Archive for March, 2013

, | Games

Battle of the Bulge snapshot

See that screen? If you play a lot of John Butterfield’s Battle of the Bulge: Crisis in Command: Volume I (actual legal name) you know something important that I am about to tell you. I’m not sure if Tom knows it, though, so I may be compromising operational security. That’s opsec for you people who are in the know like me. And not like Tom, just to reiterate that so there isn’t any misunderstanding. About Tom being in the know, I mean. Anyway. That’s the German 1st SS Panzer Division, the biggest, baddest unit in the German army. In this game, I mean – there might be other, badder units on the Eastern Front or something. I’m only in charge of this game. So getting back to the opsec, I am in Malmedy without having taken any losses. That might be because (a) I attacked the two-pip Allied armor that was there and blew it totally up, or (b) Tom evacuated it (‘bugged out’ in military vernacular) so that it wouldn’t get seriously bushwacked. Either way, the 1st SS Panzer Division is essentially guaranteed to get to Werbomont on the next day (Dec. 17th). (In Bulge there are multiple ‘turns’ per day but each unit only moves once.) Once I am in Werbomont, I am guaranteed to be able to attack Huy on the first impulse of Dec. 18th. If I can clear that space on the 18th, I have a decent chance of winning an automatic victory on the 19th. Since the game could technically extend all the way to the 28th, that’s pretty quick business by the Germans.

But here’s the thing: it’s two days early, and I already know what the chances are of me clearing that space if Tom defends it with one elite infantry. He gets two elite infantry as reinforcements on the 18th, but has two key spaces to defend with them. If he defends Huy with one of them, my chances are exactly 41.8%. I did the math so that you don’t have to.

On the other hand, if Tom had inflicted one hit of damage on 1st SS Pz during the combat in Malmedy, my chances would drop. To 27.3%.

That sounds like a lot of nerdy hoo-rah. Except that pushing for Huy and trying for an early victory is only one possible strategy in the game. Part of playing the Germans is making the Allied player think you are doing one thing when you are planning another. If Tom were reading the numbers, he’d be able to deduce that the river crossing strategy is still a viable one for me. And if you’re playing the game, and see the Germans take a hit in Malmedy on that first attack, you can breathe a little easier about the early victory, because your chances of stopping them from even getting into position for it in Huy are a hefty 73.7%. And you’d know that two days in advance.

Anyway, better keep strict opsec on this one.

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, | Game reviews

a_fist_full_of_vigor

Bioshock Infinite is aptly named. It’s an ambitious and sometimes dazzling story far too big for the too familiar game that holds it. It contains multitudes and they’re all pinned under the boots of an unseen protagonist in a two-fisted first-person shooter, plasmid in one hand, rivet gun in the other. It is beautiful in the way that a snow globe is beautiful. Small, ruthlessly bounded, a little precious and silly, but its intricacy undeniably lovely in that diffuse light. I admire it more than I like it. I’m glad I played it, and although I’m pretty sure I’ll never play it again, I’ll be talking about it for a long time to come.

After the jump, let the talking — spoiler-free — commence Continue reading →

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, | Games

Peek-a-boo

Today’s update to Guild Wars 2 adds a whole mess of new content, including a revised World vs World system for its massive battles. Furthermore, ArenaNet has officially eliminated culling, the technique they used to get so many characters onscreen in PvP battles without bringing everyone’s framerate down. They basically cheated by just not drawing some of the characters. Which works, but then you can’t see who you’re attacking or — worse — who’s attacking you. It’s like a random invisibility spell for characters who aren’t even thieves!

Today, culling is gone. It’s been replaced with, well…I don’t know what it’s been replace with. Aggressive LOD technology? Higher system requirements? Faerie magicks? Whatever the solution, culling is the best thing removed from Guild Wars 2 since bots!

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, | Features

harmonizing_knight

The Nintendo 3DS gets a couple of major releases this week. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a nifty adventure/exploration game. I really enjoy the playful haunted house production values, the gradually unfurling gameplay mechanics, and the chaotic ghost wrassling. It helps immensely that I don’t find Luigi as annoying as Mario. I don’t know what my problem is with Mario. Maybe because Luigi is a ridiculous character played for comedy, yet Mario is a ridiculous character played as if he wasn’t ridiculous. Why does that guy annoy me so much? I’ll have to explore that further with my therapist. But since Mario isn’t part of Luigi’s Mansion, it’s that much easier to enjoy.

I’m less fond of the latest Pokemon Mystery Dungeon game, subtitled Gates to Infinity. I’m still mired in the interminable Pokemon exposition, with squealing Pokemon imparting life lessons in colorful unskippable cutscenes. The ratio of squealing Pokemon to mystery dungeon is, at this point, about 3:1. I’m running out of steam. I can’t take it much longer. I know from playing the first Pokemon Mystery Dungeon that there’s going to be a deep and involved dungeon crawl deeper down in here. I just don’t know that I have the endurance to reach it, particularly since there are so many other alternatives for deep and involved dungeon crawls. The first Mystery Dungeon, for instance, which was entirely free of Pokemons.

The Nintendo 3DS release that I’m most enjoying is Harmoknight. I don’t know what to make of that name. It’s clunky at best, and misconstrued as a slur at worst. But this rhythm based game is friendly, colorful, enthusiastic, and carefully perched at the intersection of simple and challenging. I’ve also tried to play a bit of Gaijin Games’ Bit Trip Runner 2 recently, which is similar to Harmoknight, but often more frustrating. Harmoknight feels more cinematic, more catchy, like a bona fide musical crossed with a platformer. Runner 2 is just a straight up platformer that has no compunction about making me do stuff over and over again. Harmoknight is seeing Les Miserables. Bit Trip Runner 2 is reading the Victor Hugo novel.

Xbox Arcade gets a port of Terraria this week. I’ve sampled Terraria on the PC, and I can’t help but feel it would be right at home on the Xbox 360. Electronic Arts is releasing a new Tiger Woods game. I follow just enough sports to know it’s probably a dating sim. Electronic Arts is also releasing a new Army of Two game in case your army of two in the latest Dead Space isn’t enough.

Also Bioshock Infinite is out this week.

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, | Movie podcasts

falling_down

This week we see this year’s first White House under siege movie, Olympus Has Fallen. Who’s better at rescuing besieged Presidents? Gerard Butler or Channing Tatum? We won’t know the answer until June. If you want to avoid spoilers, skip to this week’s 3×3 at the 58-minute mark for our favorite meet cutes.

Next week: The Place Beyond the Pines

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, | Games

Lewis_Carroll_would_be_proud

I just starved to death on level 6 of Brogue, an old-school ASCII dungeon crawler available for the iPad. It takes a very particular dungeon crawler to let you starve to death. A real man’s dungeon crawler. Not some easy mode dungeon crawler where you can mosey about as long as you want because you never have to eat.

Here are the things I saw before I starved to death: a pontificating zombie, a crying toad, a skipping spider, a laughing unicorn, a quivering goblin mystic, a dancing troll, a whistling phoenix egg, a humming centipede, and a spinning will-o-the-wisp. It might have had something to do with that lavender potion I drank.

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, | Game diaries

Big_Brother_is_watching

The story of Amerikatown is the story of what makes SimCity Societies unique. Amerikatown began as a city hall at a crossroads, staffed by a handful of people from nearby apartments who drove to work every morning, stopped off at the grocery store on the way home, and then spent weekends at the baseball field. Where it went from there is unlike anything you’ll find in another city builder.

After the jump, I violently oppressed 20,000 people and all I got was this lousy monument? Continue reading →

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, | Games

Sunset_imminent

After some sort of split between the developer and publisher of Ascension — I couldn’t care less about the particulars — the game will stop working online after next year. You’ll be able to play against the AI, which is missing a setting that I’m guessing will still be missing when the game is switched off next year. But as a multiplayer game, it will cease to exist. It will be effectively EA’ed. From a press release you can read here:

When Stone Blade Entertainment launches Ascension Online on iOS (currently scheduled for July of 2014), Playdek’s Ascension iOS app will be removed from the app store, but Playdek will continue to support online play through the remainder of 2014.

In other words, the developer (Stone Blade Entertainment is the new name for Ascension developer Gary Games) will sell you their game a second time, but the game you already bought will no longer work online. Yet another nail in the coffin of the olden days when you could buy a game and be reasonably assured that it was yours to play in perpetuity.

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, | Game reviews

lions_gorillas_and_cobras_oh_my

The monkeys stand for honesty, giraffes are insincere, and the elephants are kindly but they’re dumb. Zebras are reactionaries and antelopes are missionaries. Welcome to Totems.

Okay, not really. That stuff about monkeys and giraffes is way more complicated than Totems, a game about putting an animal head on a territory when it’s your turn. Period. That’s all you have to do. So you might think Totems is a modest thing. You’d be right. Maybe even a frivolous thing, utterly inconsequential and without enough maps for a puzzle this simplistic.

But hopefully you’ll play it a few more times and discover it’s no more inconsequential than any lovely two-minute strategy game. Here, I’ll teach you how to play. Put one of your six randomly drawn animal heads on a neutral territory to claim it and all identical adjoining totems. There. You now know everything you need to know about the rules. Now you can play against the AI, which tracks your score against the AI players, or online asynchronously.

What’s not so easy is gauging when a region is going to have only a single neutral space left so you can lay ultimate claim to its points. Now you’ve got to do some maneuvering around the fringes of the larger regions, trying to box them in, trying to secure their borders, trying to line up that ultimate claim, trying to…oh, rats, you don’t have any more cobras and now the map is awash in the other player’s color! Totems is also the perilous guesswork of calculating who has how many of what left, with some brinksmanship about who will hold out with the last monkey or wolf. It’s not over until it’s over, and in the context of its clean simple gameplay and evocatively primeval artwork, there will be many reversals of fortune along the way.

4 stars
iOS

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, | Game reviews

that's_no_kantus

Gears of War Judgment isn’t a new game. It’s a remix. And a pretty good remix that fits Gears of War like a glove. What better way to present a game world that consists of a series of boxes than as a series of boxes? Judgment is divided into discrete bite-sized chunks of shooting that derive meaning not from the story — a series of flashbacks from B- and C-list characters — but from a scoring system. It’s no surprise that People Can Fly, the developers of Bulletstorm, know that there are other ways to make you want to shoot things than making a good game.

After the jump, I shoot, I score Continue reading →

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