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We launched a new Kickstarter campaign, this time for some more metal meeples.  We’re making the Mad Scientists and Tinkerer designs.  Please spread the word!

They are funded, so they will get made, it’s just a question now of how many and where we’re sending them.

Tinker Mad Science Meeples

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Thank you!

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Yuri Bezmenov

It’s always interesting to dig through this interview again.

The video

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piece
transcription

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The Christmas and New Year break allowed me to spend a bit more time with my Steam library.  So, it’s time for some more mini reviews!  This time I’m looking at Avedon: The Black Fortress, Awesomenauts, Banished, Breach and Clear, Capsized, Crayon Physics Deluxe, Crazy Taxi, DiRT 3 and DiRT Showdown.  I’ve mentioned DiRT 3 in passing before, but as I’m plowing through these things more or less alphabetically, it’s time to look at it a bit on its own.

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I’m going through my Steam list (and then some, as it happens) alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.

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First up is Avedon: The Black Fortress.  This is, to me, a relic of a bygone era.  It’s a modern game, but it has the look and feel of a Baldur’s Gate game from almost two decades ago.  If you liked those games, as I did, this is a bit less polished, but should scratch the same gaming itch.

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It’s not a slavish Baldur’s Gate clone, it simply has a similar feel.  The titular Black Fortress is an interesting setting, and the writing (tons and tons of it, if the first 15 minutes are any indication) is solid and sets the tone well.  The visuals are good, and while the bird’s eye view seems a bit too distant compared to what I’d expect, it works well for the sprawling maps that are offered.

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Combat is a tactical affair, with a handful of distinct unit classes plaowing through enemies in a straightforward “tank, mage, healer” sort of scheme.  It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it works well.

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That’s really the backbone of what I got out of the game: more of the same that I’ve seen and played elsewhere, but since it’s the sort of game that I like, that’s good.  It is a game that really deserves more than 15 minutes, but I’m giving it a Remember rating.  I probably won’t get back to it any time soon, but it’s solid and worth investigating if slightly behind-the-times RPG gaming is something you like.

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Awesomenauts is, well… as near as I can tell, a 2D platformer MOBA-ish game.  You choose a character, then go jump around and shoot/slash/detonate other player characters, ‘bots and/or their hapless minions and weapon emplacements.

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Characters have a variety of possible weapons and abilities to use, some unlocked through a vendor that you can visit near your base.  You earn coin to buy these abilities as you go destroy other characters or emplacements.  Controls are tight and responsive, and the visuals are clean and effective at communicating information you need.  I know, that seems rather pedestrian to note, but it really does matter in games like this that hinge on quick decision making.  Clean, appealing visuals go a long way to making the overall presentation work well.

There’s an interesting balance to the game, with characters functioning better in different combat niches.  It’s also interesting to get a feel for when to push with your team to try to make headway against the other team’s automated defenses.  The match doesn’t seem to be easily decided by the loss of one emplacement, which is good, but you definitely need to get a feel for when to push hard, even in the face of personal defeat, in order to move your team forward.

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Your character is replaced/respawned in fairly short order, so you’re not out of the game forever, but there’s a risk/reward calculus always in a precarious balance.  Hitting that sweet spot is a lot of fun, realizing that a push netted you a critical character or emplacement kill even though it was a gamble.

It’s simple, effective and fun.  It’s a game I Recommend to anyone interested in MOBA gaming or just fun platforming.  I’m not sure how it plays online these days, as I didn’t get to play with other players, but friends of mine who have played the game have reported that it’s good fun.  I liked noodling around with the AI-bot version of the game, at least… so maybe it’s really awful or really awesome online, I just can’t speak to that from experience.

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Banished is pretty and pretty tough.  You are tasked with helping somewhat bumbling people survive in a harsh wilderness.  It’s not impossible, to be sure, but this is a very different sort of city-building game from a SimCity or A World of Keflings.

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Banished is relatively simple, in that you’re not building a metropolis so much as just trying to survive.  There are a lot of moving parts, though, and the UI can get a bit cluttered.  It’s tricky sometimes, keeping track of everything, and mistakes can be catastrophic.

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It’s not quite a “roguelike” game since playthroughs are on the long side, but you’re almost certainly going to fail a few times before really getting it.  I certainly failed, and never did really succeed much.  I felt as though I could with more time and planning, though, and that is what makes the game hold my attention even in the face of disaster for my villagers.

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It’s a game that I Recommend for anyone with an interest in city-building, strategy or simulation games.  It’s not what I’d think of as a hardcore game in any of those genres, but it sits in a nice space somewhere between all three.

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Breach and Clear claims to be used to teach tactics to military trainees.  That’s curious, but I can see how it may well have started life as a tool and was slowly gamified, given that it’s not the most polished game.  XCom it isn’t, but it’s solid enough as a tactical simulator.

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It feels like it sits in a space between Frozen Synapse and XCom, with more real-world tactics and situations, a streamlined approach and simple design.  That’s not a Bad Thing, since what it does it does well.  It’s simple, clean, clear and effective.

Mistakes I made during missions were mistakes of my own tactics, not interface problems.  There are some weird bits in the endgame where fully-leveled characters get near-magical abilities, but the heart of the game is earnest and entertaining.

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I like the game quite a bit, and I Recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in tactical games or military games.  It’s not a real-time first person adrenaline rush like a Halo or Gears of War, but busting down a door into hostile territory can still be nerve-wracking.  “Stack up and own the angles” seems to be solid advice, and it makes for a solid game.

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Capsized is a quirky little 2D platformer-shooter game.  It’s very nice to look at, with a cartoony, etherial style for its alien worlds, shipwrecked astronauts and weird aliens.

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Control is akin to Awesomenauts, with keyboard controls for motion and mouse controls for shooting and grapple gun use.  You have a lot of functionality right out of the lifepod, and it’s fun to just move around in the game space.  It’s not as strict as, say, Braid or Super Metroid, with more forgiving level design and more movement goodies to start with.

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One bit that I didn’t quite get used to was the optional weapons peppered throughout the levels.  There are some fun options, but your weapons (all but the basic rifle) disappear at the end of each level.  I didn’t realize this at first, so I hoarded the special shots like shotguns and rockets.  I tend to do that with weapons with limited ammo.  As such, I wound up clicking too much to fire the single-click-single-shot basic rifle, when I could have been using more effective weapons.  It’s an odd design choice that I’m not quite happy with, but I recognize that my own expectations run against the design, so I can’t harp too much on it.

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Overall, I will Remember Capsized, but it’s not really one that I’ll go back to finish.  It’s a good game, I just have others I’d rather play.

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Crayon Physics Deluxe is, well, a game about drawing stuff with crayons and letting them play out using physics.  It reminds me a bit of Line Rider, given that it’s about drawing and seeing what happens with the stuff you draw.  It’s a more sedate and directed experience than Line Rider, but it’s a great game for experimentation and goofing about.

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My kids love it, too, which earns it bonus points.  The visuals, music and overall design makes them comfortable, and while some levels can be deviously tricky, there is still fun in trying to solve them.

I’ve had this game for years, and I’ve played it for many happy hours, but the first 15 minutes of a replay give a good impression of what the game is about.

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You can always make more of it than might be obvious at first blush, too.  That’s the joy in these freestyle games, like Minecraft or Line Rider.  Some of the most elegant solutions and some of the most insane solutions are out there on YouTube.  I Recommend the game, and have for years.

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I first ran into Crazy Taxi as an arcade game, vying for space with The Simpsons and Cruis’n USA in my local arcades.  I never did play it much, given that I wasn’t too fond of the limited time on offer per quarter, but it seemed solid enough for a simple and quirky driving game.

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Playing it on my PC some 15 years later, I find it to be marginally more fun than the arcade version, but it has definitely aged.  The timer is still in effect, and you have to be fast and a bit crazy to pull off a long string of completed rides.  I’m not that good at the game, so I wind up frustrated more often than not, but I can see some fun in the concept.  A map would have been a huge help, but I suspect it was left out to make the game more challenging and/or encourage replays.

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Yes, you can just generally follow the big green arrow, but it’s not always the best when it comes to planning the next couple of turns.  The start-stop nature of picking up and dropping off passengers is a nice change from the usual “go fast all the time” in most racing games, though, and I can see where better familiarity with the game’s cityscape would mean better scores.  That fits the theme nicely.

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Oddly, perhaps, it reminds me a bit of the fun to be had in 720°.  That game was certainly more constrained, but you could footle about for a while, just experimenting with the fun hook of the game.  The timer killed any real sense of exploration and experimentation (a persistent complaint I have with subscription-based games, actually; that ticking timer nags at me), but that was sort of inevitable given the arcade quarter-hungry nature of the game.

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If you’re in the market for an oddball 90s arcade driving game, this could be a Recommended game, but I can’t give it more than a Regret in my library.  It just doesn’t stand up with gems like Burnout Paradise that lets me just drive around a city at my leisure, maybe doing missions if the mood strikes, or FUEL, where I can just pick a direction and drive, willy-nilly.  The visuals don’t do it many favors, but really, the play’s the thing, and it just isn’t all that great compared to games I’d rather play.

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Speaking of driving games I prefer, though, DiRT 3 is near the top of the list.  It’s not as freestyle as Burnout Paradise or as delightfully destructive as Burnout Revenge, but it’s a fantastic, fun, beautiful game.

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It’s probably best characterized as an “arcade” driving game, given that it’s not hardcore in its realism or simulation, but it’s more sensitive to physics than those arcade games above, or even the Burnout games.  It’s also more philosophically grounded than the Motorstorm games (I love the Apocalypse version, as noted previously), but it has a similar driving feel.  You can also turn up the difficulty and get a more punishing experience, if that’s your itch.

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Controls are very responsive with my wired XBox 360 controller.  I played it for a while via OnLive back when they were still functional, and their controller worked well for the game, too.  It’s a smooth, tight system, and all the mistakes I made while driving felt fair, as though I had misjudged the turns and speeds, rather than fighting the controls.

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The game is gorgeous, though it’s largely taken in at a breakneck pace.  It’s not quite as appealing to me as the more stylized world of Motorstorm: Apocalypse, but DiRT 3 has a great “real world” sort of appeal to it.  The setting that it uses works fairly well for this, too, with a co-driver calling out turns and a career manager coaching you through the game.  It’s a different sort of tutorial or learning curve, but it works well.

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I’m just a “filthy casual” with too little time to play and hone my skills, so I play the game at the simplest setting.  It’s not too punishing but it certainly isn’t going to just give you a win if you just hold down the accelerator.  I have a lot of fun driving around the game’s tracks, at least, so I Recommend the game.

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DiRT Showdown is a freestyle/crash derby/gymkhana offshoot of the DiRT series.  It’s largely the same as DiRT 3 when it comes to responsiveness, visuals and overall play feel, but the focus on more rough and tumble play makes it a great side title.  The “sumo wrestling” platform event is especially fun, and something that works well in this sort of not-quite-real world.  It’s a simpler, more arcadey game overall, but whether or not you like that is a matter of taste more than anything.  I like it for what it is, and if you find anything appealing in the DiRT games, it will fit in nicely.  I Recommend it as well.

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aaaaand that’s it for this post!  I have more than 100 more games to go, so this is going to take a while, but it’s fun when I can get to it.  See you next time!

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World Dice Day

Happy World Dice Day!  (Once upon a time, “National Dice Day”, but it has expanded a bit.)

The Tinker Plastic Dice are now available for purchase online (at this convenient link), and I’ve been doing a little new design experimentation to celebrate.

Maybe someday I’ll get to make these happen as physical dice, but for now, they are just concepts.  These are three different themes for “Fudge” or “Fate” dice, each with two “+” faces, two “-” faces and two null or “0” faces.  I have been mostly building around the Fates dice, named for the Greek Fates, demigoddesses of, well, fate.  I’ve also designed a quick game around that set (rules below).

Fates Dice

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Tinker Fudge Dice

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Rock Paper Scissors Dice

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Tinkering With Fate Rules:

Goal:  Be the first player to collect ten points.  (Or some other number agreed upon by the players.)

Setup:  May be played with 4 Fudge/Fate dice, even if you need to make your own out of standard dotted/pipped 6-sided dice.  If each player has their own set of four dice, the game might go faster, but it is not necessary.  Paper and pencil/pen are handy for keeping score, and it’s useful to have a nice hard surface to roll the dice on.

Play:  A player’s turn consists of the following steps: Cast Lots, Fudge Fate (optional) and Take Toll.

Cast Lots:  Roll all four dice.  You may Take Toll (count your score) at this point, or you may choose to Fudge Fate, rolling up to two more times to try for better results.

Fudge Fate:  Choose at least one die to “bind to fate”, and set it aside, ready to score at the end of your turn.  Roll the remaining dice.  Each time you choose to roll again, you must bind at least one more die.  You may Fudge Fate twice.

Take Toll:  You score one point by cutting one mortal’s coil of string.  This requires one pair of scissors and one string.  (One “+” side and one “null/string” side.)  You gain a bonus point for each measuring rod (a “-” side) you have in addition to the scissors and string, as this makes that mortal’s life longer.

Scoring examples:

[+,+,-,0] would be two scissors, one measuring rod and one string.  This scores two points; one for the scissors-string combination, one bonus for the rod.  The other scissors are ignored.

[+,+,0,0] would be two scissors, two strings.  This also scores two points; one for each scissors-string combination.

[+,-,-,0] would be one scissors, two measuring rods and one string.  This scores three points; one for the scissors-string combination, two bonus for the rods.  This is the highest possible scoring combination.

[-,-,0,0] would be two measuring rods and two strings.  This scores no points, since there are no scissors to cut the strings.

[-,-,+,+] would be two measuring rods and two scissors.  This also scores no points, since there are no strings to cut.

Proceed to take turns, Casting Lots, Fudging Fate and Taking Toll, until one player reaches ten points.  Each other player then gets one final roll of all four dice to try to catch up or get ahead.  They do not get a full turn, so there will be no more Fudge Fate operations.  This is just a last chance to invoke the blessing of the Fates.

The player with the most points after this final casting of lots is the winner.  If there is a tie, and a clear, single winner is desired, those were tied for the lead continue to Cast Lots (without Fudging Fate).  Each rolls once, scoring if possible.  Repeat as necessary until one player scores more than the other(s).

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In a shocking, earth-rattling decision, Blizzard has finally allowed Gnomes to be Hunters.  Maybe.  Possibly.  Probably.  At least, this screenshot swiped from Twitter seems to indicate as much:

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I guess I need to update my shirts over on Zazzle (based on an idea by the Big Bear Butt himself).

Why Gnomes Can’t Be Hunters

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…oh, and Blizzard?  If you want to make a Fish Tank Gnomish Hunter Pet, I’m very happy to build you one that looks like this.  I’m very familiar with modeling, texturing, rigging and animating video game characters, having worked in the game industry for almost a decade.  I’m also presently open for contract work.

I also find it interesting that this is happening at the same time as a melee-based Hunter spec.  Coincidence or conspiracy?  Dun dun dunnnnn!

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It’s been a while since I actually had enough time to play anything on my Steam backlog.  I still haven’t since last time I posted about this project, but I have been playing a few smartphone games and even a PS3 game, so I’m splicing them into the project.  Gaming is gaming, more or less, and it’s worth writing a bit about these.  Standard boilerplate disclaimer/description, with a rider that most of the images this time around are swiped from the ‘net, since I couldn’t get screenshots:

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I’m going through my Steam list (and then some, as it happens) alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.

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First, I’ve mentioned Slingshot Braves before, which I’ve played on my Android smartphone and an Android tablet.  It’s a fairly solid game, as far as actual combat goes, but the progression system and gear acquisition system is… not good.  If you’re up for some good combat-billiards…ish sort of gaming, it’s worth checking out for a bit.  Just don’t spend any real money on it, and don’t expect to make much progress once the leveling curve ramps up.  The “Gacha” system, popular in Japan but with all the stink of F2P underbellies, is kin to the lockbox system we see in many Free To Play MMOs, where you can pony up about $5 worth of premium currency (earned either slowly in-game or via cash purchase) to open a thingamabob that might have a small chance of being useful instead of something you will just break down into materials you could literally earn in a three minute mission.  It’s a waste of money.  I’m not above wasting money, but this just itches in all the wrong places.  It’s a game I Regret, but only because it could have been so much better, not because it was awful to actually play.

Embracing Diversity

Yes, that’s his best armor.  Optimus Striptease, The Chief and Tutu Gogo.  The game’s gear design is largely the same old ridiculous chainmail bikini sort of crap, but once in a while they do something cool like steampunk armor, so there’s gold in there somewhere.

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Automatic RPG is silly.  That’s OK, as the charm of the goofy writing takes mild jabs at badly translated Japanese games and other RPG tropes.  The gameplay is minimal, even banking on the “it plays itself” mechanic to sell itself, and it’s kin to mildly entertaining time wasters like Candy Box and Candy Box 2.  It was fun for a while, seeing what gear the team found and what conversational malaprops happened, but there’s not really any meat on the game’s bones.  The Fire Emblem-like minimal graphics are good for what they are, and the competent music is probably out of a game dev bundle somewhere, but they serve their purpose well enough.  Again, not something to spend money on, but it’s fun to see what people do sometimes.  I don’t exactly Regret playing it, but it’s close, and it won’t last for more than another week or so, unless I forget I have it installed.

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Random aside:  The current (for another 12 hours) Humble Weekly Bundle has some game-making programs and assets that are worth investigating, if you’re itching to dig into making games.

There’s also a ton of stuff in this bundle:

Game Makers Mega Bundle

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Terra Battle is my current favorite mobile game.  It’s from the Mistwalker crew, complete with Nobuo Uematsu and Yoko Shimomura music, as well as art from stars in the JRPG community, so there’s more to it than Just Another Mobile game.  The core design is derived from the Puzzle And Dragons mechanic of swiping a unit around, nudging other units into place for some sort of attack, but the increased depth in its tactical considerations of placement and team composition is much more satisfying than games of that ilk.  Sure, there’s a Doctor Who and a Mario P&D variant if those are your IP hooks, but Terra battle takes the core design further, and does a great job at making it more satisfying.

The goal is not to line up units or whatzits to match three in a row and have them pop, but rather, to move your fighting units around to pincer enemies in, since the only way you attack is if you can set up your units in that sort of pincer.  This spreads things out, rather than clumping them as in a match-x sort of game, which shakes up the formula nicely.  Also, units that are lined up with the units initiating the pincer can lend some support, especially mages and healers, so mastering the entire battlefield and positioning is critical.  It’s rewarding to learn the system and plan things out well, making the most of your assets.

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(Image from this review, complete with a customer complaint.)

Mistwalker has also promised to do a console Terra Battle game, though the last time I checked, they didn’t know what sort of game it would be.  I’d love to see them tackle a Final Fantasy Tactics sort of game using that IP.  I can dream.

I Recommend this game, with the caveat that the bog standard “free to play” shenanigans pop up with its own sort of “gacha” system for character recruitment.  Extremely rare mages are somewhat overpowered, but I was able to finish the game’s main storyline without needing them and without spending money.  Rare characters are not critical to success in the game, and the game is more generous with its premium currency than most, but still… it’s not something I want to spend money on.  I’d be perfectly happy to pay $15 or so for a faster leveling pace and guaranteed recruiting (say, in given story missions) in a Buy-And-Play version of the game, though.

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It’s a solid game, fun to play, at least until frustration sets in with a slow leveling curve and some of the game’s more annoying bosses or level hazards (spiked floors in chapter 18 are eeeeeeevil) pop up.  I finished the main storyline without spending a dime, and I think I have a good feel for what the game offers.  I played way more than the 15 minutes I’m budgeting for this project, but I love just playing the game, so I don’t mind.

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And then there’s the biggie.  Motorstorm: Apocalypse.

I love this game.  I Recommend it.  It’s ridiculous, entertaining, and just a blast to drive through crazy, shattered locations.  Yes, I’m a sucker for apocalyptic land-and-cityscapes, and the overall look of the game is really what sold me, but the gameplay is really, really solid in my book.  The challenge of driving any of a fairly wide variety of vehicles through tracks that don’t always stay in place is just fun.  They really embrace the post-apocalyptic setting, but only as a vehicle for making sweet places to drive in absurd scenarios.  Drive through an earthquake, a hurricane, or just a huge rainstorm, all while plowing through buildings and skating across roads that break as you drive on them.  Drive anything from a semi truck to a superbike, taking advantage of the terrain and your ride, which makes replay interesting as the same track plays differently according to your vehicle.  Sure, it’s all contrived, and Michael Bay-like explosive events conveniently happening as you drive by are sort of silly, but it’s all so goofily fun in a wonderfully conceived and realized world that it’s hard to complain.

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The “comic book” storytelling is weak, with palpable yearning to be Image Comics in video game form and a thin story with cliche characters.  It’s not offensively bad, but it doesn’t really add to the game.

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I was hooked in the first five minutes of driving through a broken city, though.  I’ve played through about half of the story and driven on about a third of the open “free race” tracks.  There are more tracks that  I get to unlock, but out of the gate, there is plenty of fun to be found.

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It’s not quite as great as Burnout Revenge in my driving library, but it’s easily in second place, just edging out Burnout Paradise.  And yes, all of these edge out any Mario Kart game I’ve played.  Perhaps that’s sacrilege, but the pure mayhem in Burnout Revenge (crash events, especially), gorgeous explorable world in Burnout Paradise, and the broken, beautiful world of Motorstorm: Apocalypse are just more fun for me.  Sure, I had a blast with the original Mario Kart on the SNES back in the day, just like I had a lot of fun with Goldeneye, but these days, the field is a bit more stuffed with options.  I also haven’t played more than a few glorious minutes of DIRT 3, which seems like it might fit in the top 5 somewhere with a proper review.

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This is also a good excuse to share a few of my favorite short films.  First, there’s Ruin, which is most on-topic.  This post-apocalyptic short film is apparently a “tiny” piece of a bigger world, and I’d love to see more of it.  The character is a bit JRPGgy, in that he’s slightly oddly proportioned and moves in some regular cycles, reminiscent of Final Fantasy characters in their prerendered movies, but that’s the animator in me nitpicking.  The sense of world and place is great in this film, and I’m fond of the world building that the creator indulged in.

Then there’s World Builder, which scratches my film-making and game dev itches at the same time, and is just a sweet little story to boot.

And then there’s Carousel, one of the best CG short films I’ve seen to date.  The clowns are creepy, the “moment of time” hook is brilliant, and the story told really works well for what could have simply been an exercise in showing off fancy image-smithing.

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Until next time, then!  I’m hoping to dive back into Steam, but the Tinker Plastic Dice should be at my place this week or early next week, so I’ll be busy again with that for a while.

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On Wings of Ravens

I’ve written about this before, but I really love flying in World of Warcraft.  My Druid’s raven-like Flight Form is my favorite part of the game.  It’s the source of some of my best memories in the game.

When Blizzard removed flying from Pandaria I was annoyed.  Sure, we could fly at the level cap, so I could still flit around eventually, but it was a slog to get there.

Draenor doesn’t have flying.  It’s possible WoW never will again, at least in newer content.

The thread about this change on the official forums is pretty epic, running fast and furious since its inception, though it’s locked now.  Closing it off is sure to spawn more, hydra-like.  The sequel is already off to a roaring start.

I’m on record as being a fan of flight.  I think this is a Bad Idea on Blizzard’s part.  It will be most interesting to see if it matters, either in the short term or the long term.

It has mattered to me already, though.  I won’t be buying Warlords of Draenor.  I was considering it, and almost did last time it was on sale.  At present, though, with the “Facebook-ization” of the game via Garrisons and the cancellation of flight, it just doesn’t have enough draw to get me back into new content.  I might revisit Pandaria or Northrend at some point, since they are beautiful to fly around in, but the newer stuff just doesn’t cut it.

I’m not saying “Nevermore” just quite yet, but it’s ever closer.

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