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All the E3 News That Didn’t Fit

This the last time I mention E3, promise, unless to say “I played this at E3”. There are a few things I didn’t mention because my work ethic has flagged since returning. Also, I’m not sure everything requires a mammoth post. I’m sure that the people making the game think it does, but that doesn’t make it so.

With that in mind, here’s all the stuff that didn’t fit in past posts, or that I didn’t get to.

I have to admit, I’m a little distracted. Henry, my ancient cockapoo, is at the vet, the victim of an apparently unhealable…thing on the underside of his chin. Whatever this thing is, it does not respond to drugs. My dog is miserable because he has to wear a cone 24/7 lest he hurt himself by scratching it. My wife has had to do laundry all of the time because, before the cone, the dog bled all over the place. Unfortunately, Henry is very old (two weeks shy of 17), he has a heart murmur and he has high values of something that has to do with his liver. Any one of these makes anesthesia risky, all of them makes anesthesia very risky. The alternative, though, was for him to continue being miserable at home. It was a strange conversation with the vet, him telling me that it was risky but there’s really no other option, me saying that he’s miserable at home, neither one of us wanting to be the one that says “Let’s do it.” Finally I did, so it’s going to be done. Hopefully he’ll come out ok. If not, we did our best.

So yeah, E3. HAWKEN is pretty awesome. We played it at a LAN event and while the customization options are incredibly daunting when you come into it cold and only have a few minutes to kit out your mech, it looks like there’s a lot there to play with. I’m not sure how much is aesthetic and how much is functional, but if you like lots and lots of mech limbs, you’ll be in heaven.

Combat is exactly how mech combat should be. Your mech has a definite sense of weight, from the way you move around the battlefield to the satisfying WHUMP when you touch down after a rocket boost and your weapons sound delightfully destructive, especially the spin-up of the chain gun. Dashing is well implemented, and quite useful for damage avoidance. Speaking of being shot, getting peppered with bullets while your damage alarms blare in your ears as you lead your opponent to the exact right moment where you unleash your Hellfire missiles and blow them back to Hell is an experience that can only happen in a Mech game. In our multiplayer match, I killed a lot of dudes, in fact, I was either first or second in kills, and that never happens. There’s something about being able to soak up some damage in order to have enough time to power up your weapons or make a shot that is very appealing. I’m not fast enough to compete with the twitch gamers, but I can pilot a mech or two. Granted, I’m sure once the hardcore mech players get in there, I’ll be toast, but in a room of E3 journalists waiting for the bar to open, I’m pretty damn awesome.

I also like how in HAWKEN you can leave the battlefield and go heal up. Our opponents weren’t sending anyone to scout the outskirts, which allowed me to leave and fully heal before going back into the fray. I’m not going to say that won the match for us, but seeing how were were behind for 3/4 of the time and then roared back to win by two or three points, me going and healing three times rather than give our opponents three more kills certainly made our victory easier.

Seeing how this is PC only, and free-to-play MP only to boot, I doubt I’ll spend more time with it than my brief stint atop the leaderboard, but for those looking to get in on some nasty mech action, it’s one to keep an eye on.

I spent some time with the folks from Nival and man, what a nice bunch of people they were. Nival makes King’s Bounty: Legions, currently rocking the 3D turn based strategy vibe on Facebook and Kongregate but they’re also looking to bring the game to tablets. Nival also makes Prime World, a cross platform, action strategy game that lets you battle over territory in MOBA style skirmishes. The interesting thing about Prime World is that you can just play Prime World proper, or you can play one of a number of tie-in games such as Emaki, a Zuma style painting puzzler game. In Emaki, the goal is to shoot paint blobs to complete the illustration on a scroll. If all you want to play is Emaki, you’re all set. If you play Prime World, that scroll can be sent to your Prime World game as a resource. The same thing goes for Prime World Defenders, their upcoming mobile tower defense game. In Prime World Defenders, you build a deck of resources to be used for the current map and then deploy resources as needed to keep the marching tides of enemies from stealing your energy source. Same as with Emaki, as you do well in Prime World Defenders, you send resources to your Prime World account. Even better, if your family members are playing the mobile games, but not Prime World, you can hook your Prime World account up to their mobile games and they can send you resources while they play for doing what they’d be doing any way.

The games are all very slick looking and looked pretty interesting. Emaki will be out in June and Prime World Defenders will be out in August. As a full on iPad gaming junkie, I will be looking out for both of them.

So far, so good. The vet hasn’t called, but I’m not sure if that’s because has hasn’t performed the surgery, he did perform the surgery and everything went fine or he performed the surgery, it didn’t go well and he’s not sure how to tell us. What’s strange is that I’m somewhat at peace with whatever happens. When Maggie died, it was a bit of a surprise. She went downhill very quickly. Henry has been going downhill since Maggie died, partially due to her death, no doubt, and right now, he’s there but not really there. I can’t say that he doesn’t have good quality of life, but I can’t say he’s living the high life either. He just kind of exists.

I thought that once the dogs were gone, we wouldn’t get any more dogs, mostly because I wouldn’t want them, but the exact opposite has happened. Every day I look at the dogs available for adoption at our local shelter. I see the pictures of the new puppies, I watch the videos of the somewhat older dogs and I think about how good it will be to get a new dog. My wife wants one, two actually, my daughter wants one, my son says he does, but he’s also afraid of every dog that ever walked the planet, so he’s a work in progress. I think that once you’re a dog person, you’re a dog person for life and a life without dogs is demonstrably less rich than one with them, even with the cost and effort that comes with owning one. There is something about coming home to a dog that just can’t be beat. Sure, my wife and kids love me and are happy to see me, but a dog greets you like she never thought she’d see you again.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 hit me right in that action movie loving part of my reptilian brain. I have successfully avoided every modern Call of Duty but my resistance may crumble with Black Ops 2. That overwatch mode is pretty hot. I bet my endorsement is exactly what the game needed to go on and be successful. Good luck, Black Ops 2!

I saw a game called Enemy Front. It was a WWII shooter. The twist is that you’re behind enemy lines, so no one is chattering in your ear. Seriously, that’s it. When you preface your game demo with the statement that you know that WWII shooters have been done to death, you need to bring something more than solitude to the table to justify the game’s existence. On a completely unrelated note, they were serving hot dogs at the booth. Yeah, hot dogs.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown looks good and I will probably try to play it. Company of Heroes 2 looks shit hot and I will have no part in it, for intelligence and low-powered PC related reasons. Metro: Last Light looks amazing and I jumped like a scared child at multiple points during the trailer. The Elder Scrolls MMO looks terrible. I drew an angry whale in my notes for Dishonored.

There, that’s it. I’m done. I am officially all E3’d out. I hope you enjoyed it, I know I did.

Now if only the damned vet would call.

Cracked LCD: Abaddon in Review

Abaddon is the new game from Richard Borg, a designer best known for his semi-mainstream work in the 1990s (Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel, X-Men Alert) and his ultra-light wargames in the 2000s (Battle Cry, Memoir ’44, and the rest of the Commands and Colors lineage). It’s also the latest issue from Toy Vault, who didn’t exactly set the world ablaze with the misfire that was last year’s licensed Godzilla game. It’s also a game that’s on the vanguard of the current resurgence of interest in Battletech-inspired mech games, a staple genre that has lain rather fallow over the past decade.

Digression. As a games reviewer, there’s often a moment when you’ve received a review copy from a graciously willing publisher or designer and you’re afraid- if you’re an honest reviewer- that you’re going to have to repay their kindness with a critical thrashing. It happens. It isn’t pleasant, it doesn’t make you feel good about your role as an opinion writer. When I opened up Abaddon for the first time, I was afraid that it was heading in that direction.

I didn’t like that there were only four unit types- three mech (sorry, “Link”) classes and infantry- with the only differences between them being movement, hit points, and which die they throw in combat. I didn’t like that the setting was incredibly bland. It seemed like a missed opportunity that the three different terrain types had no game effect other than to block line of sight. I thought that laying the combat cards on the board pointing at the target was a pretty lazy and poorly implemented way to manage the sometimes simultaneous fire/counterfire battle system. And I hated removing these little “power crystal” counters from the bases of the Links to note their damage.

But while I was running through most of the included scenarios- which I was also initially disappointed with since they don’t feature dynamic, compelling objectives other than kill the other guy- Abaddon started to reveal its agenda and design goals to me. Not in a way that deeper, richer games with intricate strategy and complex mechanics often do. But in a way that made me remember the games where I first encountered Mr. Borg’s design sense in the 1990s. In a sense Abaddon is an old fashioned game, the kind of accessible, entry-level hobby game that doesn’t worry so much about impressing internet forumistas into clucking about how clever the mechanics are as it is does about just being fun.

Abaddon is in a class of games like Star Wars: Epic Duels and Heroscape, although it lacks the strength of setting, concept, and implementation of those titles. It’s a fun-first design that focuses on basic mechanics of movement, line of sight, cardplay, and dice rolling to describe lumbering giant robots, on fire and blazing away with anti-missile missiles. It’s basic and uncluttered to the point where many modern gamers might find themselves wishing for more detail or complexity. Truth be told, it could probably support some advanced rules but I like that it focuses so intently on the prime directives of moving, shooting, and occasional awesomeness.

Setups are provided for two to four players, but it’s really a two player game. One key advantage this game has over Mr. Borg’s previous light wargames is that it doesn’t take a long time to set up. Once your Links and their infantry support are fielded on the grid-based map and the cardboard terrain stand-ups are in place, first player rolls dice that are color-coded to activate specific unit types and also with faces for “Command” (wild, draw a Weapons System card, or drop a Doomsday Bolt on an enemy unit) and for drawing more Weapons System cards. When a unit is ordered, it can move and shoot at something five spaces away in strictly eight-directional line of sight. Positioning and coordination are critical. Complain all you want about the random activation, there is strategy here and it matters.

Ranged combat is performed by playing a Weapons System card, which gives a number and sometimes a special damage bonus based on unit type. The unit being targeted can respond with a Weapons System card, effectively counterattacking, or just let the shields try to soak the damage. Dice are rolled on both sides and added to the card values with the highest value winning. Double the loser’s total and you hit twice. If either player rolls a one, it overrides the sum to score a critical hit and the recipient also gets to draw a Wild Fire card, which can incur status changes like requiring additional dice to activate, special damage, or blowing your Link all the way back to your baseline in a gravity distortion.

Close combat is similar, but there are some strategic considerations. Units in close combat can’t counterfire, so tying up your opponent’s heavy Links with Recon units or infantry is effective. And infantry get to roll two dice and pick the better in close combat. Add in some indirect, artillery fire Weapons systems and the result is a quite robust and complete combat system that’s simple and effective. Yeah, it’s hugely luck-based. But this is also the kind of game that really should have pictures of kids playing it and cheering on the back of the box.

It’s easy to expect too much out of Abaddon given its genre and Mr. Borg’s reputation. I did this myself before I really dug into it. Once I sloughed off not only what I wanted the game to be when I first heard friend-of-a-friend rumors that he was doing a mech game but also the assumptions of what makes a modern game good or great, I realized that I was happy just having fun playing this outstanding, imminently approachable game. And really, is there any other reason that we should be playing games other than to have fun?

Now, where did I put that No High Scores High Score award? Oh, there it is.

5 (more) Indie Games to Watch in 2012

Most Wanted Indie Games 2012 Owlboy

I previously wrote about a 5 Indie Games to Watch in 2012, but really, I can’t limit it to such a tiny amount. It’s like having your kids both look up at you and ask which one is your favorite. I’d go for the athletic one, cause that’s scholarship money for college right there, but you get what I’m saying.

Monaco
From: Pocketwatch Games
Platform: PC, Mac, unannounced console
Release Date: TBA

Monaco features a mix of stealth and action that recalls the planning and purposeful actions required in the Splinter Cell and Hitman series, but created as a top-down heist game. In short, 1-4 players cooperatively infiltrate a location, take down or avoid guards, crack safes, and make off with piles of loot. Each class has particular strengths (eg faster lockpicking, a stash of C4), ensuring a healthy amount of replay-value. Monaco has no official release date yet, but, with a heavy focus on multiplayer, I imagine that a beta release is likely. If nothing else, you can catch Monaco at conventions and smaller events such as the recent Giant Robot Game Night. After one demo, you’ll likely become a fellow believer.

Owlboy
From: D-Pad Studio
Platform: PC
Release Date: TBA

Not every game needs a newfangled gimmick to be wholly enticing. Owlboy is a traditional-style platformer featuring a young owl out to save his village from sky pirates. The game has appeared as a finalist in the Independent Games Festival and already won Game of the Year at the 2010 Norwegian Game Awards. D-Pad Studio is obviously on to something good, but, to quote Reading Rainbow, you don’t have take my word for it. Follow the link above to download the demo. If Owlboy doesn’t grab your heart immediately, you might already be dead inside.

Hawken
From: Adhesive Games
Platform: PC
Release Date: December 12, 2012

As many of you can probably relate, I had about given up hope for good, action-packed game of mech-based warfare with features like swappable weapons and customizable armor. Fans of Mechwarrior will still have to wait for a hardcore simulation, but Hawken has the potential to carry the flag that Armored Core dropped so very long ago. It was revealed earlier this month that Hawken will be a free-to-play title, which could be a positive or negative decision, depending on how deep Adhesive expects us to open our wallets.

Super T.I.M.E. Force
From: Capybara Games
Platform: XBLA
Release Date: TBA

It all started back at a Toronto Game Jam, where developers tirelessly plugged away for three days straight to make a game… for fun. Super T.I.M.E. Force emerged, and the quaint little game was entered into IGF 2012, where it received an Honorable Mention for Technical Excellence. None of the developers could have been happier, until that is, their baby won the IGF XBLA Prize, confirming a release on Xbox Live Arcade. So what is Super T.I.M.E. Force about? Well, uh… it has time-travel and lots of shooting and stuff. Just watch the trailer already.

Most Wanted Indie Games 2012 Runner2

Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien!
From: Gaijin Games
Platform: XBLA, PSN
Release Date: TBA

Ever play a game that made you sincerely happy? I don’t mean that it was fun, or memorable, but that it could make you feel utterly content and hopeful. For me, that game was BIT.TRIP RUNNER. The new aesthetics are sure to throw a few fans off-balance, but at least there won’t be any Wii-induced blurriness to muddy up the experience this time around. I have to say that I’m not into this business of adding checkpoints either, although they can be turned off. And, you can’t argue with multiple characters. I only hope that Gaijin Games has a few extra surprises up its sleeve, because the gameplay is looking mighty familiar thus far. See for yourself.

Hawken: New Trailer, New Website, Closed Beta

Hawken is coming together nicely. This mech-shooter looks intense and if you haven’t seen any of the videos for it make sure to give this one a glance. I had a buddy back in college who was a ginormous MechWarrior fan. This game would make him pass out from anticipation. It’s being billed as Free to Play, which I find a bit surprising.

The new website is accepting sign ups for the closed beta test so hop on over and spin the wheel of fate.