Thursday, July 31, 2014

Risk of Rain Soundtrack Review

  • Name: Risk of Rain OST
  • Label: Chris Christodoulou
  • Composer(s): Chris Christodoulou
  • Number of Tracks: 17

Usually when I purchase a game, if the soundtrack edition is only a few dollars more, I'll usually grab it since, as you know, I'm a bit of a VGM aficionado. So if I go out of my way to buy the soundtrack for a game separately, it usually has to be something that's pretty special - Risk of Rain's soundtrack is one of them. Chris Christodoulou (what an awesome name) has delivered a soundtrack that not only fits the theme and mood of the game (i.e. exploring a hostile alien planet alone in all its 8-bit glory) but it manages to be a pretty good album standalone.

There is a mix of genres here including prog rock, metal, drum 'n' bass and industrial, all with a dash of chiptunes. "Wait, did you say prog rock?" you might ask. Yes I did, and that's a genre you don't hear often in a video game soundtrack but it's one I'd like to hear more of. I'm a big fan of works by Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis and believe their kind of sound fits in perfectly with sci-fi games, which Risk of Rain happens to be. There are already many fans of the music that have made comments to Chris about the similarities with Pink Floyd and he says this is no coincidence. He mentions in his album notes:

"...you could say there's a 70s-phychedelic[sic]-progrock vibe going on, a sort of electronic/rock hybrid of sounds. Guitars, basses, keys and good-old drums, mixed with synths, choppers, bit-crushers, vocoders and more drums..."

The closest track I could think of in terms of capturing the Pink Floyd vibe would be "Moisture Deficit" which starts off sounding like backing music to an old Sean Connery James Bond film but has got enough of a blues sound and power chords to be considered a work of Pink Floyd's. I also have a few other favourites on this album including the toe-tapping "Dew Point", the hypnotic "Monsoon", the epic sci-film sound of "Aurora Borealis", and the strangely alluring 11/8 time masterpiece "25.3°N 91.7°E". So you won't need to look hard for some quality music on this album as most tracks lift their own weight, except for maybe "Intermission", but you'd probably expect that with a name like that.

Score - 8/10

Chris Christodoulou has done a fantastic job in not only making a suitable soundtrack for sci-fi roguelike Risk of Rain but an album that's very pleasing to the ear for those who like a bit of chiptunes added to their prog rock. If you're looking for quality indie game soundtracks, this is one of them.

You can grab this album off Chris Christodoulou's bandcamp page for €4.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Where are they now? - Ken Williams


Ken Williams - Founder of Sierra On-Line

For today's "Where are they now?" I've decided to feature one of Al Lowe's colleagues at Sierra (considering Al Lowe featured last week). Today's individual is not just any colleague though, he happens to be the founder of one of my favourite game development studios, Sierra On-Line. I'm of course talking about Ken Williams who was Chairman and CEO of Sierra On-Line until 1996 when it was finally bought out by CUC International (and became an entirely different kind of Sierra with his departure). So where did Ken originally hail from anyway?

Ken Williams was born in Evansville, Indiana back in 1954. His father, a T.V. repairman, eventually moved to California and Ken ended up growing up in Pomona, California. Ken attended Pomona's campus of California Polytechnic and majored in Physics. He also met his future wife there, Roberta (Heuer) Williams, at the age of 16. They married just before his 18th birthday and eventually had two sons: D.J born in 1973 and Chris in 1979.

Since Roberta became a parent during college, Ken wanted to find a new job fast. He attended a 9 month programming trade school called Control Data Institute in Los Angeles and graduated top of his class. After graduation, Ken had several programming jobs after that but the turning point in his career was when he first purchased an Apple II. Ken originally wanted to write a Fortran compiler with some help from some part-time programmers but Roberta had other plans. She recently played a game called Adventure (aka Colossal Cave Adventure) by William Crowther and Don Woods and thought it would be a neat idea if you could make a similar game but with graphics - this game would be later known as Mystery House (1980), one of the first adventure games ever to include graphics. On-Line Systems was founded that same year and would be renamed Sierra On-Line in 1982.

Blue leaflet that was bundled with Mystery House

Ken would work on several games in different capacities for the many years he was at Sierra. Obviously during his early years with the company in the 1980s, he was still doing a lot of the programming on games such as King's Quest II, Space Quest I, The Black Cauldron, Police Quest and Leisure Suit Larry 1. He eventually did a lot of work as an Executive Producer especially during the late 80s and early 90s (when most of my favourite Sierra adventure games were made).

All good things must come to an end though and in 1996 Ken Williams retired when Sierra was sold off to CUC International. Sierra was never the same after Ken's departure but it managed to survive in one form or another until 2008 when Sierra as a brand name ceased to exist. Ownership of Sierra's IP is now held by Activision Blizzard.

Ken has been retired for well over a decade now and has spent a lot of his time sailing around the world with Roberta in their own yacht. He's written about their exploits via his blog and also in a couple of books. In 2003, he started the SierraGamers website which has a vast collection of information about the company including photos, Sierra alumni profiles and a forum. He also now runs a business called TalkSpot which develops custom websites.

In terms of game development though, has Ken been up to much and will he ever come out of retirement to do more games? It's hard to tell since information about him and his game designer wife, Roberta, is hard to come by - even on Ken's own SierraGamers site (since it doesn't look like he's updated or posted to it in a few years).

Chris, Roberta and Ken Williams

In 2011, Ken and Roberta helped their son Chris (who was a lead engineer at KingX Studios at the time) out in asking the SierraGamers community if anyone wanted to test a new Facebook game called Odd Manor. Since then, Ken has also been a Kickstarter backer and vocal supporter for games in development by Sierra alumni such as SpaceVenture, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption and Precinct (which was unfortunately cancelled).

With respect to their opinions on future game development, while they were pretty dismissive of the idea earlier on in retirement, I did come across these couple of paragraphs on Ken's bio page at SierraGamers:

[Roberta] says she will consider coming back to the industry when adventure games start selling again.

I'm less optimistic. I do believe there's room for an adventure game to succeed, but only if it does something new.

If you ask me, there's a huge revival in adventure games at the moment, at least with respect to the indie scene, not to mention the Kickstarter projects by Sierra alumni. The only problem though is if Ken still believes that "the old style games are best left in the past" since that's pretty much what's been going on. How good would it be to see Ken and Roberta team up again to make a computer game though? In fact I'm pretty sure if they started a Kickstarter project they'd be even more successful than their peers thanks to the popularity of the King's Quest series. We can always hope.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

DuckTales: Remastered Review


Ain't that the truth

  • Developer: WayForward
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Release Date: 13 August 2013
  • Time played: 4 hours

I was a kid when the original DuckTales cartoon was on T.V. and it was one of my favourite shows growing up (along with other classics like Talespin, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers) especially considering it has one of the catchiest theme songs on the face of the planet. This video below sums it up best:



So when I heard about this game called DuckTales: Remastered I just had to investigate a little bit more to see what game it was actually remastering. I must confess that before learning about DuckTakes: Remastered I'd never heard of the original NES game but it was apparently pretty popular. Since I was already a fan of the T.V. show and the original was a huge success, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to be acquainted with the original game but in a 21st century veneer. Yes, I know it's probably not as difficult as the original (remakes never usually are) but that doesn't bother me too much since I'm no masochist (well, most of the time).

Plot (4/5)
The game's plot is similar to a DuckTales cartoon episode. Scrooge McDuck, his nephews, Launchpad and various other characters from the series (which make cameos), go on adventures around the world grabbing ridiculous amounts of loot and treasure in order to make Scrooge the richest duck on the planet. The plot is obviously targeted for kids so they're not going to win any awards for scriptwriting but they stay pretty true to something you'd expect from the original T.V. series and I even laughed at a couple of quips made, since they're the kind of things you'd expect their characters to say.

Gameplay (3/5)
The game is a basic platformer. You can jump around the map as you'd expect but you can also use Scrooge's cane as a pogo stick in order to jump higher and to dispatch enemies. The aim of each level is to collect as many gems as you can while avoiding obstacles and defeating enemies. Eventually you'll come across the final boss and defeating it will reward you with a treasure. Yes, it's pretty simple game mechanics but it works a treat. Some parts of the game may be a bit difficult requiring several playthroughs but it's usually quite logical what you have to do and it's never too difficult to induce monitor-throwing rage.

Ah the accident-prone Launchpad

Sound (5/5)
Apparently they managed to get some of the original voice actors to return for DuckTales: Remastered and you can tell. It's almost as if you're back in the 80s watching the T.V. series again. Almost.

Music (5/5)
Music in the game is composed by Jake Kaufman who is the administrator for Video Game Remix site "VGMix" and has also composed music for several indie games. Kaufman has done a fantastic job in subtly remixing the old tracks just enough to make them new and fresh, but not too much, so that they still retains some of their oldschool charm.

Graphics (4/5)
The game still has a similar look and feel to the original game except it's obviously now at a higher resolution with more colours, so it's looking cleaner and crisper. While nothing fancy has been done I like the art style and just like the music, it's more of a subtle or incremental change rather than a complete overhaul.

Replay (2/5)
DuckTales: Remastered took me just over 4 hours to complete, so it's not a very long game - and that's after it took me a few tries to get past the difficult bits. There isn't much incentive to replay the game except for completing a few more Steam achievements or earning enough loot to unlock more of the in-game art and music.

Polish (4/5)
The game is rather well polished except for the fact that quitting midway through a level means you have to start the whole level again! I know this is probably how it was done in the old days but it becomes frustrating at parts where you need to do something else and you don't want to pause the game. That's 45 minutes - to an hour's work down the drain!


Score – 8/10

While I never played the original DuckTales I have watched the T.V. series and I'd recommend this game to any fan of the T.V. show. Sure the game is short and it's still aimed at kids but there's no denying how much love the developers have put into this little gem.

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

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

[ LINK: Official DuckTales Remastered website]

Monday, July 28, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #141 - The Ur-Quan Masters - Melnorme - Turning Purple




Composed by: Eric Berge
Remixed by: Riku Nuottajarvi

This is a remix of the music which plays whenever you meet the information and technology merchants of the galaxy known as the Melnorme. Apparently colour is very important to them and whenever they're conducting trade they like to turn the colour of their ship's interior to purple, hence the name of this remix. I love it how the remix manages to sound like a backing track for an 80s informercial and even includes the sound of cash registers around 1:43, which is totally appropriate considering their reputation.

Special thanks to The Precursors for remixing the classic Star Control II tracks and making them available for download.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Risk of Rain Review


Well Choona, you're up. I'll be right behind you...

  • Developer: Hopoo Games
  • Publisher: Chucklefish Games
  • Release Date: 9 November 2013
  • Time played: 4 hours

As mentioned in an earlier blog post of mine, Risk of Rain happens to be one of the games I grabbed during the last Steam sale - at a very cheap price. I actually purchased a 4-pack and gave the extra copies to friends which is just as well since it allowed me to test the game's multiplayer :). I was attracted to the game since it was apparently developed using Game Maker, one of the popular game development tools available out there. Yes, this isn't the first time I've purchased and reviewed a game because it was developed using game development software; Gunpoint was the first to take that honour on this blog but Risk of Rain is probably the first one with multiplayer capabilities.

Besides wanting to play the game to see more examples of what Game Maker is capable of, I was also attracted to the game since it offers co-op play in a sci-fi setting and I haven't come across many games yet that has done it right.


Plot (4/5)
What's actually revealed at the beginning of the game isn't much. What seems to happen is that a spaceship travelling nearby a certain planet is sabotaged by an unknown assailant who teleports onto the craft. The spacecraft starts to break up as it enters the planet's atmosphere but your character manages to survive by escape pod. The game starts right after you've crash landed on the planet's surface. The native lifeforms aren't too happy about your presence though and it's not long before you're attacked.

So as you can see there's not really much of a plot to this game but you are able to collect diary entries that correspond to items or eventually find entries for your monster log which gives you some insight to the native wildlife. I'm assuming you find out the identity of the mysterious assailant from the beginning of the game once you complete Risk of Rain - but since the game is so damn hard, I've never got that far... yet.

Gameplay (3/5)
As mentioned, you play the role of a spaceship crash survivor in Risk of Rain. The first time you play, you only have one class unlocked called the Commando who is able to nimbly dodge his enemies and is very competent with guns. The aim for each level is to find a teleporter that will take you to the next level until you get to the final level (I assume, since as mentioned, I've never actually managed to get there!). Once you reach and activate the teleporter, an enemy boss spawns along with a countdown timer that indicates when extra enemies will stop spawning around you. Once the countdown timer stops your aim is to kill all remaining enemies on the level before proceeding. The longer you play the game, the harder it gets but the only way to level up your character is to kill monsters, and the only way to upgrade your character is to find money in order to purchase them. Consequently, there's a bit of a balancing act between getting to the teleporter as soon as possible and making sure your character is prepared for the enemies on the next level.

Overall I find the game to be fun especially if you're able to grab a few mates to play with you in co-op mode. I haven't had this much fun in a co-op action game since the old Diablo 2 days. Well, that's not entirely true, but good co-op games are hard to come by and this is one of the good ones, if not one of the most challenging since when one of your mates dies, he/she's dead for the entire level and when he/she respawns on the next level, he/she's at the same level he/she died with. And that's the only real criticism I have about the gameplay, the fact it's a roguelike. If you like roguelikes, if you like challenging games with procedurally generated levels, you'll love Risk of Rain. Otherwise, it can sometimes feel like a waste of time to the rest of us peons :).

Sound (3/5)
The game contains basic sound effects but they suit the game.

Music (5/5)
Risk of Rain has a really good soundtrack that contains soaring sci-fi synths reminding me of oldschool sci-fi movies of the 80s and 90s, and recent game soundtracks such as the Mass Effect series. At the same time it manages to sound like a game from the golden era of platformers too which definitely generates pangs of nostalgia. In fact, I'm quite tempted to pay the $6 to purchase it off Chris Christodolou's bandcamp page.



Graphics (3/5)
The game contains basic, low-res, retro-style graphics and it looks like old platformers from yesteryear. While that in itself isn't bad the fact your character is quite small means that if you're in a large firefight with lots of enemies and allies rolling around (who look almost identical to you) it can get confusing as to what's actually going on and where you're at.

Replay (4/5)
Since each level is procedurally generated you're bound to be able to get a lot of replay value here, provided you're a masochist and willing to punish yourself with the difficulty over and over again! Similar to FTL, getting further through the game and earning certain achievements will result in you unlocking new characters with different strengths and weaknesses that you can choose next time you play. There's also some incentive to fill things up like your monster log and there's always Steam achievements to hunt for too.

Polish (2/5)
There were a couple of things that annoyed me about this game. Firstly while I haven't encountered many bugs at all, I did encounter one quite early on that was a showstopper which I mentioned in my First Impressions post for this game. Basically it has something to do with the version of Game Maker used to make Risk of Rain (version 8 I believe?) and the fact it potentially bundles the wrong version of the Visual C++ runtime with the game causing all audio to stop working in your game. Thankfully, installing the correct version from Microsoft's website (in my case, the one for 64-bit Windows) fixes the issue but it's not an issue that's very easy to solve if you're a newbie with PCs.

The second thing that annoys me (and again not a very newbie-friendly issue) is the fact that online co-op play requires you to modify your modem's firewall settings in order to open the right ports to play the game. It's not the most elegant of solutions and it would've been nice to have integrated multiplayer with Steamworks, but you can't have everything I suppose. Fortunately, there's a middle-ground if you're willing to install a virtual LAN over the Internet solution such as Hamachi.

Score – 7/10

Risk of Rain is like FTL's younger platformer cousin with the added bonus of multiplayer. Like FTL, this game is difficult and it will take multiple playthroughs before you make any headway. Also like FTL, the journey can be heaps of fun especially if you manage to get some of your friends along for the ride. It's not the most polished of games out there but if you're willing to be patient with its shortcomings Risk of Rain is a game well worth checking out.

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

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

[ LINK: Official Risk of Rain website]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Consortium Review


This is your boss. Try not to get on her bad side...

  • Developer: Interdimensional Games
  • Publisher: Interdimensional Games
  • Release Date: 9 January 2014
  • Time played: 4.5 hours

I must confess that the only reason I stumbled upon Consortium is that one of my favourite game composers of all time happened to work on its soundtrack. That composer is none other than the John Williams of game music: Jeremy Soule. In fact, there's even an achievement in the game named after him, check it out:


So after hearing Soule was involved I checked the game out and it claims to be an RPG where you get to make a lot of choices that affect the story. I love RPGs like that and I was imagining an indie version of Mass Effect or Deus Ex - or an FPS version of a Telltale adventure like The Wolf Among Us. So is Consortium really as good as any of these titles I've mentioned? Lets see shall we?

Plot (5/5)
Consortium is set today, right now, at this very second, with you as the protagonist, yes you. Not some wizard in a fantasy kingdom, or some space marine fighting on an alien world. You are the protagonist. At least that's what the developer wants you to think. Basically, the developer, Interdimensional Games, is not just any game developer but they've created a satellite of some sort that opens a portal into the near future - just enough so you can implant your consciousness into any person you wish in the future. From there, you're able to control the person as if you've possessed them (creepy, I know). So it's a bit like James Cameron's Avatar except you're time travelling as well as mind-controlling the natives. In the game's future, the world is more-or-less at peace and has almost become a utopia of sorts. The Consortium, which the person you've possessed works for, seems to be some future peacekeeping force that fly around in large aircraft/spacecraft which also double as Forward Operating Bases. Anyway, you arrive when some strange events start to occur in the world of Consortium and it's up to you to find out what's going on: whether you're co-operative or a complete douchebag about it is your choice.

If you can suspend your disbelief for a second concerning a satellite that can teleport your consciousness into the future, the game has a pretty interesting plot and the fact you're the protagonist means you actually get a choice of whether to role-play (i.e. conceal your true identity) or just be blasé and reveal to everyone that you're a time traveller from the past (you can imagine what kind of reaction you'll receive saying that though). The game has ridiculous amounts of background story and lore (a quick visit to the Consortium Discoveries folder that's included with the game reveals hundreds upon hundreds of pages of lore), so kudos to the developers for putting the time and effort in making the world a believable alternate future. I just wish I spent more time in-game during my first walkthrough reading about it. There's always next time I guess...

Gameplay (3/5)
So is the game like Mass Effect or Deus Ex? Well yes, and no. All of these games are games that incorporate a shooter mechanic in resolving combat (third or first person) and all of them have RPG elements (e.g. conversing with NPCs, conversation choices altering the plot, alternate means of resolving issues, etc.). However the combat in Consortium is nowhere near as good as it is in Mass Effect or Deus Ex. Combat just involves strafing around corners and running up and down corridors while spraying and praying that you hit the enemies. Since all combat in this game takes aboard the plane you're flying on, things can get a wee bit claustrophobic and there'll probably be times where you find yourself stuck which allows your enemies to land a few pot shots before taking you out for good. Like Deus Ex, you are rewarded with respect from some of your peers if you happen to subdue enemies via non-lethal means but it's obviously much more difficult and might involve you converting most of the resources on the plane into energy - energy you use as ammo for your non-lethal weapons.

Also, while I did enjoy some of the conversations you have in the game, and there's quite a bit of it, sometimes the conversation trees were a bit clunky. One time I had to scroll through several pages of conversation choices and since picking a conversation choice is timed, I ended up just hurriedly picking the wrong choice because I thought it would take me too long to scroll back up (and I wasn't even sure if I could do that). The timing of conversations is also annoying, your crew interrupting you in the midst of training drills which you can't stop if you're wanting to work towards achievements. Ignoring them while you're fighting also isn't an option since then they'll just think you're rude. Although some may argue that's the whole point (i.e. you can't please everybody).

Overall I felt the gameplay was somewhat lacking in the combat department and was a bit clunky with respect to conversations. Having an FPS with RPG elements though is fine by me though. In fact, it actually feels more like an FPS with visual novel elements due to the considerable amount of talking you'll do and the number of multiple endings and branches in narrative that are available.

Sound (3/5)
There's a mixture of good and bad voice acting in this game, sometimes occurring with the one character. For example, the pilot who I'm assuming is meant to have an Australian accent, sounds ocker enough most of the time, but there are certain words that seem to be off.

Music (4/5)
As mentioned earlier, the reason I heard about this game in the first place was because of Jeremy Soule's involvement. While the music in the game is great as you'd expect from Jeremy Soule, it's by no means his best work not to mention I think the music is too soft by default. Expect to hear the typical epic, orchestral work that Jeremy Soule is famous for.

Graphics (3/5)
The game has an oldschool feel with respect to its graphics, probably because it's using a modified Source engine although it actually looks more cartoony and less realistic than other Source engine games like Half-Life 2. That's all fine by me but what I didn't like were some of the animations and clipping that seemed to occur quite frequently.

Wow. This guy managed to sleep through all the gunfire.

Replay (3/5)
The game is quite short, only taking about 4 hours to complete although as the developers have mentioned, this is the first game in a trilogy not to mention there are apparently quite a few paths you can take in this game which gives it the same kind of replay that visual novels do.

Polish (2/5)
The game is unfortunately pretty buggy, and it's only today I read the game was even buggier when it was released, so I feel really sorry for those who played the game as soon as it came out. I actually managed to encounter a show-stopper bug at one point whilst dispatching an enemy crucial to the plot. Being the diligent RPG player that I am, I quickly looted the enemy's corpse for items. Shortly after I was told by the crew to loot the corpse for an item that would offer a clue - and then nothing happened, the game didn't progress. All this time I had the required item in my inventory but I guess me looting the corpse before the appropriate trigger had caused the game to get stuck at that spot, forever. I had to restart from an earlier save which was annoying since the battle took quite awhile to complete.

The game also has annoying moments where the screen gets garbled or fuzzy. I know they're doing it intentionally for artistic purposes (i.e. you're perceiving the world through a shoddy connection) but it would be nice if they didn't do that while you were looking at your inventory! Thanks to the blurry screen, you're not even able to tell what is in your inventory which means you end up not worrying about what you're carrying or bothering to find out what each item/weapon does. Not very good for an RPG.

Score – 7/10

Interdimensional Games has worked hard in bringing to us an intriguing alternate future courtesy of Consortium, but unfortunately it has been poorly executed resulting in show-stopper bugs, uninspired combat and a clunky user interface. This game isn't as great as some AAA FPS/RPG hybrids out there but it's not a bad effort by an indie development house.

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

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

[ LINK: Official Consortium website]

Friday, July 25, 2014

GOG selling selected adventure games for 90% off


SALE! SALE! SALE!

Good Old Games (GOG.com) is having a big sale on this weekend. Yes I know they tend to have a big sale on every weekend but I thought I'd make special mention to this one because:

  1. I'm lazy and
  2. They're having a sale on adventure games (I can't say point 'n' click adventure games since technically the Telltale ones are sadly no longer that)

So yeah there's some really good offers here, and I'd be in on the action too if I didn't already own half of the things already on sale. Some really neat bargains include:


Also in other news, GOG is now selling games for Linux as well starting with 50 of its games including Blake Stone, Gods Will Be Watching, Sid Meier's Colonization and Sid Meier's Covert Action. There's a mix of new and old so it's worth checking out if you're a Linux gamer, all two of you (I kid, I kid ;) - make that three).

[ LINK: Good Old Games ]

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Walking Dead Season 2 - Episode 4: Amid the Ruins Review


The only time in the season everyone's genuinely happy

  • Developer: Telltale Games
  • Publisher: Telltale Games
  • Release Date: 23 July 2014
  • Time played: 1.5 hours

Episode 4 for The Walking Dead Season 2 was released yesterday and it has to be the most depressing episode I've played this season yet. If this review seems to look similar to the previous reviews that's because it is - but what would you expect considering only really the plot would change between episodes?


Plot (5/5)
This episode follows straight after episode three, In Harm's Way where Clementine and her group are escaping the hardware store through a zombie horde. Those who manage to survive meet at a rendezvous point which is an old Civil War museum. Tensions definitely run high in this episode as the size of the party dwindles dramatically.

As mentioned, this is probably one of the most depressing episodes I've played in Season 2 yet it happens to contain one of the happiest moments too (and that's pretty rare to come across in a series like The Walking Dead). Clementine also becomes a more prominent figure in the group with many decisions being eventually made by her, almost without question. Some of these decisions result in disaster although usually the alternative isn't too attractive either, but that's The Walking Dead for you in a nutshell: you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

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)
The graphics are similar to The Walking Dead Season One (as you'd expect) and are the best I've seen in a Telltale game yet adopting a thick edges, comic-book style (a similar style is adopted in The Wolf Among Us). The only thing that annoyed me was the fact the framerate tended to jump all over the place at times.

Clementine learns some valuable lessons on survival in this episode

Replay (3/5)
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 episode (and indeed, the whole game once it is released). Also like Season One, achievements are still very easy to acquire (i.e. proceed to a certain point in the story) and there's not enough variety to encourage multiple playthroughs. This episode is short just like Episode 3 but somehow it didn't feel as short, so I'm not going to penalise it for its short duration.

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 – 8/10

Amid the Ruins is the most depressing Season 2 episode I've played yet. Your survivors will start dropping off like flies and you'll have to make some difficult decisions in this episode, potentially making you unpopular or even condemning someone to death. There is a brief glimmer of hope during the episode too though so it's a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride.

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 website ]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Where are they now? - Al Lowe


Al Lowe - creator of Leisure Suit Larry

For today's Where are they now? post I would like to take some time to talk about one of Sierra On-Line's most famous game designers: Al Lowe. If it weren't for Al Lowe, perverts across the world wouldn't have the Leisure Suit Larry series, a series that consisted of six games during its original run with Sierra On-Line. So how exactly did Al Lowe (who often calls himself "the world's oldest game designer") end up working for Sierra On-Line and what has happened since his days working there? What's he up to nowadays?

Let's start in the 1980s. Before becoming a programmer, Al Lowe was a public school music teacher for 15 years until in 1982 he discovered his passion for programming. After quickly teaching himself how to program games, Al Lowe released a few for the Apple II including Dragon's Keep, Bop-A-Bet and Troll's Tale - all children's games. Sierra On-Line was impressed with his work and decided to buy his games and hire him; so in 1983 Al Lowe started working at Sierra On-Line as a designer/programmer and would stay at the company for another 16 years.

Lowe's first projects at Sierra On-Line included more children's games or at least games licensed by a company associated with children's products: Disney. Al Lowe would develop Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred-Acre Woods (1983), The Black Cauldron (1984) and Donald Duck's Playground (1986) for Disney but he was also involved with Sierra's "Quest" games too. He composed music for King's Quest II (1983) and Space Quest II (1987), and programmed King's Quest III (1985) and Police Quest (1987).

It was in 1987 when the release of the notorious Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (or Leisure Suit Larry 1) made Al Lowe truly famous. Leisure Suit Larry's locations and puzzles were actually based off an earlier Sierra On-Line game called Softporn Adventure which was released back in 1981, before Al Lowe joined the company (interesting bit of trivia: did you know that Sierra On-Line is mentioned in Tom Clancy's novel "The Hunt for Red October"? Apparently Clancy met Softporn Adventure's designer Chuck Benton before and that's how he knew of the company). Lowe mentioned that there weren't any characters in the original game though and he had to rewrite almost all the dialogue, retaining only one line. Leisure Suit Larry involved a couple of other famous Sierra alumni, including Mark Crowe (of Space Quest fame) who co-designed the game and worked on the graphics, as well as Sierra CEO Ken Williams who helped Lowe with the programming. Lowe, already an accomplished jazz musician since the age of 13, would compose the famous Larry Theme officially known as "For Your Thighs Only" (gee, I wonder if Al Lowe is a James Bond fan). Apparently it only took Lowe 20 minutes to create the track and little did he realise that it would become ubiquitous with the Leisure Suit Larry series.

Apparently it only took Lowe 20 minutes to create the [Larry Theme]

Leisure Suit Larry became a huge success paving the way for many sequels over almost a decade. The last Leisure Suit Larry adventure game to be released by Sierra was Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail! in 1996. While not working on the Leisure Suit Larry series, Al Lowe did work on some other Sierra titles including King's Quest IV (1988), Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist (1993) and Torin's Passage (1995).

In 1998, Al Lowe went into retirement and probably devoted more time with his family and his website known as Al Lowe's Humor Site. He still runs this site to this very day along with his daily joke mailing list called "CyberJoke 3000".

It wasn't until 2006, that reports emerged of his involvement with a company known as iBase Entertainment to develop a new game which was called Sam Suede: Undercover Exposure (the rights to the Leisure Suit Larry franchise were at this time owned by Activision). Unfortunately, no publisher was found for the game so in December that same year, the company shutdown. Following this setback, Lowe expressed serious doubts whether he'd ever want to be involved in the gaming industry again. Lowe did direct and produce an iOS game called Al Lowe's Comedy Club (by Binary Mill) in 2010 but it wasn't until 2012 that Al Lowe was once again involved with adventure games and once again involved with the Leisure Suit Larry franchise.

A company called Replay Games managed to secure the rights to the Leisure Suit Larry franchise and wanted to remake the six Leisure Suit Larry games that were originally developed at Sierra. A Kickstarter project managed to raise $655,182 in early 2012 from almost 15,000 backers (one of them being me!) for a remake of the first Leisure Suit Larry titled Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded. Sierra alumni such as Josh Mandel and Leslie Balfour were also involved with the project along with Grammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory and after several months of work, the game was released in June 2013, Al Lowe being the first of the Sierra alumni to release a new game via Kickstarter. Although Al Lowe was originally going to work with Replay Games to develop remakes for the remaining Leisure Suit Larry games, he left Replay Games on 11 December 2013 and returned to retirement. While Replay Games stated the departure was amicable, Al Lowe disputed this claim, saying the parting wasn't on good terms.



So I guess the big question now is whether Al Lowe still has any appetite for developing new games? An interview by gaming YouTube channel Top Hats and Champagne reveals that Al Lowe isn't saying "no" to developing a future game, stating that "the future is unclear" but he doesn't seem to be working on one at the moment. He hopes that Replay Games will get enough profit from the first game in order to develop more Leisure Suit Larry games but since they had a falling out he won't be working with them in the future. He says that as long as they hold the rights, that they'd have to create the new Leisure Suit Larry games without him, although he thinks it unlikely that they would.

LINKS:
[ Al Lowe Humor Site ]
[ Wikipedia: Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards ]
[ Wikipedia: Al Lowe ]
[ Wikipedia: Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded]
[ Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded Kickstarter Page ]

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos Review



If only we lived in a world where "poor" meant not having enough money to buy a snack


  • Developer: Dischan Media
  • Publisher: Dischan Media
  • Release Date: 4 April 2013
  • Time Played: 2 hours

I managed to purchase Dysfunctional Systems last time it was on sale since the game was affordable, promised to have a strong focus on story (visual novels usually do), and had a nice, audacious title to grab my attention - I mean seriously who names a game: "Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos"? Dischan Media does apparently...

Plot (5/5)
Dysfunctional Systems has you playing the role of two people. In the first half of the game you play the role of a 14 year-old student called Winter Harrison. She is apparently being trained to become a mediator which sounds rather boring until you realise the mediators in this game get to travel to parallel universes or worlds or something. At the beginning of the game, she is being trained by a veteran mediator named Cyrus Addington and they both happen to be on a certain world determining what issues the local inhabitants have (if any) and how to go about bringing any order to potential chaos. In the second half of the game you play the role of Winter's roommate, Waverly where you spend most of your time conversing with people who aren't Winter.

While I'm not too big a fan of the story in the second half (it's like a teen schoolgirl drama which incidentally a lot of anime tends to be) the first half of the game is interesting and even suspenseful. I also really like the setting - it seems that humans are able to travel to parallel universes but they're not quite sure what to expect when they get there which reminds me a bit of the frontier spirit in books such as Frederik Pohl's Gateway.

Gameplay (3/5)
I've played visual novels before so I knew what I was getting into when I started playing Dysfunctional Systems. Visual novels usually involve a lot of reading; reading about the protagonist's thoughts and the conversations he or she has with other people. Every so often you're offered a choice of what to say which alters the course of the story. In really good visual novels, they might alter the course of the story quite a bit eventually leading to multiple endings - a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure. The reason they call them visual novels is because they tend to have some character art superimposed over backgrounds corresponding to which location you're at.

Dysfunctional Systems almost fits the bill except it was only after playing for 45 minutes (so about half-way through the game) that I finally came across my first choice; the first time I actually got to do something besides click through pages and pages of text. It seems you get a lot less interaction in this game than your standard visual novel which I'm a bit disappointed with. To offer some constructive criticism, I think what would've been preferable is if they allowed you to say certain things that didn't change the course of the game (i.e. small talk) which might seem disingenuous but it at least means the player gets to do something and feels somewhat involved in the story (many point 'n' click adventure games do this).

It took me 45 minutes to get to this part: my first choice

Sound (5/5)
The game contains no voice acting and has minimal sound effects. No issues with the audio.

Music (4/5)
Music is composed by Kristian "CombatPlayer" Jensen and while the soundtrack is good, nothing really sticks in my head except for the piece that plays during the final moments of the mission; that piece definitely amplifies the emotions. For those of you who like freebies, you'll be pleased to know that purchasing the game also includes the game's soundtrack in digital formats (MP3 and FLAC.

Graphics (3/5)
The artwork in Dysfunctional Systems is of the typical manga ilk that you normally see in visual novels - in other words, the artwork looks pretty damn good (if you're into that sort of thing). Animations seem a bit silly sometimes though, like when your character looks like they're facing away yet they're slowly sliding across the street at the same time.

Replay (2/5)
The game is rather short, only taking me two hours to complete but it does have a branching narrative (as most visual novels do) and the Steam achievements to prove it.

Polish (2/5)
The game doesn't have any serious bugs but there is a pretty dodgy gallery you can visit with provocative photos of what are meant to be the game's protagonists. While normally, I wouldn't have any issue with that the problem here is that the game's protagonists are meant to be 14 year-old girls; one of the drawings even has a caption that reads: "I love little girls: I want a pile of little girls when I come home from work every day... and a trap I guess". Maybe I'm reading too much into it but there's already been a complaint raised on the Steam forums about it. Including these drawings to the gallery seem to be in bad taste and I believe it would definitely help the game's reputation to have them excluded.

Score – 7/10

Dysfunctional Systems doesn't actually offer many choices to the player, even by normal visual novel standards, and the game is terribly short. There's also some questionable material floating around in its "extras" gallery which is a pity because it detracts from what seems to be a truly interesting universe to explore. In fact it's so good that I keenly await the release of the game's second episode provided it will be around the same price of $5.


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

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

[ LINK: Official Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos website ]

Monday, July 21, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #140 - The Ur-Quan Masters - Hyperspace - Light Years Away




Composed by: Riku Nuottajarvi
Remixed by: Jouni Airaksinen

Okay I cheated a bit with this remix. Apparently, this isn't one of the tracks that features in the Ur-Quan Masters as that would be Riku Nuottajarvi's remix of his own work titled "Hyperspace - Across the Galaxy". Nuottajarvi's remix is pretty choice and definitely has a jazzy, lounge feel to it but I reckon Jouni Airaksinen's remix which is included as additional music is a better fit - mainly because it sounds similar to the original yet it manages to make the track sound even more retro by adopting some 80s samples such as synth clapping noises. The original Hyperspace tune is probably one of the most memorable and popular of Star Control 2's tunes since it gets played every time your ship enters hyperspace (funny that!).

Special thanks to The Precursors for remixing the classic Star Control II tracks and making them available for download.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Wolf Among Us Review

I don't see a scowl from you Mr. Baker


  • Developer: Telltale Games
  • Publisher: Telltale Games
  • Release Date: 8 July 2014
  • Time Played: 9 hours

Well here it is: the final review for all five episodes of Telltale's The Wolf Among Us. I'll be looking at how the entire season did overall taking into account the scores from each episode for each category.

Plot (5/5)
The Wolf Among Us is set during the 1980s in New York City. Fairy tale characters (aka "Fables") now live amongst normal humans (called "mundanes") in their own immigrant neighbourhood known as "Fabletown". Some fairy tale characters, who can afford it, use "glamour" in order to disguise their true appearance from mundanes. Those that cannot afford to disguise themselves are sent to "The Farm" in rural New York. You play Bigby Wolf aka The Big Bad Wolf, whose job is sheriff of Fabletown. Consequently it's your job to keep the peace but will you be a by-the-book sheriff or are you a gung-ho, get-results-at-any-cost kind of wolf? The choice is yours to make.

The game has a branching narrative so conversations will be slightly different based on your relationships with other characters or certain clues you notice. At the end of an episode, you're also able to review whether you sit with the majority or not when it comes to pivotal choices in the game (e.g. showing compassion to a character or not). Finishing the game gives you a summary of which characters are still alive and which ones are deceased by the end, along with important decisions you made with respect to each of them.

The game started off well in the first episode offering about 3 hours of gameplay but each episode after that seems to have become shorter and shorter in duration (the first episode of the game is about one third of the entire season's duration). Things definitely started to heat up by the third episode and the fourth mainly served as tie-in episode between the events of the third and final episode. While the final episode only clocks in at 77 minutes, it does end with a bang and it turned out to be my favourite episode of the season.

Gameplay (3/5)
Just like The Walking Dead gameplay may seem minimal by some since it basically consists of very simple puzzles ala the adventure game genre incorporated with visual novel elements (e.g. conversations having an impact on character relationships) thrown in with a bit of Quick Time Events (QTEs) for action sequences. For those valuing gameplay over plot, you have been warned!

Episodes three and four did offer more choice than you were normally offered in the first two episodes by having you choose certain locations to visit first before others, slightly altering the course of the story as a result.

Sound (4/5)
Audio quality and voice acting quality remained the same throughout the season. Voice acting was great but to be expected from veteran voice actors with the only issue I had being the audio volume which was sometimes too loud or too soft.

Music (4/5)
Throughout all episodes the game has a moody 80s-style synth soundtrack which makes sense since this is a neo-noir game set in the 80s after all. Nothing too memorable but top quality stuff all the same. Some of Jared Emerson-Johnson's best work though is to be heard in the final episode where I believe the music really helps to amplify the player's emotions.

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics are on par with The Walking Dead and since this game is also based on a comic book, it has incorporated a similar style. The only issues I had was the occasional framerate jumps and the occasional animation glitch.

Where's the baker and the candle-stick maker?

Replay (3/5)
Just as it was in The Walking Dead, replaying The Wolf Among Us will reveal a slightly different narrative depending on the choices you make. Just as I did with the previous episodes, I tried to continue my stoic and professional approach, i.e. refraining from violence and trying to stick to the rules where I could (although I ended up bending the rules despite my best intentions).

Unlike The Walking Dead, it's slightly more difficult to get all achievements, requiring you to explore different choices I believe in order to unlock all of them (which in turn invites at least one replay).

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 – 8/10

The Wolf Among Us is the shortest Telltale adventure game series I've played so far but it's turned out to be one of my favourites. Its unique setting with downtrodden fairy tale characters living in an 80s New York (courtesy of Bill Willingham's Fables) seems to be a perfect match for an adventure game - or a visual novel with Quick Time Events (which I believe is a more accurate description of Telltale's adventure games from the past couple of years). Is it better than The Walking Dead? I personally think so, but only because I like solving murder mysteries. Both games are good in their own right but while one explores the human condition against a backdrop of zombie apocalypse, the other provides a grittier, seedier epilogue to fairy tale characters we grew up learning about as kids.

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

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

[ LINK: Official The Wolf Among Us website ]

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Goat Simulator Review


It's everyone's favourite mobile game now at the arcades: Flappy Goat!

  • Developer: Coffee Stain Studios
  • Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
  • Release Date: 1 April 2014
  • Time Played: 2 hours

Once again, thanks to generous friends (thanks Choona) I managed to land a free copy of a game namely the infamous Goat Simulator. Apparently the game is developed by Coffee Stain Studios who were behind the popular first-person tower defence games Sanctum and Sanctum 2 so why on Earth would they make a game like Goat Simulator where "you no longer have to fantasize about being a goat, your dreams have finally come true!"? Bleaaats me...

Gameplay (2/5)
In Goat Simulator you play the role of a goat (surprise! surprise!) where it's your job to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting human population and be rewarded points and achievements for it. You're also able to do neat tricks like balancing yourself on two legs and even riding a bicycle. The game is admittedly better than walking simulators in the gameplay department and reminds me of skateboard games or games like Burnout Paradise where the aim of the game is to score points by performing certain tricks. The game doesn't have any ultimate goal so in that regard it shares similarities with sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Sleeping Dogs.

The game is amusing for awhile but it only took me about half an hour or maybe an hour tops before I was bored with the game. Sure it was funny the first time I destroyed a petrol station and it awarded me an achievement titled "Michael Bay!" but how many times can you do it before it stops being funny? How many times must you set people alight with exploding gas bottles before it ultimately become boring? I'm sure the answer varies from person to person, but it didn't take long for me.

Sound (4/5)
There aren't many many sound effects to speak of but the game has pretty good voice acting. I especially like the part when the goat says "Baaaaa!".

Music (3/5)
The game contains some humourous, discordant music that sounds like they hired a drunk Jewish band to perform which surprisingly fits the game's mood. There's nothing terribly good about the soundtrack though.

Graphics (3/5)
The graphics in Goat Simulator are slightly dated looking like a game developed several years ago. There's also the many ridiculous graphical glitches although the developer claims that they're in there intentionally to make the game more hilarious. Brings a whole new meaning to the old Software Engineering joke "it's not a bug guys, it's a feature!"

Replay (2/5)
Goat Simulator is humourous at times and good fun for an hour or two but after that I would say mileage may vary. For me, it only took a couple of hours before I had enough.

Apparently goats can climb ladders - in a freakish way of course

Polish (2/5)
It's easy to get stuck in terrain or have objects in the environment, even people, stick to you (and this is without using your goat's ability to lick objects and carry them along). Animations are primitive and buggy such as your neck growing ridiculously long and going limp when climbing ladders - not to mention the goat just tends to float up the ladder anyway (although how a goat should climb up a ladder is anyone's guess). Again the developers probably did this intentionally since it just looks so ridiculously creepy.

Score – 5/10

The developers admit quite frankly on their website that this isn't a great game and not only that, it was even released on April Fool's Day! Lowering your expectations may help you to appreciate this game more but ultimately it's only good for a few laughs before you get bored with it and never play it again. I confess that the only reason I decided to keep playing it after the first half hour was in order to get Steam Trading Cards to sell off...

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

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

[ LINK: Official Goat Simulator website ]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Quest of Dungeons Review


Oh no! Giant grape jellies! Run for your lives!

  • Developer: David Amador
  • Publisher: David Amador
  • Release Date: 26 March 2014
  • Time Played: 3 hours

Being friends with such generous people I managed to get a free copy of Quest of Dungeons (thanks Mix-Master) which is apparently a roguelike, dungeon crawler with retro graphics. I guess what interested me most about the game is that it's apparently turn-based and I do have a soft spot for turn-based games, maybe because I'm old or maybe because I have a baby daughter to take care of nowadays. Nah it's probably because I'm an old fart.

Plot (5/5)
I honestly don't remember much of the plot since it's a pretty basic one. Some evil guy steals something I think and goes to the lowest level of a dungeon which is where you come in. You adopt the role of one of four heroes and then make your way down the dungeon, fighting your way to ultimately face the main villain.

If there's one good thing about the writing in this game is that it's pretty humourous, I mean the game is a parody of the dungeon crawler genre to some degree... oh I found the description of the game's plot and it looks like the actual description is shorter than mine:

That thing people usually skip: An unspecific evil Dark Lord has stolen all the light, so your mission is to enter his lair and defeat him. That's it, now go get him.

There are also quite a few pop culture references when the monsters taunt you. Besides that though, the main focus of the game is the gameplay.

Gameplay (3/5)
You can choose one of four characters to take with you into the dungeon: A warrior, a wizard, an assassin and a shaman. As you'd expect, each have different strengths and weaknesses. Left-clicking in the game uses your primary attack while right-clicking uses your currently selected skill or spell. You'll learn new skills and spells as you collect books throughout the game. Killing monsters gets you experience points which level you up but it just automatically boosts your stats up for you (you don't get a choice). As you kill monsters you get all sorts of random loot like armour, weapons, health potions, food and gems (no, you can't craft any of the gems, you can only sell them for gold at merchants). The aim of the game is to reach the bottom floor and defeat the final boss.

And that's about it in a nutshell. It's your typical dungeon crawler really although simplified somewhat because you don't have crafting or skill trees. And you know what? I kind of appreciate its simplicity, its purity. This game isn't ashamed to go for the basics of what make a dungeon crawler great which are randomised dungeons and the ability to acquire lots of loot. Also, since the game is turn-based you can take the game at your own pace. Leave the game and make a coffee if you feel like it, or go and take the dog for a walk. The game will still be there when you get back (the game, obviously, saves your progress if you leave the game too).

Sound (3/5)
Basic sound effects but they suit the retro style of the game.

Music (4/5)
Okay, since this is an indie game after all you can't really expect the orchestral overtures you would hear in games such as Diablo III; in fact the music happens to be free music courtesy of Aaron Krogh. However, despite this fact, I'm really digging the music and find the tracks quite catchy. So thank you for the music Mr. Krogh (no I'm not going to start singing ABBA).

Graphics (3/5)
The game has graphics similar to FTL (except for a fantasy setting of course). That means basic, low-res, retro style graphics viewed from a top-down perspective. The game won't be winning any awards for graphics but they're functional.

Once again the game mocks my failure

Replay (3/5)
You should be able to get quite a few playthroughs of this for a couple of reasons: Firstly, each time you start a new game it randomly generates new dungeon layouts, just like the Diablo games. Consequently no two games are ever going to be the same. Secondly, the game is a roguelike and happens to have multiple difficulty levels. So even if you manage to complete the game on easiest difficulty (and I've found that a challenge in itself so far) there's always two more difficulty levels to try.

Polish (5/5)
I encountered no serious game-breaking bugs although I wouldn't expect that to be the case from such a simple game. I also quite enjoyed the fact I could play the game with just the mouse - no need for a keyboard or game controller - which is a refreshing change. Kudos to David Amador for releasing such a well polished game since it's hard to find such things nowadays!

Score – 7/10

Quest of Dungeons is an unpretentious and fun retro dungeon crawler where forays into a dungeon can be completed in under 30 minutes. It obviously doesn't have the bells and whistles when compared to many other games but there is beauty in its simplicity.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam or directly off the game's website

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

[ LINK: Official Quest of Dungeons website ]

Thursday, July 17, 2014

First Impressions - Battlefield 4 Dragon's Teeth DLC


You get to visit balmy Pyongyang in Dragon's Teeth

Battlefield 4's penultimate DLC called Dragon's Teeth has now been released for Premium players. Regular players will be able to purchase the DLC later this month. The DLC brings four new urban, infantry-focused maps set in Asian cities (Bangkok being one of them) and the usual assortment of new weapon unlocks. Two new peculiar gadgets includes the R.A.W.R. (an unmanned vehicle that carries a machine gun and grenade launcher) and a ballistic shield (Counter-Strike anyone?). There's also a new map mode called Chain Link.

I managed to give the new DLC a bit of a whirl yesterday and here's what I think of it so far.

What I like

  • Chain Link mode: I actually like this new chain link mode. Basically it tries to bring what I think is a rudimentary modelling of supply lines to the game as capturing flags that are linked together causes the enemy to lose tickets faster. The more you have linked, the faster the enemy will lose flags.

What I don't like

  • Copy and paste: Some of the maps have buildings that are just about carbon copies of buildings from previous maps (like the shopping mall in Siege of Shanghai) - obviously DICE did a rush job with the DLC, probably because they did spend some time investigating the many bugs the game already had, leaving less time or less staff to work on the DLC - at least that's my theory.
  • Infantry focused maps: Get prepared for sniper city again and again. With hardly any vehicles on some maps, multiple skyscrapers and not much space to move around, this is when Battlefield strays away from its original formula. While I thankfully so far haven't experienced another Dawnbreaker (i.e. jets in an urban setting? WTF?) I did experience a map that had nothing more than quad bikes and jet skis.
  • R.A.W.R.: There's now an unmanned vehicle, similar to the EOD bot called the R.A.W.R. but unlike the EOD bot it comes equipped with a machine gun and grenade launcher. WTF? Why on Earth would you add something like this? Sure I know such things are development in real-life and Battlefield wants to be in on the action but sometimes less is more - unless they added a portable sniper-locking Tomahawk missile - I'd put my hand up for that!
  • Bugs: I know nobody likes a whinger but there are still bugs in this game that they haven't got around to fixing, like how the killcam screen only works half of the time. It would be nice if they focused on fixing the game before releasing these new DLC packs but I guess the ship has already set sail with respect to giving Premium members their much needed content on schedule. So we may just have to put up with the bugs forever.

Verdict

It feels like DICE did a rush job with this DLC, copy and pasting structures from previous urban maps to save on time and not introducing anything substantial in terms of gameplay. I really miss the large, open maps from older Battlefield games so lets hope that the final DLC will have more maps like Highway Tampa (even Golmud Railway) and less of the urban sniperfests.

[ LINK: Official Battlefield 4 Dragon's Teeth website ]

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Where are they now? - Chuck Bueche


Chuck Bueche

Back in 1987, Origin Systems released a post-apocalyptic sci-fi RPG called 2400 A.D. The game incorporated similar gameplay mechanics to the earlier Ultima games and you played the role of an underground resistance member trying to overthrow your robotic masters. It was probably one of the oldest RPGs I played as a kid and it's all thanks to Chuck Bueche, a former Origin Systems employee. As you can probably guess, Chuck happens to be the focus of today's Where are they now? post.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Chuck was a high school friend and uni roommate of the most famous of Origin's employees, Richard "Lord British" Garriott. Richard apparently introduced Chuck to computers and shortly after, Chuck formed his own company called Craniac Entertainment in 1981 (that exists to this very day).

In 1983, Chuck co-founded Origin Systems along with Richard Garriott, Robert Garriott and Owen Garriott, which was the same year that Ultima III would be released. Chuck ported the Commodore 64 version of Ultima III and would also provide additional programming for Ultima IV which was released two years later. Chuck also featured as one of the characters in the Ultima games as Lord British's court jester known simply as "Chuckles".

Another two years after that, 2400 A.D. was released and while Chuck was working on a sequel with the imaginative title of 2500 A.D., this was sadly cancelled in 1988 due to poor sales. It was also that year in which Chuck left Origin Systems and returned to the University of Texas in Austin to finish his electrical engineering degree. In 1990, he graduated and since that time has been holding various senior technology and management positions. While he's done a lot of coding in the background, some even to do with games sadly he hasn't developed any PC games outright since the early 90s (at least none to his name anyway). Apparently he's been working as an Interactive Software Consultant for Walt Disney Imagineering since 2006 - which means if you ever happen to visit the Epcot Center or Disneyland, you might find some interactive games designed by him.

[ LINK: Craniac Entertainment ]

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

First Impressions - The Samaritan Paradox


After playing Goat Simulator, I'm a bit more wary whenever I see a goat in a computer game...

During the most recent GOG sale they held some competitions where you had to identify five games that quickly flashed up on a video. Thankfully for me, I managed to guess one of them and I received $10 credit to use on their catalogue. So once again, GOG has been nice enough to give me free stuff. Thanks again guys :).

I obviously used the credit to purchase the point 'n' click adventure game The Samaritan Paradox. I'm a bit of a fan of retro styled point 'n' click adventures due to my interest in developing them with Adventure Game Studio (AGS) in the past and more recently thanks to some excellent commercial ones by Wadjet Eye Games such as Gemini Rue, The Shivah and Resonance. Let's be clear though, The Samaritan Paradox although looking similar to those games isn't developed by them and is in fact developed by Faravid Interactive. It's also published by Screen 7, the same guys that brought us Heroine's Quest.

What I like

  • Voice acting: Ord's voice actor is pretty convincing and the rest are generally good too.
  • Soundtrack: Although there aren't too many tracks they're pretty good thanks to composer Lannie Neely and some definitely capture the feel of the 80s (which is when the game is set).

What I don't like

  • Graphics: Okay I'm not going to criticise the blocky, pixellated, low-res graphics as many retro point 'n' click adventure games appear that way, what I will criticise is the fact that sometimes the perspective seems to be a bit off - i.e. sometimes you end up looking like a 50 foot giant when you really shouldn't.
  • Unintuitive UI: For starters the quit menu button isn't immediately apparent. There is a red "X" which you'd usually associate with "Cancel" but that's apparently the "Quit Game" button. Also pressing ALT+ENTER doesn't minimise the game if it's already in fullscreen but instead restarts the game! I've lost progress in my game thanks to this surprise.
  • Bugs: The mouse sometimes refuses to work outright when you load a game. While the main website suggests changing rendering modes (i.e. between Direct3D and DirectDraw) and while that did work once or twice for me, eventually it didn't work at all. So now I'm left to play the game in windowed mode as it's the only way I can play the game.
  • Difficulty: I've already needed to use a walkthrough twice in order to get past puzzles. In one puzzle I managed to pick a solution to a book that was foreshadowing the puzzle but it turns out it was a red herring since my solution was in the superset of solutions. The actual solution is related but can be solved in an easier way - i.e. thanks to the earlier hint I overcomplicated things. The second puzzle involved some knowledge of myths, legends and history, while at the same time connecting it to a poem. It was unlikely I would have ever got the second puzzle without some help and the game doesn't offer hints of any kind like modern adventure games. Some might enjoy the fact it's difficult but it's a dangerous tightrope to tread and I think this game (at least so far) leans on the "too difficult" side for me.

Verdict

An entertaining retro point 'n' click adventure with great audio in terms of voice acting and soundtrack, however the game isn't as well polished in other areas and the game is a bit on the difficult side for my tastes.

[ LINK: Official Samaritan Paradox website ]

Monday, July 14, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #139 - The Ur-Quan Masters - Chmmr - Photosynthesis




Composed by: Dan Nicholson
Remixed by: A. Keren

This particular remix is based off the Chmmr track originally composed by Dan Nicholson. It plays when you meet the alien race known as the Chmmr, a hybrid race that has involved the merging of two races that appeared in the first Star Control game together: the crystalline Chenjesu and the robotic Mmrnmhrm. I think it's only appropriate that their theme has a robotic or industrial feel to it as a result :).

Special thanks to The Precursors for remixing the classic Star Control II tracks and making them available for download.