Gaming without your brother

Category Archives: You Win!

I should’ve posted this yesterday but I realized if I get into the habit of daily posts, I’ll be beating myself up to maintain that and I don’t want to sink into gaming as a chore again. So I paced myself, played another one of the PAX10 (ten of the best indie games shown at PAX, chosen by a panel of industry experts) called Containment, and had a fairly good time doing it. Good, not great.

I happened to wander by the Bootsnake Games booth in between waiting in line for panels. It was on the sixth floor and not in the hubbub of the AAA title company booths on the fourth floor, which I preferred. I set out at the beginning of the weekend to make sure I played all the PAX10 games (which didn’t happen), but I saw this booth fairly early in the weekend and confidently stood behind someone else playing a demo to listen to an explanation of the game (I did in fact play the game a few days ago, have no fear).

Containment is a zombie puzzler, where you manipulate people in four classes (primarily designated by four different colors) to surround a zombie in the four cardinal directions. Once a zombie is surrounded on all four sides by one color (e.g. all pink, all green, all blue, or all orange) the colored characters kill the zombie and more characters slide down from the top of the screen to fill in the spaces that were just occupied by the zombies and the attacking characters. You can swap characters from any spot on the grid to strategically place a character. Don’t be fooled though, it’s not a turn-based game. As I sat for the first few seconds pondering what I wanted to do first, a zombie ate the character next to it and turned it into a zombie as well (the primary zombie movement mechanism – infecting others). You can surround groups of zombies with one color of character to defeat them as well, and edges of the count as the color of character you’re using, automatically. Defeating all the zombies in a grid before another zombie can crawl it’s way in advances you to the next grid and through the game.

Different classes drop different items. Surrounding zombies with all pink doctors will sometimes mean these pink ladies drop a hazmat suit item that protects three horizontally adjacent characters of your choice to be protected and to act as character color wildcards, still swappable anywhere on the grid. Surrounding zombies with all green soldiers will occasionally net you a grenade to blow up a  cluster of people, whether zombies or friendlies. Blue groups killing zombies will sometimes drop a sniper shot to take out one zombie outright (there are varying classes of zombies that are harder to kill as the game progresses), and orange characters that kill a zombie or group of zombies sometimes drop a Molotov cocktail that will burn a cluster of zombies and allies without discretion.

As I said, one of the first game play features I noticed was that it’s not turn-based. Zombies don’t want for you to strategize before munching on your citizens. Initially I thought this was clever because it forces players to think and act quickly, which isn’t always the case for the puzzle genre. Later in the game though, I realized more and more that I was approaching levels with a brute force approach because I felt time was more important than finesse. It’s a fine line to be sure, and one that might be praised by some and criticized by others. I vacillated between the two, as I said.

Another strength to the game were the characters. While the animation was clean and neat, but nothing special, the characters you move on the grid to surround and kill zombies had some really clever short lines of dialogue, and the voice actors did a good job in their brief appearances.

Now to reference the title, and my easily contained excitement for the game. I was impressed that the team at Bootsnake Games bothered to put in a story at all, and the exposition that rolled onto the screen in between zombie grids had some funny one liners every so often. However, overall it was your standard zombie tale, without novelty. Also, I couldn’t imagine a more boring font. I’m no typographer so I don’t want to purger myself but the font of the story was something like Helvetica or Arial. Seriously? I would’ve preferred the cliche zombie font over reading three acts with five levels a piece entirely in the plainest sans serif font available. A small detail, you’d think, but from the time the first bit of plot was scrolling off of the screen and to the next grid, I was already bored of reading it the exposition in such a boring font.

Seriously, I would've rather read pages of this, as annoying as it is, than ARIAL.

Seriously, I would’ve rather read pages of this, as annoying as it is, than ARIAL.

Overall, the game was a little easy. I didn’t die once until sometime in the middle of the second act. In Bootsnake’s defense, I only played through the campaign mode. There is also a survival mode that I would bet gets pretty difficult. Additionally, there is no penalty for incurring collateral damage. In fact, killing more of your allies unlocks Steam achievements. I think an easy way to up the difficulty would be to penalize players for avoidable friendly fire. Without that penalty, I was dropping grenades, warheads, and Molotov cocktails willy nilly, just to get a few zombies.

Update: I just jumped into Survival mode for a few rounds to double check, and not be a lazy/crappy reviewer, and you do get ranked on how many civilians you kill per round. Having said that, I wasn’t too careful about it, and I got an “A” in the first three rounds so . . . maybe it’s still not that hard.

And again in the game’s defense, there is the company itself, Bootsnake Games. I said it once and I’ll say it again – the nicest people go to PAX. I listened to one of the people working the booth explain the game and gently guide the PAX attendee playing the game to make better choices. Another booth worker came up to me to answer the rest of my questions, invite me to try it out on the iPad, and convince me to buy it for $3 there at the booth. Supporting the indie devs! My favorite pastime.

Wa hoo, independent developers! Stick it to the man!

Wa hoo, independent developers! Stick it to the man!

The game is available on Steam for the PC (which is how I played my copy when I got home from PAX) and it’s in the Apple App store.  For $2, I would recommend giving it a shot on the iPad, just because it is generally fun and I bet you can get more traction out of the survival mode than I got in the few hours it took me to complete the campaign. For $5 on the PC right now . . . sure, I recommend it too, so long as $5 is chump change to you (right now, $5 is a day of food for me so Containment wouldn’t be a priority. Catch-22 would be, just for reference). Like I said, I just love giving independent developers all of my money.

Any zombie games you guys have totally loved? I usually try to avoid the genre, but this was a pleasant introduction. Leave suggestions for me in the comments!

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Quick post before my next review, I just wanted to celebrate the great advice I got at PAX about posting to other outlets – I got published! http://venturebeat.com/2012/09/10/more-fun-playing-catch-22-than-reading-catch-22/

Bitmob.com was a suggestion from Chris Kohler actually (that wasn’t even a joke, I swear I will stop saying his name) that I had never heard of before. Community writers populate the website with content and editors of the site go through and pick their favorites of the day to put on the front page. They’re also partnered with VentureBeat which has a sub-community/page called GamesBeat that gets the same features. SO! I’m on two sites! I’ll save you the time of reading it by saying the content is nothing new, but they did edit the beginning a bit for clarity, which is a really good point for me to take away (i.e. always making descriptions and set ups as clear as possible). Anyway, again, just wanted to share for a minute. It’s probably a lot less important than I’m making it, but at the same time, it feels pretty gratifying, since I’ve applied to about a dozen jobs and haven’t even heard back from any of them, that’s how far away from achieving my goal I feel. So this is a small victory, in the small bout of failure I’ve been in. Woot!

Bottom line: if you want to get published about games stuff, try bitmob.com! I’m in such a good mood, I won’t even pretend to keep this to myself.


Update: Hi to all the new readers! If I’ve convinced you stick around, consider liking the Little Sister Gaming Facebook page or following me at @littlesisgaming on Twitter to keep up on new posts. Thanks for visiting!

I don’t think I should talk about Chris Kohler from Wired any more (Chris Kohler), but while I was waiting to talk to Chris Kohler, another aspiring games journalist/writer/designer like myself, named Ted, came up to me and took the panelists’ advice to network to heart much more directly than I did (and he is awesome for doing so). As we discussed our backgrounds (both English majors, from Washington, etc.), his friend came up and Ted introduced me to Arian, a newly-minted tabletop game designer and indie developer himself. Even though Arian and his game Pocket-Tactics had just gotten picked up by Wired for investing in a 3D printer and taking care of all the manufacturing of the game himself, with the rest of his team at Ill Gotten Games (one of the best company names I’ve heard in awhile, I must say), he graciously agreed to meet up with me the next day, let me play through his game, and review it. I’m telling you, the nicest people go to PAX.

On a Tuesday night some months ago, Arian had an idea for a dice-oriented tabletop game, inspired by the game play of Final Fantasy Tactics and its strategy game predecessors. By the end of the night, the idea was finalized and by Friday of that week, the first copy of the game was printed, painted, and fully playable. Not too shabby, by any standard. Its first iteration features two factions, the Legion of the High King and the Tribe of the Dark Forest. Each faction has strengths and weaknesses, so picking a side is a part of the strategy, not an arbitrary color or figurine preference. Arian said that there are more factions in the works to be released so players can have a wider variety to choose from. There are six classes per faction, ranging from strong melee characters to necromancers to archers. Each faction also has an accompany stats sheet so you can see each class’s defense and attack points for melee, ranged, and magic attacks. The stats sheets also show terrain advantages and abilities for each class.

Picture from illgottengames.blogspot.com

Picture from illgottengames.blogspot.com

The most exciting part of the game to me was the map. Players take turn picking one hexagonal piece out of a small bag at a time and placing it around one player’s base. There are some placement rules that force players to build at least slightly outward. Each piece is painted and designed slightly differently to differentiate terrain types. Different factions will have benefits depending if they’re on a forest tile, a hill tile, etc. A different game play experience every time for a map-based tabletop game is a cool innovation, and I can only imagine how experienced players can use it to their advantage, or their opponent’s disadvantage. As a super noob, I didn’t really implement it myself, and I think Arian was too nice to just wipe the floor with me with that particular strategy.

Each player only starts out with three figures on the board, which they get to choose, and more pieces can be added on subsequent turns but only to specific tiles near each players’ home base. The object of the game is to defeat the other player’s base, which in turn usually requires you to destroy all of their individual fighters. The base itself has 3 defense points, which means every attack against the base, the defending player can roll three blue dice. The attacking player uses 1 to 3 red dice (depending on how many attack points for that specific action that player’s figure has) and whichever player has a net total of higher dice either successfully defends or is defeated off the board entirely. The same process applies to attacking other figures as well (which have 1 to 3 defense points and can use 1 to 3 blue dice), not just bases. Each turn, a player can only move, spawn, or attack with one figure.

There are more intricacies than that; I’m doing the game an injustice, just as I did the day I reviewed it when I had to do a rushed play through to get into a panel that was starting. The strengths of the game lie in the fact that I found it to be a pretty simple implementation of an advanced strategy. Figures get defense bonuses depending terrain and if allies are nearby, move bonuses for nearby allies, and disadvantages for standing on water map tiles. And yet in the quick thirty minutes I had with Arian to review this, I remembered all of that and I thought I was doing all right strategically during the short time we played.

Picture from illgottengames.blogspot.com

Picture from illgottengames.blogspot.com

And maybe that’s the biggest point – Arian would probably be too nice to tell you if I was really blowing it anyway. I’m not trying to say that people should lie in favor of my skills (but it’s nice when they do) but I’m saying it’s really awesome to see good people like the team at Ill Gotten Games getting some coverage from Wired and some success for following their passions. I love small companies and small projects to get big time coverage and success, so I’m happy to spread the word about a game that I will definitely buy, Pocket-Tactics.

That opportunity to buy the game will be coming sooner than we think, Arian said that in the very near future a Kickstarter campaign is launching to raise funds to print Pocket-Tactics on a massive scale. I’ll be sure to post when that goes live so you can all get in on the fun earlier than the rest. And that might be the only downside to the game at the moment: while Ill Gotten Games may be printing the pieces, it remains to be seen who will be painting them, players or the manufacturers. It seems like it will depend on the success of the fundraiser; if it does well enough, we might be able to fund Arian painting board games pieces for fourteen hours a day until ship date, heh. Time, and the details of the campaign, will tell us.

Ill Gotten Games’ other project is an RPG game, similar to the style of GURPS, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to delve into that too much. I hope the group has more games slated to release in the near future, if they can keep churning out fun and simple yet strategic games like Pocket-Tactics.

For some reason, this seemed really funny to me at the time.

For some reason, this seemed really funny to me at the time.


The end truly came. I played the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut DLC last night, and watched all the possible endings. Before starting the final mission, I thought about the finality of what I was about to do. I love the Mass Effect series so, so much, and now it was about to be completely and finally done. I mean, I suppose there could be another spin-off game or something, but I think it would be cheap of Bioware to do that. I hope they’re smart enough not to. Despite what people think of them now, after the ME3 ending fiasco, I think they have enough integrity to walk away gracefully from the series.

I’m torn how to approach this post because I have a lot bouncing around my mindgrapes about the original Mass Effect 3 endings, the game as a whole, the series, and the DLC. Anyway, as I work my way through this: spoilers to come. Feel free to stop reading if you haven’t finished the game or the DLC yet, and want to experience it on your own.

A metaphor, for how Bioware destroyed the ending of this game, much like the Reapers destroyed London.

A metaphor, for how Bioware destroyed the ending of this game, much like the Reapers destroyed London.

I’ll start at the beginning of the turmoil: the original Mass Effect 3 endings. When I finished the first ending (I believe I chose to destroy the reapers [i.e. the “renegade” red option]) I sat there in stunned disbelief. Did I really just hear three options that all had essentially the same consequences? As I played through the next two endings, my disgust grew. All three endings were next to identical, with a few minor animation differences, and a big ball of light changing from blue, to red, to green, depending on your choice. I could probably have swallowed the actual conversation from the spirit child douche, and his patchy explanations, but I couldn’t take that Bioware had so lazily slapped together some ending sequences.

To be completely honest, I was disappointed, but not mortified like so many other Mass Effect series lovers. I thought “Hm, this is a poor ending, but whatever.” What bothers me more about the ending as a whole are the inconsistencies. How is your crew on the Normandy when they were all making the frakking assault on Earth with you? How the HELL is Anderson on the Citadel with you? “Oh, I was right behind you.” B.S. sir. B. freaking. S. Those are my two biggest gripes, although if really pressed, I could think of some more.

"LULZ! I made it to the beam too, Shepard! What, like it was hard?" -Anderson, that piece of crap

“LULZ! I made it to the beam too, Shepard! What, like it was hard?” -Anderson, that piece of crap

And that’s why this DLC was still disappointing to me. I actually appreciate the gesture from Bioware, to try to appease fans at all. And some of the extra explanation from the spirit child devil was helpful, but overall the DLC was still kind of a patch job which took away from its value. Like why did we need a cut scene of Admiral Hackett recognizing that Shepard made it into the Citadel? And back to one of my biggest gripes, why couldn’t he tell two people went through the beam!? Perhaps to prove that it wasn’t a dream, like the indoctrination theorists were claiming.

My first wish would’ve been for Bioware to confirm the indoctrination theory, just for those fans that put so much thought and time into it, despite the flaws in the theory. My second wish would’ve been for the company to just put out a Q&A of the leader writer and designer, or whoever else was responsible for the holes in the plot and the inconsistencies, to address questions from fans. They said they were surprised by the fan outrage, which to me implies that they thought their ending was perfectly reasonable. Explain to me how it was; defend your case. Maybe you’ll convince me.

At the end of the day, it felt as if Bioware was handing out buckets to scoop water out of the bottom of the boat, instead of patching holes. But that might be the best we could hope for, without too much overhaul that would’ve proven cost prohibitive for the company. You know what, though? Despite all of my gripes and grievances, I started my second run through of the game as soon as I finished the first. I plan on playing tonight, even though I finished all the DLC endings last night.

The real bottom line is this: I love this game. I love the gameplay mechanics, I love the voice acting, I love the dialogue, I love all the characters, I love the terrible decisions you have to make, I love that even on my third run through, I get choked up when Thessia falls to the Reapers. I still get choked up when Mordin sacrifices himself to cure the genophage. And I still cheer like a kid when I run and butt slide over a box while I’m running to and from cover (because seriously, it’s so bad-a). I love modding the weapons and I love getting new powers with every run through. I love the cut scenes, like watching the mother of all thresher maws, Kalros, choking out that Reaper on Tuchanka like a boss.

"OH NO YOU DI-IN'T. YOU DI-IN'T STEP IN MY HOUSE!" -Kalros, to Reaper

“OH NO YOU DI-IN’T. YOU DI-IN’T STEP IN MY HOUSE!” -Kalros, to Reaper

Mass Effect 2 was where I started this series, after a co-worker highly recommended it to me. It was the first series I started on my brand new Xbox, the first system I had purchased without my brother, and the first series I had tried without him. Don’t get me wrong, I wish he played so we could dominate multiplayer and we could have more immersive discussions about the series (although he patiently hears all my ramblings about it without playing it), but for the first time, I have a little bit of ownership with Mass Effect, and that makes it a pretty special series to me.

I heard one fan say she could never play Mass Effect ever again because the endings had soured her opinion much. I don’t think an ending of a series as epic as Mass Effect could ever erase all the wonderful moments from all three games that have created such an immersive and beautiful universe to explore and save, again and again and again.


Okay, the title is misleading, because I got over my addiction in one day. But for those five hours, I was hooked. Currently, the open beta of Pottermore only goes through the first book in the series. Had the other books been available, I’d probably still be playing through the site.

As a huge Harry Potter fan, I find the value of the site solely in getting a wand (elm, 13″, dragon heartstring core, hard), being sorted (Hufflepuff, with alums like Tonks and Diggory so don’t hate), and reading J.K. Rowling’s extra content. Extra backstory to multiple characters, as well as her thoughts and insights about what she’s written, and other funny anecdotes about her life while writing are like crack cocaine to me. The navigation of the site is pretty atrocious, the Flash animation is slow as dirt, and the randomized usernames (while necessary for child protection online) are obnoxious. But those extra paragraphs of information from J.K. Rowling . . . I CAN QUIT WHENEVER I WANT, OKAY!?

Pottermore

A decent start for what is hopefully an improving site and experience.

So if you’re looking for a factual recap: I got through pretty much everything I could possibly do (not including making potions for fun and dueling other Pottermore members) in 5 to 6 hours. I read every piece of new content (but not the recaps from the books) and favorite’d characters, objects, creatures, and places that I loved in the books, to flesh out my profile. I added two friends, and did try brewing two potions and unlocked one door (“alohomora!”) so I wasn’t just going for speed, if that’s what you’re wondering.

I’ll specify my navigation gripe: through the first five or so chapters of The Philosopher’s Stone, I was clicking back to the main page map, to click on a chapter, to then click on the next moment in the chapter I wanted to see. By about chapter six, I realized that there were navigation buttons on the bottom of the screen that I could use to click to the next moment and then the next chapter. At the end of every chapter, you have to scroll through the latest twenty comments or so to get to those navigation buttons. LAME. But something that could be easily fixed (my suggestion: make the buttons bigger, make it a frame so it’s present on every part of the moment you’re looking at).

And to those questioning why I’m writing about this at all: a) I’m in class and bored out of my gourd and b) it’s game, albeit a simple game at that. This enters the age-old debate against casual gaming, and this is certainly a casual game, but this is a future blog post (spoiler: casual gamers are gamers too).

CONCLUSION: Pottermore is ridiculously fun for those of us Harry Potter fans who cry every time they finish rereading the series because they just want more. For kids who enjoy the simpler games, it’s also ridiculously fun. The navigation and slow loading times are pretty terrible, but it’s still technically beta so hopefully that improves in the near future. If you want a friend in the Pottermore world, I’m BludgerNiffler3610, and I’ll keep going back.


I bought Portal 1 & 2 during a Steam sale a year or so ago . . . I think I got both for $20 which is usually too much for my budget but I also knew that I would be labeled a heretic gamer if I never played the games. I figured it was imperative that I play the games in order, so I fired up Portal 1 and was instantly disappointed: it was in the first person perspective.

DISAPPOINTED

DISAPPOINTED! (from this video, if you've never seen it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_O1hM-k3aUY)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad way to make a game, I just have major problems with it from a medical perspective. I tried to figure it out via a reddit question months ago and got this video in response, which I think does a good job of explaining how developers contribute to the problem of motion sickness in FPS games, but doesn’t exactly explain why CoD is a best seller and people don’t vomit like I do when I try to play.

But at the same time, I think part of it must be developer related because some games I can’t play at all, and some I am able to power a few hours into before having to turn it off. Team Fortress 2 for example is a game that I can play all right for a little bit. Unfortunately, I could generally only do one Portal chamber at a time before I’d have to turn off the game (not even a chamber sometimes, depending on how long it took me).

The other difficult thing about Portal 1 for me is that I’m terrible at puzzle games. I got Braid in one of the Humble Indie Bundles it was a part of (don’t remember which number that was) and googled a ton of solutions because I just didn’t have the patience to sit and figure it out. I’m terrible, I know. So in that respect, it was almost a good thing that I couldn’t sit and play Portal 1 for long periods of time because by the time I was getting nauseated, I was usually also getting stuck, so I’d leave, come back a few days later, and suddenly see the solution. Having said that, I did google a number of things, and felt like a traitor. More than a traitor, I usually felt really stupid because I knew I should’ve been able to figure out the solutions I googled on my own.

So did I think Portal 1 was all it was cracked up to be? Sure. I guess. I don’t really know what it was cracked up to be, since it’s been so long since it was released. I know that it was stepping stone to Portal 2 which multiple people have told me is the greatest game ever made. While I know I won’t believe that, I’m hoping for a good time.

I think the main praise of Portal 1 and I’m betting Portal 2 was the humor. During the last boss battle in Portal 1, I was laughing out loud at the clever, passive-aggressive one-liners GLaDos had. Humor in video gaming is always great, and I think it’s missing from a lot of non-RPG games (and RPGs for that matter), so it was refreshing to hear it in Portal.

lulz

lulz

And of course, at the end of the day, Portal is just a cool idea. Entering at one spot and coming out of another, HAL 3000’s granddaughter, and cake. That is a winning combo right there. I suppose I’m just glad I took the opportunity to play it, get a few more nerd references now, and can relate that much more to the majority of gamers. And of course, now I can start Portal 2, maybe after this nausea wears off . . .