top of SMT: Nocturne and a handful of the other SMT games that can be tracked down (yay, Raidou!) I really don’t see any reason to spend time on something that feels as second-rate as IV does.
Not Recommended.

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In other 3DS news, I’ve been playing Steamworld Dig and I think it’s pretty great.



The premise is that you’re a robot whose uncle has died and left you the mine he had been excavating.  You get to town and start digging right away, and things seem straightforward enough – dig tunnels that descend through the mine, but be careful because your character needs to be able to climb back up.  Collect some precious metals, buy a few upgrades, and so on.  

However, things soon get pleasantly more complex when you start finding new abilities and eventually turns out that there is something at the bottom of the mine…



I haven’t completed it yet but it’s very cute, controls well, and I think the idea is a good one.  There’s also something quite satisfying about collecting bits of ore and navigating the underground honeycomb… Maybe it's the dormant OCD in me, but it's definitely scratching a certain itch. Recommended.

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TV: It’s been a long time since I watched any TV show in marathon fashion, but the wife and I recently started Orange Is The New Black (Netflix original series) and we watched the entire first season of 13 episodes over the course of three days.  That may not be much of a marathon to some people, but for us  it’s pretty unusual.



The premise is that a well-to-do, white, upper-class woman gets convicted for a crime she committed 10 years in her past, and as a result, must put her current life on hold to serve a totally unexpected prison sentence.  Once she’s there, the show goes through some of the usual fish-out-of-water motions, but it quickly becomes more complex and interesting thanks to the strong writing.

To start with, the cast is almost entirely female except for a few of the guards and administrators, so seeing so many female characters front-and-center is refreshing. 



More than that, I also appreciate that there isn’t very much black or white to be found – the main character herself goes back and forth between being someone you feel sorry for, and someone who deserves what she gets.  Other characters display similar swings…  Someone I couldn’t stand at the beginning became someone I supported of at the end, and the queen bitch of the show is later revealed to have entirely honorable motivations.
 
These characters feel real to me in the way that they each have multiple aspects to their personalities, and none are as simple as they appear on the surface.  When the series reveals some of their backstories, it’s almost heartbreaking to witness what their life was like before they ended up behind bars.



The show also deserves credit for getting so much of the prison atmosphere right.  I actually worked in a prison myself for about four years and much of what I was seeing on my screen was an accurate reflection of what I saw in my daily life back then.  There are certainly a few liberties taken here and there, but in general, I was impressed.

Overall, this is one of the best series I’ve seen in some time, and I’m looking forward to the next season.  Here’s hoping that Netflix doesn’t keep us waiting too long. Recommended.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Scratching Infinite, War Logs, and Faery  

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Games: Earlier today I got a chance to sit down with fellow Seatowner Samantha Kalman, and I took a look at the new project she’s working on.  I’m not at liberty to say much, but if you’re someone who leans towards indie games, you may want to check out her website and/or follow her on Twitter (@SamanthaZero).  I suspect more information will be forthcoming very soon… 

Also, in case you missed it, here’s my full review of Saints Row IV and the Second Opinion from my good fellow, @SparkyClarkson.  



Personally, I had a blast with it and it more than made up for the nonsensical patchwork that SR3 was. However, I’ve been hearing some grumbling from others (a good number who came aboard the series with SR3) who didn’t find it the same enjoyable experience that I did.  Tastes certainly vary, but I think in this case it seems that a person’s expectations are somewhat defined by what their first experience with SR was. 

As for me, I played all four of the games in sequence and because of that, I think my appreciation for what SRIV brought to the table was certainly increased –I was quite tired of the same old GTA-inspired formula, and I loved that the writers took time to deepen characterization and make connections to the older titles.  However, if SR3 had been my first taste, I can understand how the massive change in play style and story that actually gives a damn would seem like a huge left turn away from the previous.

So with that review in the can, what am I playing now?

I had been considering Bioshock Infinite since I figured it would be one of those ‘must-plays’ that will inevitably come up during GOTY discussions in a few months, but I never managed to get excited about it before and after watching my wife play for a couple of hours tonight, I decided to scratch it off my list. 

Nah.

Basically, I got my fill of the ‘Bio’ experience with Bioshock 1 & 2 (as well as the superb Minerva’s Den) and I didn’t feel like there was much more to say there.  The story elements introduced at the beginning of Infinite didn’t grab me, and seeing the wife fall immediately into scrounging for food and money while blasting oncoming waves of enemies was a big turn-off.

Interestingly, I mentioned my plan to give it a miss on Twitter and I was met with a surprising number of responses who told me not to bother with it, or that I wasn’t missing much.  Apparently, the tidal wave of love Infinite received earlier in the year has now receded, and it’s... not seeming like such a great experience to more and more people?

I ended up deciding on Mars War Logs since the XBLA version recently became available and includes the re-done voiceovers that the PC version received.



I’ve been a fan of the developer (the unfortunately-named Spiders) ever since I reviewed Faery on XBLA, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting something else from these folks for a while.  After jumping in, I haven’t been disappointed with it so far.

What I like most about the work from Spiders is that they take Western-style RPGs and do some really interesting things with them.  



In Faery, the player had nearly unlimited flight which could be used to explore a giant-sized world, and a simplified combat system which still managed to entertain.  Also, the artwork was quite stylish.

In War Logs, the action is now real-time, and the game is set inside a prison which just happens to be on Mars.  Once again, the art team comes through with some attractive visuals and I appreciate the tone – starting a prison-based experience off with a rape attempt in the showers certainly lets you know what sort of content you can expect.

Something common to both Faery and War Logs that I looooove is that the developers don’t waste your time.  The actions needed to advance the plot are clearly marked (although there are limited sidequests for those who want them) and the territory is small.  Although I still call myself an RPG fan, I definitely don’t have the time to sink 50, 60 (or more!) hours into something that’s expressly designed for extended periods of play. The games from Spiders scratch the same itch and get it done in a tiny fraction of the time – These are RPGs that can easily fit into a busy schedule.

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Book: I think I may have forgotten to mention it (heh) but I finished the most recent draft of my book Speaking In Forked Tongues and sent it off to my publisher a week or two ago. It feels pretty awesome to get that off my plate, and fingers crossed that there won't be any more edits requested. Hopefully some more news soon!



********************PR/NEWS/INFO********************



Boston Festival of Indie Games proudly announces the details of its featured panel at this year’s festival, titled “Boston: The Cradle of Narrative Games.”  The all-star session will take place in the BostonFIG Main Theater, located in Room #10-250 (Maclaurin Buildings) from6:30 pm to 7:30 pm on Saturday, September 14. For more details on the festival schedule and registration, visit www.BostonFIG.com.

          Boston has a long tradition of developing amazing games with gripping stories, and was home to two companies that are an essential reference on creating narrative simulations, Infocom and Looking Glass Studios. Infocom created games such as the Zork series and Wishbringer, while Looking Glass Studios is well-known as home to series such as Ultima Underworld, System Shock and Thief. Moderated by narrative game designer and writer Matthew Weise, the panel features key members of this Boston narrative games tradition: game luminaries Terri Brosius, Austin Grossman, Dave Lebling, and Brian Moriarty.


“Boston: The Cradle of Narrative Games” – Featured Speakers

          Terri Brosius worked for Looking Glass, Ion Storm, Electronic Arts, Tiger Style, and Arkane. She is the voice of Shodan and Delacroix in the System Shock series, and the voice of Viktoria in the Thief series. Terri has writing credits on the Thief games, Dishonored, Waking Mars, and more.

          Austin Grossman is the author of two novels, You and Soon I Will Be Invincible.  He is also a game designer whose credits include System Shock, Deus Ex, Epic Mickey and Dishonored. His writing has appeared in Granta, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.

          Dave Lebling is best known as a co-author of Zork and a founder of Infocom. He co-authored Zork I, Zork II, Zork III and Enchanter with Marc Blank, and wrote Spellbreaker, Starcross, Suspect, The Lurking Horror and James Clavell's Shogun. He worked for over ten years at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, where he co-authored Maze (the first FPS played on the ARPANET) and Trivia.

          Brian Moriarty: Brian Moriarty authored three of the original Infocom text adventures, Wishbringer, Trinity and Beyond Zork. His first graphic adventure Loom was published by Lucasfilm Games. He collaborated with Ron Cobb onLoadstar for Rocket Science, and is credited with “Additional Additional Story” for Steven Spielberg’s The Dig. He has designed, engineered and/or produced games and toys for numerous publishers including THQ, Ubisoft and Mattel.

          Matthew Weise (Moderator): Matthew Weise is an independent game designer and writer, most recently Narrative Designer at Harmonix for Fantasia: Music Evolved. Matthew was Game Design Director for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab for five years. His writings on narrative game design appear in books, online publications and his blog Outside Your Heaven.

          Additional speakers to be featured in the Main Theater at the Boston Festival of Indie Games will include keynote speakers such as game designer and producer Robin Hunicke (“Finding Meaning in Gameplay”), and industry luminary Chris Remo (“Specificity: The Indie’s Advantage”). Brian O’Halloran, best known for his recurring role as “Dante” in the CLERKS films, will be the official master of ceremonies introducing all fest speaker, films and panels.

          The 2nd annual Boston Festival of Indie Games will be held on Saturday, September 14, 2013 at the Stratton Student Center and the Johnson Athletic Center on the MIT campus. A celebration of independent game development in a variety of media and genres, Boston Festival of Indie Games is free and open to the public. Festival attendees play video games, tabletop games and live action roleplaying (LARP) games in a casual, inclusive environment, plus attend film screenings and keynote talks. To register to attend and to receive regular festival updates, visit www.BostonFIG.com.
  
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Xbox LIVE Summer of Arcade – Every Wednesday in August

Summer of Arcade is heating up with a full line-up of games for everyone. Fight crime with a few turtles, get wrapped up in a cult sci-fi action classic and even more with the hottest line-up yet of four new titles. Invite your friends and get ready to experience the latest in arcade action. Plus, buy any two summer of arcade games and receive a Souls Pack for Ascend: Hand of Kul, free.

Brothers: a Tale of two Sons
available now for 1,200 Points
Guide two brothers on an epic journey. Control both at once with each thumb stick in co-op play like never before. Explore puzzles, varied locations and fight boss battles.

Charlie Murder
launches August 14th for 800 Points
Fallen punk rock idols Charlie Murder must face off against rival death metal band Gore Quaffer and their army of the damned in an RPG brawler hybrid inspired by coin-op beat ‘em ups and dungeon crawlers.

Flashback
launches August 21st for 800 Points
Conrad B. Hart of the G.B.I. is re-enlisted for the return of an acclaimed gaming franchise. Uncover an alien conspiracy, getting through complex & deadly environments.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
launches August 28th for 1,200 Points
TMNT: Out of the Shadows returns to how it all began. Become the four turtles fighting to save New York City from mutants, the Foot & Shredder.

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Spearhead Games, an independent game studio founded by former EA, Ubisoft® and Eidos® developers, today revealed that it intends to publish Tiny Brains, the co-op puzzle game that drew wide acclaim at this year’s E3, as a PlayStation® 4 launch title, alongside simultaneous releases for Xbox LIVE® Arcade and Steam. However, PAX Prime attendees won’t have to wait to get their hands on PS4 controllers and play Tiny Brains: they can try a demo at the show in booth 6305.Any group that can defeat the development team’s high score will win a beaker of brain-infested lab juice!

With a whimsical 3D art style, Tiny Brains challenges players to escape a mad scientist’s nefarious puzzles as one of four mysteriously powerful lab rodents. Using each tiny brain’s unique power – Create, Vortex, Teleport and Force – players collaborate to beat intricate levels and escape to freedom.
For more information, or to schedule a press demo of Tiny Brains at PAX Prime, please contact spearheadgames@triplepointpr.com.

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Today we would like to share the first trailer for our upcoming series, 
'The Wolf Among Us,' based on Bill Willingham's award-winning comic book series 'FABLES' and licensed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The series will also be shown to players for the first time at PAX Prime in Seattle WA this August 30th to September 2nd.

The season premiere will later make its debut on Xbox LIVE Marketplace for Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PlayStation®Network, and on PC and Mac from the Telltale Online Store and other digital distribution outlets.

For more information on the game, visit the official websiteFacebook, and follow Telltale Games on Twitter

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Video Games Live™, the first and most successful video game touring concert in the world, has kicked off its Kickstarter campaign to fund the production and release of their upcoming album - Video Games Live: Level 3.

Video Games Live: Level 3 will contain a track list of music of award-winning video games from original composers from celebrated franchises like  Chrono Trigger & Chrono Cross, Shadow of the Colossus, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Skyrim, Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid, Journey and many more killer games. As for rewards for backing, Tommy’s goal is to provide backers with at least 4x’s the amount of what was pledged. The $10 pledge gets you the album plus an exclusive Kickstarter album. The $5K pledge will get you lunch and a private tour at Blizzard.

-          Campaign Duration:  30 Days
-          Start Date:  August 14, 2013
-          End Date: September 13, 2013
-          KickstarterLink 
-          Funding Goal: $250,000 USD

Reason for Kickstarter:  People don’t realize that the art of video games combines the artistic mastery of visuals and graphics with sound and storytelling and music with cutting edge technology. Video Games Lives seeks to bring a spotlight on the music of games and showcase its artistic side.  Video Games Lives wants to produce a new album consisting of some of the most majestic scores from noteworthy video games, music that many people may not have heard before.  The music industry does not believe there is an audience for this project, but fans of Video Games Live will prove them wrong.

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NIS America is thrilled to announce that the newest installment of the fan-favorite Disgaeastrategy 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. For the initial North American run of the game, the retail version will include:
   • a two-disc official soundtrack
   • a graphic print
   • a costume DLC pack for Laharl, Etna, and Flonne, which will be available as
   a free download on PlayStation®Network for the first 30 days from the launch of the
   game! 

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dragon's Crown, Friday Monsters, Brothers, and Saints Row IV  

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Games: It’s been a while since I updated, so let me start things off by sharing a couple of links in case you missed them:



Dragon's Crown
First, here’s my take on Dragon’s Crown for PS3/Vita, which you may have heard about thanks to the brouhaha surrounding the hyper-sexualized art style.  Personally, I thought it looked great, although everyone has their own preferences.  However, it’s an incredible game regardless of what it looks like, and it's probably the best beat-‘em-up that’s ever been made.



Friday Monsters!
Next, here’s my take on Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale for 3DS.  It’s quirky, cute, and really different.  It wasn’t totally satisfying, but I liked it all the same, and would recommend it for those players looking for something a little off the beaten path.



Brothers
My last link tonight is my review of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons for XBLA.  Much like Friday Monsters! it’s a very unconventional experience, but it’s also one of the most soulful games I’ve played this year.  This story about two brothers trying to save their father is beautiful, magical, wondrous, dark, and at times very real.  I wouldn’t blame you for overlooking it thanks to the miserable PR job Microsoft is doing, but anyone interested in narrative, emotion, and unconventional game design should absolutely check it out.



So, since the stuff I just linked to is already in the can, you may be wondering what I’m up to now.  It’s still currently under embargo so I can’t share many details, but I can say that I’ve been spending time with Saints Row IV and it’s been something of a revelation.

Not super-representative of the game...
I came to the Saints Row series about two years after the first game came out back in 2006, and I genuinely liked it quite a bit.  Although it was pretty clearly a slightly different take on Grand Theft Auto mechanically, the sense of humor and irreverence were fantastic and the game just flat-out controlled a hell of a lot better than anything Rockstar had managed to turn out.

I hit Saints Row 2 as soon as that released, and it was essentially a good example of how ‘bigger, better, more’ is a valid development strategy for certain titles.  On the other hand, the format was starting to feel a bit stale by this point, and I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t fresher.  Still, a good game.

Then came Saints Row 3, and I’ve got to be perfectly honest here – it was a pile of garbage.  

I know a lot of people say that they had a great time with it and I don’t dispute that, but I also think that most of the people who enjoyed it are people who had never played the previous games.  If this was the first exposure someone had to the Saints franchise, then it makes perfect sense that it would be a lot of crazy fun.  But, as someone who had played both of the previous games, it felt like a hot mess with its absolutely atrocious writing, nonsensical missions, and terrible pacing.  I’m pretty sure the studio was going through some difficulties at the time and I can understand that, but the fact is that the game is just not very good.

Much closer to what it's actually like.
After having seen what a sloppy train wreck SR3 turned out to be, I was extremely leery of all the build-up and hype that was surrounding Saints Row IV.  Honestly, I expected to put 2 hours into it and then call it good, but then something amazing happened – the game turned out to be genuinely, shockingly fantastic.

Like I said, it’s still under embargo so I can’t spill the beans here, but I can say that the developers have corrected all of the problems that I had with the last game and then took the entire formula and shook it up from top to bottom.  It’s different, it’s totally fresh, it’s full of surprises, it’s fun and exciting…  This is one of the biggest turnarounds for a sagging series that I think I’ve ever seen.

Fear the Dubstep Gun... It actually kicks a lot of ass.
I’m about 12 hours through the game right now, and the entire experience has been an absolute blast.  It’s kind of a shame that PR for the game hasn’t really told the true story of what’s going on here, but then again, walking into some of this stuff without knowing it was coming just makes it that much better.  

If you’re tired of the GTA/SR formula or you’re just tired of open-world games in general, I would still encourage you to at least check out the game once it hits - and you fans of Crackdown? You’re gonna be in heaven.



********************PR/NEWS/INFO********************



Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment today confirmed Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition is available for PC at select retailers. Originally developed by NetherRealm Studios, led by Mortal Kombat co-creator and creative director Ed Boon, Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition is adapted for PC by High Voltage Software.

Featuring all of the previously released downloadable content (DLC), Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition for PC includes fearless warriors Skarlet, Kenshi, Rain and the nightmarish Freddy Krueger, as well as the 15 Klassic Mortal Kombat Skins and three Klassic Fatalities (Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Reptile).
For more information about Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition, please visit www.mortalkombat.com, on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/mortalkombat or on Twitter @MK_Mortalkombat

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Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl - Trailer


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XSEED Games, the independent-minded console publishing brand of Marvelous USA, Inc., today announced that the battle adventure game, Senran Kagura Burst, is headed to the Nintendo 3DS hand-held system as a digital release this Fall. It’s all about girl power in this over-the-top side-scrolling action game that spawned a successful anime and manga series in Japan. Senran Kagura Burst is set in an academy which serves as a front for an underground school where female students are secretly trained in the art of ninjutsu. Consisting of two separate storylines, Skirting Shadows introduces players to the “good shinobi” of Hanz┼Ź Academy while its counterpart, Crimson Girls, turns the tables to tell the same tale from the rival Hebijo Academy’s point of view.

Players can earn experience and level up throughout the story, unlocking new moves, powers and outfits. The Nintendo 3DS system’s stereoscopic 3D capability is fully supported, allowing Shinobi Transformations, special moves and victory poses to be viewed in full 3D.

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Everlove - Trailer 

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GungHo Online Entertainment America is pleased to announce its PlayStation®Vita system puzzle-platform hybrid, Dokuro, is now available for download free of charge for PlayStation®Plus subscribers. The promotion will continue until August 27 in North America, giving Vita owners with PS Plus the opportunity to download Dokuro and experience its spooky charm for themselves.

The recipient of a host of industry awards, such as “Best PS Vita Puzzle Game” and “Original Game of the Year”, Dokuro is a one-of-a-kind action-puzzle game that uses the PlayStation Vita’s Front Touchscreen and Rear Touch Pad to enable players to manipulate the game’s environment and transform the game’s diminutive protagonist between two forms – a nimble skeleton and a dashing prince – in order to solve a variety of puzzles in his quest to help an innocent princess escape the Dark Lord’s fortress.

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DrinkBox Studios is bringing platform-brawler Guacamelee! to Steam as a special Guacamelee! Gold Edition on August 8 for $14.99, £11.99 and €13.99. To celebrate the Steam launch, Guacamelee! will be 10 percent off for the first week of release.
Features for the Guacamelee! Gold Edition Include:

       Full Game along with the first two DLC packs – Costume pack and “The Devil’s Playground” challenge level
       Steam trading cards
       Steamworks integration with Achievements, Leaderboards, Cloud Save, and Big Picture Mode
       Fully remappable keyboard controls
       Create new custom costumes and share these with others via Steam Workshop

As an added bonus, for the first week, purchasers of Guacamelee! Gold will also receive a free code for the critically acclaimed Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack on Steam.

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Indie game publisher and developer eastasiasoft and development partner SideQuest Studios announced that their upcoming role-playing game Rainbow Skies is coming to the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and the PlayStation®Vita handheld entertainment system in 2014.

Featuring cross-play support, Rainbow Skies lets the player begin the adventure on the PlayStation®3 system and continue exploring and battling monsters anywhere on the PlayStation®Vita system.
“We have enjoyed great support and success on the PlayStation®3 system in the past and are happy to bring our latest development to the PlayStation® family in 2014,” said Marcus Pukropski, CEO of SideQuest Studios. “Rainbow Skies combines lots of fan feedback with our own vision and will be an awesome mix of old meets new. We are looking forward to showing gamers more of Rainbow Skies in the months to come.”

Official website: http://www.rainbow-skies.com

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Stardock is pleased to announce that it has secured the rights to the classic PC franchise Star Control with the intent to develop a new Star Control game. Development on the new game will begin this year with a release date to be determined at a later time.

Entering its 20th year as an independent studio, Stardock remains one of the few development studios solely dedicated to PC gaming. Its critically-acclaimed PC games include the timeless Galactic Civilizations series and the award-winning Real-Time Strategy game (RTS) Sins of a Solar Empire, which has sold more than two million copies worldwide. PC Gamer Magazine recently chose Galactic Civilizations II and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion for inclusion in the top 100 PC games of all time.

 Star Control maintains a cult following as a beloved PC franchise, with the first title including options for melee or strategy gameplay set in a science fiction universe. The sequel—Star Control II—expanded on the Star Control universe as an adventure game and shooter. Star Control II still holds spots on critics’ lists of the best PC games of all time among both new and seasoned PC gamers.

For more information on Stardock, please visit www.stardock.com.

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Like a deadly swarm, five NinjaBee games descend on XBLA today in the NinjaBee Bundle. A World of Keflings, Band of Bugs, Ancients of Ooga, Cloning Clyde and Outpost Kaloki X will be available starting today for a mere 1600 MSP, slashing the 3600 MSP retail value of all five games by more than half.
 Help hapless Keflings as they attempt to build a (tiny) new kingdom in A World of Keflings. Wage war with your exoskeletal soldiers in the exciting insecticidal tactics game Band of Bugs. Eat, chant and puke your way to revolution in Ancients of Ooga. Engage in ethically questionable science in the zany platformer Cloning Clyde. Take capitalism to space in Outpost Kaloki X, an interstellar tycoon game.
 This honey of a deal is available for the phenomenal price of 1600 MSP for a limited time. Don’t miss out. Buy the bundle today and see what all the buzz is about.

For more information about NinjaBee games, visit www.ninjabee.com.

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Capcom, a leading worldwide developer and publisher of video games, today confirmed that the ultimate ninja, Strider Hiryu, will return in Strider, a brand new title in development for Xbox One®, the all-in-one games and entertainment system from Microsoft, Xbox 360®games and entertainment system from Microsoft, PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system, PlayStation®3 system and PC. An intense side-scrolling action platformer, Strider’s action begins in the expansive metropolis of Kazakh City, a mix of ornate Russian architecture and hard-edged futuristic high-rise buildings with sprawling energy cables and pipework. Players freely explore the city and beyond, gaining new abilities and items which in turn open access to a truly massive and expansive interconnected game world.

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