Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale Gets Its Fight On

Sometimes, a good co-op hack and slash romp through a monster infested mine is the cure for what ails ya. I remember playing the PS2 Baldur’s Gate on the couch with my friend Dennis and having a fantastic time. Well, I had a fantastic time but I’m not the one who had to constantly pull my ass out of the fire. This trailer for the upcoming Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale game shows off the fighter and, like all good fighters, he hits things with whatever weapon he has on hand. I would expect nothing less.

AEG Announces L5R Board Game; First Nightfall Expansion

Alderac Entertainment Group has come a long way from its days peddling a couple of Legend of the Five Rings products and that terrible collectible poker chip game, Clout. They’re quickly becoming a publisher to watch on the tabletop scene with very nicely produced, well-written and thematic games.

I reviewed AEG’s new deckbuilding game Nightfall very favorably a couple of weeks ago and before the ink is dried on the first press run of that game, the new Martial Law expansion has been slated for July release. Expect 300 new cards to continue the post-apocalyptic war between vampires and werewolves as well as a couple of new mechanics. AEG’s track record with the expansions for Thunderstone has been very good, so this could be a nice addition to a good game.

Also, they’re coming forward with War of Honor, a 2-4 player board game set in their popular Legend of the Five Rings setting. It’s kind of a mythical take on Feudal Japan, if you’re not familiar. According to AEG’s description, the game actually uses cards from their L5R CCG but in a board game setting so that might be interesting. Apparently, it’s also expandable with any L5R cards you might already own- or by on the cheap in the aftermarket. I’ll be reviewing it when it releases in June.

Brandon's Tree: Or How PC Gave Way to Consoles

No High Scores

Well, here it is, my gaming tree. In it you can see how an ardent PC gamer turned into a lover of console games, and multiple consoles at that. Paring this down was a monumental task, but well worth it. I wish I had room for all of the arcade games I plugged quarters into, but alas, Visio’s page setup only goes so big.

So, without further ado, my gaming tree.

No High Scores

Danielle’s Extended Gaming Tree

Since Bill totally called me out in his awesome “gaming tree” post from earlier today, I decided to do my very own gaming tree, drawing on my roots and branches (yay, tree metaphor!), by counting the platforms and games that have shaped me as a gamer.

Without further ado, here is my complete gaming tree, listing all my major influences from the beginning until modern times. This is pretty extensive, so if you want the “TL, DR” version, here are the real defining characteristics: I’m very into escapism (via story and game worlds), unique characters/situations/stories, puzzles and platformers, and colorful, interesting art direction. I also grew up with so much Nintendo that I even had the Mario bedsheets. Yes, the bedsheets.

I was a wee lass when I first got my NES. My early days (starting at age 5) were filled with platformers and other side-scrolling goodness.

My very first handheld system, in what would be a lifetime of playing games on tiny screens. Here we see even more nascent platforming, and my first addiction to a puzzler.

This is where things start to become concrete – my love of platforming was cemented, and my very first steps into the RPG world happened in this era. I also started to become aware of aesthetics – Donkey Kong Country became a favorite for me not just for its graphics and action, but for the whole look and feel (and sound) of the experience. As a kid of the 90s, I was also totally into the cheesy Mortal Kombat games.

The Nintendo 64 still remains one of my all-time favorite game systems, mainly because it suited my tastes so well: it offered me a steady diet of platformers, my first (incredibly enjoyable) steps into the FPS world, tons of excellent multiplayer games (Mario Kart and Goldeneye were the Junior High hotness), and my very first Zelda game, a series that would come to be one of my all-time favorites.

This is the era where I went from Nintendo loyalist to multiplatform-loving gal. As with all Nintendo systems, my favorite games were first (and third) party titles that oozed atmosphere and adventure, like the phenomenal Metroid Prime.

I consider this the “practice” system for my DS.

The Dreamcast’s collection of eclectic, awesome, colorful experiences was a huge influence on the gamer I am today. These titles represent the first time I ever felt like I was in a living, breathing, stylized city (Shenmue, Crazy Taxi, Jet Grind), and something about that really, truly “clicked” with me. I also loved just how colorful and unique these games looked and felt – from Chu Chu and Space Channel and Jet Grind’s super-stylized cartoony look to the wide-open RPG world of Skies of Arcadia. A great deal of my actual professional aspirations in graphic design and new media production are rooted in this era.

At first, I was obsessed with puzzle games on my DS. Soon, though, I started to get into the more creative stuff, with the recent DIY and Scribblenauts, which have informed some of my own game design aspirations.

I was a very late bloomer on the PS2, but by the time I had my paws on one, the library was filled with the best, most creative stuff the system had to offer. Psychonauts remains one of my favorite games of all time.

In my more recent favorite games, it’s apparent that storytelling, game world, and aesthetics are at the top of my list when considering the titles that really have the most impact on me. Also, I obviously love certain studios, which speaks to the whole “expressive games” idea that was noted once in a Double Fine Interview.

The LittleBigPlanet series has had tremendous impact on me – creatively, professionally, and as a proverbial student of game design. Heavy Rain makes the list because I can’t shake the power of those later scenes… if someone comes around and does this sort of game “right”; I’ll be all over it.

I’m just beginning to dive into strategy games and indie productions (when said titles come to Steamplay, that is). I also enjoyed a good game of Rise of Nations back in my college days.

There you have it, folks – my gaming tree.

Dissecting Dragon Age 2: The Combat

No High Scores

There’s been a lot of discussion about Dragon Age 2′s new combat model both here and elsewhere. There’s no question it’s significantly different than Origins and in a way I don’t like as much. Yes, it’s got the whole pausable real-time thing going on, but where Origins felt a turn-based model that happened to flow in real time, this feels more like a real time model that it just so happens you can pause. A thin distinction? Probably, but an important one I think…

To be sure a lot of my dislike of the combat in DA2 has more to do with pacing than tactics. Strategy is not lost in this game nearly so much as it might appear at first. No, terrain doesn’t matter here, but it didn’t in Origins either. (Would be nice if it did, though.) So much has to do with difficulty and how you approach combat. If you play on Hard difficulty (or higher) you do have to think strategically. Positioning matters. Threat (who draws the most attention from adversaries) matters. And, moreso than Origins, you do need to learn how to apply tag-team tactics using character class abilities if you want to do the kind of damage necessary to maintain crowd control. I’m not a big MMO guy, but it strikes me as a model very much derived from group combat in World of Warcraft. If you’re an addict of that genre, I think you’re likely to dig that. It is slicker. It is faster. It is loaded with candy for the eyes. (Bill thinks my WoW comparison is crazy, but that could be a PC versus console distinction since the PC doesn’t force you to press a button over and over again just to attack. What a nightmare.)

I’m a more deliberately paced guy.I don’t want my mages shooting off ice bolts like they’re firing a machine gun. When I assign orders to each of my party members I want to be able to see them unfold, just as I want to see the whole of the battle unfold in a clear way. This new model, which may in fact be better balanced than that of Origins, doesn’t really allow that. To the eye, it’s barely controlled chaos. Characters are jumping around like coked-out jack rabbits, spell effects are going off like strobe lights, and guys are quite literally exploding in fountains of blood. For the player who liked the more deliberate and considered pacing of Origins or an Infinity Engine game, it is a turn-off.

I remember interviewing Mark Laidlaw, who is a hell of a charismatic guy, shortly before Origin’s release. We were talking about the game’s marketing and the need to get attention with stuff like that “New Shit” ad and his contention was that he wanted people to stop and go, “So, it’s got dragons and rock and roll? Interesting.” No matter how they marketed it, Origins was not a rock and roll fantasy game and I was glad for that. This combat model? This is rock and roll fantasy. The rest of you enjoy it; the best I can do is tolerate it.

As for the encounters themselves, I really take issue with how repetitive it all is. Even the most ardent defender of this new system has to acknowledge that every encounter is some variation on this theme:

1. Journey to a quest location and start down the narrow path
2. Encounter bad guys. Battle ensues.
3. Just as you establish battlefield dominance, a second wave appears; not always, but often out of the clear blue sky. Perhaps from invisible monster closets?
4. (Optional) Third wave poofs into existence. (Sometimes a fourth?)
5. Win Battle.

Throw in boss battles at the end of the bigger quests and that’s really it. The game will never surprise you. You will never not know what to expect around the next corner. I played on Normal, so I could be wrong about this, but I expect you really don’t even change your tactics all that much based on what you’re fighting. Get the tanks in there tanking. Get mages buffing or doing mass damage, using the exact same spells in the exact same ways every single time. Avoid letting the AI set up your party for their own cross class combos. Whether it’s a spider shooting venom, an archer shooting arrows, or a mage casting spells doesn’t seem to be all that relevant. Every battle will have a collection of guys rushing to attack you and a set in the back firing off a ranged attack of some type. The bosses require different strategies in many cases, but very often those play out like the boss battles from coin-op action games. “Oh, he’s moving into spinball attack #3 now. Run for the hills! Oh, this is where he sits there for awhile and ‘summons’ a horde of minions to attack me instead.” (There are exceptions; I’m speaking in generalities.)

Speaking of boss battles… wow do I hate them in this game. Hate. Them. Especially the ones that attack you until you knock their health down 25% (or whatever) and then they fly to some untouchable spot (or go invulnerable for awhile) while some minions pop onto the screen forcing you to deal with them instead. Blech.

As for the whole reinforcements thing, in principle I don’t have any truck with the notion of monsters getting reinforcements mid-battle. Skeletons rising up from the dirt, or assassins unexpectedly leaping from the shadows mid-battle could have been a really cool element. You’re in the thick of the fight wondering if this is all there is or if you’re about to get flanked and beat up. But that’s not the case here because here you know you’re about to get tagged with reinforcements. It happens every single time. Combine that with the construction of the maps, which offer almost zero exploration whatsoever, and what you end up with is a game that offers few, if any, surprises beyond the first hour of play. You’re never wondering what’s around the next corner. A battle will never begin with an attack from behind (it’ll just finish that way). You’ll never be able to set up an encounter on your own terms. That’s not crafted game design, that’s a script and not a particularly dynamic one at that.

I also think this is something you can get away with more easily in a bigger, more epic, story, but if you’re going smaller and more personal, I think you have to be that much more “crafty” with the experience. Encounters need to be large and small. What looks like a small encounter could turn much harder based on reinforcements, but it shouldn’t always happen. A small encounter can be just as dangerous as a big one if you set it up right. I also think it would have better served the game if it weren’t all about facing hordes of enemies. Body counts in games are always difficult to manage and you do have to suspend your disbelief, but how there’s a soul alive in Kirkwall I have no idea. Smallpox didn’t kill as many people as I did in this game.

Also, as a personal favor to me. No more spiders. Ever. I don’t like spiders and every generation they get creepier and more realistic. I can’t even look at the screen when one of the uber spiders pops up. I scream like a seven year old girl (I should know; I have one) and close my eyes, hoping the NPCs can handle it.

I’m all man.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time Is Deja Vu All Over Again

Behold, the new trailer for Spider-Man: Edge of Time. Honestly, if you had told me this was from Shattered Dimensions, I probably wouldn’t have argued the point, so similar does it look. Somewhere, Noir Spidey and Ultimate Spidey are weeping over not being invited back to the party.

Battlefield Play4Free Launches Today. For Free.

Today EA has officially launched its Play For Free spin on the Battlefield series on the PC.

PR Shazam:

The wait is over! (This is assumed, I think) The Battlefield experience is now available to anyone, anytime, anywhere – for free. Yes, for free. Today, EA launched Battlefield Play4Free. a deep, rich, adrenaline-filled Battlefield all-out war experience. Battlefield Play4Free delivers an endlessly entertaining experience on the PC that combines the most popular maps from Battlefield 2 with the popular classes and powerful weapons of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Battlefield Play4Free raises the bar in the free-to-play space even further with (has) 16 different vehicles including the Mil Mi-28 attack helicopter, its nemesis the F35 VTOL jet fighter, the massive Russian T-90 main battle tank, and the hard to catch LSV light strike vehicle.

(You will note that a lot of the redactions over the last few weeks are of the same words. When you see rich, deep or anything involving adrenaline you know you are reading PR speak.)

Players progress through the game to learn new combat skills, and earn in-game currency to spend on a massive array of devastating weapons and equipment to propel players to victory in 32-player online battles. Battlefield Play4Free simulates the career of a professional soldier and as player’s progress, they can upgrade their physical capabilities, available equipment and combat expertise. At every level the player is creating a more unique, more customized soldier and creating their own, personal playing style to take to the battlefield.

Play now at http://battlefield.play4free.com

HOARD launches on Steam

I’m going to fire this puppy up today after I do the news rounds and take a lunch break to watch my stories.

PR ahead:

Today, gamers on PC and Mac finally get their hands on Big Sandwich Games’ dragon-themed game of gathering treasure. HOARD is available for purchase on Steam. Purchasers who act now can take advantage of a limited time discount off the retail price of $9.99 (€9.99). 4-packs are also available for a deeper discount, encouraging friends to take advantage of HOARD’s unique and compelling multiplayer action.

HOARD is packed full of content and features for both solo and group-minded gamers. Aspiring dragons (Players) can compete for high scores on over 35 different maps and 4 modes, ranging from single player score-attack to co-op to intense head-to-head matches. The gameplay is a n innovative and addictive mix of action and strategy and despite the game’s quickplay nature, Big Sandwich assures gamers will find dozens of hours of gameplay in the package.

“If you like dragons, gold, princesses, knights, burglars, giants, medieval villages, wizard towers, gems, or fire, you’ll probably like HOARD,” says Tyler Sigman, Executive Producer. “But if you like great games and great value, you’ll definitely like it.”

(bonus points for the fire reference. That’s funny.)

The Steam store page is located here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/63000

Defenders of Ardania Closed Beta Sign Ups

Paradox is accepting applications to beta test its upcoming tower defense game Defenders of Ardania. The deadline for applications is April 11th and to get a feel for what the game is all about, watch the above clip.

You can sign up here: http://beta.paradoxplaza.com

12 Ways Consoles Are Hurting PC Gaming

First off, why 12?

A few weeks ago someone posted in our comment section about how I was traffic trolling by posting the debate over homosexuality in Dragon Age 2. BioWare made it a story by publicly commenting on it. That wasn’t traffic trolling.

This — is traffic trolling.

Kotaku has an op-ed column posted by Maximum PC’s Nathan Grayson about how consoles of all stripes are not killing the industry — but specifically PC gaming. I think there are some fair points made here, to be honest, but blaming the consoles for this seems a tad silly. My Xbox 360 didn’t do a damn thing to my PC.

I think titling that column ‘reasons why game companies are hurting PC gaming’ would make more sense. Bad ports, DRM, development focus, etc. But blaming the consoles because a developer didn’t add a save anywhere feature? I think there is a lot of short-sightedness when it comes to PC gaming by game companies, but it’s hard to point the finger at your Wii as the culprit.