Friday, January 31, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #108 - Monkey Island 2 - Woodtick

Original music by: Michael Z. Land, Peter McConnell, Clint Bajakian, Robin Goldstein and Joseph White

One of my favourite, toe-tapping pieces of music from Monkey Island 2. This music plays as you visit the pirate town of Woodtick - a town comprised of various wrecked ships connected by a series of boardwalks. It's here that Guybrush begins his adventure and meets characters such as Largo LaGrande, Wally B. Feed and Jojo the Monkey. The "Men of Low Moral Fibre (pirates)" also make a cameo.

This particular track actually works as a medley of variations of the Woodtick theme as in the game it segues to the variations depending on which ship you visit. All thanks to the iMUSE system :).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Walking Dead: 400 Days Review

Most of the action occurs either in or around this diner for all five stories

  • Developer: Telltale Games
  • Publisher: Telltale Games
  • Release Date: 4 July 2013
  • Time played: 90 minutes

Even though I'm ready to provide a review for The Walking Dead: Season Two, I thought I'd first review The Walking Dead: 400 Days since those of you who have only played the first season may be wondering if it's worth getting this DLC which is meant to be a bridge between Season One and Season Two.

Plot (5/5)
400 Days follows the stories of five different people over a period of 400 days since the start of the zombie outbreak (hence the name). This unfortunately means you might not feel as strong an attachment with the characters as you would in Season One but on the plus side you get to experience multiple stories occurring at different times over the 400 days. Thankfully it didn't reveal any new information about the original game either (I hate it when you have to pay DLC for holes in the main game's plot) although it did have a couple of cameos.

Once again the narrative is of a high quality, on par with The Walking Dead: Season One, and just like all things Walking Dead, the zombies merely act as a plot device to explore how people react in the face of adversity when hope is in short supply.

The five characters you get to play as: Vince, Wyatt, Shel, Russell and Bonnie

Gameplay (3/5)
For those that have played The Walking Dead: Season One, you know the drill. Gameplay is pretty light, with simple puzzles and the game feels more like a visual novel. The game is mainly conversation driven and focuses more on your relationships with characters more than anything else. You'll occasionally have some Quick Time Events (QTEs) during action sequences but that's about it.

Sound (4/5)
Voice acting is great but that's to be expected from veteran voice actors – the only issue I had was that the audio was sometimes too loud or too soft.

Music (4/5)
The game has a suitably atmospheric music soundtrack; while there are no memorable themes it is effective in setting the sombre, depressing mood to the game.

Graphics (4/5)
As was the case with The Walking Dead: Season One, the graphics in 400 Days are probably the best I've seen in a Telltale game thanks to the adoption of a comic-book style to the animations. As was the case with Season One, the only criticisms I have are the occasional framerate drops and the background scenery tends to be of a low quality.

Replay (2/5)
Just like Season One, the ending you receive depends on the choices you make in the game, so there is some attraction there to replay the game. However, it won't be long until you've probably had enough with the game since it only takes 90 minutes to complete one playthrough after all.

Polish (4/5)
Unfortunately, as it's a Telltale game, it uses the most recent Telltale Tool so the interface is a very console-friendly one, not a simple point ‘n' click adventure. The game also has the annoying Type 1 save system where progress is autosaved but you never know when the next save point is.

Score – 7/10

While 400 Days is very short at 90 minutes, it's definitely something I'd recommend Walking Dead fans invest in, especially if you can get it on sale since you could do worse for just a couple of bucks.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official The Walking Dead: 400 Days website]


Monday, January 27, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #107 - Monkey Island 2 - Largo LaGrande

Original music by: Michael Z. Land, Peter McConnell, Clint Bajakian, Robin Goldstein and Joseph White

This track plays shortly after the introduction as you first enter the town of Woodtick. Guybrush Threepwood is unfortunately accosted by the town bully, Largo LaGrande who then proceeds to empty your pockets of all the neat stuff you had at the beginning of the game. Largo makes several appearances in the game as he plays the right hand man to a very important character...

The track isn't particularly one of my favourites but it's definitely memorable as it acts as a leitmotif for whenever Largo LaGrande enters the screen. The tune is menacing yet jazzy at the same time.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #106 - Monkey Island 2 - Opening Themes and Introduction

Original music by: Michael Z. Land, Peter McConnell, Clint Bajakian, Robin Goldstein and Joseph White

Okay, some of you might be saying right about now, "Excuse me good sir, but weren't we listening to Monkey Island 1's tracks on Choicest VGM not that long ago?" and the answer would be "yes you're absolutely right!". So why am I bombarding you with more Monkey Island music? Because (a) you just can't get enough jammin' to these Caribbean rhythms and sea shanties, and (b) Monkey Island 2 was released quite soon after the first one (the next year in fact).

Monkey Island 2 decided to have a funky take on the original Monkey Island theme. I must say that I prefer the theme from the original but there's no denying which Monkey game this theme is for once you hear it. It's fun and unique, that's important. The music then segues into the Introduction music: a sea shanty that plays while Guybrush regales his tales around a campfire. It also happens to play during one of my favourite jokes in the game:

Guybrush: I'm on a whole new adventure.
Bart: Growing a mustache?
Guybrush: No. Bigger than that.
Bart: A beard?!?

Good times.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #105 - Another World - Introduction

Soundtrack composed by: Jean-Fran├žois Freitas

Ah, Eric Chahi's cinematic platformer, Another World (aka Out of This World). The animations were gorgeous (thanks to rotoscoping), and it had an atmospheric soundtrack to boot, really immersing the player into the game. You really felt you were on an alien planet.

This particular piece plays at the introduction of the game, where the hero, Lester Knight Chaykin, arrives in a Porsche at his workplace in the middle of the night. His workplace is no ordinary workplace as it's a huge particle accelerator so Lester is a pretty smart guy. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and thanks to a freak lightning strike coupled with inadequate shielding, Lester is transported to another world.

And that's when the game starts in earnest.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #104 - The Secret of Monkey Island - Cannibal Village

Original Soundtrack composed by: Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell and Patric Mundy

For our final Choicest VGM track to come from the Secret of Monkey Island soundtrack, we have the music that plays when you're at the Cannibal Village. It turns out that these cannibals are actually very well spoken and educated, which isn't the usual image you'd concoct for a cannibal (Hannibal Lecter being a notable exception of course). Another thing that I really liked is that one of the cannibals, known as Lemonhead, reappears later on in the Curse of Monkey Island, bringing some continuity to the series. You'll be tapping your toes to the tribal rhythms on this track - well at least I was :)!

Next in Choicest VGM, we start to explore more tracks from games released in 1991! So stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #103 - The Secret of Monkey Island - Monkey Island

Original Soundtrack composed by: Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell and Patric Mundy

The track that plays when you actually make it to Monkey Island! It's an appropriately, tribal, mysterious and foreboding tune as Monkey Island is a dangerous place - well, not so dangerous that you die although there is a humourous part where you fall off a cliff and treated with a typical Sierra "death text box" with Restore, Restart and Quit as your only options. Thankfully, you are saved by a rubber tree proving once again you can't die in a Lucasarts adventure game - at least not in this game... except maybe if you hold your breath for more than 10 minutes...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

HTML5 Game Development for Dummies by Andy Harris

So I was bored one day and decided to pick up this book from the book store. Yes it's a "Dummies" book and technically I could probably start half-way through this book due to my previous experience with HTML and CSS - but to ensure that (a) my knowledge is still current and (b) to make the most value of this book, I've decided to start from the beginning. Apparently there are example games that you make as you progress through the book so what I intend to do is share with you my progress as I go through this book.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Civilization V: Brave New World Review

It mostly looks the same to vanilla Civ V but there are differences, mostly under the game mechanics hood

  • Developer: Firaxis Games
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Release Date: 9 July 2013
  • Time played: Estimated at 20 hours (347 hours Civilization V total)

It's been a long time since I reviewed Civilization V. Unlike the breakneck pace that some EA titles are released *cough* Battlefield *cough*, Firaxis takes a bit more time and care into their titles. Brave New World was released about three years after vanilla Civ V and the differences are considerable, to the point you'd be excused if you thought they were entirely different games. There are even some major changes over Gods & Kings, Civ V's first expansion pack - and that (re)introduced the major concepts of religion and espionage.

Anyway, I've played approximately 20 hours with Brave New World, mostly multiplayer. I can only make an estimate since the 347 hours that Steam lists me as investing actually counts for all versions of Civ V (i.e. vanilla, Gods & Kings and Brave New World).

Plot (5/5)
It's interesting since in my old scoring system I included Plot as an element to every game review, even if it really wasn't a consideration. For consistency in comparing this review with my Civilization V review I've decided to retain it. Nothing has really changed here in that the Civilization series is a great series when it comes to generation of "war stories". No two games will ever be the same which means plenty of new experiences to last you for awhile. In fact, Brave New World might be considered even better thanks to the revamp of culture and the introduction of Great Artists, Great Writers and Great Musicians.

Gameplay (5/5)
I'm happy to say that the gameplay has improved quite considerably over the original version and even Gods & Kings. Especially if you're not the sort to automatically go for a domination victory every time.

The expansion has definitely made it more enjoyable to go for a cultural or diplomatic victory. In fact, the expansion discourages warmongering as the AI will take note of your aggressive nature and conquering city states means less lucrative trade partners. Oh and did I just mention trade? Trade routes have made a return to Civ V and just like Civ II, you can build caravans that contribute production to other cities (not as overpowered as the ones in Civ II though where you can stockpile them to rush wonders).

There's even more "situational" civs as well, i.e. civs that are quite potent in certain situations but have weaknesses too, as opposed to normal civ traits where they get subtle bonuses. For example, Venice acquire cities through Merchants of Venice and can't build settlers! This must be my first Civ game ever where I've never had that ability!

Culture has been the major revamp. Now culture points are used as "defense" and tourism is used as "offense". Become influential over other Civs and you win a Cultural Victory

Sound (5/5)
No complaints about the sound. As mentioned in my original Civ V review, it's great to see some authenticity when you hear the Civ leaders speaking in their native language, even if it's only a few sound bites.

Music (4/5)
Not much has changed with the music. There are little excerpts of music played whenever a great musician writes a Great Work of Music, however all the pieces of music I've created don't seem to be very popular as I haven't recognised them. That or I'm a total n00b when it comes to recognising classical music. I haven't come across any modern pop music such as the Beatles or Elvis (relatively speaking of course). Maybe they couldn't afford the licensing fees?

Graphics (4/5)
I don't seem to be plagued with as many video and graphics issues as I had with vanilla Civ V. Either most of the issues have been fixed with patches, graphics driver updates, a better graphics card or all of the above. Combat animations are still buggy at times and occasionally your cursor might stick on the loading icon when in reality you are able to interact with the screen.

Replay (4/5)
At the current rate, I could see myself playing Brave New World several times throughout the year. It's currently my most popular multiplayer game and I have quite a few friends playing it at the moment (and enjoying it too).

Polish (4/5)
Thankfully many of the bugs have been fixed and basic features that were missing in the original release now exist. For example, the intro cutscene can finally be skipped now and combat animations in multiplayer are now possible. You still get the occasional CTDs and disconnects in multiplayer though.

Score – 9/10

Brave New World is definitely a contender for best game expansion of 2013. The expansion reinvents how culture works in Civilization V and offers more interesting gameplay when it comes to trading and diplomacy. The only real criticism you could make is that they should've had these in the game in the first place! But that's just the way it is with Civ expansions isn't it? :)

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Civilization V: Brave New World website]

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Novelist Review

The whole game is confined to this one house where you'll pick up clues and read the thoughts of the Kaplan family

  • Developer: Orthogonal Games
  • Publisher: Orthogonal Games
  • Release Date: 11 December 2013
  • Time played: 2 hours

I got this one from my bro (thanks bro) as I happened to have it on my Steam wishlist since it sounded like an interesting narrative-driven indie game. I also liked the fact the ad blurb mentioned the word "choice" a couple of times too. Yeah. Anyway, after 2 hours I managed to finish The Novelist and here is its review!

Plot (5/5)
It's never clear what exactly you are in this game but perhaps the best way to describe it is that you're a benevolent (or not so benevolent I guess, depending on your choices) spirit. The Kaplan family, Dan, Linda and Tommy, move into this haunted house for the summer all with issues they're hoping to resolve. Dan is a novelist (hence the game's name) which hasn't released a best-selling book in a long time, Linda is afraid her marriage is falling apart and wants to get reacquainted with her passion of painting, and little Tommy is having trouble learning at school and obviously craves attention from his parents. It's basically a story about life, how there's so little time to do the things you want to do and in the end there are going to be winners and losers.

I really enjoyed it and it caused me to reflect upon my own life as a husband and father, and how what may seem like wastes of time to you, taken from a selfish view point, can mean the world to others. Obviously, that's in an ideal world since sometimes no matter how hard you try, you never get noticed for your efforts! Anyway, as you can see the plot resonates with me somewhat, so I may be a bit biased. :)

Gameplay (2/5)
Like several other games I've reviewed recently such as Thirty Flights of Loving, Dear Esther and Gone Home, the Novelist could almost be classified as a "non-game". The best way to describe it is that it's a visual-novel with some stealth action elements. Ultimately, all you're doing is choosing who in the family requires the most attention to their needs and the story changes as a result. However, in order to get to that point you'll spend some time sneaking around the house in your spirit form gathering clues. The Kaplans are able to see you in the open and if they do, you won't be able to pick a "compromise" for that character (i.e. a consolation prize when it comes to giving attention to that character's needs). So to remain unseen, you hide in lights. You can also cause the lights to flicker if you want to distract the Kaplans from a clue you wish to read. If that's not enough, you're also able to enter the memories of the characters to gain additional clues. Once you've discovered all the clues you can make a choice for that chapter on whose needs will be met.

Sneaking around provides a slight challenge but it seems rather out of place for the kind of game it is - like it was tacked on for the sake of keeping the player awake (a bit like how some games add QTEs during cutscenes). Thankfully, there is an option to turn off the need to sneak about (Story Mode I believe) if you don't like it. Addition of a stealth component is probably not entirely surprising though considering Kent Hudson was involved in making games like Deus Ex: Invisible War.

At the end of each chapter, you will be shown scenes like this one that show the impact of the choices you made for the Kaplan family

Sound (4/5)
Sound effects are minimal and the game mainly consists of voice acting besides the sounds of the Kaplan family moving about the house, which are important audio cues when you are sneaking around.

Music (3/5)
Minimal soundtrack. What's there is good but there probably could've been a more diverse selection of music, especially considering how creepy it sounds at times.

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics are okay and consist of cel-shaded characters for the Kaplan family and the house. No issues with framerate drops or any major glitches.

Replay (3/5)
Since this game seemingly offers multiple outcomes like a visual novel (I haven't tested it but I'm pretty sure that's the whole point to this) I'm actually slightly tempted to replay the game to see if my choices could potentially cause tragic results or even better ones (obviously "better" is subjective in this context). I think the ending I achieved struck some sort of compromise.

Polish (5/5)
I didn’t notice any serious bugs while playing which is refreshing to see nowadays.

Score – 7/10

A great plot that any father and husband can relate to - it's good to see a game that explores mundane but real-life problems. This can be its Achilles Heel though since it might hit a bit close to home. It's definitely not a game for those who value escapism in their gaming or for those seeking some action.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official The Novelist website ]


Friday, January 3, 2014

Gone Home Review

You spend all of Gone Home searching the abandoned house for clues, like this one.

  • Developer: The Fullbright Company
  • Publisher: The Fullbright Company
  • Release Date: 16 August 2013
  • Time played: 1.8 hours

Once again I have been attracted to try another "non-game" due to it being critically-acclaimed. I've done it before with Dear Esther and Thirty Flights of Loving, and now again with Gone Home. I'm not quite sure why I decided to get it. Maybe I was hoping that if I kept playing these non-games one day I will get it, one day I will understand what was so good about them. I'm happy to say that Gone Home is slightly better than previous non-games I've played, but only slightly.

Plot (4/5)
The game is set in 1995 and you play a young woman who has returned back to the U.S. from a long trip around Europe only to find that neither your parents or your sister are at home, with a cryptic message on the front door. I can't really reveal more about the plot since that's actually part of the whole game suffice to say I believe this is probably the game's strongest selling point especially since it addresses issues relevant in today's media.

The story is well told through a combination of the various snippets of information you gather around the house and diary entries you receive from your younger sister.

A family portrait. Your parents and younger sister are missing when you arrive home.

Gameplay (1/5)
As this is another "non-game" there is not really much gameplay to speak of besides investigating the house. Admittedly it's probably a slight step up from Dear Esther or Thirty Flights of Loving since at least in this game you can interact with stuff. I also like how it's not as cryptic or pretentious as Dear Esther and how you can piece the story together from the clues you gather before it reveals it all through a diary entry - like a good mystery novel. Sadly, there's still not much gameplay to speak of and hence the low score.

Sound (4/5)
Voice acting is great and believable. The acoustics of the storm outside also happens to change depending on which room you enter helping with the immersion.

Music (4/5)
The soundtrack is minimal except when you hear the various demo tapes scattered around the house. The music is of the “riot grrl” genre (which admittedly I never knew existed before playing this game) which is apparently an underground feminist punk rock movement that started in the early 90s. The music is a perfect fit for the game's setting and… well I can't say anymore until you experience the game .

Graphics (4/5)
Like Dear Esther, a lot of effort has been made with the graphics, however where Dear Esther placed the focus on creating a beautiful yet foreboding island in the Hebrides, Gone Home places the focus on the little details such as books, magazines, canned food even scraps of paper lying around the empty house.

Replay (2/5)
Played the game once and it was mildly entertaining, however there isn't much motivation to play the game again.

Polish (5/5)
I didn't notice any serious bugs while playing which is refreshing to see nowadays.

Score – 6/10

Probably the best "non-game" I've played yet with a comprehensible plot, fitting music and decent graphics. Just make sure you don't go in expecting any puzzles as this is another of those games where discovering the narrative is the sole focus.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam.

If you like this game, you might like...


Thursday, January 2, 2014

10 Most Anticipated PC Games of 2014 - #1 Elite Dangerous

ZOMG! Spaceship Power loadout = nerdgasm

This might be a controversial choice for some as not everyone is perhaps old enough to remember the Elite games and also because it originated from the UK (so it might be lost on American and Australian audiences). However, the Elite series, to which presumably Elite Dangerous belongs to, has a most distinguished history. The first game, Elite, was developed by Ian Bell and David Braben and came out in 1984 running on BBC Micros (and Acorn Electrons)! The graphics were primitive wireframe models but they were actually pretty damn good for their day. Couple that with the amount of freedom afforded to the player in exploring the galaxy (a procedurally generated one at that) and you've got a revolutionary game right there.

The sequel by David Braben was released in 1993 and was called Frontier: Elite II. This was the game that introduced me to the Elite franchise and it's basically a bigger and better Elite. The game had better graphics, a realistic physics engine (you can use the gravity of planets for a slingshot effect) and the ability to land on planets. When I originally played the game I was surprised at the amount of detail and realism. It was almost like Skyrim... except flying a space ship where you feel like you're part of a living and breathing universe.

Anyway, upshot of it is, I'm a big fan of space trading games yet I haven't found one to really sink my teeth into since the days of Freelancer, Frontier: Elite II or the Privateer games. Elite Dangerous promises to include multiplayer capabilities and also the ability for players to have a bigger impact on political entities in the universe. While Chris Roberts's Star Citizen is the game receiving the spotlight at the moment, the fact remains that David Braben (and Ian Bell) created space trading sims years before. Since Star Citizen has pushed back its final release for sometime in 2015, this could be a good game to sink your teeth into in the meantime.

Release Date:
March 2014

[LINK: Official Elite Dangerous website]

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

10 Most Anticipated PC Games of 2014 - #2 Pillars of Eternity (Project Eternity)

WATCH OUT! There's a giant tentacle monster thingy right behind you!

The reason this one's going to be big is because it's a spiritual successor to the Baldur's Gate games. Yes I know that term "spiritual successor" gets thrown around a lot and sometimes a little too liberally in the case of some games. However from what I've seen so far, it seems that Obsidian Entertainment are the real deal. After all, you have guys on the team that have worked on RPG classics such as Fallout, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment while they were part of Black Isle, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Fallout: New Vegas as Obsidian Entertainment.

These guys are expert craftsmen when it comes to RPGs, even though admittedly several of the earlier ones I played were pretty buggy, but the moral dilemmas you face and the strong characterisation that often resonate in their games usually more than make up for it. If you're into old school D&D CRPGs, I think this is definitely one to look out for.

Release Date:
Q4 2014

[LINK: Official Pillars of Eternity website]