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When we first saw this work-in-progress space combat game from Mike Tipul in 2012, it was called Enemy Starfighter. It was a name so bland that it was tough to care about the game despite the striking art style, promise of procedurally generated scenarios, and perma-death campaign. Now it’s called House of the Dying Sun which is so much more evocative and intriguing. Whose house? Why is the sun dying?

The game has also taken a mighty change in direction. Instead of being a string of dynamically generated encounters, the game’s campaign is now made of 14 hand-crafted scenarios. Replay is encouraged with bonus objectives and unlockable goodies.

The combat in House is HIGHLY dependent on positioning and timing to make it sing. This means old-school encounter design. I really came to grips with this last summer and immediately shifted gears. Now the game runs on highly crafted, lightning fast fights that have designed enemy setups, sight lines, engagement ranges, reinforcements, custom AI behaviors, and more.

House of the Dying Sun will be available as an early access title on Steam in June.

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Renowned_Explorers_campfire

One of the strengths of Renowned Explorers, a game I liked so much that it was the third best game of 2015, is its score chase. Sure, it tells a great story. Sure, it’s full of memorable characters, treasures, and encounters. Sure, it forces you into difficult but gratifying choices as you decide which three adventurers to bring along this time. Sure, its combat is unique in a genre that can’t stop chasing X-com. But in the end, it all comes down to your renown. Your score. How famous did you get? How did you rank on the list of world’s most renowned explorers? And how did you rank on the list of other players? Did you beat my score of 1,917 renown? The six of you on my friends list with higher scores aren’t invited to answer that question.

But the score chase gets a whole new leaderboard later next month, when developer Abbey Games releases the generically titled More to Explore DLC. Which does indeed offer more to explore. Two new expeditions, to be precise.

The Andean Adventure: A 3-star expedition into ancient Incan mountain territory. Find extremely valuable treasure by helping the different cities rise against the oppressive Emperor. Pay for the Llama Express to jump between areas of the map quickly.

The Lost Island: in this new end-game expedition the secrets of the Anti-Explorers will finally be revealed…if your crew is capable enough to make it through. Go above and beyond, and you might just find the prehistoric and dangerous secrets hidden in the mysterious pink mist that covers this island.

That’s good and well, but I still haven’t beat Shangri-La, so whatever is behind the pink mist on Lost Island is well beyond my reach for the time being. But where the More to Explore DLC is really going to be my downfall is with the innocuously named campfires.

After the jump, grab a marshmallow on a stick and have a seat. Continue reading →

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Cove

Player versus player gameplay is coming to Minecraft. More specifically, Microsoft, Mojang, and 4J Studios are making mini-games for Minecraft: Console Edition, the first of which will be a competitive multiplayer mode. People have been making up their own Minecraft multiplayer games for years, but Microsoft wants to offer players an official set of rules. Battle introduces a bit of arena fighting to the free-form gameplay.

Players in Battle matches use randomly generated resources found in chests placed in specially designed PVP maps and combat one another in a free for all death match until the final victor is determined.

The new mode will be added for free to owners of Minecraft: Console Edition in June. Future map packs – there’s the money! – will be sold for $2.99 periodically.

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Now that The Division has settled into a comfortable grind, Ubisoft would like to remind everyone that they have another open-world shooter coming. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands features a whole lot of Bolivia for the player to explore. It’s got deserts, jungles, mountains, cities, and highways for the players shoot up. Thankfully, you won’t have to walk everywhere. There’s a variety of ways to traverse these environments like motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. Plus, Wildlands offers parachuting to cover z-axis insertion. It’s like Just Cause with slightly less explosions, but more brow-furrowed military guys grimly going about the business of killing.

Facing an almighty adversary in a massive, hostile environment, you will have to muster your strength, hone your skills, and sharpen your mettle to become a Ghost and take Bolivia back from its criminal tyrants.

Serious business. Ghost Recon Wildlands will eventually release on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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Gremlins_Inc_prosecutor

The new Automated Competitors DLC for Gremlins Inc, a great example of a videogame boardgame, gives each of the tokens a special ability. Imagine Monopoly — I know, I know, eww! — where the little dog gets extra movement, the battleship can attack other pieces to drive back a space, and the top hat, uh… Never mind the top hat. Let’s say the iron gets the ability to, uh… Okay, never mind the iron. The thimble gets to, well, uh… Look, I’m sure you get my point. Quit badgering me about stupid Monopoly.

In Gremlins, Inc, these abilities add a nice bit of flavor and gameplay. For instance, in my game with Kelly Wand (you can watch it here), my devil guy would have gotten victory points for mucking around in hell and he could have chosen among misfortunes instead of just taking whatever he draws. Kelly Wand’s garbageman would have gotten less money and would have been better at digging around in the dump. Our AI opponent, the prosecutor, would have gotten the best deal. With the new DLC, a prosecutor can steal votes to be elected governor, he pays reduced bribes to the police, and he can extort money from the other players. I call dibbs on the prosecutor in my next game! As part of the game’s thorough iconography — Gremlins Inc understands what it takes to make a videogame boardgame — any events associated with the new abilities are indicated by a light bulb.

Automated Competitors is the second DLC for Gremlins, Inc. It’s available today for five dollars. The first DLC, Uninvited Guests, was just cosmetic stuff. It was released last month, also for five dollars. A new patch, free to everyone, is also available today. It adds some new interface stuff and new cards. One of the cards is called Astral Elevator. It builds a permanent bridge between the bank and the astral plane, but only for the person who played the card. How is that fair? Unless, of course, I play it.

Correction: The character abilities are part of the free update and they’re completely independent of the paid DLC. This latest DLC, like the previous paid DLC, only adds cosmetic options such as character portraits, new music, and ingame emoticons. Everyone gets the new character abilities and furthermore, the developers have said they’re committed to making gameplay updates available to everyone free of charge. Thanks to Mysterio for the correction!

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Yes, there’s another expansion for Goat Simulator coming. Waste of Space puts your intrepid ruminant in the wild yonder of the universe, or as Coffee Stain Studios puts it, “Fly and shoot stuff in space, because nobody makes games about flying and shooting in space anymore.” There is a bit of pointed commentary right from the get go as the premise of the DLC involves a running gag based on crowd-funding. Very subtle, Goat Simulator.

Goat Simulator Waste of Space launches on iOS, Android, and Steam tomorrow.

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lootwatch

If you’re like the majority of gamers today, you’re either playing Overwatch, waiting to leave work or school to play Overwatch, or watching streams of Overwatch. Let’s say you’re in that tiny minority of gamers not doing any of those three things. Instead, you’re waiting in a queue to start an Overwatch match. What to do? Stare at the character screen? Heck no! You can spend more money on Overwatch. Cosmetic loot boxes are now available for purchase! 50 loot boxes for $39.99 sounds like the best deal. That’s like 80 cents per box!

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, | Movie podcasts
They_Look_Like_People_podcast

Only two out of three podcasters like this movie. But we overcome the dissonance at the 1:02 mark by having Britney Spears play us over to this week’s 3×3 of some of our favorite tracks by some of our favorite composers. Huge thanks to listener sinnick for assembling everyone’s picks into a Youtube playlist! And be sure to check out his latest movie posters.

Next week: X-Men: Apocalypse

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Kathy_Rain_sales

Kathy Rain is a bit of Nancy Drew for adults meets Gabriel Knight for non-hardcore adventure gamers. So far I haven’t run into any puzzles involving cat fur and maple syrup. Instead, it seems to focus on characters, relationships, and something intriguing that doesn’t come along until a little further into the mystery than I’m comfortable revealing. I haven’t played it nearly as much as I’d like, but I’ve played it enough to know I want to keep playing it.

Unfortunately, as of two weeks after its release, it’s a financial failure. But Jonas Antonsson from publisher Raw Fury doesn’t mind. He figures they’re going to make their money over the long run. He figures the positive critical response is going to give Kathy Rain a long sales tale. But he acknowledges this is particularly problematic for a developer, in this case a dude in Sweden named Joel Staaf Hasto. Slow sales mean it takes that much longer for a developer’s cut of the revenue to kick in. As Antonsson says:

Way too often the developer can’t survive this sort of scenario, usually because they don’t have other sources of income. They are — to put it frankly — fucked. This is especially true for newer and smaller developers.

That’s why Raw Fury and Hasto have an unusual deal. As part of the publishing agreement, Raw Fury is paying Hasto to keep working for the next year, regardless of what he’s working on. I don’t know how common this is, and I’m sure it’s easier for Raw Fury to do this with a one-man team than, say, a small studio. But it’s nice to read about a game that has the dubious honor of being a “critical success” (i.e. it’s not making much money) without putting the developer in dire straits.

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, | Games
far_harb

The Far Harbor expansion for Fallout 4 is a big bowl of post-apocalyptic clam chowder. While Fallout 4 had plenty of shout-outs to Lovecraft, Far Harbor wears its inspiration proudly. Being set on an island off the coast of New England, it’s full of horrors like sullen fishermen, dangerous mist, icthyian monsters, and violent cultists. It may be the best Lovercraft game to date. There’s new loot to collect and new locations to stumble through, but the best stuff may be hidden underwater around the island where most players will never go. Get some underwater breathing in your perks and go find some sunken treasure.

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Doom_chainsaw

Tom: If I’m going to keep playing Doom — which I had probably better if we’re going to write this review — it will be almost solely based on the campaign progression. Crazy weapon upgrades? Incentivized indiscriminate slaughter? Navigating and exploring using maps? Challenges throughout? The gratifying chaos of pinata monsters popping out candy? Where have I been doing this lately? Ah, right, the latest Ratchet & Clank. There is no shooter that isn’t better by borrowing from Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series, even if they don’t admit or realize they’re doing it. Have the Bethesda folks been citing Ratchet & Clank as an inspiration for Doom? I kind of doubt it.

Nick: This is the Doom I always thought I remembered. Thumping drums, melee kills, double-jumps, and chainsaw ammo pinatas. Nevermind that none of that was actually in Doom. Somehow id Software and Bethesda found a way to add all this stuff and trick me into thinking it was always in the series. There was an assault rifle with a zoom scope in the original Doom, right? However they did it, they brewed up some damn fine shooting here.

After the jump, now with extra punching! Continue reading →

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alani_born

Having only recently launched, Battleborn is already getting a new hero. The first of a planned five free heroes that will be added to the game’s roster, Alani is coming on May 24th for season pass holders and the 31st for everyone else. She’s another healer character, so players can expect her to be called on to support other heroes’ engagements and be a key support figure in team strategies.

Alani will cost 47,500 in-game credits to unlock for use. That’s a lot of lane pushing. Alternately, players with the season pass can unlock the new character using a free Hero Key that will come with the update. With the release of each new hero, Gearbox will supply season pass holders with a Hero Key to get a jump on all the dirty peasants that will be forced to grind for their heroes. Hero keys can be used to unlock any character the player isn’t able to access. If you’ve been stuck trying to beat all the co-op missions on advanced difficulty and you’re still not at Command Rank 40, you can use a Hero Key to bypass the requirements for Ghalt. Better yet, once you do fulfill the requirement for Ghalt, you’ll get your key back and can use it on another locked hero.

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, | Game reviews
Twilight_Struggle_review

There’s an old saw about how when you get exactly what you want it might not end up being what you expected. If that ever happens to you, let me know if it’s true. Until then, I’m going to go with the digital release of Twilight Struggle as being the closest thing we’ve got.

I’ve been saying for a while that board wargames have long since outstripped their computer counterparts in design, aesthetics, innovation, and any other positive adjective you can think of, depending on whether or not you ascribe a positive connotation to the word, “detail.” Boardgame ports, on the other hand, have a history of leaving somethingsometimes many things — to be desired. So when a company releases what many people consider the best wargame ever designed, and the PC port actually comes out almost perfect, and it’s about the Cold War of all things, there shouldn’t be much to say, except for “Praise Reagan!” Right? Right??

After the jump, haters gotta hate Continue reading →

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Starcraft_II_Abathur

Dear Blizzard,

Stop already. Just stop. Everyone knows how great you are. Everyone has already had to tear himself away from World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, Diablo III, and Heroes of the Storm. And you know we’ll have to do it all over again when Overwatch comes out next week. So why would you release new content for the co-op mode in Starcraft II now, today, mere days before Overwatch arrives? Why would you give us playable Abathur, more room to advance our favorite characters, and “mutators” to add a greater challenge to familiar levels? And why would the first mutator be a zombie train called Train of the Dead that I’m going to have to play because zombies and trains are two of my favorite things? At least you’re charging $5 for Abathur, which makes it easier to pretend I’m going to say no. But why would you continue to make Starcraft II relevant to guys like me who are above the single-player campaign but below the demands of competitive multiplayer? Why now? What are you trying to prove? That you can upstage Total War: Warhammer, the latest Fallout 4 DLC, Doom, Uncharted 4, and Homefront: Revolution? That your old games hold just as much sway as everyone else’s shiny new games? It’s too much. It’s simply too much. Just stop for a while and give everyone else a chance.

Yours truly (no, seriously, I mean “yours” in an unhealthy way!),

-Tom

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, | Game reviews
Stellaris_map

The central concept in Stellaris — that a galactic emperor isn’t a god — doesn’t work. It’s a concept Paradox has explored to great effect, especially with Crusader Kings and Victoria (minus the galactic part, of course). Some things are outside the control of a ruler. He does not get to tell each point of population which tile to harvest. He does not get to gobble up territory indiscriminately. He does not get to move sliders willy-nilly. History, Paradox’s favorite subject, is not a strategy game. It is an exercise in limitations. It is about people trying to hold power against the demands of social unrest, religious freedom, petty rivalries, Popes, capitalists, natives making a fuss about self-determination, evolving political philosophies, progress, entropy. To their immense credit, Paradox’s strategy games are the same thing. They are among my favorite historical essays.

After the jump, what does this have to do with sci-fi? Continue reading →

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