Archive for February, 2012

How does the free-to-play End of Nations actually play?

, | Games

After spending some time with an early build of End of Nations, I can safely say that it’s a bit early to conclude much about how it plays. That last phase of unit balance and interface polish does a lot to a real time strategy game. That won’t happen to End of Nations for a few more months. Suffice to say that at this point, the game shows every sign of developer Petroglyph getting back in touch with their Command & Conquer roots.

After the jump, some commanding, some conquering Continue reading →

Your Daily McMaster: Who got all these skeletons on my pizza?

, | Games

On a moonlit night,
every thousand days,
the restless dead,
rise up to play.

They did not expect,
on this night though,
a fierce opponent,
of sauce, cheese and dough.

Thus begins the journey of pizza.

That’s probably the weirdest opening I’ve ever written, which fits because Pizza vs. Skeletons is one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played. Well, played and liked. I can think of several weirder, yet horrible, games.

After the jump, a culinary favorite declares war on the dead. Continue reading →

In the grip of The Darkness II

, | Game reviews

“Corridor” used to be a dirty word in shooters. Time was I thought a linear corridor-based shooter was a lost cause. Thanks Calls of Duty! But then along came the Bioshocks, and games that did such nifty things with the shooting that I didn’t mind the corridors: The Club, Resident Evil 5, Lost Planet 2, Kane & Lynch 2, Fear 3. And now The Darkness II, a sequel to a game I didn’t even like, drives home the point that corridor doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

After the jump, a shooter Bill Gaines would love! Continue reading →

Look what’s blowing up in Wargame: European Escalation

, | Games

One of the many reasons I love Wargame: European Escalation, the latest RTS from the developers of the sadly underappreciated Ruse and Act of War, is the graphics. What a mostly gorgeous rendition of Cold War hardware in the thick of battle (pictured)!

I say “mostly” because of that weird grid of dots inside the explosion. Do you see it? I can’t help but see it, on each of the four systems I’ve used to play the game, every time there’s a big explosion like that. It looks like a broken dot matrix display or a half-assed Lite-Brite. Apparently, it’s a bug and it’ll be fixed in the next patch. ETA: who knows. Great. I understand weird bugs, occasional corrupted textures, and driver issues. But something this egregious baffles me. If I made a game this good, I wouldn’t want players having to look at that error any more than I’d leve a typo in an article. See how annoying it is?

So until the next patch, playing Wargame: European Escalation is like admiring a lovely painting with a bunch of staples randomly stuck in the canvas.

More weird explostions after the jump Continue reading →

Meryl Streep wins Oscar and Scrabble

, | Games

Electronic Arts, the latest licensee of the official Scrabble name, is taking its duty seriously. They just issued a press release rating the acceptance speeches during the Academy Awards for their best Scrabble scores. And the winner is…

Inexplicably — Score:28 (Meryl Streep, Best Actress, “The Iron Lady”)
Indefatigable — Score:20 (Eugene Gearty, Sound Editing, “Hugo”)
Provocateurs — Score:17 (Christopher Plummer, Best Supporting Actor, “Beginners”)
Prosthetics — Score:17 (J. Roy Helland, Makeup, “The Iron Lady”)
Chameleon — Score:15 (Gore Verbinksi, Director “Rango”)
Financier — Score:14 (Michel Hazanavicius, Director, “The Artist”)
Resilience — Score:12 (Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Documentary Short, “Saving Face”)
Virtuoso — Score:9 (Colin Firth’s introduction speech for Best Actress)

I can hear half of America going, “Oh no…oh, come on…why? Her. Again.” But, whatever.

Storm of Souls shoots an exciting new jolt into Ascension

, | Games

Sequels can do things originals can’t. Superhero movies, for instance. The first movie is an origins story. That’s when you have to explain the rules to people like me who didn’t read the comic books. The superhero frets about great power. Aunt Martha gets killed. The superhero stops fretting and punches a few punks. Finale. But once you get to a sequel, your superhero fights better villains and maybe even trashes the city, since sequels have bigger budgets for special effects.

Ascension: Storm of Souls, a sequel to Ascension, gets down to the serious business of serious spectacle now that the ground rules have been laid. It may not be better than the core game — the elegance of basic Ascension is a tough act to follow — but it’s different, it’s more, and it’s the logical next step if you’re an Ascension fan.

After the jump, is it as good as fighting Terence Stamp? What about Heath Ledger? Continue reading →

February 27: wallet threat level snow

, | Games

Can Electronic Arts recapture the glory days of the SSX series? Find out this week with SSX Rebooted, which isn’t actually called that, but I can’t very well just call it SSX. Yeah, sure, that’s the name, but how are you going to know I’m not talking about the original Playstation 2 game?

I also can’t very well call the other four games out this week what they’re actually called, because I can’t keep the names straight. Can you? Here are four shuffled titles. I defy you to pluck the actual names from the list!

Pokepark Neptunia
Black Domain 2
Deep Hyperdimension: Wonders Beyond
Binary mk2: Reloaded

After the jump, you will be scored Continue reading →

Qt3 Movie Podcast: The Secret World of Arrietty

, | Movie podcasts

You know that scene in Broadcast News when William Hurt proves himself by adroitly speaking while Albert Brooks talks in his ear? Kelly Wand is the opposite of that as he delivers a synopsis for The Secret World of Arrietty, the latest movie from Studio Ghibli. At the 35-minute mark, our 3×3 for this week is great actors in great movies who give bad performances.

Next week: The Son. Yes, this one.


Farming Vader: Hamlet with lightsabers

, | Features

Despite my intial reservations about the guy Alex and I have nicknamed “Hot Tamale” (who actually goes by Doom Patrol), he’s turned out to be a great addition to the guild. He has a lot of knowledge about MMO mechanics, is familiar with all the SWTOR classes, and is willing to jump into some of the toughest situations without any of us asking him. For example, the fourth stage of Eternity Vault – one of SWTOR’s two operations – involves a one-on-one duel for every member of the party. There are three possible enemies: one with low HP, one with a considerable amount, and one with a ton. The first time we did it, Tamale immediately volunteered to take one of big dudes. Even more impressive is that he was the second person done with his fight, finishing just seconds after Alex.

He’s been with us for about six weeks now and he’s been a pretty great fit overall. We even considering making him the guild recruiting officer until he started something no GM ever wants: guild drama.

After the jump, trying to avoid a lose-lose resolution Continue reading →

Reason #284 why I love Ascension

, | Games

I’ve often said that asymmetry is inherently interesting. So is randomness. Eventually. In Ascension, a tabletop and iPhone card game for two players that a few of us on Quarter to Three have written about fondly, players compete for cards in a middle row to build up your decks. Whoever earns the most victory points wins. You get these victory points by either using military power to kill monsters in the center row, or “spacebucks” to add more cards into your deck. Sometimes you can do both at once! Some monsters also give you spacebucks to buy more cards.

But there’s one card — only one! — that can earn you points in three different ways. Xeron, Duke of Lies. Not to be confused with an Intel processor or a noble gas. He hates that. He’s a monster who gives you victory points for banishing him and for adding another card to your deck. But Xeron can also earn you victory points a third way, because the card you add to your deck is randomly taken from the other player’s hand. So you’re earning victory points for the act of kiling Xeron, by adding another card to your deck, and by reducing the other player’s victory points when you steal a card from his deck.

This doesn’t always work out well, because you might draw one of the common worthless cards from the other player’s hand. Oh, look, an apprentice worth zero points. Big whoop. That’s Xeron for you. He’s not called the Duke of Lies for nothing. But sometimes — sometimes! — it works out slightly better than that. And then there are the times you involuntarily make a loud whooping sound before you even realize it.

I’m not sure who Crazy Puck is, but in the game we’ve been playing, I defeated Xeron and then drew a card from Mr. Puck’s hand. The card I got was the Hedron Link Device, which is worth seven points. That means a 14 point swing in our relative scores in a game that is often won or lost by a few points. Of the roughly 250 cards in the game, there is only a single card that would have been worth more points (the Hedron Cannon is an eight pointer). The combination of conditions that had to come together for this to happen is unlikely, to say the least. The device had to bubble up out of the 250 cards in the deck, Crazy Puck had to acquire the device, I had to defeat Xeron on the turn he’d drawn it, and then I had to pick it from his hand instead of one of his other cards. And it’s a real shame I don’t know Crazy Puck, and that we’re playing on the iPhone instead of in person, because it was one of those quintessential game moments that randomness and rarity make all the more special when you know the victim.

Where does Conquest of Elysium 3 get those wonderful toys?

, | Game reviews

One of the reasons I love real time strategy games is because they’re like toy boxes. When you’re a kid, lifting the lid on a toy box is a wonderful moment of possibility. What will you choose to pluck out today? Where will you put it? How will you use it? Will you array a handful of stormtroopers against Han and Chewie? Will Luke fight Greedo? Will a diecast 57 Chevy figure into the action? And what if you throw a swarm of small plastic dinosaurs into the mix? That’s the unfettered kid mind at work. Real time strategy games, at their best, tap into that mindset, but governed by adultly rules about resource allocation and thematic unity and mutually exclusive choices and unit balance and effective interfaces.

When a game of Conquest of Elysium 3 starts, I feel much the same way as I feel when I start a great real time strategy game: here is a wonderful moment rich with possibility. Never mind that Conquest of Elysium 3 is turn-based and visually roughhewn. It’s a generous toy box governed by adultly rules.

After the jump, toy story Continue reading →