Todd's Foolery

Mind Games

No High Scores

Like it or not, you have to acknowledge that there have been a lot of conversations about Skyrim the past few months. So, hey, what’s one more?

It seems that a lot of people who love this game are in the camp that its genius lies in the fact that it lets the player engage in a bit of active role playing by making/allowing them to do a lot of the story telling in their own heads. I’ve seen arguments like, “I decided my character is a lover of all animals, so when a wolf or bear attacks me in the game I just run off.”

Horrible example aside, there’s a lot to be said for this argument. You do indeed have a lot of freedom to self-ascribe any number of traits to your character, ones that technically aren’t a built-in part of the game, and still have the game accommodate you. So maybe the fact that I find this game, outside of the inherent beauty of its world, wholly unremarkable is something of a “me” problem? What if I’m under-valuing the ability to just be in the world and have my own adventures? Maybe I’m selling these things short? Maybe it’s not important that every quest feels generic and the rewards for doing them fizzle down to afterthoughts within a few hours of play. Maybe I should be taking a more active role in the unfolding adventures of my character by doing more of the legwork in my own head? And for a moment, just a moment, I think maybe I should load this game back up and give it another chance.

Then, however, I remember everything I loved about Mount & Blade: Warband and I think, “Well, maybe not…”

Another Mass Effect 3 Trailer

When it comes right down to it, I just can’t help myself. If there’s a trailer for Mass Effect that’s about the game and not a self-congratulatory look behind the scenes, it’s gonna find its way up here by my hand. I noted a couple of Internet comments the day this came out that the trope of using the little girl to get the viewer emotionally involved was a bit pat. I suppose it is, but I’m a believer you can take most any worn trope and, as long as you execute on it, do something credible with it, which I think they’ve done here. It’s not, for my money, as good as the FemShep trailer, but it’s a nicely done piece of work that does its job amping me up to play Mass 3 in just two short weeks.

The Top 100 Reasons That Top 100 Lists are Pointless

That title is so meta and it doesn’t even know it. Although, I’m probably misusing the word “meta.” Whatever, Brandon said I’m close enough, so take it up with him.

The cover story for March’s issue of PC Gamer (at least on iOS) is about, you guessed it, their rankings for the Top 100 PC games of all time. Now, before we delve into this, let’s be clear about something that we all surely know. Top X lists exist to be conversation-starters, especially when it’s coming from a commercial outfit. I promise you, from the editor-in-chief of PC Gamer on down, there is no one there that agrees with the rankings as they appear in the mag. That doesn’t mean I’m not up for taking the bait. It’s Thursday and I’ve done absolutely no gaming this week, so I give them a tip of my cap for giving me something to write about.

This established, let’s have a look at their Top 5 (one of which you know about, if you’ve been listening to the podcast)…

FemShep Finally Gets a Bit of the Mass Effect 3 Trailer Spotlight

A couple weeks ago I was complaining about how bog standard boring the multiplayer trailer of Mass Effect 3 looked. This is more like it, and not just because it’s finally FemShep taking center stage. (Honestly, she looks a bit odd to me, but maybe I’m just used to my version.) Could still use just a couple more clips that make with the talky, but this makes me want to gear up and play some Mass 3. More please.

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

No High Scores

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…

X-COM: Enemy Unknown News Linkage

No High Scores

There’s been a bunch of cool X-COM content popping up the past few days and, the more I see, the more confidence I have in the project. My gut tells me Firaxis is doing this one right. And my gut is hardly ever wrong. The first thing you should check out is part 1 of Rock Paper Shotgun’s Alec Meer interview with lead designer, Jake Solomon. Tons of good stuff here and, evidently, much more on the way.

Next we have Game Informer’s breakdown of two separate combat encounters. While I’ll admit I have some questions about the logic behind how some of these encounters played out, this my friends, is X-COM.

Part 1
Part 2

New Trailer for Aliens: Colonial Marines

Here’s my thing with Aliens: Colonial Marines: I don’t need this to be a revolutionary game. I’ve been asked more than once, “Why not just watch the movie again?” I have. Many times, on blu-ray using my 96″ projector screen. It was glorious.

You know what? I’ve also watched a lot of Michigan football and that didn’t make me less interested playing the NCAA franchise for like a decade. I have not been playing Aliens games for a decade. I haven’t ever played an Aliens game. (Mish-mashed properties like Alien versus Predator don’t count; not that I played much of those games either.) So, the prospect of putting my feet into the boots a colonial marine in a legit Aliens game fills me with goosebumps, no matter who the developer is. Why? Because they don’t have to innovate here. They just have to make me believe I’ve set down on LV-426. They have to make me feel like I’m navigating my way through claustrophobic corridors, finger on the trigger of my trusty pulse rifle, as I mentally countdown the seconds until a xenomorph horde converges on my position like thunder following a flash of lightning. This game has to be about set pieces and scenarios. If they get those two aspects right, it can be a merely passable squad-based shooter and I’ll still play the hell out of it.

That’s why trailers like this one have me excited for August. Goosebumps.