Category: Editorials

X-Com: Enemy Unknown – Letting the Player Play

No High Scores

Last week I mentioned the first part of an interview RPS conducted with X-COM: Enemy Unknown’s lead designer, Jake Solomon. I wasn’t going to get into the rest of it here and instead assume if you were into it you’d tune in. But then, while reading part 2, I came across this bit, in which the discussion was centered around player discovery in a world of GameFAQs and people doing their best to build game strategies around someone else’s optimized experience:

Jake Solomon: I think the way you do that is you set up systems, you set up some pretty core systems that once you teach them how to use one element in the system, then they’re good and you sort of let them out into the wide world, and then when the later elements appear, they function somewhat the same but they’re completely different and they introduce all kinds of interesting interactions. So it’s true, the way that I played the game then and the way that I played the game after I got online and saw how your manufacturing can actually be optimised… I learned all these mathematical systems and how you’re supposed to manufacture, how to use reaction, how to level up your soldiers by, I won’t say cheating, but you load your guys down then you take all these reaction shots, and so then I played that way, and now when I play, I’ve actually gone back to how I first was. I play in the way that I think Julian would have wanted me to play. So I, use, like, the Firestorm – people don’t use the Firestorm, right? Well I use the Firestorm, and you’re not supposed to put fusion ball launchers on your ships but you know what, I AM going to put those on my ships and I do use the heavy laser because I think the elements they put in there originally in the flow, I can play. I’m good enough now to win by not min/maxing so it’s fun now to use all these elements that for the last couple of years I’d avoided using because they weren’t optimal.

This strikes to the very heart of yesterday’s beef with the apparent design direction of Diablo 3…

Pondering the Diablo 3 Beta

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Note: I uploaded these images full-size. Click for the full-res version.

I’m among the last people to hop on this particular bandwagon, but last last week I finally received a Diablo 3 beta invite and have since put in several hours with it, finishing it once with the Barbarian character class and following that up with another half-completed run using the Demon Hunter. My initial reaction to the game is that it felt underwhelming. I played a disgusting amount of Diablo 2 and, given the success Blizzard has had since then, it’s impossible not to boot this up and want it to blow me completely out of the water with its undeniable brilliance.

It’s possible that’s not an entirely realistic bar.

As I settled into the experience, however, the game continued to grow on me. I don’t see anything here that suggests this game is going to be in any way remarkable, aside from its potential scope and production values, but if you just want to run around with some different character variants and whack beasties over the head, I think it’s safe to say, even at this early point, that you could do a lot worse than what we’re going to get with Diablo 3. That may be faint praise, but it is praise nonetheless.

This established, here’s some general thoughts on the game…

Elder Sign: Omens in Review

No High Scores

Arkham Horror, a Call of Cthulhu inspired game, tends to be one of those boardgames you either love or loath. I’m pretty firmly in the former category. Yes, despite being a pure co-op game, having a lot of players involved can leave you with a metric ton of downtime and if you don’t like pinning your fate to die rolls it’s probably not for you. I don’t mind all that. Even with a lot of die-rolling, it’s the good kind, where skillful play and use of items (not to mention a little help from your friends) gives you more opportunities to pass whatever magic criteria impedes your path. Not unlike poker, I consider it a fair marriage of strategy and chance. I also like how you have to adjust your play style for the type of investigator you’ve chosen and how you can play the game a dozen times and never use the same investigator twice. Above all, I just like the environment and the feeling it invokes of moving about a dangerously unstable town, populated with unspeakable horrors, as you try to stop an abomination from devouring the world. It sets a mood.

So it was, with this flavor firmly in mind, that I downloaded the Arkham inspired board game adaptation, Elder Sign: Omens for my iPad. Omens is available as a traditional board game (though it’s just called Elder Sign), but not unlike Ascension, this new iPad version takes a lot of board game ideals and successfully translates them to an experience you really could only have on a mobile device like the iPad. (I have not played the board game version. I have no idea how much is the same or different.)

In this game you are tasked with putting together a team of four investigators (whom Arkham Horror players will remember from that game) to stop the abomination, Azathoth, from devouring the world. This is very much Arkham. In this game, however, your investigative acumen isn’t put to the test exploring an entire town’s mysteries, but rather that of a single museum. There you’ll move, one investigator at a time, through its various rooms, seeking out adventures best-suited to that particular investigator and whatever handy gadgets, weapons, or spells she might have on hand. Fail too often and your investigator loses stamina and sanity, eventually resulting in their removal from the game (death or insanity) as a Doom counter moves inexorably forward towards Azathoth’s emergence and the end of the world. The only way to win is to discover enough Elder Signs (also done by completing adventures) to seal the breach between the realm of Cthulhu and our reality.

My kind of game…

Paradox Shows Off Its 2012 Lineup

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Note: I wrote this about six hours ago and, of course, the wireless here has been non-functional all the live-long day, so I’m only getting to post it now. It figures, the one time I’m timely with something…. sigh.  
I just got out of the Paradox Convention 2012 press conference, in which we heard from CEO/”Lord Protector,” Fred Wester as well as their business development specialist and producer/”Corporate Paladain” Shams Jorjani. Now, it’s imporatnt to note these sorts of things are built with the express agenda of getting people like me to say nice things about the company. This cannot be denied. That said, it’s really easy to like this company. 
There was a lot of talk about improved sales numbers (seriously, these guys are making money hand over fist), but it’s how they’re thriving –by focusing on publishing into niches that other larger publishers tend to ignore– that makes Paradox interesting. I’ll write more about this stuff later, when I’m not running out of time before dashing out to start a day-long stint of game demos. But for now, here’s the stuff they’ll be showing off this week, which includes three newly annonced titles (no, really, they were just announced for the first time in the last 30 minutes; for once, I’m timely):
The new three…

Star Wars: The Old Republic: A Sith Warrior’s Tale

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If you’ve been listening to the podcast you know I’ve developed a certain fascination with the Sith Warrior character I’m soloing in The Old Republic. You are hereby warned – I’m about to, like, totally geek out and stuff. (Modest spoilers to follow as well.)

In the movies the whole light side – dark side thing is fairly simplistic. Good. Evil. Kittens. Spiders. You get the idea. Jedi are about peace and passiveness. Sith are about anger and hate. I can’t speak for the Star Wars novels, but in the original Knights of the Old Republic Bioware spent a bit more time exploring the idea of what it was to be a Jedi and what it was to be a Sith. The notion that seems to have been settled therein is that Sith ideology is about using emotion to fuel their power over The Force. Jedi use zen-like detachment. Again, this could be canon for all I know. Maybe the comics or the books deal with it, but kudos to Bioware if it’s their idea because I find this a fascinating angle to the two sides for how it gives the Sith more nuance than, “I like power and killing. Grrrr!”

My hope, since buying The Old Republic, is that they’d go further in exploring this idea. I truly didn’t expect much and there’s an extent to which I think how they’ve handled it has wasted some of the inherent potential of fallen Jedi and redeemed Sith (maybe; got a long way still to go), but they’ve gone much further down this road than I ever expected and I think that’s pretty cool. With the premise established, let’s talk about what it is to be a Sith in The Old Republic…

Red Rings and Other Unnatural Disasters: My Life with an Xbox 360

No High Scores

My 360 ate it this week. Or it may have. It’s not entirely clear at this point. It may just be the power brick. Regardless, it seems a good time to think back on my life as an owner of this temperamental, yet still essential, little box.

I bought my original Xbox 360 a few months after the initial launch. In other words, when every single 360 was a hardware failure waiting to happen. It took mere months for it to stop reading discs and I got my first taste of Microsoft’s support program, which handled my in-warranty claim relatively quickly and with an acceptable level of professionalism. That is to say, I didn’t end any phone conversation loathing them with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns, which is the inevitable result of any call I’ve ever placed to Comcast.

More of this tawdry tale after the jump…