Monday, July 25, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #90: Welcome to Hell!

                So I did something I thought I won’t do for a long while, bought DOOM. Why as a PC gamer I made such a commitment to skip on one of the most praised games of this year? Well, I was never really attracted by this series, even though I played all the previous games. They aren’t really my type and I always felt like the series has been a bit overrated. But I’m not one to judge a game without playing it (or at least I’m trying not to) so I gave DOOM a chance and guess what? DOOM is pretty much an up to date version of the older games. Not a big surprise there, right? Well, the real surprise is that I like it. Maybe after spending so much time with simulators I feel the need of a faster game where you can be reckless or maybe it has been such a long time since I played this type of shooters that I felt the need for one, who knows…
                DOOM is a reiteration of its really old parents brought to life through the technological standards of today and a demonically attractive gameplay. That’s pretty much it, a challenging run (jump) and gun shooter where you fight your way through a demonic horde hell-bent on killing you for a serious reason. But that reason doesn’t matter because the story of DOOM is on a tertiary plan as the main focus is to have fun and you can have a lot of fun in this game. The shooting mechanics are spot on and incredibly satisfying especially because they are mixed in with some good old fashioned gore. The Glory Kills aren’t annoying as I though they will turn out to be and they can be quite fun if not forced to abuse them by some weirdly designed challenge.
                On the bad side of things, there are some gameplay stoppers, which for DOOM is much more of an issue than with many of the games out there. For starters, the story isn’t the best, but it can get the motors going for some players only to set up for disappointment. There isn’t any clever writing to be seen and the common mysteries and twists are nothing to be bothered with, what saves the day are little interesting details about demons or weapons.
The second time consuming hellish feature are the tied in secrets and collectibles. These two are fun to hunt at first, but they really turn into labor as the level design (did I praise the level design yet?) gets more intricate and the lust for weapon’s and armor upgrades or the completist OCDish needs won’t let you enjoy the game as you are supposed to (even in new playthroughs).
                Overall, DOOM is as much as surprise for me as Wolfestein was a couple of years ago. I guess Bethesda allows for more freedom of creativity with their FPS titles than they do with their RPGs. Maybe that’s something to think about.
Is it wrong to say that I love this?!

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #89: I am legend!

                With ARMA 3 Apex releasing this week I had a ton of epic screenshots from my exploratory adventures into the lands of Tanoa, yet something more important happened that “needs” to be showcased.
                I wasn’t very productive in the last month and a half, not at writing articles nor at playing video games, but Guild Wars 2 was a soothing distraction from my problems and I managed to focus my energy into finishing my in-game long last project. After almost four years of failed attempts and probably hundreds of hours of grinding just to give into temptation and spend the hard earned gold on something else, I finally achieved my goal: my first Guild Wars 2 legendary! Ironically named like a movie I dislike that put some of my favorite supernatural creatures into a light worse than sunlight, Twilight is an epic looking greatsword that reflects into its blade the darkness of the night sky. From the moment I put my eyes on this sword I wanted it and I didn’t give up until one of my characters was wielding it with pride.
                Usually I play MMOs in bursts, but after this achievement and the announcement of Guild Wars 2 Living Story Season 3, I’m going to stick around in the world of Tyria for a while longer.
I'm swinging just to look at the sky!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Things you should know about Necropolis!

                Necropolis, the indie rogue-like game from Harebrained Schemes, launched yesterday and it wasn’t really what I expected. Nevertheless, I did dive into the game and learned a few tricks that might come in handy so I’ll share them with you so maybe you don’t have to die so much in order to learn them.

1. Know your weapon
                Some of the weapons in the game behave differently through varying attack speed and animations, reach, special attacks and damage. Because of this it is indicated to test each new weapon before going into serious combat with it. Knowing each weapon’s strengths and weaknesses will help tremendously. As the game allows two sets of weapons it is also highly recommended to alternate the weapon types to increase the usefulness of your loadout.

2. Manage your stamina
                Like in Souls games, part of the combat is managing your stamina. Attacking, running, blocking or dodging will require a certain amount of stamina which will regenerate fairly quickly, the twist is that special attacks will decrease the maximum amount of stamina. The lost stamina can be replenished by consuming non-rotten food and certain potions. One should always pay attention to the stamina bar as being reckless not only costs more resources but can also lead to difficult combat situations.

3. Gravity is not a problem

                Are you scared of heights? That won’t be a problem in the world of Necropolis where gravity still holds you to the ground but barely punishes for failed attempts to fly. There is hardly any fall damage in this game, even when falling from one level to another you will be safely teleported to your last location.

4. Test your enemies

                There is a decent variety of enemies in Necropolis and while in the start most of them are quite easy to deal with, later on there are some trickier ones that can catch the players off guard. It’s always a good idea to force new enemies into attacking while safely dodging and blocking their attacks. This will reveal their set of moves and make it easier to deal with them without taking unnecessary damage or even risking death.

5. Friendly fire

                In Necropolis, what can hurt you can hurt anybody, friend or foe. Enemies can damage each other as much as friends can kill one another in co-op (brace for PvP!). Always keep a safe distance from your friends and when focusing on the same target never attack at once. Play smart and use the friendly fire to your advantage by forcing the enemy groups into dealing friendly fire, there is no downside as there is no XP system and the loot will be the same.

6. Co-op is easy mode

                The friendly fire might be scary, but co-op is still the easiest way to beat the game. Besides the obvious advantage of having an easier time beating enemies, the biggest perk of playing in co-op is that as long as one group member is alive the others can respawn and continue with the progress. But you shouldn’t take this for granted, the players who die and are not revived by the teammates will lose the gear which can be a severe blow as being outgeared can cause serious troubles. Move as a group, avoid friendly fire and try to resurrect your fallen teammates before is too late.

7. It’s a trap!

                There isn’t a rogue-like games without traps and while not the most dangerous, the traps in this game can do some harm. Pay attention for pressure plates, fields of red crystals or even falling rocks as nothing good comes out of these areas.

8. Secrets

                Another common mechanic for rogue-like games are secrets and the procedurally generated world of Necropolis holds a few. You know those wannabe funny texts on the walls? Some of them hold not so funny jokes, but few of them can open secret pathways to rooms full of chests, so tolerate the jokes as there is potential for good loot behind them. Just walk to the wall, read the text and if there is a secret there the wall will move automatically.

9. Craft

                The crafting system is uninspired but useful nonetheless. Manage your inventory space and when you have some spare time from fighting use the gathered resources crafting food and potions so you can keep going.

10. Beware of respawning enemies

                Necropolis is a game that sometimes is too easy inducing a false feeling of confidence and safety that can lead to sudden death and a progress wipe. One feature that should always be taken into consideration is that enemies tend to respawn, so what was a cleared area where you could safely kite enemies can become a death trap. Don’t take the game lightly, it might be easier than advertised, but enemies can corner you and reset your progress.

11. Tasks for persistent points

                The tasks system is nothing complex but it serves as part of the progression system. Each completed task awards persistent points that can be used in the current or future playthroughs. These points can be used to purchase new dyes and codexes which are persistent or they can be spent while exploring Necropolis to unlock gold chests which usually hold great treasures. Complete tasks and gather as many gems as possible, this way you will have a continuous flow of points to spend.

12. Memorize your keybinds
                Yes, it’s true, the game doesn’t have rebindable keys so make sure you remember the default setup if you play with mouse or keyboard, otherwise you might get in trouble.

                I hope these few tips and tricks will come in handy when venturing into Necropolis. The game isn’t as difficult as I imagined it, but mistakes are penalized and dying will get you back to square one, so it can be helpful to know a few things in advance.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #88: The monster within!

                This was a week full of shooting. Aside of ARMA 3 and Rainbow Six Siege which are helping me to go through these slightly boring times, this week had more FPS in store for me than usual. Evolve went stage 2 on Thursday switching from its near dead buy to play state that everyone hated to a free to play Beta which people seem to enjoy (more than 40,000 players online). I gave the game a try, something I haven’t done since its Beta, and while many things have been streamlined to accommodate the gameplay for a wider audience I think it’s an enjoyable enough experience with the potential to evolve into something bigger and better. The content is extremely limited with just four maps and one game mode, but the developers are planning to add the revised content of the original game over time in the next weeks and months. It sounds promising and at the first glance it seems like Turtle Rock Studios have learned from the past mistakes.
                 Following Evolve’s relaunch, on Saturday kicked off the second Alpha Test for LawBreakers and I did receive an invitation so I couldn’t miss the chance to check out the upcoming online shooters from Cliffy B. LawBreakers plays much like a I thought it would, like a today’s Unreal Tournament, a fast paced shooter with a high skill cap and entertaining visceral combat with a small focus on team work and a lot of focus on individual play. I felt great playing it, like taking a trip back into the past when my finger joints didn’t have the speed of a 30 years old. I still did good for a guy my age and I feel that lawBreakers is dedicated to gamers of my generation, sadly we just don’t meet the age requirements anymore for gameplay greatness in such a game. Leaving that aside, LawBreakers looked extremely promising and contrary to the popular belief, the game is nothing like Overwatch and shouldn’t share the same market as the target audience and gameplay are quite different.
Praising aside, the thing that really bothered me, but keep in mind it’s an Alpha, was the game’s technical state. LawBreakers looked nothing like in the official trailers or screenshots, the graphics were washed up even on the highest settings and the image was somewhat blurry in an annoying way. I’m not sure if some of the graphic effects were disabled for the Alpha, but I sure hope so, because while the artistic style suits the game’s setting, it wasn’t really backed up by the game’s tech.
                This was a week full of shooting and it won’t stop here.  Apex, ARMA’s 3 first expansion is releasing tomorrow and I’ve been waiting for this moment for quite a while, so it is certain that I will continue to shoot my way through boredom for a while.

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #87: Painting with Zeds!

                Killing Floor 2 was on my list with the most promising Early Access titles of 2015. While it didn’t get the “crown”, it’s a game I enjoy a lot, testimony for that stand the over 40 hours I put into it so far. Tripwire Interactive has confirmed at E3 that the game is coming out this autumn, which is great news. So, with that in mind and taking advantage of the Double XP and extra loot event that is currently running, I went back for some more gunslinging fun, because nothing can match that!
                The game has progressed nicely since its first days as an Early Access, a few cool maps, new weapons, better visuals, improved AI and an almost complete list of Perks are features that have been delivered. There was the micro-transactions incident that marked a decline in the game’s Steam score and got a lot of players upset, but I didn’t feel affected by that in any way. I get why the fans are mad, but the micro-transactions are not really hurting the game as they are purely cosmetic. One could argue that Killing Floor 2 being still in Early Access shouldn’t get such “cash grab” features, but those art designers that got nothing to do on the game have to eat, right? Probably the most annoying thing about the micro-transactions in KF2 is borrowed from Valve’s games and that is the heavily randomization of the loot crates and I can see that as a turn off, but the game isn’t released yet so there is still time for changes. But enough about this subject, it’s all up for long polemics and arguments that already filled a lot of the game’s forums space.
                If there is something I would like to know right now are the features that will mark the launch of Killing Floor 2, because I’ve done some research and can’t really find anything. Despite its current content, which is rich enough to keep thousands of players entertained, I still feel the game lacks in some aspects. I would really like to see more guns, more maps and why not, more enemy types, basically an improvement in variety since things can get repetitive and sometimes I feel there aren’t enough options. Yet, despite what Killing Floor 2 launch patch will bring, the currently available Early Access build seems like a pretty rounded up game that has enough things to offer for those who want a solid horde mode shooter. On this base, I’m hoping Tripwire won’t get distracted by their newest projects and won’t stop with Killing Floor 2 here, as they have built a solid construction that can easily be extended.
I'm not sadistic, they are pure evil!

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An interview with Stuck In Attic, the creators of Gibbous!

                A few months back I wrote an article about my impressions after playing Gibbous Demo, an adventure game developed by a Romanian studio that kicked off their Kickstarter campaign just a few days earlier. Now I return with an interview with one of the three developers from Stuck In Attic to find out more about them and their work on creating Gibbous.

Your studio is new in the industry and despite your recent crowdfunding success, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who don’t know much about you. So let’s kick this interview off with a generic question. Who are Stuck In Attic?

Stuck In Attic are two animators (Cami and Liviu) and a programmer (Nicu) who suddenly realized they could actually make something cool if they somehow combined their skills, and that something happened to be a point and click adventure game. So they set out on the nerve-wracking quest of dreaming up a Lovecraft-inspired comical world, building a demo and financing it via Kickstarter, and it seems to have actually worked! 

Gibbous was crowdfunded through Kickstarter, raising over 50,000$ in 30 days from close to 2,000 people. Considering how controversial Kickstarter has been in the past years and the little to no promotion Gibbous or your studio had, how difficult was it to go through with this campaign? And were there any other means to finance Gibbous in case the Kickstarter wasn’t a success?

“It was the most beautiful, intense and scary month of our professional lives thus far.  We actually started making Gibbous with crowdfunding in mind, because, being a small unknown studio with no prior released games, and adventure games not necessarily setting the world on fire as a genre right now, there'd probably be no other way to fund it.  Sure, it was difficult, but more in the way of "a lot of hard work" than anything else. All our Kickstarting days were 14 hour-long marathons of communicating with our backers, contacting  the press and generally living and breathing crowdfunding. It was worth it, though, and it kind of set the pace for us so far - we've moved from working super hard on the campaign to working super hard on the game, and haven't stopped since. 

I think part of your success with Gibbous’ Kickstarter campaign (besides the obvious charm and appeal of the game J)  comes from the fact that you came with a Demo up front, a concept lost in the last decade of this shifting industry. Do you agree with this premise?

Yeah, the demo was very important, especially since we're a virtually unknown developer, it pretty much compensated for the lack of previously released games. It's also a great way to set the tone and give the players a taste of what's to come, and hopefully leave them wanting more.  Even if not all our backers downloaded and played it, its mere existence probably meant people trusted us a lot more than if the demo hadn't existed. 

You offered the consumers what is called a vertical slice demo and I know for a fact that it had as much content as possible from all the game’s features, including some excessive 4th wall breakings. How different will the final product be in terms of pacing, comedy, puzzles, etc.?

It's hard to pace a demo for a narrative-based game, so we probably crammed a little too much 4th-wall breaking humor, for example, in it. As the game's scope is much, much bigger, it'll allow for better pacing, for sure.  Other than that, the general feel of the game will stay pretty much the same, including the fact that we're trying hard to make every puzzle make sense within the story, and not feel like an arbitrary roadstop.

Gibbous is an old school style adventure game inspired by the great classics. Can you talk a little about your inspiration and what do you want to achieve with the game in terms of story and gameplay?

“Sure! Gibbous is an unabashed love letter to some of my favorite Lucas classics. Probably the biggest influences on the game are The Curse of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. We've made a very conscious decision no to stray too far from the tried and true path these classics have established decades ago. Point and click adventures are one of the very few genres that have not really changed a lot throughout the years, and, this being our first game, we knew there was little chance of us turning the genre on its head or significantly improving on the formula. That's why Gibbous will probably feel like a blast from the past gameplay-wise, with cool modern additions like hotspot highlighting, autosave, smoother animations, HD graphics, etc.

The lovely animations and the hilarious script are in-house work. What can you tell us about the voice acting and the music?

We (Liviu and Cami) are also creating the music ourselves, too, just like in the demo. We're thrilled to have reached the "real instruments" stretchgoal, and can't wait to hear our themes played by, well, real instruments.  Voice acting and translations into languages other than English are the only things we won't be making in-house. We're thrilled to have Don Thacker of Starr Mazer fame voicing our Don R. Ketype - 'cause Don had to be Don, right? ...And the rest of the cast will be just as good as in the demo. Actually, no - better.

As a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and the Lovecraftian Mythos I feel obligated to ask: Is it true Cthulhu will make an appearance in the game? What about Dagon? And if that’s the case, how comically scary will he/they be?

I can't really disclose that, but they probably should, one way or another, right? As to how we plan to combine comedy and cosmic horror, here's a small animated video in which I explain exactly that:" 

The future of Gibbous is secured through the love and dedication of the fans of a half-living genre. Are there any plans for Stuck In Attic after the release of the game? Will you continue making adventure games or try other genres as well?

I'd love to make plenty of other games in plenty of genres, but we have to wait and see how successful Gibbous is,  since our fate as a studio will pretty much depend on that. It would be awesome if we could expand the team and maybe work on several projects. But, even as work has barely started on Gibbous, if you asked me now, hell yeah I'd make another adventure game after this one! I think there's no better genre to tell a story in, and it's a particularly good medium to be Lovecraftian in. It's been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid to make adventure games, and it's still hard to believe that, thanks to so many generous enthusiasts of the genre from all across the globe, it's come true.

This question has nothing to do with Gibbous, but I’ve seen your TEDx presentation from Targu Mures and I thought it was inspiring. I learned a lot of things from your speech, including that you are a (big?) fan of Star Wars. What are your thoughts on the new movie or the latest Star Wars video games (don’t be afraid to be critical J)?

I haven't really played the latest Star Wars video games, but I can tell you I liked The Force Awakens. Sure, it's not the classics, but it was way better than the prequels, and I think making it feel a little oldschool again was a good call. I'm just sad that Lucas Arts no longer exists. They're probably my favorite ex-studio. RIP!

I’m going to end this interview the way I started it, with a generic question. Any estimate release date for Gibbous?

We've said "summer 2017" from the start, and we're working like crazy to be able to deliver on that, but just like any other form of software development, it's really hard to pinpoint. This is not going to be a game you beat in 3 or 4 hours, and that will reflect in the time we spend on it. Basically we're trying to make a 50 person game in 3 persons, but thankfully it's the kind of project we don't mind spending our almost every waking hour on. I hope the love and passion we have for Gibbous will shine through in the game!

                I want to thank Liviu for taking time off his busy schedule to answer my questions. If you are curious about the game, you can download the Demo from the studio’s official website and keep up with the game’s news on the Kickstarter page. You can also read my first impressions about it here.
I’m wishing Stuck In Attic best of luck with their development of Gibbous and I hope to hear back from them soon!