Mid-Year 2011 Review

Inspired by Rock, Paper Shotgun:

1. What games have you played this year?

From the start of January until the end of June, I have played (and finished the starred titles): * Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Psychonauts, Disney Epic Mickey, * Donkey Kong Country Returns, * Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, * Dragon Age II, Majesty (Gold Edition), * Alan Wake, * LittleBIGPlanet 2, * Heavy Rain, and * Portal 2.

2. What’s your Game Of The Year from that list so far?

Portal 2. Even after finishing it, I found that I was really enjoying going back and re-playing levels for the trophies. Everything about the game was perfectly put together, from the sound to the level design to the voice acting to the puzzles. Loved it. Still have the multiplayer maps to go.

3. What else will you play this year?

In the last few days, I’ve been spending more time with the Witcher 2. I will post a first impression on it soon.

After I finish the Witcher 2 I will move on to L.A. Noire. After that, I aim to play: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Alice: Madness Returns, Dungeon Siege III, Infamous 1, Ico, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Batman: Arkham City, Saints Row: The Third, and X-Men Destiny.

4. Do you expect your game-of-the-year choice to last until the end-of-year list season?

Possibly. But I imagine Skyrim, the Witcher 2, AC: Revelations, and Arkham City have the best chance of displacing Portal 2 as my GotY.

The Humble Indie Bundle

It”s probably too late to mention it now since the HIB (humble indie bundle) is only available for another 3 hours (shuts down at 4pm EST), but if you haven’t grabbed it yet I’d suggest taking a gander over at the wolfire.com website.

You get six independently-developed games that work for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and you can pay any price you’d like for the entire bundle. Not only that, but you can divide your money between the developers and their charities. Of course, we all know how much independent developers could use the money to keep making the games we love. Right? 🙂

As for the games themselves, last night I played World of Goo and Gish. Candice played Aquaria. And we both played-and-finished Samorost2. We still have Lugaru and Penumbra to look at. Anyway, check it out while there’s still time.

[Update] The HIB has generated a million dollars. Wow! As a result, the projects are going open source and it looks like everyone has another 4 days to check this offer out. The timer now shows a finish time of, it looks like, Saturday at 5pm EST.

Casual RPG

Casual Games

Casual Games

I’ve been playing a lot of the so-called “casual” games on Facebook. I’m enjoying them and it’s got me thinking that if I had the programming and art skills, I’d probably put together a casual RPG. There are a lot of casual RPGs out there, but I think most of them get it wrong. They require too much of a time investment or come off as too complicated at the start, or are ultimately boring. The casual games I’ve come across that are successful, and attract male and female gamers alike, incorporate some very specific ideas that I would focus on in my casual RPG.

So what would my casual RPG look like?

You’d start by crafting an avatar. Pick your smile and your eyes and your hair style and color. Pick your build and skin color and so on. There would be a dozen varieties for each trait at the start, though you could later buy/unlock much more using experience or real money. Once done, name your character and off you go.

I’d start you out in a tiny village. There’d be three buildings. One would be for buying & selling weapons and armor. One would be for training. And one would be an arena. There’d also be an exit from the town to seek adventure.

Casual Games

Casual Games

The Shop

The game would tell you to click on the weapons and armor shop. You’d do so and you’d get some free money for succeeding at the task. You’d also get an achievement — as you will for many tasks throughout the game. Once inside, you’d have the money for a dagger and some leather armor and buy one of each; they’d be auto-equipped. If you clicked on your character, you could edit the appearance of your new equipment — changing the color or picking from a couple designs. Again, you could buy more options with real money.

The shop would also have special items like magic powers or equipment, familiars (a pet), and so forth. You could buy healing potions to heal you while you adventure or magic oils to apply to your sword to make your killing strokes more powerful. And if you bring a pet along, they would help you on your adventures and, of course, you could customize them to great extent.

The shop would have no other equipment available, but as you adventure you’d find parts of guides that would tell a blacksmith how to make additional equipment. You might also stumble across a traveling trader along the way to an adventure, or back from one. You could cash these guides in at the shop and that would further let you buy new equipment.

Casual Games

Casual Games

The Trainer

The second shop is the trainer. He’ll get you new combos to perform, but you need to “learn” the individual moves, first. There might be a 4-hit combo that starts with a slice, follows with a kick, moves on to a back kick before ending with a shield bash. Learn all four individual moves and you can train-and-master that four-hit combo. Then when you watch your character adventure, he’ll occasionally use that routine.

The Arena

The third shop is the arena. This is where you go to earn extra experience and learn some new moves by fighting against strangers. If you’re on-line and playing, to other players you will appear to be in the arena — giving them lots of different characters to face off against. Occasionally, there might be “events” where you can join the arena and fight your way to the top of the standings for special loot.

Adventuring

When you exit the town, at first there would only be one option for a destination — the typical “killing fields” idea where you’d go to fight monsters and get loot and experience. But as you gain levels, perhaps every three or so levels, you would unlock other areas — a cave, an abandoned fort, a dungeon, and so forth. Each area would provide certain collectible items that, if you earned the complete set, would provide you with bonuses.

Casual Games

Casual Games

For example, maybe the first area is the outskirts of an elven village and you’re fighting rabid deer. As a rare reward, you might earn an elven cloak or elven boots or an elven dagger. Get the complete set of elven gear and you gain some small bonus to your character that stays with your character permanently. This would lend in to the social aspect of the game, encouraging you to trade with your friends (which further encourages you to sign them up for the game).

Adventuring would consist of a single screen and show your character fighting, thus allowing for a more casual experience. It might be fun to watch your character at work, but it would be unnecessary. You could safely leave for hours on end and then check back in with your character later.

I would like to incorporate some element that makes you want to watch, at least a little, now and then. For example, maybe there are fighting stances or marching positions that impact how the fights go. Maybe an aggressive stance works great against deer but stumbles against orcs. Or maybe how you move affects whether you trip booby-traps or alert monsters to your presence prematurely. You’d want to watch for a few minutes and tweak it a little to get it just right so your character’s advancement remains smooth.

Gaining Levels, Making Friends

Every kill earns your avatar some experience and/or loot, but he’ll also take damage along the way. As you gain money, you can buy healing potions or other restorative items.

Casual Games

Casual Games

But as you gain levels, you can bring some of your friends along with you — and assign them to specific roles. These roles would provide modifiers to your character, dependent upon their level. For instance, insert someone into the fighter slot and they’ll weaken opponents for you making it easier to kill the monsters. Add a rogue, and traps do less damage or, perhaps, monsters give more loot. Maybe there would be a healer slot that would let you slowly recover and stay out adventuring longer, or a wizard who lets you earn more experience as you fight.

Occasionally, you’d stumble across something new — a tough opponent or a secret cache — and you could send out a call to your friends for help. Or maybe just as a daily routine, you’ll send out a message to each of your friends asking them for a visit. In their game, if they offer to help or visit, they’ll earn some instant experience and loot — further encouraging you to make friends and get other people playing. There would also be times when your friends would pop into your games, helping you in a fight — so that you take less damage or gain more experience; they would gain experience and/or loot in their game, as well. There might even be some areas where, say, a zombie plague is ravaging a small community. Every time you kill a zombie you free one of your friends from the plague.

If at any point you reach 0 health, your character will decide he’s too tired to continue adventuring and will return to town to rest. He’ll recover on his own, but if your friends check in on you they can click on you or offer you gifts to heal you more quickly.

Want to get rich? Want to take this idea? Let’s get working on it! I’m currently available. :p

DoubleBear Zombie RPG

I’m actually not a fan of zombies. And I feel like I have to say that up front because, it seems, many people are. But I am excited for this new game, zombies or not, because the focus is on survival and a drastic transition in the world. It’s built with the engine being created for Age of Decadence, so we don’t know if that’s good or not yet but I think it’s a positive if you like a Baldur’s Gate II-style game. Check it out:

Was hoping to save this for a rainy day, but it is cloudy here in Seattle today, so here we go. As the speculators have correctly guessed, yes, DoubleBear’s first game is indeed a Zombie RPG, which we have fondly referred to as a ZRPG internally. Before people start running in all kinds of directions with that, here’s what I will confirm:

-Set during the breakdown of society as emergence of zombies causes widespread panic and disorder.

-Slow, shambling zombies. Spreads like a virus/bite transmission. No, you are not a zombie, that would be stupid.

-Serious examination of a national crisis or natural disaster. Humans and a lack of order are a bigger threat than the undead. Think Hurricane Katrina, Children of Men, Dawn of the Dead NOT Resident Evil, Return of the Living Dead, zombie shooter-type games.

-Game is about survival. Scavenging resources, exploring the area, dealing with other survivors, and managing a “shelter” of sorts are the main focus of the game. More on this later.

-Game is open-ended. There are characters and events that could happen, but the story depends on where you go, what you do, and who you meet.  Of course, there’s a lot more to this and we’ll go into more details as time goes on.

We’ll be here often shooting down the wildest of theories and discussing our systems in more detail. Let’s start the old back and forth, shall we?

Looking Forward To… ?

I’ve spotted a few lists popping up around the web of upcoming games that people are excited about. Gamasutra posted a pretty good list of such anticipated games. In a slightly older article, Blorge put together a good list as well. To let you see how my tastes run, here are the games which have me the most excited. Not all are coming in 2009, so I’ve added the expected released date for clarity; I’ve also listed the system I intend to get it on:

  • Alpha Protocol (Xbox 360, Oct 2009)
  • Age of Decadence (PC, TBA)
  • Assassin’s Creed 2 (Xbox 360, November 2009)
  • Diablo 3 (PC, TBA)
  • Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360, October 2009)
  • Heavy Rain (PS3, 2010)
  • Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360, 2010)
  • New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii, Q4 2009)
  • Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii, 2010)
  • Wii Sports Resort (Wii, July 2009)

I’m iffy on Batman: Arkham Asylum. Everything I have heard sounds wonderful, but I want to read some reviews and try a demo before I make a decision. Also, I don’t own a PS3 — but I will buy the game and rent a PS3 if I have to so that I can play it. As for New Super Mario Bros., I’m not completely excited about the game, but I had a great time playing LittleBIGPlanet with Candice and Lisa (my girlfriend and her sister) and I am looking forward to more of the same from Mario.

Heavy Rain

After watching the five-part developer walkthrough, I am more excited than ever for the upcoming PS3 title Heavy Rain (expected: early 2010).

For anyone else who watched the clips: did you catch the bit near the end where he [David Cage, CEO Quantic Dream] said that you can fail?

Yes, your character can die… and it’s not game over. He elaborated that you have four characters and all four can die and the story will advance.

(Here’s a link to an interview where he spends a couple minutes talking about just that.)

Wow. But then again, if you read this site, you already knew that would excite me. And for those who don’t (and don’t feel like checking that link) the quick summary is that I like a branching story. We need games to move away from the linear ladder that is either “try, succeed, continue” or “try, fail, re-try”.

Of course, I need more details. More! I need to know exactly what happens when all four of your characters die. 🙂

Also, reading up on the game at Wikipedia, I spotted a comment about how important moral decisions are to Cage:

The question ‘what is good and what is evil’ is the key here, that will be just a matter of viewpoint…I believe heavily in moral choices, I’m going to use them a lot. They’re not about being good or bad, but about finding the right balance.

I like that. It suggests at moral ambiguity. The hard decisions. Do the ends justify the means? Hopefully, that’s exactly what he means.

And of course it all ties in with their new interface system where stuff apparently jumbles and twitches based on your character’s anxiety. Perfect.

Not that I would have ever thought, once upon a time, a muder-mystery game would be something I’d be drooling over, but it just goes to show that good design is good design. And the same can be said for Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy (even if the story got weird at the end).

I may not buy a PS3 just for this game, but I will probably buy this game and bring it over to Lisa’s to play on her PS3. And that’s saying something because I don’t think I’ve ever bought a game that I couldn’t play on something I own. 🙂

E3 – 2009 – Day Three

Little bits of exciting news out of E3 here and there. As with the past couple of days, here are the items I find most compelling:

  • A Heavy Rain trailer! Damn, I want to play this game. This is the absolute first moment I’ve regretted not having a PS3. The video showcases the game’s opening mixed up with some game play. If the interviews are accurate, it’s going to be a “grounded” Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy. Awesome.
  • Speaking of PS3, and my current loyalty to the Xbox 360, I remember, once upon a time, a lot of people citing the PS3 as the huge performer. Games, we were told, would eventually look far better on the PS3. Here’s a quote from Crysis’ CEO: “Between Consoles and PC I see a difference,” he told Develop. “The PC version will outscale and outperform the consoles. Between each console I believe the experience will be finally both next-generation, but similar experience.”
  • Ubisoft did a presentation for Assassin’s Creed II, showing off a good chunk of gameplay by highlighting some of the new features. This game looks really good. I love it when a sequel tweaks the original and then adds a swak of new content.
  • While BioWare did not do a public presentation for The Old Republic, Kotaku got a hands-on playthrough and wrote about the experience.
  • CD Projekt is still supporting the Witcher. Crazy! Their latest patch, referenced as the Director’s Cut of the game, removes all DRM and tosses in five fan-made modules. I don’t know anything about the modules, so I can’t say whether their inclusion is enough to get me to re-install the Witcher. I guess we’ll see!
  • I recently learned that the new Super Mario Brothers title for the Wii is co-op. That makes it somwhat more interesting to me. I played through LittleBIGPlanet with my girlfriend and her sister and we had a great time. “Competitive co-op” on the Wii could be a lot of fun.
  • Here’s an article by Tom Chick where he discusses the various motion-sensor controllers that are on stage at E3. I’ve read a few articles today that mention how the new controllers will add years to the lifespan of the current generation of consoles. Nothing wrong with that. And I love the innovation. But until the console ships with the peripheral, you can guess that the peripheral, and the games that use it, will never be mainstream.

E3 – 2009 – Day Two

Not a lot of excitement for me out of today’s E3.

I love the new Assassin’s Creed II trailer, but it’s just a cinematic. No game play. Similarly, the cinematic from Team Ico we’ve all seen has been given a title, as Last Guardian was officially announced. It’s also stated to be the third in the trilogy of titles also featuring Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

Final Fantasy? No thanks. I love RPGs but I never got into Final Fantasy. I spent about 15 hours trying with part 7, but… I think the days of me grinding through hordes and hordes of monsters ended after I finished the first three Phantasy Star games.

From the list of Nintendo-centric reveals, Wii Sports Resort and Super Mario Galaxy 2 are the games I’ll jump for. Super Mario Galaxy was tons of fun, and I think I played Wii Sports more than anything. I love that the new one has basketball, but it brings golf back, too? Why the repeat?

Not sure if I’ll get the new Rabbids Go Home game or not, but I’ve played the last few so I can assume it’s likely it gets a rental, at least. The trailer is cute. 🙂

A new Super Mario Brothers doesn’t interest me. Nor does Metroid. Zelda on the DS is iffy, but I still need to play the last one for the DS, Phantom Hourglass.

Golden Sun for the DS might have interested me had I had a better experience with the franchise. I got the first two titles and got about 1/3 of the way through the first one when a critical path bug blocked my progress. My only option was to start over from the beginning, and I was unwilling to to do that for a game that was only mildly entertaining me.

Is there anything else?

No. I don’t think so. A heart-rate monitor for the Fit? Uploading DS photos to Facebook? Meh. 🙂

E3 – 2009 – Day One

The first day of E3 is largely over, so let me re-cap the news that has me the most excited:

  • BioWare Austin released the “Jedi vs Sith” cinematic to promote Star Wars: The Old Republic. This thing is incredible. I don’t even care about playing the game, I just want to watch the video continue. Shoot, let’s scrap the MMO entirely and just have BioWare Austin release a new trilogy of movies. I’m there.
  • Project Natal seemed like a “neat” advancement of the motion-sensing technology of the Wii – until I saw it paired with Lionhead’s AI tech demo, Milo. Check it out. Obviously, this isn’t a game and who even knows what it will end up looking like but I’m always excited by new gameplay tools for creative developers. In other words, it means nothing now but it could revolutionize the industry in two or three years. (Side note: I don’t expect Natal to see much use either, this generation, but if it’s bundled with the Xbox 360 successor – that could be awesome.)

Anything else?

  • Crackdown 2 announced! Yes! Long-time readers will know how much I enjoyed Crackdown. When I changed my Xbox Live account from Canada to the US, I lost all my achievements. The first game I (happily) re-played to recover those achievements was Crackdown. I’m so excited for a sequel, especially since I assumed it would never happen.
  • The aforementioned BioWare promos for Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2.
  • The released line-up for Guitar Hero 5 – lots of good bands like the Duke Spirit, the White Stripes, a Perfect Circle, the Raconteurs, No Doubt, and Megadeth amonsgt others. The Beatles: Rock Band game looks sharp, too. I’d dig the GH5 songs better, I’m sure, but Rock Band looks like a more fun thanks to the story mode.

Also, I have to admit that I’ve never played Monkey Island but it makes me happy to hear they’re resurrecting it.