Archive for September, 2012

, | Games

Since hogging the sheets and dragging people across the floor can only get you through so many sequels, the Paranormal Activity series has to find new gimmicks. Kind of like videogames in a post-Wii world. Hence, the Kinect’s appearance in Paranormal Activity 4. According to the teenage monster fodder in the trailer:

You guys want to see something really cool with the Kinect that you can do? Kinect projects tracking dots.

Note that the trailer for last year’s Paranormal Activity 3 had all sorts of devious misdirection for including scenes that didn’t appear in the actual movie. So for all we know, the demon in Paranormal Activity 4 might be more of a Wii U or Playstation Move kind of demon.

(Thanks, Telefrog!)

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, | Games

I just started a weekly Guild Wars 2 column at Gamespy, because lord knows, I haven’t talked enough about my latest favorite game of all time. This week, how Guild Wars 2 is like Helen Hunt: it makes me want to be a better man.

Until proven otherwise, every avatar in other MMOs is potentially hiding a shrill socially awkward loser getting Doritos on his keyboard who a) sucks at the game, b) is good because he plays way too much, and/or c) is every bit as much a misanthropic a-hole as I am. Fine, I’ll be in your pick-up group, but only because I need this dungeon.

But every avatar in Guild Wars 2 is a confederate.

Read it here and check back every Friday.

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, | Games

Craig Reynolds at The Paranoid Gamer explains who that guy is wandering around Sanctuary handing out sweet guns, asking for nothing in return.

Michael John Mamaril was big fan of the original Borderlands who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He and his buddies enjoyed a special companionship, and played Gearbox Software’s game together every day until Michael passed away in 2011, aged 22 years old.

In honour of his memory, close friend Carlos contacted Gearbox to ask if a short eulogy could be read by smart-mouthed robot Claptrap. It was a touching speech, during which voice actor David Eddings promised that Michael would live on forever in the Borderlands. One year on, he does in Sanctuary, a name given to a sacred place that offers refuge, asylum and safety.

Be sure to check out the Claptrap euglogy here. Classy stuff, Gearbox.

(Thanks, lordkosc!)

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, | Games podcasts

Are you busy training up your “don’t-call-me-Pokemon!” battle pets in World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria? We take a break from not playing the World of Warcraft expansion to consider other games within games. Then we consider our options for the Wii U launch, how to get the most out of Torchlight 2, which platform is best for Borderlands 2, and how long it’s going to take for this whole Guild Wars 2 thing to blow over.

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, | Game reviews

My first playthrough in Torchlight II was with an outlander, a ranged class that relies on guns. I set the difficulty level to veteran, which is one notch above normal. This was partly because the first Torchlight was forgiving to a fault, and partly because I wasn’t eager to repeat the experience of Diablo III, in which the first playthrough is basically a tutorial on the way to the actual game. I wasn’t really interested in just plowing through the content before the challenge started. I wanted some resistance. I wanted my choices to matter. I wanted to see if that was an action RPG that would push back.

After the jump, Torchlight did not disappoint Continue reading →

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, | Movie reviews

I was surprised to see this show up on Amazon’s Instant Video and iTunes as new releases, since I’d already seen it a few years ago and didn’t really care for it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a little horror in my Westerns. Josh Brolin was good enough as a zombie cowboy, even if he did have to talk around that silly scar make-up. But it was ultimately too goofy, too poorly paced, and too cheap looking. Speaking of which, Meghan Fox was in it. She wasn’t nearly as memorable as the horse with twin mounted gatling guns.

But then I realized I was confusing my Biblical Name + Laconic One-Syllable Name movies. It turns out Solomon Kane is not a comic book, but a lesser known character from Conan creator Robert E. Howard. Who knew?

The movie opens and ends with sequences that any Diablo player will appreciate, but it’s got an awfully muddled midsection as it traces Solomon Kane’s journey from ruthless pirate (!) to reluctant monster hunter to avenging lawful good paladin. It takes a few suitably grim turns, but the script is too obvious, with an all too predictable third act twist. Furthermore, it mostly looks like the cheap Czech production that it is.

However, it is much better than Jonah Hex, and the similar Season of the Witch, and the shamefully bad Conan movie with Jason Momoa. Solomon Kane even has a little Postlethwaite, a touch of von Sydow, and a solid performance from James Purefoy in the lead. Purefoy knows how to scowl Jackmanly under the brim of a Puritan hat, tuck a flintlock resolutely into his belt, swoop his cape, and stride off into a flurry of CG snowflakes. Overall, he lends Solomon Kane a lot of its endearing dopey earnestness, which reminds me of 80s fantasy fare like Conan, Beastmaster, and Warlock. I can’t help but think that Robert E. Howard would be pleased.

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, | Game reviews

Puzzle Craft is the epitome of corporate casual gaming. It takes an established idea — in this case the excellently endless Dungeon Raid variation on match-3 games — and adds long drawn-out grinding to encourage micropayments and a coat of spit polish to stand in for value.

Not that it’s entirely ineffective. The basic minigame works well enough, adapted to the concepts of farming and mining. You draw a line to connect contiguous icons on a grid to collect them, at which point new icons drop into the grid. After a certain number of moves, you spend the resources you’ve collected to build buildings to gather more kinds of resources to build more buildings. The limit on moves is the game’s cleverest bit. Farming is time limited based on seasons, and mining is time limited based on the amount of food you bring from farming.

A lot of the game is spent messing around on a city display, crafting tools from a list, and hiring workers, all of which make incremental improvements to the basic minigame. But nothing changes in any meaningful way. You need cats to eat the rats in your fields, and then you need guns to shoot the wolves, but they’re ultimately the same thing represented by different icons. But if you just want to get the new icons faster, you can just buy them and bill it to your iTunes account. Hint, hint, says Puzzle Craft.

Dungeon Raid was based on building up your RPG character and earning high scores. But with its crass Farmville skin, Puzzle Craft is ultimately a variation on one of those godawful free-to-play play-now-m’lord microtranscation boondoogles. It’s like a time waster wrapped around a time waster. Time wasters all the way down.

2 stars
iOS

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, | Movie podcasts

Can Karl Urban and his Magneto hat clean up the streets of Megacity One? What if Darkest Hour star Olivia Thirlby is along for the ride? And what if one of them is a mind-reader? Listen to this week’s podcast to discover how all that turns out. Or skip the spoilers and go straight to this week’s 3×3 of notable sums of money, which starts at the 45-minute mark and features some great picks from our listeners.

Next week: Looper

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, | Games

A surefire way to tell great voice acting from not great voice acting is to consider how annoying the dialogue would be if you were to read it. Take Tiny Tina, the murderous 13 year old girl in Borderlands 2. If someone were to hand me the script to her dialogue, I would be filled with the desire to take a red pen to it. “Do me a flava and lure the guest to the party or I’ll eat your babies.” What? How could that sound anything other than grating?

Let Ashley Burch demonstrate exactly how that’s going to happen (embedded). Burch is an actress with an awkward enthusiasm that reminds me of Gilda Radner. She’s also related to one of the developers at Gearbox, so it makes sense that she’d have a unique appreciation for Borderlands’ humor and how to make “do me a flava and lure the guest to the party or I’ll eat your babies” funny. She’s furthermore a videogamer with her own popular show and fan base. She is exactly the right way to do what Electronic Arts has tried to do with Jessica Chobot and Felicia Day. You hire an actor for his or her talent, not celebrity.

A lot of Gearbox’s humor is awful on the page, but perfect with the right voice actors. Fortunately, Gearbox is really good at nailing the second part of the equation. Hence Claptrap, Scooter, Ellie, Tannis, and especially Tiny Tina. Here’s hoping for more Tiny Tina and Ashley Burch in whatever DLC Gearbox has planned.

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, | Games

During a Reddit Q&A, Cabin the Woods director Drew Goddard mentions plans for a Left 4 Dead 2 tie-in that never happened.

We actually were going to do a downloadable L4D2 expansion pack, where you’d fight in the Cabin world, but then MGM went bankrupt so the delay squashed it. But the people at Valve were still cool enough to let us use some of their monsters to fill the cubes in the background (I had a lot of cubes to fill.)

By the way — the game was gonna be amazing. You were gonna be able to play in both the upstairs “Cabin in the Woods” world and the downstairs “facility” world with all the monsters. Believe me, I HATE all video games based on movies, they always suck, but porting Cabin into Left For Dead felt like the right fit. It pains me that it didn’t happen.

Goddard also earns videogame cred with his sign-off.

Thank you for all the questions. I’ll remember this text-based chat forever. It was like playing Zork, but with more me.

(Thanks, Telefrog!)

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, | Games podcasts

Torchlight II developer Travis Baldree explains why the game came out when I’m trying to level up my character in Borderlands 2. He also reveals why you can fumble but never miss, the unique challenges of adding multiplayer, and how the best kind of permadeath is monster permadeath. He even lets slip some inside tips for how best to enchant your pants.

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, | Games

After a brief exclusive period for some of our Kickstarter supporters, the rebooted Tom vs Bruce is now officially live for everyone. Our first game is the Civilization IV mod Dune Wars, in which we take turns playing House Atreides against the AI.

On turn 202, a rumor spread throughout Sergeybrinograd that Tom and Bruce were using their terms of service as the heads of House Atreides for some sort of bizarre internet contest sponsored by a grassroots movement of questionable repute called Kickstarter. House Harkonnen couldn’t be directly tied to the rumors. But when a city suddenly acquires a trait called “misinformation” that reduces production by 20% and causes unhappiness to four points of population, you can blame it on espionage. And where there’s espionage, House Harkonnen can’t be far behind.

This was the beginning of the Harkonnen Wars, a valiant period in Atreides history when Tom Chick demonstrated his considerable prowess as a cunning diplomat, an importer of fine luxury goods, a brilliant military leader familiar with the tenets of Civilization IV warfare, and a lover. On that last count, suffice to say Princess Irulan was often seen leaving the Atreides palace in Arrakeen during the early hours. The shrewd observer might note that she was in a disheveled state and often carrying her heels. That she would later agree to trades advantageous to House Atreides can’t have been a coincidence. I mean, who ever heard of just giving away techs like Protected Trade and Defensive Armaments?

Read the Dune Wars Tom vs Bruce here.

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, | Game reviews

One of my most common reactions while playing Guild Wars 2 is, “Well, heck, why didn’t games do it like this before?” There are all sorts of answers to that question, including the fact that some games did do it like this before (the MMO aficionado might recognize elements of Dark Age of Camelot, Rift, Eve Online, and Guild Wars 1). But the main answer is that these kinds of games have been in thrall to World of Warcraft’s success, which in turn is in thrall to it’s own launch date. Blizzard’s formula was so successful so quickly and so lucratively and for so long that it cast a tall foreboding shadow on an entire genre, freezing it in the year 2004. This was the way you do it if you want to be big and successful. This is the way it was.

After the jump, the operative word is “was”. Continue reading →

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