Games

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my_bad

I’d like to apologize to any Guild Wars 2 players who were in Cair Shadowfane last night just trying to sell their junk, repair their armor, or study the map. All that chaos was my fault. I really didn’t think it was going to get so out of hand. My bad.

After the jump, Monday night’s all right for fighting. Continue reading →

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goat1

This is Goat Simulator from Coffee Stain Studios. I am a goat. Apparently, I am a fairly domesticated one from the appearance of my surroundings. There’s a ramp, a balance beam, and several balls in the pen with me. Does my human owner intend to teach me to do tricks like some circus animal? I don’t think I’m going to comply. In fact, I’m pretty sure this flimsy wooden fence won’t imprison me for too much longer.

Let’s see how much trouble a goat can get into after the break. Continue reading →

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heroes-1

The biggest point of confusion about Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s entry into the MOBA genre which is playable now as a “technical alpha”, is figuring out how the game actually works. You get a vague idea from watching videos and reading online coverage, but I really, really didn’t get the rules. And the rules I did get I didn’t get very well. I’m going to attempt to clear up a few issues.

After the jump, your Heroes of the Storm primer. Continue reading →

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Simcity_offline

As of the latest update, you can play Simcity offline.

Originally designed from the ground-up as an always-connected experience, Maxis reengineered the game in order to move the calculations locally to the player’s PC or Mac. Gains in optimization to the GlassBox Engine allow players to have a similar gameplay experience, whether they choose to play Online or Offline.

Players will automatically receive the Update the next time they log-in to SimCity. From there they will have the option to play either way; the new Single-Player Mode, which enables Offline Play, or continue to play in the Multiplayer Mode. The Single-Player Mode retains the same expansive feel of the core SimCity gameplay while adding more control over when and how their progress is saved. Multiplayer Mode continues to deliver the SimCity experience that includes SimCity World, Leaderboards, Achievements, dynamic pricing of resources in the Global Market and Cloud Saves.

Electronic Arts, being a ginormous publicly traded company, is very careful with their use of language. For instance, like any big company, they love throwing around capital letters to show how Important stuff is. Update, Single-Player, Leaderboards, Online, the city in SimCity.

In the above announcement for the new offline mode, EA’s language carefully implies this latest change is a matter of single-player or multiplayer. It’s not. Online-only gaming is generally an anti-piracy measure, and as such, I completely understand. Like Diablo III, Anno 2070, and pretty much every game on Steam, being online isn’t a matter of whether I’m going to play with other people. It’s a matter of how easily I can play a pirated copy. As someone who understands that companies must protect their property, I’m mostly okay with this. Because I’m also someone who doesn’t travel a lot, who isn’t stationed overseas, and who pays enough every month for a fast reliable internet connection. Not everyone is so lucky. Companies like EA have counted the beans to write them off as acceptable losses. That’s just how math works. If there’s one thing big companies do well, it’s math. Never mind the careful bending of language. Just watch them work those numbers!

But the problem with Simcity was never the online-only gameplay, especially once the launch issues were stabilized. The problem wasn’t even the design, which is based on the intriguing idea of large cities as a network of interdependent smaller cities. Here in Los Angeles, we can certainly relate to that. Sometimes sprawl can consist of discrete boxes rather than larger maps.

The real problem with Simcity was unfortunately buried under crusades against DRM or map sizes. The real problem was that it simply didn’t work. Over successive updates, or Updates, this has certainly gotten better. I haven’t played it in a while, because I’ve been spending my city builder time with games that worked as advertised, such as the superlative Children of the Nile, Simcity Societies, and Anno 2070, which work offline and as intended. But now that Simcity is offline, it will be that much easier to see how close Electronic Arts has come to finally implementing the game as it was designed.

Furthermore, this is an encouraging development for a company that is notorious for yanking online support when games are no longer popular, effectively killing good games. Maybe now they can retire them gracefully with an offline mode instead of just pulling the plug with a shrug.

You can’t really read my Simcity review here, but you can read it here, in the comments section underneath.

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titanic_launch

Last night’s release of Titanfall went smoothly and lacked any serious problems for the majority of players. Unfortunately for gamers standing at the ready with prepared rants against publisher EA and developer Respawn, the server infrastructure held steady and proved themselves up to the task of handling the simultaneous launch of the AAA multiplayer title on PC and Xbox One. There were moments that gave naysayers hope for a meltdown, such as the initial 15-20 minutes of release that resulted in users experiencing a loop between the “connection” and “initializing” screens, but that quickly sorted itself out. Respawn noted that some users were experiencing delays getting into lobbies, but they pushed a small patch out to fix that. Dispirited internet crusaders had to console themselves by playing the largely trouble-free shooter throughout the night.

Activists can pin their hopes on the March 25th launch of the Xbox 360 version of Titanfall being a complete disaster, or they can move on to the September 9th launch of Destiny which would allow them to strike a blow against Bungie and Activision.

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Windforge

One of the many advantages of not being a videogame journalist is that they get to play games early. This means they can do the really dumb stuff so you don’t have to. For instance, building a house zeppelin the wrong way in Windforge, the impending Terraria meets Moby-Dick-but-set-in-a-steampunk-version-of-Bespin RPG.

One of your early tasks in Windforge is to rebuild your house zeppelin after a crash landing. It’s a tutorial for how travel works. You have a balloon for lift, propellers for propulsion, and engines for power (don’t worry, you’ll get your guns once you get to the first town). You engage all these components at a control panel. When you “use” the control panel, the inputs that would normally move your character move your house zeppelin. Moving in a given direction engages the appropriately mounted propellers. Your house zeppelin goes up and down and left and right according to the game physics of the balloon, the propellers, and the engines, with a dash of character skill on top. It’s a pretty nifty moment when your house lifts off and you see it in action the first time. Like the house in Up. But steampunk instead of all those clown balloons.

But in my game, there was apparently some kind of bug. I kept taking damage. And because I didn’t know why I was taking damage, I was unable to prevent the damage. This leads to death. Which leads to reloading. Was it a bug? Was I dying from exposure? Did I need to craft a warmer jacket? Being a putative game journalist, I investigated.

After the jump, a horrible way to die Continue reading →

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the room two screenshot

As a child of 1980′s horror, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser has a huge place in my heart. Barker’s writing was weird and gross and sexual and served as a counterweight to all of the Stephen King I read. Where King’s writing scared me, Barker’s unsettled me. I didn’t always understand Barker’s stuff but I always got wigged out by it. Hellraiser, both the book and the movie, fit that mold perfectly. And for all of the body modification demonology going on in that movie, that damn puzzle box was the most unsettling thing in the whole thing. There was something about an innocent puzzle box serving as the gateway to a dimension of unspeakable terror that scared the crap out of me. What if I found a similar box in an antique store? What if I opened it? I was fifteen! What did I know about demons?

The Room Two, the sequel to Fireproof’s iOS puzzle/adventure mash-up, doesn’t have anyone trying to peel the flesh off of your face. But the amount of malice infused in every room and every puzzle is palpable. Unlike the previous game, where the puzzles were more or less benign, these puzzles have the same malicious vibe as the story. Whether it’s a ship tracking another ship through an unnatural fog, a violent seance, or an unseemly attempt at reanimation, the puzzles add to the feeling that something ain’t right in these rooms. And this journey may be satisfying to piece together, but it isn’t going to end anywhere good.

Thankfully the puzzles are ambitious enough that you aren’t going to end up as some demon’s plaything anytime soon. The previous game limited each room to a single puzzle. In The Room Two, you move among multiple objects within a room. The bouncing around lends itself to more confusion than the last game, but the increased complexity makes for puzzles that are as engrossing as they are admirable. The hint system can be turned off but I would have preferred a system that let me come to it rather than pinging me based on idle time. Juggling between all of the nooks and crannies of several installations in a room takes time. Repeatedly pinging me takes away more than it helps.

Because each puzzle is so well constructed, I would have liked more than six chapters, especially given that one chapter isn’t much of a chapter at all. The ending undercuts the moodiness of the story, but the journey’s the thing here. With every turn of a key or twist of an idol, The Room Two crafts one worth taking.

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d3-reaper

In preparation for the release of Diablo III expansion, Reaper of Souls, Blizzard put out a giant update that changed much of the way the game plays. Gone are the real money auction house, loot scheme and standard difficulty levels. In the new patch, you can join a clan, adjust your difficulty on the fly, and count on getting loot that is more tailored to your character. But here at Quarter to Three, we got our hands on the original update list. The following is the top 10 noticeable omissions from our original list and the one that launched just recently. Pretty sneaky, Blizzard.

After the jump, see what could have been Continue reading →

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Diablo_III_overhaul

As if Diablo III wasn’t already unrecognizable from the state of its release, Blizzard has given it another dramatic update, paving the way for next month’s Reaper of Souls add-on. The latest patch doesn’t just rework every character, which is sort of what you expect in patches for action RPGs. It even reworks the basic character stats, which are the building blocks for your character builds. In addition, it has completely overhauled the economy. New uses for gold, a phased out auction house, a new currency, hooks for the upcoming new adventure mode, a new role for crafting, gems reworked and expanded, and new ways to adjust the difficulty to level up faster and get better loot. The oddest thing is that I’m now picking up every single thing that gets dropped, even if the text is white. And in about an hour or so of playing, I’ve found three legendary items, which is as many as I’ve found in my entire time with the game before the patch. Suddenly, Diablo III on the PC looks suspiciously like a game with a meaningful economy.

Read the highlights here and the full notes here.

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loved

One of the downsides of convenient digital distribution is that kids today won’t grow up with a treasured copy of Sacrifice, Brian Reynold’s Alpha Centauri, or Unholy War signed by Fred Ford and Paul Reiche. When a game exists only on your Steam account or in your Good Old Games download folder, it will never include a worn box, a creased manual, or that huge honkin’ three-ring binder for Falcon 4.0. It will never show its age and therefore the love that has sustained it as part of your collection for so long.

But then there’s boardgaming. There is no danger of boardgames escaping the ravages of time and love. Any boardgame that you care about enough to keep for a long time will show some sign of how much you love it. I don’t care if you sleeve your cards, or deny your cat a place in the boxtop while you’re playing. Something will happen in the physical world to designate the passing of time. Card edges ding, box corners blunt, colors fade. If you play your games instead of curate them, they will show how much you love them.

The above image is Mark Geusebroek’s copy of Carcassone. Geusebroek started a thread on Boardgame Geek called “A celebration of your well worn/well loved games”. I love how his name is written on the box cover, as if his mother had written it there before he took it with him to summer camp. He shows photos of some of his more cherished games. Among my favorite contributions to the thread is a comment from a fellow named Brian Lucid talking about his copy of Up Front.

I love this game, started playing it when I joined the Army, literally. My buddy Dale Martin and I drew CQ together and we’d play it all night. I visited him in Detroit and bought a copy for $20 at some game store. That copy has made every move and deployment I’ve had over 20 years. I think I take it along becasue it always feels new, each game is tense, I can teach new players easily and they have fun and most of all it makes me happy when I’m feeling low. I’m retired now, made it through the Army with my Up Front and my family intact.

Lucid includes a picture of him and his friend hunched over a table playing Up Front. That picture, along with the picture of Geusebroek’s worn Carcassone box, say everything that needs to be said about what makes boardgaming special.

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High_Frontier

I’m twelve years old hiking through the desert east of San Diego. “What kind of modules?” I ask. We’re on a scouting trip and I spend a good chunk of the long trek interrogating a fellow scout about a game called Project Space Station. The possibilities were amazing. Which labs do I build? Are there enough Solar Panels? Which scientist to send up and what projects do I start? Where do you go after you achieve orbit? My adolescent imagination lit up.

After the jump, one small step for a twelve-year-old Continue reading →

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