Author Archive

The Joy of Telltale’s Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle

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As an actual adult human being who still reads DC comics, I have to put up with a lot of BatBullShit. It’s not the brooding that gets to me or even the weird and sudden flips between psychologically scarring street-level crimefighting and wacky Justice League space adventures. It’s not the callbacks to events from previous decades that I don’t care about or understand, and it’s not even the fact that the world’s greatest detective solves far too many problems by punching people until they stop moving.

It’s the romance that bothers me. The sexytimes. I really don’t care if Batman and Catwoman are making out on a rooftop, or tearing off each other’s costumes in Crime Alley or some other unfortunate locale. It’s not that I object to any of these mostly miserable characters having a bit of fun every once in a while, but just as in a computer game when two doll-like faces smash together and I’m supposed to pretend I’m witnessing a passionate and intimate moment, these caped and costumed comic characters don’t seem real enough for anything other than the kind of sex-free coupling that Ken and Barbie might engage in.

How remarkable, then, that Telltale’s Batman Series actually had my favourite romantic moment in any game I’ve played for a good while.

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Embracing the bluff: how SpyParty’s long development changed the game

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Chris Hecker has been working on SpyParty for almost a decade now and I get the impression he’d be happy perfecting it for the rest of his career. Some developers want to move from one project to the next, an internal clock ticking down and reminding them how few ideas can be realised in a lifetime, while others are better suited to exploring one design from as many angles as possible, pushing every aspect to its limits.

“I love Go,” Hecker told me at GDC. “I wanted to make Go, but then I realised I was making a different kind of game. I realised part of the way through that SpyParty is more like Poker.” Embracing what the game is rather than what he originally wanted it to be has been key to the whole process.

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Soren Johnson on challenging the norms of 4X games

“Sid [Meier] didn’t know he was inventing a genre back in ’91 – if he had he might have been a lot more careful. He was just making it up as he went along.”

That’s how genres begin. By mistake. Somebody creates a set of rules and systems for the needs of a particular game, and then either people adopt and adapt those rules. Soren Johnson, creator of Offworld Trading Company and lead designer of Civilization IV, is working on a new game called Ten Crowns and after spending almost an hour talking with him at GDC, I get the impression he’s going to be very careful indeed. Not cautious, because I expect some bold reinvention of 4X strategy fundamentals, but careful in his treatment of a genre that we both agree needs to escape its own past.

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This tiny man in Minit is my fave character of 2018 so far

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Minit gives you sixty seconds to achieve great things. As soon as you wake, in whichever place you’re currently calling home, a timer begins to countdown and when a minute has expired, you die and restart. In that time, you might find a useful item, which will be close at hand in the next life, or you might discover a new area and start to formulate a plan for exploration and infiltration a few lives down the line.

It was during my second life that I found the lighthouse. By the lighthouse, an old man stands, crooked of spine. He tells you everything you need to know about Minit’s wit and central conceit, and he does that with nothing more than a text box and a very clever monologue.

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Surviving Mars patched, now contains fewer idiots

There are too many idiots on Mars but that’s about to change. Colony-building sim Surviving Mars, which pleased our Alec well enough when it launched last month, has received its first major patch. The update notes are a treat – not quite Crusader Kings, The Sims or Dwarf Fortress quality, but there’s some solid stuff in there.

“Colonists will no longer try to walk kilometers on foot to resettle resulting in them dying from lack of oxygen”. Like the headline says: fewer idiots.

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Spec Ops: The Line is free until Saturday

Spec Ops: The Line is free over at the Humble Store right now. It’s only available for 48 hours, ending March 31st at 10am Pacific, so I advise you to go there now. Congratulations! You are hopefully now the proud owner of a game about the horrors of war. It’s hell, in case you hadn’t heard, and many people are unsure what it’s good for. Hu-ah.

Here’s wot our Alec thought back in the day.

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Noita lets you break the world in beautiful ways

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Noita is how Spelunky looks in my dreams. It’s a game in which the world is simulated down to each individual pixel, so that liquids drip, flow, splash and stain. You’re tasked with travelling ever downward through a series of caverns, collecting new magical weapons and slaying beasties.

That wasn’t always the case though. As I learned when I sat down with the developers at GDC, Noita was once more Dwarf Fortress than Spelunky, but changes had to be made when the wildlife kept drowning in pools of their own urine. Now, Noita is a real-time roguelite, and a beautiful cocktail of fire and fluids.

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BattleTech mechs its way to release on April 24th

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Whirr-stomp. That’s the noise a big stompy mech makes as it patrols the battlefield. It’s entirely dissimilar to the pitter-patter my heart makes when I finally see a release date for BattleTech, the turn-based tactical MechWarrior game from Harebrained Schemes and Paradox. I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time – not just the years it’s actually been in development, but the preceding decades when the world stubbornly refused to give me a BattleTech game that didn’t strap me into the cockpit rather than letting me do what I do best: backseat drive, well out of harm’s way.

BattleTech, with its splendid combat and intriguing merc-management campaign, will be out on April 24th.

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The game industry needs to change and it begins now

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“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Steve Kaplan was in GDC to take part in a roundtable discussion about the pros and cons of unionisation in the games industry. He works in the entertainment industry and had travelled from Los Angeles, where he organises unions for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, to be the union rep in the room during the talk. He gave the impression he wanted everyone to be at the table, even the one person in a room of between 150 and 200 people who tried to put across anti-union arguments.

The room was noisy, with applause, appreciative clicking of fingers, and some mocking laughter alongside the occasional raised voice, but the corridor outside had been quiet. The roundtable was removed from the expo’s usual bustle but it was one of the most important events of the show.

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Bad North and the golden age of micro-tactics

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Into the Breach is one of the most perfect games I’ve ever played. It’s tactical warfare with every sliver of fat trimmed away and I’d put it up there with Chess and Invisible, Inc. in the pantheon of turn-based games.

Bad North will not be entering that pantheon. Not because it doesn’t seem capable of reaching lofty heights – it absolutely does – but because its own take on micro-tactics takes place in real-time. It’s a game of positional play, providing a handful of units and gorgeous, tiny, procedural islands to defend.

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Have You Played… Swords and Sandals?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Gladiatorial combat RPG Swords and Sandals has been part of my life for a very long time, and yet I sometimes forget that it exists. Most recently I was reminded when I saw new Steam release Warriors: Rise to Glory! which appears to be a Swords and Sandals game in all but name. Then I noticed that Swords and Sandals 5 Redux is also on Steam. Maybe I’m not the only person who’s heard of this series after all!

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Shadow Of The Tomb Raider coming in September

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The next Lara Croft adventure will be Shadow Of The Tomb Raider and it’s coming on September 14th, with no period of console exclusivity this time round. Square Enix have been bunging corks into their leaky reveal barge over the last couple of days, but now the teaser trailer is officially here. It contains all of your expected Lara action: she climbs a vertical cliff-face, falls down and slams into a wall, and looks at a sunset above some ancient buildings. But wait! That’s no sunset at all. It’s an eclipse. Everyone knows eclipses are prime ingredients in Top Archaeology. You can raid a tomb in the morning, you can raid a tomb at night. But raid one during an eclipse and you’ll find some proper mysteries.

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Tropico 6 reveals its isles of plunder

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If I were going to steal the Eiffel Tower, I’d definitely strap a giant rocket to it and launch it into the sky. Once it was airborne, I’d remotely pilot it back to my volcano lair and then park it in the Monument Chamber next to the Statue of Liberty (also rocket-propelled) and the Great Sphinx of Giza (trundles around on little wheels).

It’s not clear how El Presidente nicks the various monuments scattered around his archipelago nation in Tropico 6, but a new video shows the Eiffel Tower standing in tropical climes, as clear as can be. You’ll be able to organise raids to steal them, we’re told, but the biggest change is in the lay of the land. Rather than managing a single island, you’ll be connecting several islands together, which means you’ll need new tech and transport infrastructure to keep everything running smoothly.

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Soon, Voldo and Geralt will meet outside my dreams

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CD Projekt Red don’t have to do much to capture the internet’s attention. Remember when they beeped? That was a good day.

Today is also a good day. No beeps or boops or any other sound effects have emerged from the witchy cyberpunkers, but a new chronicle of Geralt’s adventures has appeared on the official Witcher twitter feed.

“Kaer Morhen’s old stones have witnessed many battles… Once more they’ll feel the sting of sparks as blades collide… Check back tomorrow.”

What could it mean? Well, it probably refers to an official Soul Calibur reveal. It almost definitely does.

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BattleTech isn’t just about mechs punching one another

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BattleTech is the game in which giant mechs punch each other until their limbs fall off and the pilots inside those mechs boil to death. It’s out next month and I’m very excited, having already spent quite a lot of time stomping about in superb turn-based skirmishes. It looks great, it plays great, all is well. Except…what about the dynamic campaign? Will it have enough menus and financial reports to really make my heart sing?

Clashes between clans in control of hulking great war machines are all well and good, but I’m here for the cashflow as well as the combat. I’m very pleased that the latest video to emerge shows lots of menus, as well as random events like pilots getting into punch-ups, bored during the long-haul trips from one planet to the next. It really is a mech management game underneath all that shiny chrome and delicious scrapping. Praise be.

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Wot I Think: All Walls Must Fall

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Bullets tear across a sweating dancefloor, heaving with bodies. Flashes of metal and flesh, lights pulsing and skittering across glistening bodies. All Walls Must Fall’s nightclub shoot-outs are a devilish dream, capturing at once the brilliance of Terminator’s Tech Noir horror and the actual punk in cyberpunk. I just wish there was more to the game than a thousand murders on the dancefloor.

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Have You Played… Dark Souls 2?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Dark Souls > Bloodborne > Dark Souls 3 > Demon’s Souls > Dark Souls 2.

But if you like the rest, you should still play number 2. It’s good. Being good just isn’t quite enough when you’re born into a family of geniuses. Read the rest of this entry »

Wot I Think: Where The Water Tastes Like Wine

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In Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, stories are currency. You walk the backroads and fields of the United States during the Great Depression, occasionally freighthopping or hitching a ride from one town to the next. Along the way, you meet many people and witness many events, most of them insignificant in the grand scheme of history and the land, but all contributing to a complex tapestry of a certain time and place.

Everything that you witness and every conversation you have becomes a tale in your repertoire, and in retelling these tales you learn about the characters you share them with, around campfires that are dotted around the map. It’s at the campfires that stories become currency, and also where the game’s combination of folktale and interactive systems becomes muddled.

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Wot I Think: Yume Nikki – Dream Diary

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Playing Yume Nikki: Dream Diary is like sitting across from somebody as they explain their dreams to you in great detail. No. Worse than that. It’s like listening to somebody describe an acquaintance’s dreams in great detail.

Every now and then, they pause and say something along the lines of, “you had to be there”, as people do when they’re telling a funny story that nobody is laughing at. In its transition from tiny sprites, abstract backgrounds and obscure free-form exploration to jerky 3d animation and side-scrolling running and jumping, Yume Nikki has lost almost all of its mysterious horror and charm.

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Have You Played… Messiah?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

You are a chubby baby, sent down from heaven to Earth in order to… I dunno… possess workmen and force them to jump into big grinding industrial machinery? That’s certainly how I played Messiah. There might have been more to it than sneaking up behind people, diving into their soul and then making them do a fatal pratfall, but I couldn’t tell you what. Read the rest of this entry »