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Brakketology Plays The Walking Dead and Enemy Within

XCOM The Final Team

I had a plan. It included skipping Brakketology last week. It’s a holiday and there wasn’t much happening that I was interested in writing about. I mean sure, I did land an Xbox One on launch day, but that’s all considerably less exciting when it’s a gift for the kids that will go unopened until December 25th. (I am trusting you with this secret. Mum is the word.) I’m rather proud of myself, actually, for not so much as opening the box, which I was sorely tempted to do. Not part of the plan was our esteemed Mr. Abner landing the flu Sunday night, forcing us to cancel the podcast. We’re definitely sorry not to have an episode go up yesterday, but Brandon and I will get something recorded this week and up for next Monday.

And so it goes.

In the meantime things are happening…

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Brakketology Faces the Inquisition

DragonAgeInquisition

Here there be dragons. We’re jumping right in this week. There’s a 30-minute gameplay video of Dragon Age: Inquisition that has, so far, managed to survive YouTube scrutiny. It’s from Bioware presentation given to attendees at Digiexpo (whatever that is) and, for fans of the series, it’s worth taking the time to watch. Some highlights:

  • Right from the get go, they’re quick to point out that the area they’re traveling in is bigger than all of Dragon Age 2. Me thinks Bioware still feels a wee bit stung by criticism of DA2 being too small. The thing is, size and scale were never Dragon Age 2′s problem.
  • Combat does look like a meld of both of the DA games. At about 18 minutes in they show off the tactical camera, which is available in the console versions this time around. That said, it still looks a bit arcadey, though it’s impossible to say when you’re watching someone else control the action. There is also a section that shows off group tactics that feels very DA2. I’m hopeful, but this is the kind of thing you have to be hands-on to get a feel for.
  • Combat difficulty does not scale based on your character level. This is a good thing, so long as the world is designed properly.
  • Lots of emphasis on decision-making in this video. In this case, do you defend a town from vile beasties or do you stock up the nearby keep to prevent it from being lost. This element overarches the entire 30 minute demo and is very promising as your choice does appear to affect both the world at large and the members of your party. Yes, yes, appearances can be deceiving and they often are. If you skip ahead, however, to the 24-minute mark, you get a good (narrated) summary of how this particular decision can effect the world at large.
  • Speaking of the world, the 14-minute mark has a world map view that is cool for series fans as it actually shows elements of the DA-verse that we’ve only heard of so far, but not seen. I don’t think I’ve seen a map that showed more than Ferelden (and Kirkwall) and getting to see where some of the nations are in relation to each other was worth geeking out over.

I’ve embedded the video after the break, along with your usual dish of Brakketology-style musings…

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Jumping the Shark Episode #195

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week’s Jumping the Shark brings you a smorgasbord of topical goodness as Brandon cracks the seals on his new Playstation 4 and uses it to play more with his Vita. Bill joins us to talk basketball foibles and a little TV. And I drop more XCOM: Enemy Within truth bombs than you can shake a stick at. Along the way Brandon and I also get into the excellent new movie, About Time, and talk about what makes Thor: The Dark World a worthy entry into the Marvel movie canon.

Enjoy!

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Musical interlude, “Gentle Autumn Breeze,” by Garret Dwyer.

Brakketology Confronts the Dragon… Despairs

Excalibur Merlin

Look upon the eyes of the dragon and despair. Merlin was, of course, talking to Morgana when he said that, but he could easily have been speaking of game designer and “monetization design consultant” Ethan Levy, who wrote a piece on F2P success at Games Industry Biz. It is insightful, based on sound data, and wholly abhorrent to anyone who actually cares about games. A snippet, cherry-picked to set you against him:

When I compare Arkham Origins to Gods Among Us [ed: the F2P releases, not the "real" games], my sense as a player and a game designer is that NetherRealms has made an undoubtedly better game, but a worse free-to-play product. They have made fundamental changes that will earn them brownie points with gamers wary of free-to-play, but have a negative impact on P&L. Even more damaging is the effect of diverting resources from a top grossing, live game to build a new product. I know from firsthand experience how difficult hiring talented team members can be in a competitive space like mobile game development. But by shifting resources instead of growing the overall mobile team to support multiple games (which I assume is the case solely based on the credits) Warner Bros. has not only delivered a lower performing product, they have missed months’ worth of opportunity to add new features to Injustice that would grow player base and profitability.

I bang my anti-F2P drum on, very nearly, a weekly basis. This kind of stuff is why. These games aren’t games. Games are creative expressions and therefor are art forms. They may often be very low art, but they are creative endeavors and while there is money to be made (nor can they be made without it), you are not making great games if your primary design axiom is built on how you get players to stop in the middle of what they’re doing and fork over more money, and then do so again a session or two later (and again, and again). And that, of course, is F2P’s problem. When games are designed and built to get you coming back to the feeder bar as much as possible without getting too pissed off to abandon the title outright then they are no longer games of any substance or worth. If you eat, sleep, and breathe that business, then you’re not Satan exactly, but you are the guy who goes into the corner store to buy Satan a pack of cigarettes. (Points for you if you know where I’ve stolen that line from.)

Make us a good game, rather than a nickel and dime delivery system, and we’ll pay you for it. Speaking of real games…

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Brakketology Waxes Nostalgic

SteamBox

I was innocently strolling through my Feedly feeds a couple days ago, window shopping for things that looked interesting –things that would justify my desire to not have to, you know, be productive– when I ran across a reference to Vale having taken the wraps off their internally-developed Steam box. And then another. And then another. These are, of course, signs that an embargo just lifted.

I can name the number of times I’ve been invited to go behind the scenes to get an early look at something and then write free PR about it. It was always a fun experience just because you got to actually see stuff that only a small group is privileged to see and you got to meet people in the business (almost universally great people) that you would never ever get to meet in any other situation. Getting to sit down and have a casual conversation with someone like Fred Wester (Paradox Sofware) or a Mike Laidlaw (Bioware)? That’s awesome. Getting home and realizing you now have to try and write something unique about an experience that was exactly the same for a dozen other people who saw the same thing and are also about to write about it? Blech. Waking up and seeing them all online at the same time and then coming across the one or two utterly brilliant iterations that aren’t yours and make you feel bad about yourself as a writer? Vomit.

This is all to say that while I miss getting to have some of those experiences, I absolutely do not miss the sheer pointlessness of the work involved. It’s much better to look from afar and call attention to the stuff worthy of  your attention. Which I’ll do right now…

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Jumping the Shark Episode #194

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week’s Jumping the Shark brings the exciting return of the musical interlude! But not in the way you think I mean. Also, I do a little night-walking in Neverwinter, as I reach back into my gaming library for a taste of Neverwinter Nights 2′s D&D 3.5 ruleset goodness. Find out what makes this still a game worth getting into despite some frustrating pieces that’ll never work quite right. Seriously, little NPC dudes, stop running headlong into traps! Brandon, meanwhile, has created a scourge of Echo soldiers in the recently released iOS game, Echo Prime. He comes away mightily impressed. Not so impressive was his journey into the streets of Gotham in Batman: Arkham Origins. Did no one at Splash Damage notice that they have Batman standing blithely around while a dude gets straight-up murdered and think to say, “Hey, this is kinda out of character?” Finally, we get to the real issue of the day, in which I explain to Brandon what made Pacific Rim a far better movie of metal monstrosities punching things than Transformers.

Enjoy!

Production Note: We’ve brought this up in the show a couple times, but just to make sure you’ll all fully aware, we’ve officially gone to the every other week model for JtS releases. Our apologies to those of you who liked getting your weekly dose, we love you all, but with just two to three of us available (and sometimes not even that) in any given week, there are too many “real life” commitments going on to keep it going weekly. Hopefully, however, you’ll find that the extra week gives us more to play and more to talk about, resulting in better shows!

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Musical interlude, “Gentle Autumn Breeze,” by Garret Dwyer.

Brakketology Is Out of Its Element

Big Lebowski Reunion

This is from my buddy’s annual best of its breed Halloween party last weekend. Call it an unofficial and wholly fictional Big Lebowski reunion tour. On one hand, being asked to be Donny is both A) uninspiring – I mean how do you replicate Steve Buscemi’s look in that movie? Guy wears bowling shirts and Dockers. Done. And B) debilitating to one’s soul, because you know you’ll spend the entire evening being told, “Shut the fuck up, Donny.”

On the other hand, this collection is incomplete without Donny and these dear friends of mine did an unbelievable job replicating Jesus, Walter, and The Dude. Walter in particular is just an eerie likeness. Also, given A and B, there may be no one else in the world, and certainly not in my social circle, better-suited to manning the role. That may be a dubious distinction, but if you’ve got it, own it, right? Plus, as a collection this is completely awesome.

On to business. In this week’s Brakketology rock lives, Mythic’s free-to-play designers ruin beloved franchises, Enemy Within gets some hands-on time, there’s more Xbox One/PS4 comparing and contrasting, and Star Citizen is the game that refuses to take “no” for an answer.

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Brakketology Thinks Horizontally

Grimrock 2 Skill Tree

This week’s Brakketology (admit it, like a sufferer of Stockholm Syndrome, you’re starting to like the name) checks in on the Grimrock 2 team and comes out forever changed. Sorta. Also Stardock teases, the Arkham games get a much-needed Steam update, 2k wants you to give them a fiver, Sega just won’t quit Aliens, and Sid Meier learns an important lesson about why the free-to-play model is teh suxorz.

Grimrock 2 Gets It. One of my big bug-a-boos in RPGs is the degree to which the entire genre has marginalized leveling up characters. There was a time, and this is going way back, when gaining a level in an RPG was exciting. More hit points! A new skill! Maybe even an attribute bump! These are all things you still get, of course, but somewhere along the way the excitement got lost. I attribute this to the fact that designers decided leveling was so awesome for gamers that they should be hearing the little ding every 23.589 seconds. A funny thing happens, though, when you make a special occurrence a routine one — it stops being exciting. I blame Diablo for starting the trend, but regardless, once you realize there’s little in the way of rewards that mean anything it becomes a long slow exercise in diminishing returns. Hey, look, another skill I’m not going to use! Alright! I now get a 23% bonus to fire damage instead of a 22%! Woo?

Enter the recent dev diary from the Legend of Grimrock 2 team:

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Jumping the Shark Podcast #193

We’re all in the house for this week’s JtS to talk about The Wolf Among Us. Does the first installment in TellTale’s latest choice-and-consequence adventure game measure up to expectations? Will it tickle you to hear Toad from Wind in the Willows curse a lot? How about Snow White working in (I think) the mayor’s office. And, hey, there’s always your protagonist, Bigby Wolf, doing his best Wolverine impersonation. It could work, right? Also this week, Brandon gets his Pokemon pants on and discovers they fit better than ever. And we talk some more Agents of Shield, Walking Dead, and a little Sons of Anarchy.

Enjoy!

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Brakketology Embraces the Terror

sadkitten02

First up, there’s no JtS this week. Here’s your obligatory kitten. Bill and I agreed that an hour of listening to him sniffle and hack up a lung, combined with us talking about all the games we’re not playing, was probably not the way to go. On the bright side, we’re  all picking up The Wolf Among Us and will be discussing it next week.

As for this week’s Brakketology, I have found a new game to drool in anticipation over, which we all know I rarely do anymore; Steam shows us what it’s upcoming SteamBox controller can do, and it’s rather impressive; there’s a new faction hanging around in XCOM: Enemy Within; and two new game trailers, one that shows you something that should be cool, but decidedly isn’t, and something that should be passe, but looks fantastic. Also, I finally saw Gravity (in 3D) this weekend and the critics are right; it’s, like, whoa.

Who is it that loves you? It’s me and you’ll sleep better at night knowing this.

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