Sunday, August 30, 2015

Screenshot of the Week #50: Welcome to the Matrix!

                It has been a very busy week and things will only get busier from now on. I started this week with Shadowrun: Hong Kong, which then I put aside to play STASIS as I got pre-release press copy and I wanted to write a review as soon as possible. I did manage to achieve my goal so now I’ll go back to playing Shadowrun: Hong Kong until MGS V: The Phantom Pain gets released next week (I’m a little hyped).
I’m getting overwhelmed by so many releases and as a solo writer I’m having a hard time dealing with all the games I want to play and write about. Because of this I have to constantly postpone articles and some reviews don’t even make it even if they are in more than just a concept phase (I have a This War of Mine review half finished for 8-9 months now).
                I won’t go on mentioning details about STASIS since the review is fresh, but I’ll say a few things about Shadowrun: Hong Kong. For those who didn’t play any of the previous Shadowrun games that got released in the recent years, this one is a good place as any to start because it doesn’t tie up with the previous titles. The game follows the same traits as the previous one, using the same combat system and, overall, the same game mechanics. There are few notable changes, the biggest of them being the Matrix which is now a combination of sneaking and puzzles solving with combat being the last resort. Another change is related to the missions, which seem more varied in terms of goals and how they can be accomplished. It feels familiar for those who played Return or Hong Kong, but it does separate itself through a new story and a new set of characters, but it is too early in the game for me to say how good they are. I’ll let you know in my review.
I'm training my sneaking skills!

STASIS Review!

                STASIS was in development for a while before it hit Kickstarter and made more of a name for itself like most of the indie games released in the latest years. The successful crowdfunding campaign which rose over $ 130,000 helped the developers at THE BROTHERHOOD expand the gameplay experience and got Mark Morgan on board for more of his amazing music.

Getting this screen is not a good sign!

                The story starts off in a simple way: John Maracheck wakes up from a stasis pod at the board of an unknown ship and the last thing he remembers is going to drug-induced sleep while traveling through space with his daughter and wife. While walking around in search for medical supplies to help him deal with the traumatic effects of stasis sleep, John discovers he’s at the board of the space station Groomlake, a host for state of the art technology used for medical and scientific research done by Cayne Corporation. But what should have been a highly populated space station is now a deserted area which looks more like a brutal battlefield than a group of research facilities. Blood is splattered everywhere and few of the devices are left intact and everything seems to be on lockdown.
After dealing with the effects of stasis, John is set on finding his family and getting out of this hell hole. As more of the mystery surrounding Groomlake is uncovered the main character has to deal with horrific and inhumane things forcing him to slowly let go some of his principles and beliefs making more room for his preservation instincts (while still remaining quite a nice guy).
                The story might seem a tad cliché and foreseeable as it covers genetic research done with a complete disregard for morals or human lives and which obviously go wrong and put everyone part of the projects in grave danger. Yet, it redeems itself by managing to rapidly arouse my curiosity as it evolves in an interesting way which made me want to find out in detail what happened on this damned ship.
I wonder how I got here!

                As expected from an indie game, the production value isn’t quite there and the developers dealt with the story presentation as they sought fit. Much of the information and background story is delivered through PDA journal entries and computer mails wrote by the people on board of Groomlake. Their stories combine filling up some of the voids and describing interdepartmental relationships and the general situation from an early and peaceful date to the horror moments before the main protagonist wakes up. There is a web of interactions and details that was carefully written for those interested enough to let their imagination do the rest of the work and this caught me the way dialogues in RPGs do.
Reading about low level employees describing their day to day job and lives, wondering about what’s going on in different departments and discussing rumors, while the higher ups were plotting and continuing their secret research made a huge difference for me. I felt that this place was once fully functional and alive and I could put together piece by piece the information I got from people’s entries in order to come up with an explanation for what happened here. There is a point on everyone’s entry when things start to go bad and reading how everyone coped with the situation made this feel so terrifyingly plausible and I felt sorry for some of the characters that suffered such a tragic fate.
Tough society...
Lovely girl!

                The subtlety of information gathered from the stories of the deceased paint quite a picture about this futuristic world unveiling details about Earth, current technology and even gives an insight to our society’s mindset. I found out by reading them that the world was troubled by horrific wars or that the society is quite homophobic and I was not surprised to find out that religion still plays a big role in humanity’s existence. Probably the most notable historic events mentioned in the game are the Eugenics Wars which are something a little different from what one would think when hearing this name and these events tie up with the state of corporation research wars and part of the situation of Groomlake. The philosophy behind these details, even if they are not expanded, it is carefully thought through and makes for a compelling and fascinating interpretation of our future.
The storyline evolves through these short stories and there are enough fascinating texts to keep the player hooked for the whole duration of the game.
This is going to put an end to the DC vs Marvel war!

                STASIS is advertised as a horror adventure video game and while there is much adventurous content in the game there is not so much horror, at least not the kind that will make you turn on the light in your room. The landscape is gory and filled with the remnants of violent fights, but the player is protected by the isometric camera that fades out some of these details. Those searching for game full with jump scare moments might be disappointed as I’ve only encountered a few of such situations that managed to surprise me, but I think this says a lot about the nature of this game and how it was designed. I see it as quite an achievement that a game with an isometric camera managed to wake me up and make me feel the danger. But don’t be fooled, death is an ever present damage and more often than not you will die trying to solve a puzzle or using an item the wrong way. The game does make fun of this, by awarding an achievement for each new way of dying discovered (and there are plenty!).
                Overall, the focus of the game is put more on creating a creepy and twisted environment through its atmosphere which is heavily backed by the mystery, the storytelling, the music and the twisted design of some of the levels you have to pass through. The immersion is there and I got sucked into this video game like I never thought possible and I can only wonder in how much trouble I would have been if this game had 3D graphics and a different camera.
Just sick...

                The classical adventure style gameplay of STASIS feels, to a degree, a little uninspired. There is a reason why this sub-genre is a dying breed and why Telltale’s games are so popular. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind classical adventure games and I don’t mind the fixed camera or the old school point and click mechanic but not everyone shares the same feelings. What I do mind and STASIS has enough to stress me out with is the pixel hunting.
Some of the items required to advance are well hidden and they blend so well into the landscape making them hard to spot. There is always the danger of wasting time on searching something that was in front of you the whole time, at the distance of just a few clicks. On the bright side of things, some of the useable items are marked by a flashing light making things slightly easier.
I miss something!

                Another thing that classical adventures have, which I actually love but it’s probably the main reason why the genre took a 180 degrees turn in the latest years, are puzzles and STASIS is no stranger to this word. Finding items and combining them in the right way in order to trigger a useful reaction is just one of the mechanics involved in dealing with the problems on Groomlake. The variety is wide enough to make things challenging, but the overall mechanics remain the same for most of the puzzles.
One thing that the people at THE BROTHERHOOD did great with the puzzles was keeping the difficulty to a level where everybody can enjoy the game without constantly getting stuck on solving them. Yes, there are a few moments where things get tricky, but in general I think I had a harder time finding the items I needed more than anything else. It helps to read the texts in the game and not only carefully look at the screen for details, but there is logic behind each conundrum and it never goes as far as to enter the abstract territory of puzzle solving. Yet, these puzzles won’t spare you from the exhilarating feeling triggered by beating an intellectual challenge.
                I think the developers found the perfect way to deal with this game mechanic and maybe if more adventure games would have done the same over the years the genre wouldn’t have changed so much.
This is going to be more than just a sting!
Clues can be found everywhere!

                Where I felt that STASIS really bleeds is the graphics. The artistic style is beautiful, if such word can be used when it comes to a huge chunk of metal orbiting Neptune and filled with technological devices, dead bodies and something lingering in the shadows. But the graphics themselves are not serving the game as they should and are put to shame by other 2D games released this year (Pillars of Eternity being one example that comes to mind). They look washed up and pixelated at times taking away from the immersion and atmosphere. The developers did a better job with the animations which make the character movements and actions feel fluid while still blending well in the 2D background.
Not a happy view...
Cinematic experience!

                 As a counterpart to the average graphics, the sound design does its job perfectly. The ambient sound effects are haunting to say the least and resonate with the game’s story. The game also has voice acting, although it’s nothing too fancy compared to what AAA titles deliver and there are very few moments when it is actually used, but it serves its purpose quite well.
The soundtrack is where the quality of the sound shines the most. Composed by Mark Morgan the music is thrilling and immersive, but it does feel a little underused and it’s sometimes covered by the other sound effects. As the game has a barren settings menu with only two options: volume and brightness, the sound volume has to be further adjusted by modifying an .ini file (maybe there will be more settings after release).

A history lesson.
She seems nice!
Another achievement!

                STASIS is at the border between old and new. The transposition of the usual sidescrolling camera to a fixed isometric camera has the same general purpose just with another perspective that serves the narrative in a different way. The point and click mechanic, the pixel hunting and the puzzles are just a number of elements that remind me of adventure games of a different time, when this genre was focused on brainteasers and not a story driven cinematic experience (and by cinematic I don’t mean locked at 30fps!!!). But the game doesn’t go out of its way to address nostalgia. The fully voice acted dialogues and the full motion video cut scenes bring the game to a more up to date standard.
As a horror game it takes inspiration from movies like Alien or Sunshine and applies the theme of being trapped on a space ship with something dangerous on board extremely well. It builds suspense and mystery through storytelling and the use of gore, sound and the fight for survival without having to fight anything.
                Looking backwards and analyzing the elements of this game, it seems STASIS is at a transitional point between the two predominant styles of adventure games (with a little more focus on the retro style) and this might be the key to satisfy both the old school and the newer fans of the genre.
The game has its flaws, but looking at the bigger picture they don't mean much. STASIS is a five years labor of love from two brothers that poured their hearts and souls into this project (which is a little disturbing considering the game's theme) and their debut game is an adventure horror blast. 

(This article is based on a press copy of the game provided by the developer.)

+ A gruesome atmosphere for a 2D isometric game
+ Good sound design and music
+ A well written story
+ Intriguing side stories that tie up together
+ Logical puzzles
+ Good level design
+ 8-9 hours of quality gameplay

- The graphics seem a little washed up
- Some pixel hunting
- The UI bugs at times
- Only two adjustable settings


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Screenshot of the Week #49: A dangerous slide!

                The end of August is coming and the new releases are piling up. Shadowrun: Hong Kong and Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power got released this week and there are more to come.
                I’ve been playing a little The Swindle, which for me is more like battling than actual playing because I’m terrible at it. The Swindle is a combination of stealth and rogue-like which in theory should be right up my alley, but in really is not even close. The player takes control of a burglar (but not always the same burglar because they die instantly), which has 100 days to stop Scotland Yard from activating an AI that has absolute surveillance capabilities (Hmm… Where did I hear about this before?). During these 100 days, which also represent the number of attempts available to beat the game, the player has to steal tones of cash to upgrade the burglar’s tools and stop this madness from happening (I’ll never make it…).
                The Swindle is quite a neat indie game that takes a different approach on the stealth genre by focusing on procedurally generated content instead of having the players repeat a level until they execute it perfectly. I wish I was a natural at this game because it’s quite lovely, but my somewhat limited patience combined with keyboard only controls (it does have full support for controllers) don’t mix well. Still, between my many failed attempts and a few nervous breakdowns I had fun with the game.

                Now that I’m done with the review for Magic Duels, I moved on to a new review which goes side by side with me playing the game for it. If I’m done with the game at the beginning of the next week, the review should be up the following weekend.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Magic Duels Review!

                Success is something every publisher or developer wants in the video games industry and if a game takes the cake it is only natural that more will come and attempt to take a slice.
                The British studio Stainless Games has been working with Wizards of the Coast since 2009 making MTG video games for PC and other platforms. Inspired by Hearthstone’s huge success, Magic: The Gathering goes free to play and adopts a business model that is less controversial than its current buy to play versions.

                First of all, my experience with Stainless MTG games is quite limited. I’ve played them a few times at friends, but never bought them for myself, mostly because I try to stay away from video games that require spending on DLCs several times the amount spent on the main game in order to get the full experience. But a few years back I really got hooked on the physicalMTG and spent a lot of money on dozens of booster packs, after years of watching the game from the distance. I never got in to it competitively because of various reasons, but I’ve appreciated the game’s complexity despite its extreme pay to win nature and I still appreciate it to this day. Maybe because I used to play the physical game or because Hearthstone didn’t really caught me, but I was intrigued as soon as I heard about a free to play Magic: The Gathering video game.
                The first thing that I’ve check was the business model. TCGs and CCGs have a tendency to be pay to win and I wanted to know how imbalanced the cash shop was. To my surprise, Magic Duels follows the same business model as Hearthstone, with daily quests filling one of the three available slots for them. In addition to that, there is a global quest which resets every seven days and requires the effort of the community to complete. So far things are more or less like Hearthstone, but there is a twist, each match won offers a gold reward which varies in value based on the opponent. The AI rewards from 5 to 15 based on its difficulty and matches against players award 20. There are no rewards for team or friendly matches, as these could be easily exploited.  There is a daily cap of 400 gold, which might sound bad but it takes quite some time to reach this limit and for the average players it won’t be a problem.
I'm rich!
The Archetype quests become annoying after a while...

                The gold can be spent on foiling cards or booster packs. One booster costs 150 gold or 1.79 Euros and contain 6 cards out of which two are uncommon and one is rare (with a chance for mythic rare).
Going from a buy to play game that had more than 40 DLCs (...) to such a business model is a huge improvement and I can only praise this initiative of doing things better. Magic Duels is still a pay to win game to some extent, but for this genre is unavoidable and I don’t know any TCG or CCG that doesn’t have this problem.
Not bad!
I'm impressed!

                Magic: The Gathering is probably one of the most (if not the most) complex card game out there and it’s not so intuitive, so it might be problematic for a beginner to quickly get into this game. Explaining the game mechanics in this review will be extremely space consuming, confusing and pointless because Stainless Games took care of this by combining a series of explicit tutorials with five single player mini-campaigns which are rewarding and instructive at the same time.
                Keep in mind that MTG is quite slow paced, because it has multiple phases for each player’s turn and it might be a little difficult to accommodate with this style. To solve this issue, the developers have put at the player’s disposal a series of gameplay settings that can be adjusted based on the preferences and the level of competence of each player. These settings serve as part of the tutorial providing helpful warnings, combat animations and various other small things that help the newer players get into the game easier, but slowing the game’s speed quite a bit. So it is good to adjust them as you feel more confident with your play and the game’s mechanics.

                The campaigns take the players in a small journey through the multiverse presenting a short story of the Planewalkers (magical heroes from the multiverse) that are representative for each mana color in the current set of cards. The campaigns are also designed to teach the players the strengths and weaknesses of all the five mana types.
                There are five missions to each campaign intertwined with short tutorial moments teaching various mechanics related to the cards in the player’s hand. The decks update with each mission won and the difficulty increases exponentially. The campaign battles put the players against uneven odds (the decks the AI has in the campaign are extreme hard counters to the player’s decks) and strategies have to be made around the AI play style which isn’t a great way to learn for later Online Duels. But these battles can be perceived as PvE bosses and do require some effort and a lot of luck (A LOT!) to obtain the victory. Completing the first campaign awards three booster packs and completing the rest of them provide enough gold for an additional booster pack per campaign completed.
Burn baby, burn!
The discarding race campaign.

                By the time the players are done with the tutorials and the single player part of the game, they will have enough cards to put together a decent starting deck either by using the incorporated deck wizard or through custom creation. From here on everyone does what they think is best suited for them. The main focus is to grind gold through AI matches or playing ranked games against other players while simultaneously completing the daily quests in order to buy more booster packs and upgrade the decks. There are a significant number of cards from the Magic Origins card set and more cards will be added later as newer sets come to paper MTG (I’m given to understand that about 80% of the cards from a new set will be released to this game). The game currently has 251 unique cards, which is enough to keep the players busy until autumn when the next block of cards is going to be released and should receive a cards update every three months.
I won't show you my deck!
Plenty of cards!

                I said so many good things so far that it is almost too easy to predict that something bad is about to come. There are no video games without flaws and Magic Duels strongly supports this idea. I’m going to start talking about the problems with the ones that bothered everyone the most and it’s probably the reason why the Steam users’  reviews have a mixed score.
                 The game launched prematurely having servers issues which prevented the players from logging in for quite a while. To make matters worse, there are a series of incompatibilities and glitches that cause all kind of fatal errors, crashes and black screens, preventing the players from fully enjoying the game without hassle. Some of these problems have been fixed, but as I look on the Steam Community page for this title, some problems still persist and this is driving the players away. Stainless Games’ response to these issues wasn’t prompt enough and apparently even to this date they didn’t figure out how to fix all the issues mentioned above, which is quite off-putting.
I was lucky enough to avoid all those issues, but this doesn’t mean I can fully enjoy the game without being disturbed by other various shortcomings.

                The biggest issues I have with Magic Duels come from its lack of cool features and production value. At its core Magic: The Gathering is a trading card game, yet Magic Duels completely ignores the trading component. There is no trading available in the game and while such a feature would be quite hard to implement in a free to play game without creating room for exploits, I would have liked to see Stainless Games finding a way. But seeing that the game has no player interaction implemented other than PvP matches, I doubt trading was ever in their mind when they created Magic Duels and the disappointment continues…
There is no Draft Mode integrated and neither have I seen any mentions about this. Draft Mode should make the competitive play more balanced between players who invest a lot of time or money and those who don’t and it’s something common in paper MTG casual tournaments and speaking about tournaments another thing that Magic Duels lacks is a tournament organizer, a system that could automatically organize tournaments to which the players can sign up for and win some extra gold, achievements and glory. I think such a feature would have been brilliant for this game and would have ramped up the competitive play quite a lot.
                The lack of interesting features can be excused for a free to play game, as they can always be added later, but starting with a low production value is never a good sign. Magic Duels’ visual and artistic design is unappealing. The playing table is dull and looks displeasing and it lacks variety in anything from animations to music (even so, the music is good!). I don’t say the game should quit its serious tone for a quirky theme in Hearthstone’s style, but I would appreciate to see more effort put into the graphical and artistic details, especially since this game requires DirectX 11 (I don't understand why). Yes, the campaign ends with some CGI cinematics, but they are such low quality that Blizzard’s Warcraft 3 campaign cinematics put them to shame and that’s a 13 years old video game.
Wizards of the Coast boast about having 25 millions MTG players worldwide on all their platforms, yet they couldn’t invest a few extra bucks into this game which, in theory, should be their video game platform for years to come.
Being a free to play title means there is still hope for more improvements in the future, but as it is now, the game feels uninspired and rushed.
That production value!!!

                Bugs and annoying mechanics can drive the players into quitting a game and in Magic Duels it takes a strong will to resist some of the frustrating moments that are going to popup, especially in the online play.
                The game mechanic that is pushing everyone to their limits is the concede option, which for the losing players works great as it stops the current match allowing them to move forward to other matches. On the other hand, for the winning players it can be hell as they have to continue the match playing against an AI (and oh man the AI can cheat in this game). It’s nothing more frustrating than losing a game that you should win against the AI and spending extra minutes of play time for nothing.
                I’ve taken a serious look over the game’s forums and there were all kind of weird bugs that I didn’t experience. Some of the most annoying are those related to the gold earning. For many players the daily gold cap doesn’t reset or they don’t receive their gold reward from a completed quest, some even lost their acquired cards. In a game where cards are obtained from grinding gold, this can be extremely irritating.
I can go on and on about the issues of Magic Duels, but I think I’ve covered pretty well the challenges that some players might face while trying to play this game.
Seems like an appropriated logo...

                Following the forums and Stainless updates I’ve come to the growing realization that this newly released game is already in danger, not because it is a bad game (by no stretch of the imagination), but because the developers don’t keep a close relationship with the community and this makes fixing the game less efficient. The lack of answers on the official forums is worrying and I’ve seen this behavior before from developers and it never ends well.
It has been almost a month since release and I can’t remember patching Magic Duels more than once and the silence persists. Saying that this is a free to play game and everyone should be patient doesn’t seem too appropriate anymore and the longer the wait for answers the more questions arise. (I wonder if the developers really know what they want to do with this game…)
                The player base has dropped considerably and by looking how slowly things evolve I think is going to continue dropping.  The game launched on multiple platforms which should be a good thing, but there is no support for cross-platform play and there will never be. The progress is separated for each platform and so are the purchases and this is odd, to say the least. Very few players (if any) are going to make purchases from multiple platforms and this kind of greediness takes away from the player’s experience of having a larger pool of players and playing with friends from different platforms or playing on the run on mobile devices. (Talk about bad decisions!)

                It feels a little unjust to the game that half of this review covers its problems and shortcomings. Even without the features I mentioned above and with all the annoying bugs, Magic Duels is still extremely enjoyable and I’ve spent almost 50 hours playing it already. It’s up to the players (and the readers) to decide if these problems are something they can put up with or not. I could overlook most of them and I’m having a blast, but this doesn’t excuse the game’s current shape.
                If I have to give an advice I would say to hold on with investing in this game and play it as it is until the developers actually show that they are putting some serious effort into fixing its problems and answering to the community’s demands. Otherwise, you might as well risk throwing money on the window. But even without paying for booster packs, you can get a lot out of this game by playing it in a free to play style. Playing the campaign can be entertaining and rewarding and by casually completing the daily quests you can get enough gold to buy a few boosters a week. The ranked matches aren’t full of players with overpowered decks (yet) and the PvP is extremely satisfying for those who want something more competitive. Not to mention the cards’ artistic pictures which are a beauty to look at and have been so since MTG’s beginnings.

Full out!
Amazing art style as always!

                Magic Duels is enjoyable because it is a Magic: The Gathering game and I feel like the developers took advantage of this and skipped on the rest. The lack of production value is visible, but not justified, leaving enough room for improvement as the currently the missing features are a huge disappointment. As a free to play title, time will tell if Magic Duels will be just a milking the cow title or is going to evolve in a much better game. But I’m afraid its future is shaky and that’s a shame, because it could be a great online card game that could challenge the leadership position of Hearthstone, yet that can’t be achieved without effort and if I’m to look at Stainless Games track record the optimism that I should have, fades away.
                So far, Magic Duels is more a commercial to the paper Magic and Magic: The Gathering Online than a game of its own. I think it’s time for Wizards of the Coast to decide if they really want to join the present time and have real video games or they just want to tease their fans with (cheap) annual releases that feel more like a cash grab and don’t match the high expectations from a gigantic publisher and an amazing trading card game.

+ The artistic style and game mechanics complexity of Magic: The Gathering
+ Free to play
+ Decent business model for a genre that can’t avoid being pay to win
+ Ranked matches
+ Five different singleplayer campaigns
+ Good tutorials

- Lacks production value
- Lots of technical issues
- Lots of bugs
- No trading system
- Needs more features
- The concede option doesn’t stop the match for both parts
- No cross-platform play


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Screenshot of the Week #48: Overkill!

                The vacation is over and things should get back to normal now (hopefully). It is still hot as hell here and I’m still not in the mood to play many games, but I can’t postpone this forever.
                August started really dry, but it’s going to get crazy by the end of the month. Shadowrun: Hong Kong is coming on August 20, followed up by the Pillars of Eternity expansion on August 25 and finishing with Satellite Reign on August 28 and Stasis on August 31. In theory I should be playing all of them, but they do overlap and my time is limited. There are even more games getting released at the end of the month, Mad Max being one of them, but I can’t make room for all of them (especially with MGS V: The Phantom Pain releasing on September 1st). I’m forced to prioritize and play what I already own and what I was looking forward to play for a long time and postpone the rest for when I have more time (and money).
                Other than melting to the exponentially increasing heat in Romania, I’ve also been playing a little as well (obviously). I’ve occupied my time mostly with online games like Heroes of the Storm, Guild Wars 2 (the expansion is getting closer!) and Magic Duels which is a newly released completely free to play Magic the Gathering game.
Take that!

                I usually go as far as to talk a little about the newer games I play, but I won’t do that this time since I’m saving my opinions and ideas for the Magic Duels review which should be coming very soon (and more after that!).

In the meantime, please share my articles and follow me on Steam, Twitter and on Facebook!!


Friday, August 14, 2015

The video games quotes I can't get out of my mind!

                This is one of those weird and personal articles about video games and I’ve been asking myself while writing it if I should really do this. But I’m a gamer and this list is relevant to video games so why not.
The list below contains some (not all) of the quotes that I remember throughout my long years of gaming. It is worth mentioning that not all of these quotes are supposed to have a deep philosophical meaning, instead, some of them present the gravity of the situation amplifying the feeling of that moment to a great extent. The quality of the voice acting is also part of the main reason why, after all these years, I still remember what some would consider banal video games lines.
(Beware, spoilers!)

Crysis 2 – The hyping trailer

“Like Atlas before you, the weight of our world rests on your shoulders.”

                These words spoken by Hargreave haven’t made it into the game and they were presented in one of the Crysis 2 trailers, but they resonate incredibly well with the idea of the one hero. This one quote builds up the hype of the game by underlining the challenge that awaits the player in order to save the world. Sadly, the incredibly hyping trailers of Crysis 2 could not be matched by the poor storyline of the game, but this doesn’t take away the importance of this sentence that stayed with me to this day.

Diablo 2 – A good story teller

“Stay a while and listen.”

                What is to say about Deckard Cain? I doubt there are many PC gamers who don’t know this character. He was a member of the Horadrim who dedicated his life to warn humanity and guide its heroes during the darkest days. He was also keen on storytelling and could talk a lot about the past.
I’ve heard this line maybe thousands of times in my hardcore years of Diablo 2 and I still like to hear it every once in a while. Now that Deckard Cain has passed away, I will miss his crazy stories that always proved to be true.

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm – The Queen of Blades

“I am the swarm. Armies will be shattered. Worlds will burn.”

                This quote is from the opening cinematic of Hearth of the Swarm which shows the Zerg swarm tearing apart Mengsk’s forces on Korhal. While this is just a nightmare haunting the mind of a now humanized Kerrigan, as the game progresses it turns out to be more of a vision and The Queen of Blades actually invades Korhal to seek revenge or justice (maybe a little bit of both).
Starcraft 2 might have an underwhelming story, but Blizzard still knows how to write some epic lines to build up the hype for their games and these lines are perfectly placed in high quality cinematic videos. Looking forward for the Legacy of the Void opening cinematic!

Bioshock Infinite – Father and daughter

“Booker, are you afraid of God?”
“No, but I’m afraid of you.”

                I was excited about Bioshock Infinite but playing it didn’t satisfy my need of Bioshock. I felt it was an overrated game, probably because it had such big shoes to fill and it sadly didn’t even manage to correct some of the weaker gameplay elements of the first Bioshock. But I’ve already covered this in another article (The most overrated games in the recent years), so I won’t go on.
                I knew this quote from one of the trailers, yet I’ve waited for it for the entire game. It comes in a moment when the relation between the characters is not that stable anymore and shows how terrifying Elizabeth’s power is if she can scare even a guy that charges head on against an entire city to save a girl. The voice acting is amazing and captures the tension in a thrilling way, making this scene my favorite in the entire game.

Diablo 3 – Justice versus Valor

“You cannot judge me, I am justice itself!”

                Diablo 3 is one of the most poorly written games by Blizzard. Yet this quote has sticked with me since the first time I heard it (and I heard it more than once because you know... Hack & Slash game…) and, ironically, it’s masterfully written and well placed in a great CGI cinematic.
After what looked like a life and death duel between two brothers that serve the same goal, the booming voice of Tyrael, the archangel of justice, reminds Imperius that even if he is a leader he’s not above justice. This is an epic moment, presenting the turmoil in the Heavens that makes the angels blind to the upcoming danger that is going to engulf both the Sanctuary and the High Heavens.

Warcraft 3 – The fall of Lordaeron

                Through the sword Frostmourne to which Arthas sold his soul in order to defeat the Dreadlord Mal’ganis,  Ner’zhul now whispers into the young prince mind and his warm welcoming home is about to turn into the worst nightmare for the Kingdome of Lordaeron.

Ner’zhul: “You no longer need to sacrifice for your people. You no longer need to bear the weight of your crown. I’ve taken care of everything.”
Terenas Menethil II: “What is this? What are you doing my son?”
Arthas Menethil: “Succeeding you, father.”

                As the bloody crown rolls down on the steps in front of the throne, Arthas speaks about his new order that shall shake the very foundations of the world and one of the greatest villains of the Warcraft universe is born out of one of its greatest heroes. From this point forward, Arthas is going to take a dark road, killing those that stand in his way, in order to reach the Frozen Throne and become one with Ner’zhul under the form of the Lich King.
Terenas Menethil II death will mark the end for Lordaeron, but his part of the story was not over. His spirit, trapped in the Frostmourne is released when the sword finally shatters. Like a good father, Terenas e is going to stand next to Arthas during his last moments, after the Lich King was defeated.
A touching story, that begun with the eagerness of a young prince to protect his people and ended with him harming them.

Bioshock – The death of Andrew Ryan

                It is no secret that Bioshock is one of my favorite games of all times. Its somewhat sick and twisted story, the creepy atmosphere and the satisfying gameplay make Bioshock a game to be forever remembered. With all its quality, especially in writing, there was a slim chance that Bioshock would not have at least a sentence on this list.

“A man chooses, a slave obeys.”

These are the last words of Andrew Ryan before his death at the hand of his own son (the player), one of the most unpredictable and epic moment in history of video games. The symbolistic behind these words covers the entire idea of the game, as Ryan himself searched for freedom at the bottom of the oceans. They also characterize the main character in a bizarre way by proving that he was never free but rather part of the grand scheme of a man who’s set on controlling everything.
As each swing with the golf club hits Ryan in the head, mutilating him, he continues to repeat this one sentence. A powerful scene and tragic ending to a man that tried to escape the human’s corruption and build an utopia at the bottom of the ocean, but even down there it wasn’t safe from man’s never-ending lust for power. 

Bioshock – The Wild Bunny

“I want to take the ears off, but I can’t. I hop, and when I hop, I cannot get off the ground. It’s my curse, my eternal curse! I want to take the ears off, but I can’t! It’s my curse! It’s my fucking curse! I want to take the ears off! Please take them off! Please!”

                It is hard to believe that someone will remember this? Guess what, I do! I can’t remember any poem from my schools days, but I can recite Sander Cohen’s sick poem on the spot at any time, day or night.
There is more to this poem than meets the eyes. At first it seems to be the rumbling of a mad man. But looking deeper it reveals the frustration of an artist that can’t escape the things that the world of Rapture has done to him and he was driven insane by this. He wears a mask that he can never take off because he is too ashamed with what he has become both physically and mentally.
This poem is representative for the state of disarray that Rapture is in after ADAM and the plasmids.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Welcome to the future

“I never asked for this.”

                This is a line from the cinematic trailer and in-game that shows Adam Jensen stand on the augmentations that were made to his body after the incident that almost killed him. Now more machine than man, Jensen has to uncover a global conspiracy that could send the world into a dark age (an unavoidable future), while he accommodates with his new self.
This quote is shortly followed in the trailer by another line equally remarkable:

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something”

Jensen’s words not only describe humanity’s fear for change, but also the dangers in trying to change something, even if that something is already broken.

Dragon Age – The watchers

“In peace vigilence, in war victory, in death sacrifice!”

                Grey Wardens were founded during the first Blight, more than a thousand years before the action in Dragon Age: Origins, the order holds great secrets even in their motto. They swear to protect the world from darkness and are waiting their entire lives, restlessly, for a Blight to come. In the end, darkness itself starts to take over their minds and they go to die so they don’t become the monsters they protect the world against. A long life of vigilance and fighting ends with a sacrificial death, that is the destiny of a Grey Warden.

Half Life 2 – Always confusing

“The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world.”

                G Man is confusing as always right from the beginning of Half Life 2. It’s hard to really get the true meaning behind these words, but the possibilities are countless. Gordon Freeman has been through some strange places, but one thing is sure, he was the right man in every situation. The world has changed in the many years he was missing, but now he has returned and he is clearly going to make the difference (more or less, the story didn’t end yet, but doesn’t seem to get an ending anytime soon).

Fallout - War

“War. War never changes.”

                How many times I’ve heard this through my many restarts of Fallout 1 and 2 or the many playthroughs of Fallout Tactics. The series has changed, a lot, but the quote remained, untouched by time and having the same horrifying meaning, summing our bloody history in just four words… (How screwed up is this?!)

                Writing down these lines brings me to an odd realization.  Many of the quotes are not even from my favorite games or games that I consider very good and as I think more about this it makes sense. A game doesn’t have to be a masterpiece to have something truly memorable in it and this article stands as proof for that. I might not praise some of the games above, but I can still appreciate what was good in them, even if it was one line, if that line got stuck in my mind it’s probably because it has something special over many other lines. I look at video games not just only as a form of entertainment, but as art and writing articles like this reminds me of how much artistic beauty there is in every well created video game and this makes me happy.


Monday, August 3, 2015

An interview with Dan Marshall!

                An opportunity has arisen to do an interview to a well known indie games developer so I had to take a break from taking a break and do this interview. I haven’t done anything like this before and I have to say it was pretty exciting. But enough chit chatting, here is my interview with Dan Marshall from Size Five Games:

For those who don’t know who Dan Marshall is, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

“I am a silly British man sitting in my office in the middle of the glorious English countryside, typing out games and hoping people like them.”

You worked with Channel 4 on the educational game Privates which won  a BAFTA award and brought a lot of attention to you up to the point where you gained a cult following. Did this put pressure on you as a game developer?

“Ha ha, I think most of my cult following probably comes more from the Dan and Ben games. They're these weird little adventure games that have done so much better than you might think. Everyone's played them, no one talks about them. It's like a lovely big secret.”

You tweet a lot (going for 30k tweets at the moment!) and in general keep a close relationship with the press and the community. Has the community presented you any good ideas that you implemented in your games?

“I tend to be pretty bloody-minded about my designs. I take a lot of advice from people during development, and beta phases. I don't know that much good stuff comes through via Twitter, mainly because I tend to keep things pretty close to my chest until I'll happy showing them off in a relatively-finished state. By that point, it's probably a bit late for advice from Twitter, but I always take comments on board.”

“Ben There, Dan That!” was released  back in 2008 on a donationware model and while now that game, together with its sequel, is available on Steam, the bundle cost only 3,99 euro. I know you have a donation option on your website, but gaming development can be expensive. How hard does this client (customer) oriented business model make things for you and your studio?

“Privates was the only thing that was client-based, the rest of my games have been entirely self-funded. Donation models didn't really work, but then it was 2008 and the indie game space was just so incredibly different. I don't know how much of an impact BTDT would do now, whether it would bring in more or less cash. It never did anything other than beer money really, but then it was made entirely in my free time, so didn't cost anything to make!”

“The Swindle” is Size Five Games’ latest release and is a mix of stealth and rogue-like in a procedurally generated steampunk setting, quite different from the adventure games your studio released before.
I’ve read in an interview that you don’t really like stealth games, but here is “The Swindle”, which seems to contradict that statement. Is this game your vision of the genre without the game mechanics that annoy you?

"Yeah, that's the plan. I like the idea of Stealth games more than I like the execution of them. I like being hidden and sneaky and in shadows, but I don't like the restart-and-retry nature of the games, which leads you to learning where all the enemies are and playing by memory rather than adapting. The joy of The Swindle's random generation is that there's none of that - when you fluff it up, you never go back in time and retry."

I’ve played the game (thanks for the key by the way!) and it’s punishing to the point where it gets frustrating, but in a good way. Was this your goal all along and what do you consider to be the key to succeed in this game?

“One of the key moments in development was when I reduced the player's health to 1%, so one hit would kill you. The game was suddenly very hard but in a satisfying way. It was a case of making it so there's a sweet spot of load times meaning it's SO TEMPTING to just try one more heist when you die. It's more-ish, and all that sort of stuff has been finely honed.”

The Swindle already made its budget back through Steam sales. How happy are you about this success?!

"Delighted, obviously, It's a relief for the future of the company, but there's some way to go yet before I can start thinking about how much money I'll have to make the next thing. We'll see how it goes. "

Are there any plans for the game, like upcoming content updates or even DLCs?

"I'm working on patching some tech issues (the joys of developing games for a potentially-infinite combination of PC hardware!). If the game does well I'll absolutely be looking into how I support it, but there has to be a big enough demand for it, I guess."

Size Five Games has been creating 2D sidescrolling games up to this point, which is great. But this year some of the strongest graphics engines were made available for free for developers and this seems like a great opportunity for indie developers. Are you planning to use any of these engines for your future games or are you going to stick with the quirky and fun art style that you had going for a while now?

"I think I'll stick with Unity for the time being, simply because I can get things up and running nice and quickly and I know all the ins-and-outs. It makes the prototyping and development process that much easier when you have a good handle on the tools.

Style wise, I never stick to one thing for too long. I have no idea right now what the next game will be or how it'll look, and it's that exciting?"

I would like to thank you for the opportunity of taking this interview! On an ending note, do you have anything to say to The Game Slashers readers?

"Thank you so much for the interview, it's lovely to be asked questions that are so different to the usual fare :)"

Once again, big thanks to Dan Marshal for agreeing to do this interview! You can follow him on Twitter and for those interested, The Swindle can be purchased on Steam with a 15% discount lasting for 24 more hours.