Friday, August 22, 2014

First Impressions - Bioshock Infinite

One of my favourites by The Beach Boys

Bioshock Infinite is another of those games I've waited far too long to get my hands on playing. I think I missed the boat with the Bioshock games and to be honest, I'm not a fan of graphic violence or horror in games which I think the first two were mainly about. I might be totally wrong though as I'm just basing this off gut feel and snippets of information other players have divulged about the games. While I expected Bioshock Infinite to also have its scary moments, I somehow thought I'd be able to tolerate it a bit better - not to mention it's set in the 1910s with an awesome floating city as its playground! It remains to be seen if my predictions are right though...

So when I saw the game on sale I thought I'd finally give the game a shot. Keep in mind though that my eventual review of this game will probably be tailored more towards people like me: people who haven't really experienced Bioshock before and want to see if it's worth giving Infinite a go. Those who are Bioshock fans would have well and truly played the game already

What I like

  • Audio: There are some great background sound effects and some pretty good voice acting here by veteran voice actors with Chris VandenHeuvel doing a particularly good job as Zachary Hale Comstock.
  • Setting: I'm really digging this alternate history setting; the fact that Columbia is a giant floating micronation at the turn of the 20th century that's trying to hearken to what they believe are the good ol' days of the United States, and bringing their brand of imperialism wherever they go.
  • Music: I really love the fact that you get to hear old-fashioned renditions of popular music such as "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys. When I first heard it I just had to run over to the barbershop quartet singing it in-game and listen to the whole performance. Combat music is also good, changing with the mood of the battle.

What I don't like

  • Acceptance of the supernatural: It's not long before you get to use these superpowers called "Vigors" but what I find amazing aren't the superpowers you get but how quickly the protagonist, Booker deWitt, just accepts them as a fact of life. Maybe this will get explained later on but it seems pretty unbelievable so far. While on the topic of Vigors...
  • Vigors: I haven't really used the Vigors at all during the game. Sure they can give you some temporary benefits but usually the most effective way to kill someone is a bullet through the head. I've probably got 99% of my kills so far just using standard guns and rarely have I ever run out of ammo. Which makes you wonder what's the point of the Vigors in the first place? Maybe later in the game they come into their element but so far there's no need for them.
  • Character models: While there's definitely some beautiful vistas to be seen in this game, I'm not a big fan of the cartoony character models, especially some of the eyes of the females - it makes them look like living porcelain dolls which just creeps me out. Although, maybe that's what they were intending...


I'm really enjoying Bioshock Infinite so far, and that's from someone who hasn't played the previous two Bioshock games - so I think that's a good sign (in that you don't need to have played the previous two in order to enjoy the story in this one). There's not really much to fault here except some minor issues with the plausibility of the plot, the gameplay mechanics with respect to Vigors and the unappealing character models. Nothing that will detract me from finishing the game though :).

[ LINK: Official Bioshock Infinite website ]

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shadowgate remake to be released tomorrow

You tell them Han Solo.

Back in November 2012, Virginian game developer Zojoi ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in raising $137,232 to develop a remake of its classic adventure game, Shadowgate. The original game was released well over two decades ago and while I never played it, I did enjoy other games by ICOM Simulations (the precursor to Zojoi) such as the FMV detective game, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective.

It's been a long journey but Zojoi has just announced that the new Shadowgate will be released tomorrow! As I type this article, Steam reports 10 hours until the game is unlocked but there is currently no price set for the game. I'm predicting it will be at least $15 considering that was the minimum Kickstarter backers paid for a copy of the game. Zojoi have also informed their backers that they will have a choice of receiving a DRM-free copy of the game or a Steam key; these can be redeemed by accessing Humble Bundle.

Anybody else excited about Shadowgate's release? Did you play the original?

[ SOURCE: Shadowgate Kickstarter: Update #51 ]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Where are they now? - Mark Crowe

Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy back in the 1980s

You may remember that both Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy just made it on my list of Top 10 PC Game Developers of all time in August last year (although I was quite liberal with the word "developer" since, as you may have noticed, I've included teams) so this isn't the first time that they've been mentioned on this blog. I would however like to take some time to explore Mark Crowe's past, present and future for today's "Where are they now?" article. I'll continue with Scott Murphy next week :).

Mark Crowe started working for Sierra's marketing department as an illustrator back in 1983 before he eventually moved on to creating computer graphics. The first project he worked on where he was able to test his new skills was Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood (1984). This wouldn't be the game (or indeed series) he would become famous for: that game would be Space Quest and would not be released until 1986.

While working on the game called The Black Cauldron, Mark met a programmer named Scott Murphy who shared his interest in science-fiction. Both of them were tired of adventure games taking themselves too seriously and decided that their new game, Space Quest would be a farcical game that poked fun at science-fiction tropes. Mark had already come up with a basic storyline and key puzzles, while Scott was to provide much of the humour and dialogue. All that was left to do was to convince Sierra's CEO, Ken Williams, to give the green light. Ken wasn't too keen on the idea and thought a sci-fi comedy adventure wouldn't sell. Not content to give up so soon, Mark and Scott developed a demo of Space Quest during their spare time and when they showed it to Ken, he loved it so much that he gave them approval to proceed.

Mark and Scott would collaborate on four Space Quest titles together: Space Quest: Chapter I - The Sarien Encounter (1986), Space Quest II: Chapter II - Vohaul's Revenge (1987), Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon (1989) and finally Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (1991) - Space Quest IV being the game that Mark considers a masterpiece.

The Space Quest series wasn't the only series that Mark worked on while at Sierra. He also helped provide the graphics for the first Police Quest (1987) and the first Leisure Suit Larry (1987) as well as several other games during the 1980s and early 1990s.

After the completion of Space Quest IV, Mark and Scott went their separate ways with Mark moving to Oregon with his family to work at Sierra's subsidiary, Dynamix. There's always been rumours amongst Space Quest fans as to the reason why they never worked together again after Space Quest IV but both Mark and Scott claim that people were reading too much into it. During a Reddit IAMA held 2 years ago, Scott had this to say:

Mark and I were burned out. Mark was starting a family, had two new babies and wanted to leave the Oakhurst area. The communication on that was poor. It took few years for us to get back in touch and realize where we'd screwed up in that regard. Once we talked it took us 15 minutes to understand and get it behind us...

Shortly after joining Dynamix, Mark was re-hired by Sierra to work on Space Quest V: The Next Mutation (1993) as a designer. Scott was apparently working on his own project so Mark took control of the Space Quest V project. Mark wanted to introduce some new characters that would breathe new life into the series and thought to use the popular TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation for source material since it was largely untouched by the series at that stage.

After completing Space Quest V and a couple of EarthSiege games, Mark followed many ex-Dynamix employees to Pipeworks Software, due to layoffs at Sierra and Dynamix in 1999. Mark worked on several games there as a Studio Design Director and it would take more than a decade before Mark and Scott would finally reunite as a team in April 2012 under the very familiar name "Guys from Andromeda" (they couldn't use "Two Guys from Andromeda" since they have a third guy now called Chris Pope who serves as their marketing and PR guru).

On 13 June 2012, the Guys from Andromeda managed to raise more than $500,000 via Kickstarter in order to develop a spiritual successor to Space Quest known tentatively as SpaceVenture. The game promises to have voice acting by Gary Owens, Rob Paulsen, Robert Clotworthy, Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie. It will also have a soundtrack composed by another ex-Sierra employee, Ken Allen.

As of 2014, the game still isn't complete yet but the guys believe the game will be finished sometime early next year. I wish Mark (and Scott and Chris and the rest of the SpaceVenture team) all the best and look forward to playing their latest adventure game in the new year!

[ Wikipedia: Mark Crowe ]
[ Wikipedia: Two Guys from Andromeda ]
[ SpaceVenture Kickstarter Project ]
[ Roger Wilco's Virtual Broomcloset: An Interview with Mark Crowe (1996) ]
[ Space Quest FAQ ]
[ MobyGames: Mark Crowe's Bio ]