Monthly Review - March 2016

Greetings! Three games completed for the third month of this kinda post. I also played a couple other things: Crashlands, Pokemon X, and Hyrule Warriors Legends but I'm not sure if I'm going to see any of those through. Crashlands got a little tedious but I really liked what I played of it, Pokemon X I'd played through before but was messing with again to chat with a friend who's playing it, and Hryule Warriors Legends which I just didn't really like(besides Linkle obv). My impressions of the games I actually finished follow. There may be spoilers so consider yourself warned. 

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The Beginner's Guide - Completed 3/6

I wrote Davey an email after finishing The Beginner's Guide. I wrote about how I felt physically sick after finishing it because I could empathize with the character Coda. This is a narrative focused game about creative people, privacy and trust. He recently did a commentary over someone else's lets play of the game which was really amusing and interesting. That may of may not still be available in his Twitch archives. 

Yeah, I wrote a bunch in the email but I really struggled to write about this game after I finished it. I'm actually writing this after finishing Garden Warfare 2. Really unique and great story but thats about it. It's not mechanics focused if thats something you're concerned about.

Plants Vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2 - Completed 3/13

The biggest changes from the first game in the series are that the game now has a single player campaign and instead of choosing game modes through a menu, the player now moves around a hub area with different interactive nodes.

The new hub area is pretty cool, there are two bases on different sides of a huge map with a constant conflict going on between them. There are missions hidden throughout this map and pretty cool things can happen while exploring. For example, when I jumped into the zombies base as a plant, a couple zombie bosses were spawned onto the map. The plants responded with their own bosses and I got to take part in this crazy brawl. Just running around shooting stuff and seeing how long I could survive felt very GTA3, where the game was more to see how long you could stay alive wreaking havoc than actually doing the missions. I haven't felt like playing a game in that way since GTA3 actually.

The single player campaign is fine, nothing to write home about. I would say its probably 50% scripted single player objective levels and 50% Garden/Graveyard Ops missions where the player can cycle between the different characters on a team, which is pretty cool and an easy way to try different classes. It's nice that that the single player is there for new players and playing through it actually unlocks a really unique endless mode but I think overall the main attraction here are the other multiplayer modes.

There are a ton of modes for multiplayer, pretty much what you would assume, a zone control, deathmatch, kill confirmed, etc. A nice change they made is that an old asymmetric mode always had plants defending but now zombies can defend as well and plants try and capture points on a huge map.

My complaints about this game mostly stem from the fact that it's always online. Not specifically that it must be connected because I don't really care, my console is always plugged into ethernet, but the choice to make lazy design decisions with that as a reason. First, there is no pause in this game, even in single player exclusive content. Second, if the game is left AFK for ten minutes, even in the area that acts as the game's menu, you are logged off World of Warcraft style, again even if not playing with anyone online. It takes a while to re-login and load that map so yeah, this really sucks. Additionally, I really can't imagine either of these things taking a ton of engineering work to solve...

I would assume that some people might be annoyed with the game's single use items or the way characters must be found in random packs. This didn't bother me at all though, I think the game's economy works pretty well. I was opening packs at a steady clip and never was in a situation where I was out of consumables. Where I do take some umbrage is in the character unlocking progression. I felt like that was pretty slow unless you save for the game's most expensive packs and even then I ended up unlocking five or six variants of the zombie foot soldier pretty much before anything else. I think I just got really unlucky with this one but it was frustrating at the time.

Overall, super fun. I would highly recommend it as the game's quest system got its hooks in me in a very WoW daily quests kinda way. I can see myself continuing to check in on the game, especially if my cousin isn't available for our Heroes of the Storm appointments.

Her Story - Completed 3/31

I really enjoy movies with nonlinear narratives. I really like getting caught up in the moments and then having a puzzle to think about later, like how it all came together. I describe these movies or TV as puzzleboxes where you can see little bits and pieces but it doesn't all come together without the big picture and some thought. I think this game is a fantastic experiment into the future of what nonlinear storytelling could be. 

I think two things really make this game great, the structure of the clips and the fact that the story is told through FMV and not 3D characters. The structure of the game is told through clips in a police database, the results are limited to the first five entries with your search query. If you search for a characters name sometimes these results are way more than five, so later searches have to be pretty specific, or maybe combine a characters name and another word. This is kind of how the game is gated, as the player learns new topics to dig into, they get deeper down the rabbit hole because they can get past those initial five results. Once I started watching clips from the final interview, the whole story was turned on its head. 

The FMV works because of all the little actions that the actress makes throughout the game. Tapping her finger or a sly smile really creeped me out at certain points. I thought the story was clever and the actress and writing really sold it.

Great stuff. I played this game on Steam but I know it's available on iOS too. Worth checking out and a great game to play with a significant other, even folks who aren't super into games. One person can type and control the mouse while the other takes notes on a note pad. I had to do both. >.<

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For this upcoming month, Hyper Light Drifter is for sure something I'm planning on playing, gotta represent the LA scene. Also, I'd like to play more RTS so that could mean Grey Goo or maybe the first of the StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void Nova mission packs. Some shorter games I've been thinking about are Jazzpunk, Pony Island, The Magic Circle, and Lara Croft GO. So yeah, probably expect some writing about those or maybe the couple games I mentioned earlier that I started. Blah. Until next month, <3.

Monthly Review - January 2016

Hey there, I hope you didn't forget about me! Although the podcast is on hiatus, I would like to continue using this blog in some capacity and while I'm not super interested in doing full reviews for games I am playing, I think this format should fit the bill. It's kind of a recap of the games I've finished this month with a couple thoughts. These impressions may contain spoilers so if that's a thing you care about a) you're dumb and b) you're warned.

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Life is Strange - Completed 1/17

I really enjoyed the time travel story of this game, would like to revisit the last episode again at some point and see how the other ending plays out. I kind of saw where the story was going by episode two but the journey through was well worth the time. Only once in the story did dialogue feel like a tangent was tacked on to the end of something seemingly unrelated to customize it to my choices, the game had a really nice flow otherwise.

Gravity Bone & Thirty Flights of Loving - Completed 1/17

Both short FPS experiences that play out a spy heist story using interesting film style jump cuts and computer controlled camera movements not normally seen in games, especially FPS games where they can feel super jarring. 

Emily is Away - Completed 1/17

Short conversational game based on AIM in the early 2000s. Kinda sad but a nice experience that felt a lot like some of my middle school and high school communications. I really loved the ending where if the direct questioning answer was chosen, the player's character would second guess the decision.

Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist - Completed 1/20

A short first person experience with the clever premise of the player having to trigger all the interactions backstage for a player who is actually playing through the scenario. It's by the designer of The Stanley Parable and shares some similar humor, narrative and design decisions. I took the time to complete the achievements for this one to see all the weird stuff that was included, the optional cassette tapes are very strange.

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I'm currently playing through The Witness. I figure I'm about 50% through. It's been a really challenging but rewarding experience and I think it teaches the player better than maybe any other game I've played. (Might be an overstatement but I've been thinking about it a ton while playing.) I've also been recently messing with the new StarCraft 2 co-op mode, which is pretty fun. The mode is a set of co-op PVE missions where players get WarCraft 3 style hero characters or crazy additional powers to go along with their armies. It's a lot lower stress than normal StarCraft multiplayer. Also, it sounds like it's going to be updated with more missions and commanders going forward, so that's pretty cool. Lastly, I'm still playing Heroes of the Storm regularly. It's pretty much my go to game to just jump on with friends and play. 

I've made a list of backlog games I intend to play along with the approximate time required to complete them, so expect another one of these posts next month with one or two longer games, probably The Witness and Firewatch if I had to guess, and a couple shorter ones. Until then, <3. 

Indiecade 2014

Indiecade is thrown just one small municipal district away from where I reside. I attended last year and discovered greats like Nidhogg and Octodad. I attended again this year on the final day, Sunday. I totally felt like a creeper recognizing Shane Bettenhausen's voice, now of Sony, previously of 1UP where I enjoyed his writing and presence on podcasts. Felt too shy to interrupt and say hello but it was cool to see him around.

Indiecade is pretty great. It's a small gaming conference focused on indie games. Developers and companies showcase games in an outdoor festival or inside Culver City's firehouse. Like last year I attended with my good friend Daniel Stone. We started with the outdoor festival games, thinking to save the indoor stuff for when it would be inevitably hotter later.

Sony's booth was one of the first you saw as you entered the outdoor area, it featured yet to be released PS4 and PS Vita games. Some highlights from their booth:

Galak-Z is a 2D astroids-like with levels that felt like the Donkey Kong underwater levels. Mazes of rocks that would lead you into enemy traps and surprises. The graphics were cel shaded and had a feel of Speed Racer style characters. The game, still clearly in development, didn't run perfectly at the festival but despite low frame rate, I could tell this is going to be pretty special.

 The look of pure excitement.

The look of pure excitement.

Grim Fandango Remastered is a fresh coat of paint on the classic LucasArts adventure game. It plays similarly to the older version besides having ditched tank controls and a switchable old/new graphics setting. It looks sharp as hell, super pumped to play this again. This was probably one of the first PC games I bought so it was really exciting to see the remaster.

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Nom Nom Galaxy is the Pixel Junk folk's new game. It's a pretty crazy game, a 2d resource gathering, base building, tower defense game where you are gathering ingredients for soup that you shoot into space. It looks beautiful, the textures all have a kind of pixely fabric look. You control a character that has this giant spinning buzzsaw that tears through parts of the environment. This game is already out on PC but I haven't played it yet, for sure looking forward to picking it up on PS4 when it releases.

 Pretty sure this shot is from an earlier build of the game, kinda remember the characters looking more complex.

Pretty sure this shot is from an earlier build of the game, kinda remember the characters looking more complex.

Starwhal: Just the Tip is a super psychedelic party game where you play as Narwhals trying to stab each others hearts with their tusks. It's really crazy to control, super funny and a totally bizarre idea. Really really cool, was for sure this year's Nidhogg, where people were just gathered around and going nuts every brutal narwhal heart stabbing kill.

Next up, we headed to Nintendo's booth. A lot of the games they were showing were already released so I'll just touch quickly on my fave:

Beatbuddy is also like a donkey kong underwater level. You control this little dude through an underwater coral reef. There is a musical twist where some enemies make some of the sounds in the music and if they are killed or scared away, the change in music will effect the environment in different ways. There was also a part where you jump in this vehicle and you have to move to the beat of the music in order to progress, felt pretty cool. I really dug the music too.

There were also a lot of cool games in the Firehouse. I really enjoyed a game called Choice Chamber where my friend Daniel and I got to play co-op. Choice chamber is a platforming game where viewers watching on Twitch choose what you encounter. I didn't get a chance to ask the dev exactly what was generated but it seemed like room types, enemies and power-ups. It was pretty cool, Daniel played as the main character and I was a flying turret dot character. My dot could also become a platform if there was a section that was difficult to traverse. Daniel described this game as "This is like Cool Spot meets Truman Show" which the developer liked enough to tweet.

Indiecade was again awesome this year and I will surely go back next.