When I emailed Robert Burke, designer of Battle for Souls to shamelessly ask for a review copy, he responded that he had sold through what the Kickstarter campaign had allowed him to print but he was more than happy to comply. It seems that he had several game reviewers actually decline the opportunity to review the game because of its subject matter. Naturally, I wanted to review it because of the subject matter. And because any game that uses William Blake paintings has got to have something to recommend it. Continue Reading…
On this week’s JtS, Brandon and I talked a lot, in spoilery details, about the first episode of Telltale’s adventure game, The Walking Dead Season 2. We both like it, but where I cannon-balled into this opening chapter, Brandon though it not as strong as the pilot opener for season 1. It occurs to me that the main reason we differ comes down to the notion that our DNA in these things is entirely different. In season 1, Brandon liked entering a world full of characters he’d never met, getting to know them and their histories and developing Lee from an entirely blank slate. I get that. I think that’s how a majority of players are. Or maybe it’s a question of introvert and extrovert tendencies? Being very much the former, I’ve never been big on discovery. Oh sure, once I discover something and like it, then I wrap it around me and live in it like it were a comfy blanket. So warm. So soft. I am home. And safe.
It’s just very tough for me to get to that point. This is true whether I’m playing games, watching movies, or reading books; especially so when reading books. Part of the reason I used to bury myself in fantasy series like Riftwar, and Wheel of Time and Song of Ice and Fire is because I could live in those worlds for so much longer than I could in your typical modern day work of fiction. There was always another book and I didn’t have to spend time figuring out who everyone was and what they were like. I could just jump in and let the adventure continue. It’s the same reason, when confronted with a Netflix list chock full of movies I’ve never seen, that I’m more likely to seek out a sequel or something by a writer or director I already like, or even something I’ve already seen, than to take a risk on something wholly unknown. And so it is that Season 2 of The Walking Dead plays right into my tendencies.
Even with the past set of character largely absent, the central character of Clementine, the one I am to inhabit this time around, is a character I already know. She’s a character that I’ve already journeyed with, protected, and molded. I know who Clementine is and so, when Telltale tells me it’s time to walk a mile in her shoes, I already know how to do that. This makes season 2′s opening chapter much easier to get into. And what an opening chapter it is. (Modest spoilers to follow.)
Everywhere you turn these days, there’s a news article or a comment about how the Wii U is a “disaster”, a “flop” or a “failure”. There are constant reminders everywhere from the teenager blog sites to the Wall Street Journal that Nintendo’s beleaguered console isn’t selling as well as Iwata-san and company had hoped. There’s no doubt that Nintendo’s overly optimstic sales projections were a tragic misjudgment of the market- a market which I don’t think the Wii really belongs to. The Wii U isn’t really a competitor to the Xbox One or PS4. It’s a Nintendo console made to play Nintendo games. The handful of AAA ports are almost incidental. Sure, the marketing for the console has ranged from terrible to confusing to non-existent- but that’s no reason for such a great gaming machine to fail. Or for self-styled “game journos” and actual journalists to lie about it. Continue Reading…
It’s episode #199 and Brandon and I are here to do two things and two things only: One, have an impromptu discussion about Skyrim and why Brandon should not, under any circumstances, venture back into that world. And, two, break down the first episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 2. The spoiler lamp is most definitely lit in this one. It’s a giant fiery ball, that reaches to every crack and crevice in the game and exposes its deepest darkest secrets, including which of us has more sympathy for cute four-legged critters. Ye been warned.
It’s been quite some time since any of us paid attention to upkeep on the WordPress back-end of No High Scores. To that end, I’ve finally enabled a series of updates to WordPress and the few plug-ins we do use. My relief that nothing exploded during this process was… notable. In doing all this, I also replaced an abandoned site notification email address with my own. That’s when the flood of registration emails started. Easily 50 of them in less than 24 hours. All spam as far as I can tell. This aggression, quite obviously, will not stand, man.
Since Captcha isn’t getting the job done, first and of very little relevance to you, I’ve enabled a new plug-in that should make fake registrations at least a smidge harder. This includes requiring new registrations to put in at least a first name as well as reply to a verification email. In the 24 hours or so since I enabled this, fake registration attempts dropped precipitously and none of them have jumped through the verification hoop to actually become registered. This is a huge improvement that, as noted, in no way affects you.
The next step, however, may affect you. For this and for ruminations on the past year, the year ahead, and what it all means for No High Scores, you’ll have to venture beyond the break. Come, walk this way…
In the interests of picking up the pace a little, I thought that when I didn’t have a proper feature to give you, I might start posting brief thoughts on games I’d been playing that week instead. Not a proper review, you understand, just a quick sketch. First up to the plate is the fourth iteration in the Halo series, appropriately known as Halo 4.
There’s an old adage that runs “if it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it”, which I presume is emblazoned in thirty-foot high fiery letters on the wall of the Halo development office. Because my initial impression of Halo 4 is how very much like the original Halo it is.
You’re still limited to two weapons and some grenades, from a roster that’s barely changed, dropped by enemies that have barely changed, and occasionally you’ll come across some vehicle sections that have barely changed. As the saying goes, it ‘aint broke, so it’s still fun to charge around on Warthogs gunning down the Covenant and new Promethean enemies, but after three previous entries it’s a lot less fun that it used to be.
Of course as a late-cycle Xbox 360 game it looks amazing compared to its predecessors, and many of the scenes were clearly designed to wow the player. And there are a few new additions – a welcome raft of abilities for your armour and a less welcome portrayal of Cortana as some sort of super-curvy cyber-babe. I’ll be playing it a while yet. But if Microsoft are still seeing Halo exclusives as a prime selling point for the Xbone, they really ought to do something about shaking up the rapidly ossifying gameplay.
A common complaint about worker placement games is that they don’t really have much to say in terms of expressing a theme or storyline. Euphoria, a new title from Stonemeier Games, is aiming to bring a little more narrative and a sense of world-building to the genre and by jingo, it mostly succeeds at contextualizing fairly standard production and conversion mechanics into a unique setting. The game is sub-titled “build a better dystopia”, and that is just a teaser as to the surprisingly effective science fiction story this game attempts to tell. This may be the first worker placement game where the worker pieces actually carry subtextual meaning. Continue Reading…
If you’re a JtS listener (and you should be, because we’re still awesome), you know I finally unpacked my, uh, kids’ Xbox One over the holidays. For scientific purposes, I also picked up NBA 2k14. The things I do for science.
Can I just say, right out, that for all the flack we give to EA (wholly deserved) for how ostentatiously they over-monetize their middling products, and treat their customers like drones who should just shut up an pay already, there’s not nearly enough disgust thrown 2k’s way? They’re awful. And consistently so. It’s not just an NBA 2k thing, although 2k14 is by far the most blatant, irritating, and just plain icky swindle so far. But even quality games like Civilization 5 ($5 civilizations and map packs anyone?) and XCOM ($5 to choose armor color?) are not immune.
As a gamer, I’ve lived with it because who really caress about an extra civ here and there? And $30 may suck for an expansion, but the expansions for both Civ and XCOM were extremely good. NBA 2k14, though? Yeah, Brave New World, not so much.
Mostly, I’m not a big fan of co-operative games. Games suffer terribly without the unpredictability and skill of human opposition, and the whole genre sometimes looks like a collection of semi-functional attempts to solve this big, blaring problem.
But there are a very few that make my grade. And I’ve noticed they tend to have certain things in common: they allow plenty of scope of individual player decision making in the face of the group, offer some sort of simple AI-like mechanics that make it look like the game is reacting to your decisions and have a deep well of variety to add to the narrative and keep things unpredictable.
But the most important quality of all is balancing the need for transparent mechanics that allow for strategic decisions with a strong wind of chance to make sure the game doesn’t become a mere logic puzzle. Lean too far in the former direction and you might as well be solving co-operative Su-doku with your friends. Too far in the latter and you might as well co-operatively shoot craps. It’s a hard, hard proportion to get right and none of the co-ops I’ve played so far, even my favourites, have quite got it right. Until I played Robinson Crusoe.
If I’m going to be charitable about Tash-Kalar: Arena of Ancients, I’ll state that it’s a highly experimental and sometimes oddly compelling design that feels like superstar designer Vlaada Chvatil test-driving some new concepts somewhat outside of his comfort zone. If I’m going to be a little more direct about it, I’m going to declare that Tash-Kalar is an awkward and frequently fumbling attempt at applying both conceptual and executive level theme to an abstract game that mechanically is no more specific than Checkers. If I’m going to be dead level honest about the new Czech Games Edition/Z-Man title, I’ll tell you straight up that it is agonizing to play. And not in a good way.