Pokemon Week Called Off; It's Now Mirror's Edge Week

No High Scores

Hey, did you play Mirror’s Edge? No? Shame on you. It’s one of this generation’s most interesting and exciting games. I loved almost every single thing about it from the striking visual design to the intense do-or-die Parkour. I liked Faith as an unlikely fleet-footed heroine with cool red Tabi socks. What I didn’t love was the feeble gunplay and the shoe-horning of standard FPS elements into what is essentially a first-person platforming game. When NoHS does its retrospective on the games of this era in ten years or so, Mirror’s Edge is going to be one of the games I’ll list as a favorite.

It didn’t exactly do gangbusters on the sales rack and there’s plenty of misguided, outright wrong naysayers who didn’t get that the point of the game is to just run so it’s looked like the chances for a sequel were dire. There were rumors that EA more or less shit-canned DICE’s work on a followup. But hit the jump for what may or may not be good news out of GDC.

Computer and Video Games is reporting that EA is “trying to figure out” how to bring the Mirror’s Edge franchise back from the brink. Which sounds good on paper, but some of what the suits are saying is a little troubling to me. Some of it is sensible, in that in order for EA to foot the bill for development then it’s got to outsell the first game. That’s cool, I can live with that. It’s smart business.

What’s potentially bad is all of this talk about finding a bigger “franchise” audience because this is the kind of niche game that just isn’t really suited to the big budget, AAA treatment- or financial expectations. And I’m worried that the AAA treatment might mean more guns, more macho, and less European-ness. Or worse- zombies.

It’s not that I think the original game couldn’t have been improved upon, because it certainly could be, it’s that I’m worried that grooming a potential Mirror’s Edge 2 to be a blockbuster might take away its idiosyncratic charm and one-of-a-kind gameplay. It could definitely use some better writing and a more comprehensive sense of world-building as well as improved character development. Controls could be a little less complicated, and level design could stand to be a little less trial-and-error. And some kind of multiplayer racing could be fun and interesting. But the formula that’s there already works just fine, as long as you’re the right kind of person for it.

And that kind of person, unfortunately, doesn’t tend to be common enough to make a game like Mirror’s Edge a multi-million seller or constitute a “franchise” audience. Regardless, sign me up for the newsletter, Mirror’s Edge 2 is a day one purchase for me. Unless there’s a zombie mode, and then I’m leading an angry mob on EA’s headquarters

The Da Vinci Disappearance Trailer

I admit I’m a real sucker for this series and everything associated with it. Well, starting with AC II anyway. In this trailer you are introduced to the four new multiplayer characters and some highlights as people jump around stabbing other people.

It has 10 new achievements, Brandon! 10! The DLC is set to release in “early March”.

The Very Mopey Pokemon

No High Scores

“I’m sorry to disappoint you…”

You’re sorry? YOU’RE sorry? Lady, you don’t know the half of it.

Blackthorn City lies in the northeast corner of Johto and is home to Clair, the Dragon-type trainer that, once defeated, gives you your Rising Badge. The Rising Badge is the last badge obtained in Pokemon SoulSilver and obtaining means you are finally on your way to taking on the Elite Four. Blackthorn City is also home to a move tutor and a move deleter, individuals that will allow you to either delete moves taught to your Pokemon or relearn moves you chose not to learn as the Pokemon was leveling up. The city also is home to two move tutors, one of which is a little old lady who will teach your Dragon type Pokemon the Draco Meteor move. Draco Meteor calls forth a barrage of meteors, damaging your opponent but also lowering your Special Atk stat in the process. It’s kind of a last resort move, due to the special attack hit, but the damage you deal out can be worth it, in the right situation.

Dragon type Pokemon are one of only two types that are weak to themselves, the other being Ghost. What this means is that if you bring a Dragon type into a battle with other Dragon types, against a Dragon type gym leader for example, your moves are going to be extra effective however you’ll also be on the receiving end of the same moves and have the same weaknesses. Knowing this, I figured that every little bit could help, hence my visit to the move tutor to have my Dratini learn Draco Meteor. This is where the problems started.

Pokemon introduced the concept of happiness back in Pokemon Yellow, with the initial introduction being limited to Pikachu and Pikachu’s happiness only determining whether or not a character gave away a certain Pokemon. Since then the concept has expanded to affect all Pokemon in the game and now affects a number of things including the ability to obtain TM’s and HM’s, how certain Pokemon evolve and the ability to learn certain moves from certain old ladies in Blackthorn City. If your Pokemon isn’t happy enough, sometimes described in the game as “not trusting you enough” it won’t learn the move. Which brings me to my problem.

Dratini just wasn’t happy.

Well, I don’t want to say he wasn’t happy, he just wasn’t happy enough. There’s no sense of “unhappiness” in Pokemon, there’s simply a lack of happiness. Happiness runs on a scale from 0 to 255. Certain things like leveling up, taking vitamins and getting groomed raise happiness. Being kept in the PC box, fainting during battle, taking medicine, these things all lower happiness. There’s no way to know exactly how happy your Pokemon is, however in SoulSilver you can have your lead Pokemon walk behind you, similar to how Pikachu did in Pokemon Yellow, and speaking to your Pokemon will elicit a phrase which can give you an idea of how happy they are. It’s an interesting system, and certainly not unique to Pokemon however when you have a Pokemon that isn’t happy, it can be very, very frustrating.

Dratini had been in my party for quite some time at this point. He was a good fighter and he knew Surf which meant he was my go to Pokemon for traversing water. Plus, his Dragon Rage move did a guaranteed 40 points of damage, which is superb when dealing with lower level foes. So based on the conditions for unhappiness, Dratini should have been one pretty stoked dude, but he just wasn’t stoked enough.

Knowing this, I set out on a campaign to make Dratini the happiest Pokemon on earth. First, I gave him a soothe bell which makes him happier with every step. Then I gave him some rare candy so that he’d instantly level up (he was a little underleveled for Clair any way, so it wasn’t wasted) and then I gave him some vitamins to raise his stats. Perfect! Back to the tutor we went and once again she told me that she’s sorry to disappoint me, but Dratini just didn’t trust me enough.

Fine.

So back out we went, walking, fighting, leveling up. We went to Goldenrod City and I got Dratini’s hair cut by the barbers in the tunnel even though Dratini doesn’t have hair. This ought to do it, I thought, so back to Blackthorn we went.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you…”

Fine.

Back out we went, again. Walking, fighting, leveling. Back to Goldenrod City for yet another grooming appointment. Back to the store to buy more vitamins. More walking, more fighting, more leveling. I spoke to Dratini and he seemed positively thrilled. Aces. Back to Blackthorn City.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you…”

What the fuck, Dratini?! I mean, dude what the hell is your problem? I’ve taken you to get your nonexistent hair cut twice, stuffed you full of vitamins, knocked out half of Johto’s Pokemon population and you’re still not happy? What is your damage?

That’s what I wanted to say but I’m not sure if yelling at your Pokemon makes them unhappy so instead I kept it all inside and took him back out for walking, fighting, leveling and generally catering to his every pissy need. At this point, I really could give a fuck about Dratini’s happiness and wanted nothing more but to stuff him back in the PC box where he could rot with my level 3 Magikarp but I was determined to learn this move.

So back to Blackthorn we want and miracle of miracles, he was finally happy enough to learn the move. Buoyed by my acquisition I marched into the Blackthorn Gym, challenged Clair and promptly proceeded to kick her ass with a collection of Ice type Pokemon and Ice type moves. I tried using Dratini’s new move but it ended up being too much of a hit to his Special Atk stat so it sat unused for most of the fight, as did Dratini himself.

So in the end, the Pokemon that I had bended over backwards to make happy ultimately ended up doing nothing but disappoint me. There’s an analogy for parenting if ever I’ve heard one.

Dragon Age: Origins vs. Dragon Age 2: The Talky Bits

No High Scores

I spotted this breakdown at 360 MMGN via a forum thread at Gamers With Jobs. Basically, it approximates and breaks down the amount of talky bits found in Dragon Age: Origins versus those same elements in Dragon Age 2, along with approximate total game length. Here’s the gist:

Dragon Age: Origins
• 1,000,000 Words
• 1,000 Cinematics
• 1,000 Characters
• 56,000 Spoken Lines
• 60 Hours of Gameplay

Dragon Age II
• 400,000 Words
• 2,500 Cinematics
• 500 Characters
• 38,000 Spoken Lines
• 40 Hours of Gameplay

Look, at the end of the day this tells us nothing about the quality of the game. You can have a good, short RPG. True, this is a bit of a 180 from Origins, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work. I still find the numbers a bit shocking, though. Half the characters? 20k fewer lines of spoken dialog even though we’ve got a voiced protagonist this time around? The only number to increase is for the cinematics, which have more than doubled. Given my greatest reservation about Bioware is that they seem increasingly interested in story at the expense of gameplay, numbers like that are not encouraging. Are we playing a game or watching a movie here?

Increasingly I think the apparent changes in the nature of the game have more to do with time than game design principles. It’s been just 16 months since Bioware released Origins, which was itself in development for around five years. Throw in a solid beta testing cycle and we’re talking, what? A year of full time development for DA2? Maybe a year and a half, if they got ramped up on this as Origins approached release? I can’t fathom how that could be enough time to develop an RPG, especially one with this kind of production value. Unless you’re willing to cut corners.

From the Makers of Minecraft: Scrolls Announced

This is Bill/Mike/Todd wheelhouse stuff. Mojang, the developer of the huge indie hit Minecraft is working on its new project, a collectible card game/board game for the PC called Scrolls. RPS has a great feature posted on its development which you should definitely read.

A little taste:

“At the core it’s a collectable card game, but it’s also a board game,” says Jacob. “It’s combining the two. As you place your units or your buildings, or your siege weapons, you place it on the game board to play against your opponent. It’s not only about designing a proper collection of scrolls [cards], and the tactical aspect of that deck, but it’s also about the tactical sense of how to place your units on the game board.”

You can also check out the official website here: http://www.scrolls.com

Civilization 5 "February" Patch Hits Steam

No High Scores

Technically, it didn’t make it out until yesterday, March 1st, but the “February” patch for Civilization 5 is now available through Steam. (The folks at Firaxis are pretending it’s leap year. Smooth.) The ginormous fix list is below the fold and is the same as when I posted about it a couple weeks ago. I won’t get around to checking this out for awhile, and I may just wait for the next one, but if you get a chance to put it through its paces please do post in the comments as I’d like to know what the rest of you Civ fans think of it.

ENGINE
* Significant turn time improvements.
* Invisible Rivers now display correctly. This caused many issues because the player could not see some rivers, like fresh water showing up in strange places, unit movement suddenly shortened, etc.. Basically, there were certain rivers that did not display where forks occurred, etc.

USER INTERFACE
* Add combat summary when a city bombards a unit
* Add a new diplomatic status “Denouncing” that displays on the turn that an AI civ is denouncing the player
* Embarked units no longer look like they have 500 strength
* User warned if about to declare war on a city state that is under protection of a major power

GAMEPLAY
* Taper off benefit of excess food when building settlers
* City-States now recognize when a road is connected for their road-connection quest.
* Golden Ages now provide +20% production per city rather than +1 hammer per tile

STRATEGIC AI
* Prevent AI from building too many AA units
* Don’t allow CSs to build Manhattan Project
* AI calculation of enemy military might are tweaked based on size of enemy gold reserve
* AI calculation of enemy power now takes into account promotions

DIPLOMATIC AI
* Avoid cascades of denunciations against a single player. AI now uses its own current friendliness level with a given power to determine how much weight to place on a denunciation against that power.
* Denunciations expire after 50 turns
* Declarations of Friendship expire after 50 turns

MODDING
* Added support for policies that provide culture from kills
* Added support for policies that provide extra culture from cultural improvements
* Added support for policies that provide extra embarked movement
* Added support for policies that provide free Great People
* Online Panel now displays TOTAL downloads for a mod and not just the downloads for that specific version.
* When you click on a mod in the online browser, you may now use a dropdown to select a previous version.
* Added Line Control for modders to use when creating graphs, etc.

MULTIPLAYER
* Can now use DLC civilizations in multiplayer
* Added Ring, Skirmish and Ancient Lake maps to MP.

BUG FIXES
* Clear up cases where diplomatic status could show as “Friendly” even after that AI power has denounced the player.
* Fix situations where AI demeanor and verbiage didn’t match friendliness level shown in diplomatic status string.
* Additional bug fixes and tweaks.

BALANCE CHANGES

Game Rules
* Cities must now have three or more tiles in between them (1 more tile than before), unless separated by a sea/coast tile.
* Cities now only get 1 free production and 0 free gold (1 less in both cases)
* Trade routes get bonus gold based on population of capital; formula changed a bit so minimal gold received for hooking up very small cities
* Bonus production from excess food (used when building settlers) tapers off if excess is 3 or more.
* Allied maritime city states provide 3 food per turn to the capital, not 4
* Balance pass on production and maintenance costs throughout the game.

Buildings
* Aqueduct added (entirely new building). 40% of Food is carried over after a new Citizen is born.
* Palace boosted to 3 gold and 3 production
* Granary gives bonus 1 food for Wheat/Banana Deer; cost reduced
* Market and Bazaar provide 2 gold (as well as +25%)
* Workshop provides 2 production (bonus reduced to +15% but affects ALL production); cost increased
* Windmill now has a +15% production modifier (for buildings only) and provides 2 production
* Stable gives bonus 1 production for Sheep/Cattle/Horse and can be built with Sheep or Cattle; cost reduced
* Lighthouse gives bonus 1 food for Fish; cost reduced
* Ironworks dropped to 8 production (but earlier in tech tree now)
* Factory requires Workshop; add 3 production but boost now just 25%; has 1 more specialist slot (now 2)
* Nuclear and Solar Plants now require Factory but increase to production is now 35% and provide 4 production themselves; these two now mutually exclusive
* Hospital adds 5 food (but no longer retains food), requires Aqueduct
* Forge adds +1 production to each source of Iron
* Reduced Armory maintenance to 2 gold
* Reduced Colosseum happiness to 3, and reduced maintenance to 2 gold
* Reduced Theatre happiness to 4
* Reduced Monastery maintenance to 0 gold
* Reduced Garden maintenance to 1 gold
* Reduced Observatory maintenance to 0 gold
* Reduced Opera House culture to 4, and reduced maintenance to 2 gold
* Removed the Great Person Point from Public School

Specialist Adjustments
* Temple -1 Artist
* Mud Pyramid Mosque -1 Artist
* Opera House +1 Artist
* Bank -1 Merchant
* Satraps Court -1 Merchant
* Stock Exchange +1 Merchant
* Observatory -1 Scientist
* University +1 Scientist
* Garden -1 Artist
* Laboratory -1 Scientist
* Public School +1 Scientist

Improvements/Routes
* Production bonus from Railroads reduced to 25%
* Removed 1 extra gold from Mine on Gems, Gold, Silver, Marble.
* Fishing Boats give 1 food, not gold.
* Fishing Boats give 1 gold with Compass.
* Camps on Deer give production instead of food .
* Remove 1 extra food from Sugar plantations.
* Trading Post gold reduced from 2 to 1 (increases back to 2 when hit Economics).
* Trading Post & Camp gold increases by 1 with Economics.
* Lumbermill production increases by 1 with Scientific Theory (moved up from Steam Power).
* Mine & Quarry production increases by 1 with Chemistry.
* Plantation & Pasture food increases by 1 with Fertilizer.
* Well & Offshore Platform boosted to 3 production (from 1).
* Academy increased to 6 Science.
* Landmark increased to 6 Culture.
* Manufactory increased to 4 Production.

Policies
* Tradition: Culture border expansion discount in cities placed on Tradition branch opener. Discount increases over the course of the game. Also grants +3 Culture in the capital.
* Aristocracy: Wonder bonus reduced by 5% to 20%.
* Legalism: Provides a free Culture building in your first 4 cities.
* Oligarchy: Garrisoned units cost no maintenance, and cities with a garrison gain +100% ranged combat strength.
* Landed Elite: +15% Growth, and +2 Food per city.
* Monarchy: +1 Gold and -1 Unhappiness for every 2 Citizens in your capital.
* Liberty: +1 culture per turn in every city.
* Collective Rule: Settler production increased by 50%, and a free Settler appears near the capital.
* Citizenship: Worker construction rate increased by 25%, and a free Worker appears near the capital.
* Representation: Each city you found will increase the Culture cost of Policies by 33% less than normal. Also starts a Golden Age.
* Order: Reduce Order production bonus to 15%.
* Meritocracy: +0.5 Happiness for each city connected to the capital, and a free Great Person of your choice appears near the capital.

Resources
* Fish reduced to 1 food (but can be boosted back to 2 with Lighthouse)
* Marble boosts wonder production by 20%, down from 25%

Technologies
* Scaled up tech costs throughout the game (slight change for early eras; close to double for Modern)
* Move Lumbermills up to Construction
* Move Bridge Building back to Engineering
* Move Ironworks to Machinery

Units
* Workboat cost increased
* Settler cost increased by 25%

Wonders
* Colossus no longer goes obsolete
* Angkor Wat now provides a 25% discount for the costs (both culture and gold) to gain plots empire-wide.

Civ Unique Bonuses
* Reduce Chu-ko-nu from 10 to 9 ranged strength
* Doubled culture from kills for Aztecs
* Krepost now provides a 25% discount for the costs (both culture and gold) to gain plots in the city.
* Paper Maker only provides 2 gold but no longer requires any building maintenance

Map Generation Changes
* Increased Oil quantity per resource.
* Minimum Uranium is now 2.
* Cut Deer Appearance in Arctic regions.
* Adjusted Sheep placement so it is more spread out.
* Decreased Wheat appearance in Plains.
* Increases Cow appearance overall, including adding up to 2 Cow tiles to heavy grass start positions.

Battlefield 3 Gameplay Trailer

Now this is more like it. We didn’t post the earlier teaser trailer because teaser trailers suck. As a rule.

However, this one is worth watching. This is an extremely effective trailer…and really is NSFW– just a heads up.

I love the banter as well as the firefight. Very promising.

Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword Trailers

Paradox keeps the news flowing with the release of some new trailers for the latest Mount & Blade game.

Todd’s played M&B more than I have but I have played it enough to know that it’s a damn fine series, and if you are into open world PC rpgs then you really need to grab this. It’s pretty fascinating; it just takes a while to get your feet under you because this is a game that does very little hand holding but once it opens up — pretty damn cool.

In fact, I’m going to publish a Q&A that Todd did with Paradox on this one in the coming days.

There are three trailers and since I don’t want to litter the front page with videos you can view the others after the jump.

Below is the other new gameplay trailer:

And a little 4+minute interview, which, well, hopefully won’t make Todd’s interview obsolete.

“Barbie’s with Battle Axes!”

Call of Duty: Black Ops WMD Mission Demo Released

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Hey! To the three people who haven’t played Black Ops (Todd) there’s a demo out today!

Check out the PR after the jump and hoo boy, the hyperbole and general exaggeration abounds! We should give out an award at the end of the year for the best press release. Might be tough to beat the Serious Sam tit job, but I’m sure the PR folks will try.

Santa Monica, CA – March 2, 2011 – The thrilling mission from Call of Duty®: Black Ops, WMD, is now available worldwide for download as a single player demo on Xbox LIVE® Marketplace for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and on PlayStation®Network.

Revered as one of the most gripping (best) levels in the blockbuster (popular) title that shattered (sold a lot of copies to underage kids most likely without parental knowledge) entertainment records, WMD is a(n) heart-pounding experience that takes players deep behind enemy lines as an elite Black Ops operative engaged in covert warfare, classified operations and explosive (let’s go with dangerous) conflict. Players defy death every step of the wayas they infiltrate Soviet airspace in the SR-71, the most (an) advanced, high-altitude, long range strategic aircraft imaginable. Deep behind enemy lines, players will engage in intense combat in the harshest of (admittedly pretty bad) conditions, and scale a formidable hidden enemy base perched atop a snow-filled mountain range.

Created by Treyarch and published by Activision Publishing, Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI), Call of Duty: Black Ops is rated “M” (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence and Language. Fans can also look for the Call of Duty®: Black Ops First Strike map pack available now on Xbox LIVE® and scheduled for release on PlayStation Network on March 3. For additional Call of Duty® updates, visit www.callofduty.com/blackops and also via Twitter @Treyarch.

InFAMOUS 2 To Get User Generated Levels, Still Not As Good As Pokemon

No High Scores

If Cole MacGrath, the main character in Sucker Punch’s InFAMOUS were a Pokemon, I think he’d be an Emolga. Emolga is new to the Pokemon scene, first introduced in Pokemon Black and White. He’s an electric/flying type, which is similar to Cole in that Cole shoots electricity and can fly, sort of, when he’s not being all emo and generally annoying. The main difference is that Emolga is a Pokemon, which makes him awesome, while Cole is not. Sorry Cole.

It was announced at GDC that InFAMOUS 2 will have all sorts of user created content, the best of which will be woven into the single player game so that you can not only zip around power lines shooting terrorist but also replay Super Mario Bros world 1-1, the creation of which is constitutionally mandated any time a level creator is added to a 3rd person action game.

InFAMOUS was one of the first games I played once I got a PS3 and I was very disappointed with it. I liked Cole’s powers but he and his extremely annoying Elvis impersonator side-kick got on my nerves very, very quickly as did the hamfisted morality choices. The fact that an enemy could hit you from several city blocks away with a shotgun certainly didn’t help. I played enough to get through the first section of the city and once I got to the second section to find that the enemies looked pretty much the same, only with different colored hoodies, I sent the game back to GameFly. I will admit that the sequel looks better and Cole’s powers appear to have taken a huge step forward, but I’m still skeptical. That being said, I am totally behind Sucker Punch’s inclusion of user created content. There is a long, proud history in video gaming of user created content eclipsing the content supplied on the disc and hopefully someone can get discovered via their InFAMOUS levels and get a job making great games.

Great games, like Pokemon, which is, as I have already mentioned, much, much better than InFAMOUS.

There’s a ton of information about the level creator out there for your perusal, but I quite like that Nick Chester chap, so why not read his write up?