Old School Rules

Old School Rules

My second favourite place to read articles about gaming (NoHighScores being the first, obviously) is Edge Online. And it was there that I learned the news that two well known names in video game design history, Brenda Brathwaite and Tom Hall, were joining forces on a kickstarter campaign to fund an “old school” RPG. The modern incarnations of the genre being apparently, in spite of being “epic” and “wonderful”, in need of some competition from the aged paradigm of stat-crunching. The article from which I learned this asked the pertinent question of what, exactly, the label meant. That pushed my nostalgia buttons sufficiently to make me want to try and answer the question for myself.

I grew up with both computers and with pen and paper role-playing games and I can’t recall a time when the link between the two was not obvious. Gathering other gamers together for role-playing sessions is hard and if you want the full effect of slowly developing a group of characters they suck in immense quantities of time. Computers promised a solution to both issues, allowing you to get your fix any time you wanted and speeding up the campaign arc.

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X-COM: Enemy Unknown – Not a Review

I have X-COM and it’s glorious. (As a reminder, yes, I do use the hyphen as twas intended by God itself.) That screenshot up there? The one where you can’t hardly make out any detail because it’s zoomed so far out? That is beauty. Dear Bioware, when you release the next Dragon Age, if I can’t pull back on the camera like I can do here, then you have utterly failed. I don’t care if the story is the second coming of… uh… something really good, but not as cliche to list here as Lord of the Rings. Just say’n.

Oh, right. X-COM. Ahem. It’s going to be awhile before I’m comfortable reviewing the game, so in lieu of that, I’m going to offer this quick impressions post and then, in forthcoming posts, document my progress, diary style, as my crafty crew of squaddies face off against gruesome death and dismemberment at the hands of an alien menace bent on world domination. Woo!

To set a baseline here, I think there are generally two kinds of X-COM players: Those who like the light strategy and emergent storytelling that the series hangs its hat on and the deep strategy folks who like wide open spaces they must navigate, moving carefully forward, spending hours micromanaging every facet of their squad. The original X-COM had a way of sating both these crowds and there’s nothing wrong with either track, but this game was built to appeal to the former much more than the latter.

Like any good alien-smashing squad, let’s take this point-by-point, starting with the stuff that will likely bother some folks…

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Cracked LCD- Spartacus in Review

If you’ve seen the Starz Network’s blood-soaked sword-and-sandal show Spartacus, you may not be as surprised as other board gamers might be to find that the new game based on it contains a card called “Jupiter’s Cock”. Between that R-rated card (which you will, in fact, use to screw other players), a very specific rulebook admonition warning players “don’t be an ass”, and the subtitle “a Game of Blood and Treachery”, fans of brutally nasty board games rife with player interaction and bad behavior should be aware that they are in for quite a treat. Coming to us from Gale Force Nine, a company better known for miniatures accessories, Spartacus is something of a surprise hit. It’s a theme-first game like Dune or Battlestar Galactica and although it doesn’t quite ascend to those dizzying heights of genius design it definitely captures the visceral and gleefully trashy nature of the show without apology.

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Pokemon White 2 First Impressions

Pokemon needs to die. Seriously.

I’m not saying the franchise in its entirety needs to die, but the rigidly inflexible presentation of the core games needs to die and be reborn, much like some phoenix-esque Pokemon that I’m sure exists but I’m too burned out to research properly.

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Dishonored- First Impressions of Dunwall

If you’re like anything like I am, with each passing year you think “it sure would be nice if someone would develop adventure-based FPS games again like they did in the late 1990s and early 2000s.” I’m thinking great games like Thief, System Shock 2, and No One Lives Forever- classic titles that were much more than just rote shooters despite the behind-the-eyes perspective. These were games that had a sense of focused narrative occurring in meticulous, handcrafted settings paired with a great deal of player agency, allowing for a specific story to be told with the detail filled in by core gameplay. Games like this are rare, but when we get a really great one it turns out to be a Bioshock. Or even a Metro 2033.

With this is in mind and with only a couple of hours of play to back up my claim, I’m already prepared to induct Dishonored into this esteemed fraternity of Really Great Narrative FPS Games. Continue Reading…

Can’t Stop for iOS Released Today

I’m a little behind in my news, for which I apologize, but here’s something to brighten up your Wednesday. Sid Sackson’s dice rolling oldie but goodie, Can’t Stop has been released for iOS, a product of a collaboration between Gryphon Games and Playdek.  The game features variable AI levels, single player games, pass and play multiplayer games and Game Center achievements, if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s available on iTunes for the low, low price of 99 cents. I haven’t played it yet, but I’m sure someone here will chime in eventually.

In other Playdek news, they recently announced that they have teamed up with Looney Labs to bring Fluxx to mobile devices. Fluxx appears to have more themed versions than I have shoes, and there’s no word if all of those versions will eventually make it to mobile devices. Only time will tell if you can get your prized version of Monty Python Fluxx on your iPad.

Jumping the Shark Podcast #146

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Straw manages to fit us back into his busy schedule for episode #147 of Jumping the Shark. After we remind ourselves, you know, who he is, we launch into a lengthy discussion of blessed freedom from the tyranny of gatekeeper PR practices involving free games. Brandon takes on a journey through the Testament of Sherlock Holmes and then he and Bill compare notes on Borderlands 2. Finally we set the stage for this week’s big releases in X-COM and Dishonored. The countdown to 150 episodes begins here!

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Calendar Man – Week of 10/7

This is quite the week for PC and console gamer alike. If you’re into games, there’s a pretty good chance that something is either coming out this week or has already come out that interest you. If you’re not into games, I have to wonder why you’re here, other than the occasional recipe and the chance to ogle me. Come to think of it, that’s an excellent reason to be here. Carry on.

We got you covered if you like blasting aliens, being a supernatural assassin, bending magical creatures to your will via combat, Kinecting your way through Fable, Harry Potter and Dragon Ball Z or shaking your booty to the finest dance hits. And that’s just what I could think of off of the top of my head. Enough blather, let’s get started.

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The Testament of Sherlock Holmes in Review

I’ll be honest with you, I’m not very good at solving mysteries. I watch a lot of procedurals on TV and rarely do I ever pick the killer, usually only doing so when the killer is portrayed by someone from another show that I watch or by Chip from “Kate & Allie”. If you’re watching TV and Chip from “Kate and Allie” comes up, you can bet he did it. Doesn’t matter what it is, murder, robbery, burning the souffle, improperly taping up the drywall seams, being a half step behind on the pasodoble. If it’s wrong, Chip did it.

I mention this because having finished playing The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, Frogwares’ latest entry in the Sherlock Holmes adventure games, other than figuring out who was behind everything , I had no idea what was going on until the grand plan was revealed. That’s par for the course for me, but in this case, I’m not sure if it should be.

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Cracked LCD- The Kickstarter Carnival

 

The first Kickstarter project I ever funded was the revised black box edition of Glory to Rome. The idea was that the publisher, Cambridge Game Factory, had hired an actual artist (Heiko Gunther, a name to watch) to redo the whole thing since the original edition was one of the most notoriously ugly games on the market. Among the stretch goals was a signed apology from the first edition’s illustrator. I like the game- sort of an advanced San Juan-style tableaux builder with some decent interaction- so I felt like it was a good project to support. I finally received the game last week, after almost a year of excuses as to why the game had not been produced or shipped. Many backers still haven’t seen their games, and the excuses continue to mount. Continue Reading…