Saturday, December 31, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 13: New Years' Eve

Today's list of stuff is eclectic, but good. There are a couple of gems in there.

Bioshock Series: $4.99 each - These are both really good games, but more than that, they're really influential games. Bioshock in particular did a lot of things that now turn up in games all the time. Well-written, too, and some of the best art direction of any game series ever.

Magicka: $2.49 - Ridiculous fun, and great gameplay, too. There's substantial depth to be found in the magic system. One of these days, I'm going to program my gaming mouse and keyboard with a profile for all the magicks in this game.

What I'm getting: nothing. Hoard is a little bit tempting, but I've already got so much new stuff, AND I've exceeded my data limit for this month. I think I'm done with this sale.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 12: Programmable Chemistry

There are only two things I'm going to recommend out of today's batch, but they're both quite solid.

Fallout: New Vegas: $4.99 - A nice combining of the new and the old from Fallout. The game uses the perspective and engine of Fallout 3, but takes place back in the western US and a lot of the original creative team from the first couple of games worked on it. Not quite as good as Fallout 3 in my estimation, but still an absolutely fantastic game.

SpaceChem: $2.49 - This game is, as a friend of mine on Steam observed, more about programming than chemistry, and it gets brain-meltingly hard, but it's really, really, REALLY good. It's also one of the most original puzzle games I have ever seen. For the price, it's absolutely worth it.

What I'm getting: Still deciding. Probably Universe Sandbox and the Fallout: New Vegas DLC, but not sure yet.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 11: This one's easy.

Not much I've got or played in today's line-up, but there's one I do need to recommend:

Left 4 Dead 2: If you're one of the seven or so people left on Earth without a copy of this, get it. Co-Op shooters don't get much better. 

What I'm getting: nothing today.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 10: MOAR STUFF

This is the first time I can ever remember actually feeling fatigued at a Steam sale. But they do keep putting good stuff out there at steep discounts, so I'm not going to complain too much!

Space Pirates and Zombies: $2.49 - Or SPAZ, for short. Games like this aren't really made any more, which was kind of the point of this one being made. The developer is just a little two-man outfit, but they've pulled off a remarkably polished game. Much like Terraria, it gets periodic updates, too.

Dungeon Defenders: $3.74 - I've spend quite a few hours in this game with my buddy Aaron Stack, who liked it so much he gifted me a copy so we could do multiplayer together. It's a great little game. The indie scene has gotten to the point where it really maes quality product, and this is a prime example. It's well worth having, playing, and exploring the ins and outs of the game is deceptively deep and a huge amount of fun.

What I'm getting: Homefront. I hear it's not the greatest, but I'm captivated by the concept and really want to try it out.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 9: Series bundles.

Today, Valve has discounted a bunch of whole catalogs of games tied to individual IPs. They have bundle deals on FEAR, Gothic, and Star Wars. They also have a number of smaller things on sale. Here's my picks, as usual.

Terraria: $2.49 - I've recommended this before, and at $2.49, it's a great impulse buy. The game mixes some "Metroidvania" style platforming with building and exploring a la Minecraft. It's also updated with new content fairly regularly and in fact just got a huge upgrade.

All Dawn of War games: 66% off. I normally don't even like RTSes, but for some reason, this series just works for me. I think it's the territory-based resources or something. Regardless, lots of fun and a good deal today.

Disciples III: $4.99 - If you like the Heroes of Might and Magic or King's Bounty series of games and aren't aware of the Disciples series, this is more in the same vein. By far the prettiest strategy game of this type available, and incorporates a bit of King's Bounty style tactical movement, too. Fun and well worth playing, if a bit repetitive after a while.

What I'm getting: I snagged the Gothic series. I've had some friends bugging me to try these games for a while, so now I guess I'll give 'em a shot.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale: Day 8, Boxing Day

I'm running out of non-repetitive stuff to say by way of introduction in these posts. That's okay, though - today's post belongs to the deals, because there's a lot of them.

Bastion: $5.09 - I got this as a Secret Santa gift this year, and wow, it's good. The adaptive narrator mechanic works really well, actually says meaningful stuff, and never repeats himself. The combat works really well, too, and the art style is unique and beautiful. Despite the fact that the story is post-apocalyptic, the color palette is bright and colorful. Bravo, designers.

Far Cry 2: $4.99 - Though the story is about as bleak and depressing as you're liable to find, the shooting and freewheeling around the war-torn African nation where it takes place is great. Also of note is that everything you do, including pulling up your map, is done in-game.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth: $2.49 - Tower defense in reverse. In this game you lead an armed convoy through a maze of enemy weapon emplacements. It's exciting, fast-paced, challenging, and really cool. s another reviewer pointed out, it's amazing that such a fantastic game could come out of nothing but a collection of escort missions!

King's Bounty series: $8.74 for the Platinum edition with everything. A great take on the Disciples/Heroes of Might & Magic style of strategy games. Seems shallow and cutesy at first, but becomes deep and involving very quickly.

Red Faction: Guerilla: $4.99 - Do you like to smash things? Do you like to bash, trash, crash, and explode things? Does going on a rampage of destruction in a world where just about everything breaks sound like fun? Yeah, thought so. :) I haven't progressed very far into the story of this, but the visceral thrill of smashing down buildings with a massive hammer is pretty great. 

What I'm getting: Nothing today - the only thing I really wanted was Bastion, and I was fortunate to receive that as a gift.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 7: Christmas Day

The Christmas day list of things for the Steam sale is as good as any day that's come so far. Let's get straight to the deals:

Fallout 3: $7.49 - Years ago, when this game first came out, I sank over 400 hours into it. I don't think I've spent that kind of time with any other game, ever. The expansions make it better yet, particularly Broken Steel. Though it's a pretty radical shift in UI from the original Fallout games, it is absolutely a worthy successor to that series. It's also just a fantastic game all on its own, and very much worth playing.

Batman: Arkham Asylum: $4.99 - The original Rocksteady studios Batman game demonstrated that yes, in fact superhero video games can be good. Great, in fact. They got the voice actors for The Joker and Batman (Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, respectively) from the excellent Batman: The Animated Series to reprise their roles, and wrote the game much like the series, but not for kids. The result is something incredible. Well worth playing.

Atom Zombie Smasher: $2.49 - A kind of unique quasi-tower defense game centered around pulling people out of zombie infestation zones. The graphics are nothing special, but the gameplay is very solid. It's definitely worth grabbing for this price, or pick up the bundle that includes it.

Overlord Games: $4.99 for the complete pack - I'm starting to sound like a broken record as this stuff keeps going on sale again and again, but this series really is fantastic. Rhianna Pratchett (Terry Pratchett's daughter) was involved in the writing, so the games are genuinely funny. The gameplay is good, too, though I'd recommend playing Overlord 2 with the aid of a cotroller.

What I'm getting: I picked up the X mega set thingy. The space combat/exploration/trade genre is one that's always sounded cool to me. I've given it a try various times before, but it never took. We'll see if this one scratches the itch.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 6: Bordering on Zombies

Today's Steam Sale has good stuff in it again! (I know. What are the odds?) Anyway, here's my picks for today:

Borderlands: $4.99 - I have recommended this game so many time, I'm out of new stuff to say. It's a very good shooter married to an okay RPG, the art and the humor both work. It's good, it's worth buying, it's dirty cheap. If you don't have it yet, here it is yet again for just a few bucks.

 Plants vs. Zombies: $3.39 - This game is by Pop Cap, which may lead some readers to scoff. Don't it garnered a 91% rating and an Editor's Choice from PC Gamer - the game is fun, surprisingly deep, and incredibly addictive. Also: cheap.

Jamestown: $2.49 - This retro Shoot-'em-up is part of the latest Humble Bundle, so if you're after it, I'd recommend getting it there, but if the $3 or so between the cost of the game today and the cost of the Humble Bundle is a factor, it's worth having.

What I'm getting: today, just Prototype. That's been on my watch list for a while.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 5: Clilly Notes

Once again, shock of all shocks, the Steam holiday sale has some great stuff in it. Here's my picks for today:

Audiosurf: $2.49 - This was one of the first (if not the first) games to generate some important facet of the game from music files. I bought it for full price back in the day when it first released and really enjoyed it then, and years later I still fire it up on occasion. The game is a puzzle racer where you collect colored blocks and make patters with them through a course generated off the song you're playing. At $2.49 it's well-worth the meager price they're asking for it today, and its one of those things that belongs in every PC game collector's library. Mellow tracks make an easier race course, heavier, up-tempo music is more challenging.

Frozen Synapse: $3.74 - One of the coolest and most surprising game experiences a lot of folks, myself included, have had this year. Frozen Synapse is a great simultaneous turn-based tactical game. It's very hard, but very rewarding. I hear the multiplayer is even more fun than the single-player, but I've yet to try that. Still, for under $4, it's not bad.

E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy: $2.49 - This isn't a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an interesting one to fiddle around with. I don't think I'd recommend it for a higher price than it's currently at, but for $2.49, it's worth getting to poke at.

What I'm getting: I picked up Rage, since it's dropped to half its original price and then dropped to half of that in the sale. I've been wanting to play it, but not for $60.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 4: Piles of Awesome

Some really amazing stuff in today's Steam Sale! I'm going to get right to the details.

Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2: $4.99 each. The Mass Effect series is the best RPG series of at least the last five or so years, IMHO. I am almost beside myself with anticipation of the third one. Grabbing the first two for a combined total of $10 is one of the best uses of your gaming dollar I could imagine.

Torchlight: $3.74 - One of the best Diablo-likes ever made, including the Diablo games themselves. It's very satisfying, and funny to boot. Will play on anything down to and including a netbook.

Brink:  $4.99 - I really enjoyed Brink, especially its world and setting, but my love of it was far from universal. Still, for $5, I'd recommend trying it to see if you like it.

Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga: $9.99 - I've yet to finish this, but I have gotten a lot of fun hours out of it. The hero has more unique and cool stuff they can do than most game heroes, and you can play a complete smart-alec who is still a good guy with ease. It does a lot of interesting things and is well-worth playing.

What I'm getting: I'm not sure yet, as I'm typing this on my lunch break at work, but I think I'll pick up Avadon: The Black Fortress (I like Spiderweb software games I've tried so far) and I might pony up the $3.74 to get Torchlight on Steam instead of Direct2Drive (which is going away soon).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 3: Stalking Battily

Day three of the annual Steam Holiday Sale has rolled around, and today there's a good spread of stuff in it again. My recommendations out of today's lot:

Defense Grid: The Awakening: $2.49 - A classic, defining tower defense game. It's very tight and the voice acting for the general that's been uploaded into a computer talking in your ear is great. If you like tower defense, it's definitely one to have in your collection. If you've never played tower defense games, it's a wonderful introduction.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Bundle: $8.74 - (or grab individual games for 75% off, if you prefer.) The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are some of the most immersive and creepy games you're likely to play on any platform anywhere, ever. They're an interesting mix of realistic shooter and lightweight RPG set in a kind of quasi-post-apocalyptic setting that's sprung up in an alternate history version of the area around the Chernobyl reactor. There's a bit of a steep introductory curve, but if you can get past that, these games will hook you something fierce. I already have all three and I'm still a little tempted.

Batman: Arkham City: $24.99 - this game just came out and is well worth full price, so at this price point, it's both a no-brainer and a steal.

Stuff I'm picking up: Today, I'm just getting Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword. I keep hearing about how amazing this series is, almost incessantly, actually. So I've finally decided to break down and try one.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale, Day 2: Dred-ful

I have only one recommendation from today's Steam Sale bargains, but I implore you to take it if you enjoy anything vaguely resembling roguelikes: Dungeons of Dredmor. I've been playing the living daylights out of the game for the last week (seriously - something like 29 hours logged in the last 7 days.) With the expansion pack, the game is $1.87. Please, just go get it. It's less than the cost of a soft drink from most fast food joints and it is one of the most fun and the most funny games I have played in quite a while.

Stuff I'm Getting: Today, nothing. I already have everything I want from the sale.

Monday, December 19, 2011

And here we go again with the sale-ing. (Steam Holiday Sale, Day 1)

Steam has begun their holiday sale. Hold onto your wallets!

Here's what I'd recommend out of today's batch:

Just Cause 2: $4.99 - This is a crazy, over-the-top action-movie take on the sandbox genre. There's more shooting and explosions than a Michael Bay film if you're trying at all. It's not the smartest or most sophisticated game ever, but it's gloriously silly fun.

Metro 2033: $4.99 - This is one of the most atmospheric and affecting shooter you'll ever play. It's not funny and silly like Just Cause 2, but it's very immersive.

Fable III: $12.49 - I played this and really liked it. The story is solid, and I like the Industrial Revolution + Fantasy setting Albion has evolved into.

Orcs Must Die!: $3.74 - This will probably get a blog review before the month is out. I've been playing this game a fair bit lately, and it is a very quality piece of indie gaming. Everything's tight and polished, and the core mechanics are both well-refined and very satisfying. Especially at this price, just buy it already.

Singularity: $7.49 - I thought this game was great when I played it back in May, and I've been feeling like playing it again, actually. It's a good game.

Max Payne and Max Payne 2: $2.49 each - These predate The Backlog, but were fantastic for their time. A mix of modern crime drama, film noir, and bullet-time actually done well make these great additions to an action gamer's library, especially if you like third-person shooters.

Terraria: $4.99 - This just got a HUGE content update, so now's as good a time as any to pick it up. This is a modern classic that should be in every serious PC gamer's library.

Stuff I'm Getting: Picked up Portal 2 and some DLC for Orcs Must Die! and Magicka.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Later" Has come.

I have some more additions. I'm spending the evening sorting through my Steam Library and am going to put some stuff on the list, or possibly back on it.

PC Games:
Anomaly: Warzone Earth
Bioshock 2
Breath of Death VII
Cthulhu Saves the World
Dungeons of Dredmor
E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy
Space Pirates and Zombies

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bundle fatigue? Not likely, but I do need to be a bit picky...

Holy cow! The indie bundle scene has exploded in the last month. Between Humble Bundle, Indie Royale, and Indie Gala, (and burning off my GamersGate blue coins) I have an enormous pile of unplayed games sitting on my hard drive now, but I'm not truly interested in all of them. Here's what I'm adding to the backlog for now, though there may be more later:

PC Games
Orcs Must Die!
Runespell: Overture

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The "Interesting" problem - resolved for now

My wife and I managed to get ourselves a car today. We picked up a 1995 Ford Taurus wagon with only 63,800 miles on it (we got one of those mythical "old person cars" that every used car buyer dreams of finding) from Buss Ford in McHenry, IL. I'm linking the dealer's website because they deserve a plug - everyone there treated us like family, which was especially nice considering that we were buying a car that cost us under $5k out the door. I have never had such a relaxed and pleasant car buying experience in my entire life. The next time we need a car, we are going straight back there.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Off the List: Dungeon Defenders

I was fortunate to receive a gifted license of this game from Aaron Stack a while ago, and have been playing it with him and another of his friends on a fairly regular basis. The central premise of this game is that while the big heroes are off Elsewhere, some ancient evil awakens and their younger heroes-in-training have to protect, well, basically everything. Dungeon Defenders is a kind of modified action tower defense game.While there aren't tiled out areas like in Sanctum, or Defense Grid, or even Sol Survivor, you do have to construct traps and barriers to keep some large, glowing crystals safe. There are four little apprentice heroes, each with their own set of abilities and structures they can build, so if you do co-op like we did, you can get a much more effective marshaled in a much shorter period of time. Aaron Stack and I, for example, found that the Squire and the Apprentice make for a particularly devastating one-two punch. The Squire has a number of structures that do a good job of keeping enemies from passing by them (or at least, passing by unscathed) and the Apprentice has about a thousand lethal variants on "magic blasting tower" so the Squire builds barricades and the Apprentice constructs magic towers that fry anything that approaches said barricades. However, much like Sanctum or Orcs Must Die, once the wave starts, you don't just sit there and build stuff, you are down in the thick of it, fighting monsters and sometimes repairing your defenses. Also, unlike any of the other games I've mentioned in this review, it also folds in some lightweight Diablo-style leveling and loot. Your character persists and can pick up loot from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the games' levels. It's a fun game that can get a little tense, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. Or seriously at all, really - the art style is very cartoony and while enemies do bleed, it's in no way gruesome, as their blood is about a zillion bright colors and there's never any visible wound - slain foes go down in a splash of garishly-colored liquid and vanish. That lightheartedness, plus the headset banter one inevitably gets when playing with friends, makes this a great co-op experience. I'd recommend it for sure, especially to play with friends.

RPG notes: There's really not much to spoil here, so feel free to read on, even if you haven't played the game. For my money, the best RPG material to be gleaned from this game is the idea of young heroes that nobody expects to be able to do much of anything actually stepping up and doing the job, and doing it admirably. Now, this idea isn't exactly new in video games (how many times have teenagers saved the world in the Final Fantasy series alone?) but I haven't seen too much of it in my tabletop gaming, and I can't help but wonder why. I also can't help but wonder, for that matter, if my experiences are typical. If you're reading this and feel inclined to reply, weigh in on this for me: how often do you see young heroes, seemingly out of their depth, in your tabletop RPGs, especially as player characters? And is that a cliche, underutilized, or indifferent?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Off the List: Ticking

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I know the author of the tale I'm about to review, but as you'll soon see, that doesn't really matter. Laura Anderson, writer, editor, blogger, Booter and all-around renaissance woman recently published a piece of flash fiction called Ticking. It's a work of short horror/suspense fiction that's available in ebook format from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The story makes excellent use of both economy of words and suspense - though it's only a few pages long, the tale gets genuinely tense, and also manages to describe a lot with just a few words. Furthermore, the implied setting that reveals itself throughout the story definitely bears further examination. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys tasteful, tense horror or urban fantasy.

RPG notes: The usual warnings about spoilers apply and for goodness' sake, it's a short story. Go read it and come back. I promise it's worth the dollar. All right - done? See? That only took a couple of minutes. The thing that really stuck out to me in Ticking that would make good game setting material is that the vampires* in the setting are both scary predators AND take a mentor/companion relationship with their (former?) victims. It's also pretty strongly implied that they run in a pack. ("They" ripped up the floorboards.) The "why" of that could be used as grist for the story mill quite easily in any setting where vampiric predators are appropriate.

*At least it's implied that's what they are - you'll notice that the word "vampire" is never used and also that HE talks to her and IT is hungry, which could imply either some sort of a third party spread to her by the attack such as a possessing spirit or a parasite of some kind or her loosening grip on her humanity. Not sure which of those options is scarier to me, really...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cleared: Borderlands: The Zombie Isle of Dr. Ned

This piece of DLC for Borderlands added, shock of all shocks, ZOMBIES to the list of enemies to fight off. Surprising, I know. In all seriousness, though, the zombies actually made a worthwhile and fun addition to the game. Borderlands is full of a lot of enemies that fight you with quality rather than quantity. Bandits and Crimson Lance members use cover and will try to flush you out with grenades and the like. Skags are nasty, jumping things that attack in small groups and strike quickly. Zombies, by comparison, are slow-moving, stupid enemies that just overwhelm you with sheer numbers, which require a bit of a shift in tactics to fight effectively. The game also includes some variety in their zombies, including torsos that pull themselves along the ground and attack from below your field of vision, Defilers which spit L4D-reminiscent vision obscuring vomit at you, suicide zombies which explode up close, psycho and midget zombies that move faster and more erratically, and Tankensteins which look like a 1950s film version of Frankenstein's Monster and lumber around with explosive barrels to pitch at you in addition to bog-standard normal zombies. They spawn fast enough that surviving until, for example, a hand-cranked elevator gets to you can get genuinely desperate and frantic. The game's sense of humor is very much on display here too, as the villain asks if you want brownies, then remembers he's trying to kill you and other hilarious moments of ridiculousness. The ending also deserves special mention for breaking the forth wall and making you jump out of your skin and laugh at the same time.

RPG notes: As usual, spoilers all over the place. If you don't want it spoiled, stop reading. While this seems like a fairly standard "...and zombies!" kind of story, and on some level it is, there's some useful stuff in here that can be cribbed for other games. First of all, the corporation in charge of the area doesn't evacuate and instead sends in troubleshooters to resolve the problem. While we've certainly seen this before, it bears mentioning as a useful plot device for some kind of monster infestation. While the right thing to do is pull out survivors, the problem is that, well, monsters are scary. Whether it's zombies, aliens, killer robots, or something else, anything that can overwhelm a well-armed settlement is definitely going to be treated with a certain level of fear my those on the outside, especially if said menace has the ability to hide inside the "unaffected" population and/or reinforce itself my transforming them somehow. And speaking of transformations, the final boss battle is a great piece of inspiration every GM should use at least once. Follow up an anticlimax boss battle with a more powerful form of the defeated boss after they players are sure the boss is down and are in post-fight mop-up for an extra shot of tension and chaos.

Cleared: Fate of the World

Well, this is a new one. This is the first thing to come off of this list because the introduction turned me off. Fate of the World is a left-wing enviro-socialist game where you go about fixing climate change through the Magical Power of The State. (In this case, a worldwide version of the EPA with absolute power over the actions of (apparently formerly) sovereign nations.) I just can't stomach its central premise enough to even really play the game. Trying to get someone like me to play this and enjoy it is like trying to get an atheist to play and enjoy one of the Left Behind games. (Or trying to get me to play those and enjoy them, come to think of it, but I digress.) The ideology behind it is so opposed to my own that I can't stop grinding my teeth long enough to actually dig into it, and that precludes any fun I could have. That said, if you lean to the left politically, you probably should not be without this game. It'll probably fire all your switches, and you'll likely enjoy it a great deal. Me, I'm glad it didn't really cost me anything - I got this as part of an Idie Royale bundle.

RPG notes: I've got nothing. I can't even make myself play this. Sorry, folks. I can have friends that oppose me politically without trouble, but entertainment that requires me to accept the basic premises that this game does in order to play it just doesn't work for me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Some last recommendations from the Steam sale - $2.50 stuff.

Some cool stuff to grab for $2.50 apiece from the Steam sale. Call this a highlights reel of the cheapest stuff, I guess. These will all only be $2.50 until noon tomorrow, though, so bear that in mind.

Garry's Mod
Greed Corp
Section 8
The Binding of Isaac
Iron Grip: Warlord

Steam Autumn Sale: Sunday

Well, the Steam sale is proving to be a reliable source of great deals to the surprise of - oh, wait - nobody! Anyway, here's my picks from today's bargains. As usual, links go to my reviews, where applicable.

Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga: $9.99 - This game is a tremendous amount of fun. I have yet to finish it, but I have certainly been enjoying it. The amount of stuff to do and the snappy, sarcastic dialog choices are wonderful. At that price, even if you don't finish it, you will get more than your money's worth out of the game.

Fable III: $24.99 - A solid deal on a solid game. While not the deepest or most complex RPG experience you'll encounter on the PC, it is a very enjoyable and satisfying one, and the Industrial Revolution-meets-fantasy setting is a nice change of pace from typical RPG settings.

Dungeon Defenders: $7.49 - A friend of mine gifted this to me a short while back, and I've been playing it with him fairly regularly. It's a really fun game. The cartoony aesthetics sit on top of a remarkably satisfying monster-bashing experience. Play it in co-op, if you can.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Steam Autumn Sale: Saturday

Steam keeps switching out the deals daily as they are wont to do, so here's my picks for the day from the featured stuff. Today's theme is funny games, apparently, because all three of the recommendations in this post have a strong comedic element.

Overlord Complete Pack: $4.99 - I've only finished the original Overlord game (I'm stuck in Overlord 2 at a point that I doubt I'll be getting around without the aid of an analog controller) but I can vouch for the fact that these games are well polished, funny, and most importantly - fun. Rhianna Pratchett (Terry Pratchett's daughter) did the writing for the series, and the Pratchett sense of humor is very much present.

Magicka: $4.00 - I'm holding off on finishing Magicka until I can do it with some friends I've been playing with, but I would recommend it without hesitation. It's another funny, silly game, with a great magic system that has you crafting effects on the fly. Play it with some friends that you can both work with and laugh with for maximum enjoyment.

Worms Reloaded: $6.79 - If you've never played a Worms game, you've missed out on a uniquely ridiculous brand of fun. Trying to blow up your friends or AI opponents with exploding sheep, the Holy Hand Grenade and other ridiculous weapons while listening to silly banter on the part of the worms is great.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Some Good Stuff in Today's Steam Sale:

Once again, Steam is running a huge seaonal sale. Normally, I'd be all over this, but as I'm still saving for a replacement car, I have to pass on it this time. However, don't let that discourage you! Here's some recommendations from the backlog and some other previous playing that you can get for cheap today. (Links go back to the backlog entries.)

Sanctum: $2.49 - This is my top recommendation from the whole lot for today. My buddy Aaron Stack and I have sunk many a gleeful hour into this, making unreasonably cruel tower defense mazes, coming up with silly names for the alien creeps and just generally having a blast. If you've got a spare $2.50 and like tower defense games and/or FPSes at all, this is a great purchase to make.

King Arthur Collection: $10.00 - Just because I haven't finished and reviewed this one doesn't mean I haven't been enjoying it thoroughly. A fantastic take on the Arturian mythology and a really fun game to boot.

Fallout: New Vegas: $10.00 - A great sandbox RPG from Bethesda that was worked on by a number of people on the original design team for Fallout 1 & 2.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution: $24.99 - Frankly, for as new and as high-quality as this game is, I'm amazed they're letting it go for so cheap, but whatever - if you don't have this yet and want to play it, this is as good an opportunity as any.

Cleared: Batman: Arkham City

I had the good fortune to have pre-purchased this game with some gift cards I had from a survey site before the events of my last post transpired, so I had no conflicted feelings about just downloading it from Impulse and playing it when it finally came out this past Tuesday. I will say right up front that while I have finished the game, I am far from finished with it. My first playthrough finished with a completion score of 37% - I did virtually nothing with side quests and I still enjoyed the game. Animations are considerably better than the previous installment - enemies crumple to the ground in more appropriate poses and moving around Arkham City feels very natural between the bat-line and Batman's cape functioning as a hang glider. It also amazes me just how much of Batman's mythology they managed to fit into the game, especially after Arkham Asylum. Playing as Catwoman for some of the sections was also fun - she has a much more limited toolkit, but also some other options Batman just doesn't have. Sneaking around clinging to the ceiling with her was fantastic. The game is a wonderful experience and very much worth the price of admission, but one quick warning: it is incredibly dark in places. The monstrousness of Batman's enemies is on full display here, with thugs talking about all sorts of horrible deeds and even a few times where someone you can't get to screams desperately for help as you try to get to them in time. I really wish the ESRB had seen fit to tage this with an M rating, because I think the content merits it. Still: very much recommended.

RPG notes: This section contains probably the single biggest spoiler of anything I've ever written, so please bear that in mind if you haven't finished the game, but first some other thoughts: this game does an excellent example of showing how you can have an unabashedly comic-book setting, with all of its weird conflicting sources of power and weirdness, and still have it work. Batman goes up against foes that are not superhuman in any way, save their utter evilness, such as The Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin, a few that are augmented via super-science or science-fiction technology of some kind like Mr. Freeze and Bane, and even a couple with mystical undertones like Solomon Grundy and Ra's al Ghul and it all works. The setting still feels like a dark, gritty, crime-ridden modern city instead of a cartoony mess. The game also has a very interesting example of how to finish a major recurring villain in a satisfying and character-appropriate way. Okay - remember the spoiler I was talking about? This is it. You have been warned. The Joker's death, while richly-deserved, came at his own hand and he found it funny at the end. Mark Hamill has also said that he's retiring from voicing the character now, and so there is a real sense of finality to this - between this and the sad events around Heath Ledger's death, I almost think it may be time for DC to kill The Joker off for real in the comics and see where Batman can go from there. There is a great deal of reference to how the two characters of Batman and The Joker are kind of dependent on each other and two sides of one coin in almost all the mythology around both of them, so leaving one to go on without the other is storytelling gold. The opportunities to transfer that into an RPG campaign are extensive, particularly if one or more of the PCs has a recurring nemesis of some kind. It should be mentioned, however, that if this is attempted, the surviving adversary is going to feel somewhat lost and "off" and they should. Play with that, and see where you can go.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Well, this will prove interesting...

...and sadly, not in a good way. My wife and I just got hit with a very large, very unexpected expense. Our car is going to have to be replaced. We're of pretty modest means, so we're a little freaked out about this, and we're scrambling all over the place trying to figure out how we're going to handle the situation. I'm not entirely sure what that means for this blog. If I find a lot of side work this winter as I'm hoping to, I may be too busy to clear much, but the financial situation should abate quickly. If, however, that doesn't prove so fruitful, I may be clearing stuff left and right, digging into my old stacks of CDs for unplayed games, and ripping through books (not literally) as I try to get the maximum mileage out of stuff I already have.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Interesting Project From a Friend of Mine

My friend Mike Ham, who has written a number of smartphone apps, some of which help with tabletop RPGs, is working on his "next big thing" - an engine for running old-school text adventures like Zork or Planetfall on iOS. However, he's a little short on cash, so he's started a Kickstarter page to help raise money for the project. Go over, take a look at what he's got, and see if that's not worthy of a few bucks. He has some really cool contributor rewards set up, too. I also know some of the people who will be writing his stories and - well, let's just say that if you have any interest in this project at all, you want to see it get funded!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cleared: Sanctum

I recently got a chance to play a bunch of Sanctum with my buddy Aaron Stack, and we are in agreement that we need to do this more often. Sanctum, for readers that aren't aware, is a unique FPS/Tower defense hybrid game, where you build a standard tower defense network and then run around said network with a bunch of weapons when the wave of enemies arrives. First-person shooters and tower defense games are really different kinds of gameplay - tower defense is generally pretty cerebral, as you're planning pathways and trying to maximize the effects of overlapping fields of fire and spend your resources wisely on careful tower placement, whereas a first-person shooter is all action and running around. Coffee Stain Studios, then, deserves special recognition for not only making both of these elements so satisfying, but by blending them so well. A substantial portion of the VOIP chatter in the last game was just constant raving about how good the game was and how much we loved it. This one is bound to become part of my standard multiplayer gaming rotation. If you're reading this and are part of my multiplayer gaming circle of friends (you know who you are) get yourself a license so we can do co-op! Definitely a recommendation on this one!

RPG notes: Sadly, despite how good the game is, there's really not much to harvest for tabletop gaming. Hordes of aliens advancing and needing to be shot is pretty much science fiction 101 and none of the weapons are all that unique. And as far as plot is concerned, there really isn't one. That's okay, though - the game is good enough that you'll be happy you've got it anyway.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Off the List: Borderlands

I've played through Borderlands once before, but I just recently finished it for the second time, and I'm going to be adding the DLC to the backlog, so I thought I'd post some quick thoughts about the core game itself first.

Borderlands is an interesting fusion of the Action RPG (Diablo and its imitators) and First-Person Shooter genres, and it actually manages to do justice to both parts of its heritage admirably. Both the shooting and the loot feel solid and like they actually matter to the gameplay, and the story, while not exactly fine literature, gets the job done with no small amount of tongue-in-cheek humor and while the ending is lackluster, isn't so much so that you want your time back. The art style is also unique and fun - the dev team actually made textures out of their own concept art, so the entire world looks drawn instead of realistic, which is a really awesome touch. The game's not perfect (it's buggy to some people, unplayably so in certain cases), but it is a huge amount of fun, and it's been getting a lot of short-term sales of late, probably because there's a sequel planned. I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who likes FPSes and Action RPGs.

RPG notes: Spoiler warning, yadda yadda.

Pandora, the planet where the game takes place, is an interesting place. It feels post-apocalyptic at times, but it's really not - it's just a frontier world and all the violence, corruption, and shenanigans that implies. Oh, and rednecks. It's a fantastic reminder that even in high-tech science fiction settings, not everything is going to be shiny and full of holographic interfaces. The whole of Pandora is corrugated metal shacks, grime, dirt, and bandits. There's no central authority, and no law to speak of. That makes for a violent, dangerous place, but also one where you are pretty much free to act as you will. Something good to keep in mind when designing frontier worlds.


I also picked up the latest Indie Royale bundle.

PC games:

Borderlands: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned
Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx
Borderlands: Claptrap's Robot Revolution
Fate of the World
Night Sky

Nonfiction Book:

The Art of Manliness: Manvotionals

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some Additions and Some Thoughts on the Indie PC Gaming Scene

Thanks to Indie Royale and Humble Bundle, I have some new stuff in my collection to play around with. However, before I get to that, I'd like to share a few thoughts about these sites, if you'll be so kind as to indulge me. Humble Bundle and Indie Royale allow you to grab some really fantastic Indie PC games for ridiculously cheap, or, if you choose, quite a bit of money. Humble Bundle also supports Child's Play and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Child's play is a "traditional" charity that helps children in hospitals through the donations of gamers. The EFF is something like the ACLU for the Internet. Put simply, my point is this: if you are a PC gamer, and particularly if you like innovation and the open nature of PC gaming, you should be participating with these sites. You can grab some fantastic games for very little (A previous Humble Bundle included Frozen Synapse, SpaceChem, AND a whole spread of other really fantastic games) and/or donate to a couple of worthwhile causes. Anyway, that's my "rant" so onto the additions.

PC Games:
  • Gemini Rue
  • The Binding of Isaac
  • Sanctum
  • Blocks That Matter
  • Nimbus
  • Trauma

Cleared: Silverfall

I finally got around to finishing Silverfall, though if I want to keep playing with my same character, I can eventually go through Earth Awakening. Silverfall, for those who aren't quite sure what I'm talking about, is an action RPG in the tradition of Diablo from a now-defunct game developer called Monte Cristo. Before we get much firther, though, let me just say this: don't let the awful T&A box art turn you off to the game. I had the advantage of not seeing it as I bought the game digitally, but criminey, that's awful and isn't reflective of the game's content. Anyway, it's really sad that Monte Cristo are, as I just mentioned, out of business, because the game is something of an undiscovered treasure, especially for those that like the genre. First of all, though, let me lead off by saying that Silverfall is not the kind of game you play for the plot, because there's very little of it and what is there is alternately ludicrous and nonsensical. That's okay, really. The real fun in this type of game is in the gameplay itself, and Silverfall does several things very right. First of all, unique (as far as I know) to games of this genre, Silverfall has no class system at all. You start off as one of several races and pick your abilities as your fancy strikes you, and there's plenty to choose from. There's also a refreshing lack of "wrong" options. Aaron Stack (whom I seem compelled to link at least once a month) and I both played this game around the same time and we took completely different approaches to character design and both of our characters worked. There's something of an "alignment" system, but instead of law vs. chaos or good vs. evil, it's nature vs. technology. Also of note is that the game gives you four skill points instead of just one like many similar games at every level, so characters diverge in their capabilities very quickly, which is a refreshing change. The expansion pack, Earth Awakening, adds more races, a crafting system, some UI tweaks, and a new, high-level campaign, and can be purchased with the base game from most digital game outlets (Steam, Direct2Drive, etc.) and goes on sale somewhat frequently. It really is tragic that the studio that made this gem folded. I would have loved to have seen what a full-blown sequel looked like. If you're a fan of the action RPG genre, this game belongs in your collection. If you're not yet a fan, this probably is a good second game (Torchlight would be the best introduction) if you find yourself a fan.

RPG notes: As usual, there are spoilers in here, but really, there's not much to spoil. I didn't find much in the way of plot elements or character archetypes to steal in this game because there's nothing there to steal. The plot barely strings the game together. This isn't a problem, however, because the visuals are amazing for a game this old. Whoever did the art direction did a fantastic job, so you'll get all sorts of neat ideas for descriptions of weapons, armor, and monsters from playing this game. The weapons of the corrupted elves, the tree dragons, and the necroraiders in all their forms in particular are going to find their way into my homebrew setting.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Off the List: Flashpoint, Season 2

So, uh, I seem to have a little bit of a Flashpoint problem. I whipped through Season 2 faster than I've gotten through pretty much any other TV series I've ever watched except the one season of The Shield I watched  nonstop with my buddy back when we were rooming together. I maintain that this is one of the finest shows I have ever encountered, and as good as Season 1 was, Season 2 is even better. I can't wait to see what they do with Season 3. I recommend this in the most enthusiastic and forceful way. The show is incredible. You should watch it.

RPG notes: A few spoilers, so watch the season and come back. Some nasty tricks for bombers show up in One Wrong Move (gluing the safety pin on a landmine) and Custody is an awesome study in plot twists. Mostly, though, it's just more of the same stuff I liked in Season 1. There is, however, one very important thing to take away from this season: the integration of Donna and Leah into the team. Gaming groups looking to add a new PC and wanting to avoid some of the usual pitfalls would do well to watch this season and observe how the team deliberately integrates the newcomers and intentionally draws them into the fold. You see a little of it with Sam at the beginning of Season 1, but episodes 11-18 with Leah being integrated work really well for showing a team bringing someone into the ranking in an intentional and welcoming way.

Addition: Flashpoint, Season 3. Like I'm gonna be able to help myself.

Some Great Previous Backlog Entries in the Steam Haloween Sale

Stuff that I've blogged about here that I'd recommend (links go to blog entries):

Others I haven't blogged about here that I'd recommend:

  • Borderlands Game of the Year Edition: $7.49 (Or if you really don't care about getting $40.00 of DLC for $2.50, you can get the regular edition for $4.99)
  • Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines: $4.99
  • Overlord Complete Pack: $4.99
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Bundle: $8.74
  • Bioshock: $4.99

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New PC

I just built, configured, and have been tweaking a new PC over the last couple of days. Well, not entirely new; I did reuse quite a few parts, but the CPU, motherboard, RAM, and primary hard drive are all significant upgrades. This isn't going to motivate me to clear some games or anything. Oh no. Where'd you get that idea? [End sarcasm here]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Unfinished: SpaceChem

When I originally saw the video for SpaceChem, I was intrigued. I also read some great industry press on it over at Rock, Paper Shotgun. So I did what I usually do, and picked it up when it went on sale, in this case this summer during the Steam summer sale. I found the game to be alternately extremely enjoyable and mind-bendingly hard, sometimes both at the same time. Unfortunately, at some point a few months back, I hit a wall that I can't seem to get past and the difficulty curve has overtaken my desire to finish the game. That does not, however, mean it's a bad game! I got plenty of enjoyment for my gaming dollar and am more than happy to have had that proverbial gaming dollar go to developers who made something so uniquely interesting and fun, even if I lack the resolve to play it to completion. (I am apparently in good company. Of all the people who have purchased the game on Steam, only 2% of them have finished it!) Despite having never finished it, I do recommend the game. If you get as much enjoyment out of it as I have, it'll be worth your money. Who knows, maybe unlike me, you'll have the ingenuity and resolve to finish it!

RPG notes: The SpaceChem reactors would feel right at home in any number of near- to moderate- future sci-fi settings, and in fact, the atomic-level synthetic chemistry feels like it would be a great addition to a posthuman space-faring setting like Eclipse Phase. The reactors and waldoes have a very "modern CPU architecture" feel to them to me, so their presence in a hard sci-fi setting wouldn't be jarring to me at all.

New Post Type: The Unfinished

I'm going to be adding a new type of post to this blog: "The Unfinished." I'm hoping to use it somewhat sparingly to discuss things that for whatever reason I can't or won't be finishing, but I still have an opinion on. As is usual, the first post of this new type will follow immediately after this one.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cleared: Flashpoint, Season 1

Netflix had been recommending Flashpoint to me for months, so I finally caved and gave an episode a try. It didn't take that long for me to watch the rest of the first season. Netflix's rating algorithms apparently know what they're doing, because this is quickly becoming one of my favorite shows ever. The show follows an elite police tactical team called the SRU (Strategic Response Unit) as they go about their business. And this is where what could easily be a straight-up action show gets really interesting. First of all, if this is what law enforcement in Canada is actually like, I envy the Canadians their police. The SRU members are, to a person, decent, honest, compassionate human beings. They take quite seriously their goal of using lethal force as a last resort and the show's realism comes not from depictions of corruption and brutality, but from the fact that often the "bad guys" in some of these high-stress situations aren't so bad at all (though sometimes they are) and that doing this sort of work is a really stressful job. Time and again, they demonstrate that their team has the resolve and skill to put people down permanently if they have to, but not the desire to do so. Team members routinely take risks with their own lives and safety to make sure everybody else gets out alive, but they're not reckless, either. The Strategic part of the team's name definitely applies. They work as a team, think things through, and try to make good judgment calls. The show is well-acted, well-directed, and well-written, and it's set up in Toronto, Ontario, which means that the locations are usually beautiful. In a way, this is kind of the antithesis of shows like The Shield. I really enjoy this one, and I plan to watch the other seasons. I know I recommend a lot of stuff on here, but I recommend this show especially strongly. If you have a Netflix subscription, just try a few episodes and see if you don't agree with me.

RPG notes: Unlike most of my RPG notes sections, this one is spoiler-free, so read away. First of all, if you have plans to put together a competent, effective and honest city watch or police force for some part of a homebrew setting, you could do a lot worse than to watch this for inspiration! The team also makes an interesting case for how not all people of the same "alignment" are cookie-cutter copies of each other. In D&D terms, the entire SRU is Lawful Good (with the possible exception of the sergeant who may be Neutral Good), but the way that manifests is different for each member. The show also provides a wonderful object lesson for demonstrating that winning doesn't always mean annihilating the opposition. It's been my experience that  lot of the time, PC parties view anything that raises a hand against them as an entity that has automatically forfeited its right to continued existence. Now, that works in some games, but not being able to just go scorched-earth and kill everything that opposes occasionally might be a good way to really stretch your players from time to time.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Some List Maintenance

I've been getting sloppy and just using the "Off the List" category for stuff that I don't just grab impulsively or see through circumstance instead of adding things to the list. Bad me. Time to update the list!

PC Games:

Avencast - removed
Capsized - removed
Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena - removed
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay - removed
Crusader: No Remorse - removed
Darkstar One - removed
Gothic II - removed
Hitman: Blood Money - removed
Section 8 - removed
Spacechem - removed

Batman: Arkham City - addition
Metal Brigade: Tactics - addition
Need For Speed: Undercover - addition

TV Series:
Flashpoint, Season 1 - addition

Eden Log - removed

Nonfiction Books:
A Theology of Inclusivism - addition
Black Gun, Silver Star -addition
The Primal Blueprint - addition

Off The List: Fable III

Steam had a fantastic sale on a game I'd been eyeing for a while, namely Fable III, this past weekend, so I picked it up. I played through it pretty quickly - the game had me hooked from fairly early on, and it helped that my wife enjoyed being a spectator to my in-game exploits. The game is probably described as an "accessible action RPG". The RPG elements aren't very crunchy, but there is substantial advancement opportunity. However, the only gear that matters is the character's weapon. This does, however, allow you to have a lot of fun mixing and matching various outfit components to achieve a unique look all your own, and given the vast number of outfits in the game, you certainly have the opportunity to do this! The gameplay itself is fun, if simple, and the storyline is a nice twist on the typical "save the world" plot. I've already played Fable: The Lost Chapters (the PC version of the original Fable) and this game makes me really want to play Fable II to see what bridged the gap between the two, but unless I get an Xbox 360, I'm out of luck - it was never released for the PC. The game deserves some points for mixing the Industrial Revolution with fantasy elements and pulling it off brilliantly. There's a lot fewer fantastical elements here than in the original Fable, but that seems appropriate. I'd recommend it; there's no denying the game's fun value.

RPG notes: Possible spoilers yadda yadda. Anyway, the plot of the game - depose a tyrant and take his throne, only to find out that he was being tyrannical to try and make his kingdom strong enough to fend off what's essentially a D&D-style Elder Evil made for an interesting twist. Confronting Logan produced a moment much like what new Presidents experience. They get sworn in, head up to the Oval Office for the first time, a CIA guy drops their first threat matrix on their desk, they take one look and instantly age two years. That theme, that only the very powerful know just how dangerous the world truly is, is something that would be great to play with in what Postcards from the Dungeon call an "Empire Building" game. In addition the fashion in the game world (which is a wide amalgamation of 18th and 19th century fashion) would also make a great source of inspiration for a steam fantasy setting. I know I'm going to poach ideas like a madman for my homebrew game world. Finally, if you're an "advance planning" sort of GM, I imagine most players would absolutely love something like the Road to Rule in this game, especially if it came with special rewards like it did in this game.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Off the List: Medal of Honor

I picked up Medal of Honor on sale for $5 from Direct2Drive a while back and just finished it recently. It's a good, solid military shooter. The plot jumps from a SEAL team to some Rangers to some Tier 1 operators and back several times and even to some Apache pilots. The story is solid and appropriately both grim and believable. There's no invasion of mainland America, no superweapons, nothing like that at all, just a bunch of vicious Taliban fighters and some Chechens backing them up. That leaves basically just the plot, which, as I mentioned, is fine, and the shooting, which is a fair bit better than fine. Without any fantastic elements, the game feels very grounded, and that made it very enjoyable. I don't think I'd have paid $50 for this, but it was certainly $5 well spent.

RPG notes: There's not too much here to point to for tabletop gaming, but there are a few things. First, the interwoven stories that affect each other in the same area were kind of cool. That's in no way unique to this game, but it was well-executed. Second, the game serves as a good reminder that one doesn't always need fantastic or speculative elements to make for a good story. Shooting it out on a mountain in Afghanistan was plenty fun. I didn't feel deprived for want of energy weapons, magic, or zombies. Finally, there were some great examples of just how much timing and stealth can change a situation in the game. Anybody playing a sneaky character should take particular note of the Tier 1 operator sections.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cleared: Predators

I'm actually crossing something off the list! Woohoo! *ahem* Anyway, I watched Predators the other night (got the disc from Netflix) and breathed a huge sigh or relief. Why relief? Because frankly everything involving the Alien and/or Predator IP for years (at least in movie form) has stunk, and this film decidedly did not. Interestingly, the title refers to the humans as much as the alien predators in this film, and that's the point. There are some names in here, and they do a good job, but Adrian Brody is the star of this and he does not disappoint. He pulls off a very convincing portrayal of a ruthless black ops merc that is just barely sympathetic enough to root for. His voice in particular lends itself well to the role. The movie is fast-paced, makes sense within its own conceits, and is generally a solid action sci-fi film. This is to Predator what Aliens is to Alien, and that is a very good thing, as well as being very high praise. If you liked anything previous with the Predator name on it, be sure to see this.

RPG notes: Once again, this is where I'm liable to spoil things, so you've been warned, danger, etc. The central concept of the film is a bunch of lethal, hard-as-nails killers being scooped up off of their planet and dropped in a "game preserve" to be hunted by Predators. This idea alone has plenty of game fodder bound up in it, and there's nothing that says all the champions must be from the same place, or even time. In a fantasy setting with multiple planes, for example, whatever force is pulling the deadliest warriors from wherever may grab angelic and demonic beings, powerful genies, etc. Also: there's nothing to say that they have to be assembled to be hunted or to fight each other, which is the next most common trope. Pulling a bunch of lethal warriors from out of various times/places/planes/planets seems like an excellent way to build a team that can defeat The Great Evil, and if you want to do a high-powered game, a fun change of pace for introducing a PC group to each other.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs passed away today. Now it bears mentioning that I'm no Apple fanboy. In fact, I look at them as the "honored opposition." But Steve Jobs has really helped form and shape the world I live in. GUIs, MP3 Players, Smartphones, Tablet PCs, Personal Computers, Mice, Pixar... ...none of these things would have become as widespread as they have as quickly as they have without Steve Jobs's influence. I respected him, and I acknowledge his genius. I was hoping he'd be around to keep Microsoft and Google sharp for many decades to come, and now he's gone. Rest in peace, Steve.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Off the List: Season of the Witch

Season of the with was my latest impulse pull from Redbox. This movie actually was what I was hoping The Black Death would be - it was a historical fantasy piece, painted in varying shades of gray. (Things like the inquisition and witch hunting get a whole lot less clear-cut when you have actual supernatural evil power being tossed around.) The story was adequate, the characters were fine, and the twist at the end managed to catch me by surprise because it leveraged a supernatural element that had been previously unreferenced. It was merely okay overall; I'd call it a 3-star film, but it was definitely fine for what it was. And of course anything with Ron Perlman in it is automatically that much cooler for his participation.

RPG notes: As usual, this section contains major spoilers and should be skipped by those that don't want them. The twist was interesting - the "witch" was in fact neither innocent nor guilty, because she was a host for a demon that was as guilty as all get-out. This core idea would be very useful in a game (albeit used sparingly) and wouldn't even necessarily have to be limited to demonic possession. Alien parasites, psionic mind control, and even cybernetic implants can all create a similar situation where someone isn't in full control of their actions, but otherwise seems relatively normal. The ruthless church that, while dark and brutal, still wasn't entirely wrong made for some interesting moral complexity - it reminded me a bit of the followers of Sigmar in the Warhammer Fantasy setting. This work is a useful reference for a powerful religion with generally benign goals and teachings, but corrupt and ruthless followers. The demon's "incinerating embrace" attack is going to find its way into one of my games - mark my words. And then there's the whole theme of putting a supernatural or fantasy twist on actual world events, which has been a staple of many a GM toolbox for decades.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Off the List: Shoot 'em Up

I watched shoot 'em up as a research project on a particular villain. (Another recommendation from Aaron Stack.) The movie was okay but not entirely to my taste. It was a little raw and the liberal politics seemed a bit out of place at the end. However, the shootouts (which is why you watch this kind of film) were absolutely top notch. My one gripe with those, which are ludicrously over-the-top by design and don't aspire or pretend to be anything different, is that they suffer from "handguns are better" syndrome. Mr. Smith routinely walks over dead enemies with loaded SMGs to pick up a pistol. Really? The plot basically exists to string shootouts together, and the only real stand-out characters are the ones you'd expect - the central ones. Nobody really comes out of nowhere and steals the show, and that's fine. Paul Giamatti plays an interesting villain - cocky and sneering, but chubby and not very formidable-looking, he is nonetheless smart, ruthless, and lucky to survive a huge number of gunfights that kill everybody around him. I'm not sure I'd recommend this movie, but if you want to see it, I wouldn't tell you not to, either.

RPG notes: If you're looking to create a game with cinematic, over-the-top gunplay all over the place, put this in your to-watch list along with everything John Woo has ever done and Equilibrium. Basing a villain off the Paul Giamatti character would make for an interesting change of pace from the usual "Dark Lord" type villains that show up in a lot of games. Other than that, though, there's not much to pull into gaming here. But really, those two elements are enough from a film like this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cleared: Limitless

Along with Thor, I picked up Limitless, and I just watched that tonight. Since the comments on my last post have jogged my memory of just how poorly I know my Hollywood actors, I'm going to refrain from any reference to the level of star power in this movie. I will say that the people in it did a very good job portraying an interesting group of characters. I can also say that I was genuinely surprised by the ending. The premise of the movie is that Eddie, a depressed, unmotivated, unfocused writer sliding rapidly towards rock bottom gets a dose of an experimental drug called NZT from his ex-brother-in-law. The drug essentially overclocks his brain. Where it goes from there makes for an extremely compelling movie. The movie ventures into psychological horror at moments, but is probably better called a thriller. It's exciting, suspenseful, and fairly smart. I liked that Eddie is neither perfect nor a complete scumbag. I liked less that some real questions go completely unanswered. The film also gets special credit for having a sympathetic character use a little kid as a temporary weapon and staying sympathetic throughout the use and afterward. I'd definitely recommend this one!

RPG notes: The customary note about spoilers applies, of course. Okay, the obvious idea here is NZT itself. That drug just begs to be in every cyberpunk and later RPG. Interestingly, though, I can think of at least one fantasy one that already has something similar. The Alchemist class from the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide has an archetype in Ultimate Magic called the Mindchemist that could easily be used to make a character very much like Eddie, though the loss of some physical prowess from the side effects of the Mindchemist's cognatogens means it wouldn't be quite the same. More interesting than NZT all by itself, however, is the implied message in the movie that a sizeable number of the truly elite are on it, and that success and power may well be drug-induced. Any GM worth their salt could easily construct a terrifying dystopian setting around that concept. For bonus points, throw in something like Prozium (from Equilibrium) that's administered via the water supply to the general populace and you have a class of chemically-enhanced super-geniuses ruling over an emotionally-dead population of obedient drones.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Off the List: Thor

As I have been wont to do of late, I swung by a Redbox kiosk on my way home and picked up a couple of DVDs. One of them was Thor, which I just finished. To be honest, I went into this not expecting much. I've never been a huge Thor fan, and the trailers made it seem really corny to me. And, to an extent, it was sort of corny, but it was also absurdly well written and acted for something as potentially ludicrous as it was. The filmmakers did an exceptional job making the elements of Norse myth fit into a science fiction (rather than fantasy or straight comic book) take on a comic book setting. Of particular note was their treatment of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, which was actually (incredibly minor spoiler) a star map. The other thing I thought was remarkable was just how well a batch of little-known actors did with the film. Natalie Portman was really the only movie star in this film, and she was in a supporting role. I'm amazed I'm saying it, but it was a legitimately good movie, and worth seeing.

RPG notes: Surprisingly, there's not all that much to be cribbed from Thor, except the old trope of "Any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic." (Arthur C. Clarke) This manifested itself in some subtle and interesting ways, such as the aforementioned example of Yggdrasil and the Rainbow Bridge. Asgard itself seemed to almost be a space station of sorts. The rest of the film was fairly standard fish-out-of water tropes as Thor had to cope with being "merely human," though that part of the film does do a lot to make the case for a god stripped of his powers and cast down to live amongst mortals until he atones for some misdeed as a fun story element. Also: Loki is a fantastic example of a sympathetic manipulator villain. Those wanting to create such adversaries should watch with a notepad handy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Off the List: The Princess and the Frog

On the recommendation of a friend (the inimitable Aaron Stack of Stacked Deck Entertainment) I fired up Disney's The Princess and the Frog on Netflix streaming tonight. Mr. Stack's recommendation did not go awry - the movie was quite entertaining. It was also one of the two darkest Disney movies I've seen (the other being The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I also really love) which kind of surprised me. Disney set the tale in New Orleans, which added all sorts of fun elements (Cajuns, voodoo, etc.) into it and made the story very enjoyable. The animal sidekicks were very enjoyable, and the Bokor villain was dealing with actual demons (with no punches pulled on the consequences for either him or the people who dealt with him), though the word wasn't used. The characters were also refreshingly three-dimensional and flawed, too, particularly Charlotte, who grew up into a character that didn't HAVE to do the right thing at the end and, once she knew what was going on truly had no reason to, but tried anyway. I'd heartily recommend this one, and I promise the next thing I do will be less kid-oriented!

RPG notes: As usual, this is the spoiler section, and should be reserved for consumption by readers who have either consumed the media or don't mind spoilers.

The Shadow Man, while a fairly straightforward Bokor villain, was a very slick and well-executed one. In particular, his shadow was a nice touch. It was a separate entity from him and able to affect the physical world by interacting with the shadows of other things was both effective and creepy. I'm almost certainly going to poach that for a fantasy villain. The film also had a very solid multi-threaded story AND a solid internal mythology, both of which are useful for any RPG campaign or setting - the mythology in particular took very solid advantage of a the setting and demonstrated how sometimes where a story takes place can deeply impact the story in important ways. That particular story wouldn't have worked anywhere else but New Orleans. The one last element that this movie provided me with wasn't actually in the movie itself, at least not entirely. In the process of "selling" me on the film, Aaron Stack mentioned that they "straight up murder a good guy" in the film. This took my viewing experience from "standard Disney movie" to "standard Disney move + Anyone Can Die." That "impending doom" feeling I had actually made the movie all the cooler and got me thinking that a good prophecy of doom from a reliable source can be a great story wrinkle in a game. All through the movie, I was trying to guess - was it going to be Ray? Louis? Mama Odie? Big Daddy? Naveen? That, coupled with how truly pull-no-punches supernatural evil The Shadow Man was, really made the film for me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cleared: Despicable Me

I realized I needed to get cracking on clearing out some stuff, so I grabbed Despicable Me from a Redbox kiosk on the way home for just that purpose. The movie works on several levels. First of all, it is actually effective at what it sets out to do - the humor is actually funny, and the parts intended to be heartwarming are actually touching. The antics of the little minion creatures were cute and funny without getting obnoxious. Gru and Nefario made likeable antihero protagonists, and there was plenty of humor for adults. (Gru's trip to the Starbucks Coffee Shop towards the beginning of the film springs to mind as an especially effective example, and the whole Gru vs. Vector thing seems like a thinly-veiled reference to the whole Mac vs. PC squabble that's been going on for years.) There's a very real, if not very dark, redemption story in there, too. All in all, I liked it. It's not Great Art Cinema, but it is a quality, charming animated movie.

RPG notes: This is, as usual, where the spoilers live, so tread carefully if you haven't watched it yet. The movie contains a number of ideas that could be poached for gaming campaigns, the first of which that popped out at me being the Bank of Evil. While on its surface, the concept is silly, it barely takes any effort at all to imagine an amoral financial institution bankrolling shady goings-on around the world. In fact, they made a movie about that very concept called The International a while back, and it most certainly was not a comedy or for children. The shrink weapon (and its side effects) might be fun in a weird science or supers game, and the little minion creatures (or other critters that act like them - small-sized fantasy "cannon fodder" races like goblins and kobolds could easily be hacked to act like the minions) would be a great addition to a lighthearted campaign world. Finally, Gru demonstrates a number of times throughout the movie that you can be intimidating without actually resorting to a demonstration of violence or even direct threats, and that's a useful tool for a player or GM's storytelling toolbox.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cleared: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Well, it's been a very cyberpunk Labor Day weekend this year. As I suspected it wouldn't, it didn't take me very long to get through Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Buying games right when they come out is a fairly rare thing for me to do, but I felt this one warranted it, and I'm happy to report that I was right. Part of the decision to purchase this game was a philosophical one as well: I like freedom to pursue goals in a variety of ways in my games, and the Deus Ex series has always been fantastic towards that end. You can be stealthy or charge in the front door, you can kill your enemies, sneak past them, or knock them unconscious. You can hack your way into computer systems or find the password and log in directly. The game offers you a lot of options to do a lot of things while playing. A lot of people have complained that the unavoidable and always lethal (to your enemy) boss fights break immersion, but I just don't see it. The bosses you fight are monstrous in a variety of ways - the first one you encounter is so augmented as to virtually be a mech with a face (like Robocop) and having to expend entire magazines, plural, of ammo on him to bring him down didn't really strain my suspension of disbelief. A couple of the others did a little bit more, but that was no huge deal. The boss fights were certainly no worse on my entertainment experience than commercial breaks in a TV series I loved would have been, but in the interest of fairness it should be noted that I made no effort whatsoever to spare everybody I fought. In particular, some of the pitiless monsters that killed innocent people right in front of me were put down pretty hard. (An attitude I shared with Jim Rossignol over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.) It also bears mentioning that the game was smart in way that had nothing to do with the gameplay itself. The story and world were very fleshed-out and interesting and there were some real philosophical concepts up for grabs in this one. Also of note: I really appreciated that not everybody who worked for a corporation was cold-blooded, amoral jerk. The growth and development in your relationships between you and Pritchard, Sarif, and Malik was a cool element to be sure.

RPG notes: As usual, this section contains big heaping piles of spoilers. Wow. Where to begin. Obviously, if you're running a cyberpunk game, you owe it to yourself to play through this game at least once and probably twice with a notepad handy. There are tons and tons of ideas for interesting cybermods, societal attitudes, and technology. Some of the interesting highlights that stuck out to me:
  • The Typhoon system. That mod basically makes you into a walking cluster bomb, and you're not the only character that has it.
  • Barret's gun arm was pretty awesome in its execution; it didn't permanently replace his hand, but he couldn't use the hand and gun at the same time.
  • Jensen's arm blades. I don't know who at Eidos thought those up, but those were awesome. They could easily become an iconic videogame weapon.
  • The Icarus landing system. Fall from any height and either just land softly or send out a shockwave. Very nice. The glowing gold sphere was a great visual touch, too.
  • The way newspapers are handled. They still exist, but they're full-color wafer-thin things that can be interacted with. I'll bet recycling is especially important in the Deus Ex world if for no other reason than to just keep costs down.
  • David Sarif's beautiful gold filigree-inlaid cyber-arm and Hugh Darrow's renaissance-style cloak to cover his missing arm.
  • The famous news anchor that's actually an AI.
  • Yelena Federova: instead of being a plodding, up-armored wrecking machine, she was almost like a cybernetic ninja. She could jump HUGE distances, cloak, and so forth. A very cool contrast to other cybered-up warriors.
  • The prejudice towards augmented people. On the one hand, it struck me as exceedingly unreasonable. On the other, it's not like humanity has always been reasonable with its prejudices.

Cleared: Tron Legacy

I grabbed Tron from a Redbox on Friday evening on my way back from work and watched it this weekend. There's a lot to like about it. Fist of all, the visual effects were utterly stunning; the movie is gorgeous. The story was pretty solid, too; it definitely makes me want to go back and watch the original again. The acting was also good, but that's not terribly surprising. What I did think was cool was that two characters were portrayed by the same actor, which doesn't often happen, and even more rarely happens in a way that's as impactful (and makes as much sense) as it was done here. Definitely one to catch if you like cyberpunk at all.

RPG notes: The idea of a virtual world that threatens the real one was done particularly well here. I also was somewhat intrigued by the idea that the portal worked both ways. However, instead of trying to go into any real depth on this one, I think I'm going to instead refer any interested parties to Episode 41 of Postcards from the Dungeon. They did a far better job of breaking this one down and discussing its merit as both a piece of media and as a source of gaming inspiration than I could in a short blog post.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


I'm adding Deus Ex: Human Revolution to the backlog. Its inclusion is about 80% wanting to play it and 20% wanting to be able to have an informed opinion on some elements of the game that have proven controversial.

Off the list: Tangled

Why, oh WHY didn't I see this in the theater? Anyway, yeah, I noticed that Disney's latest film, Tangled, was up on Netflix and decided to watch it this morning and it was incredible. Zachary Levi was great as Flynn (not that surprising - he's great in Chuck) and the tale actually turned into a really good action-adventure movie very quickly. Disney flipped their formula a bit and made it a redemption story instead of just a hero tale, which was a great touch. I really don't want to spoil anything in this part of the review, so I think I'll leave it at this: If you like adventure, fantasy, and/or comedy, open up your Netflix account (or go get a free trial code from a TWiT show or Swagbucks or something) and watch this NOW. Beautiful animation, fantastic voice acting, fun story - awesome.

RPG notes: Spoilers aplenty. Go watch it and come back. And don't you dare NOT watch this!

Anyway, first some quick D&D notes: Maximus is now the official inspiration for every paladin's mount forevermore. That horse is full of epic win. Flynn also provides a nice example of the rogue with a heart of gold archetype, but what I'd really like to get into is Rapunzel's hair. The filmmakers actually constructed a surprisingly complex and interesting mythology around her hair, the flower it was derived from, the properties it had and so forth. There's some real parallels between Rapunzel's hair in this movie and Samson's in the Bible, and while Disney tends to avoid explicit religious themes in most of its works, you can definitely infer a "gift from God" property here. There's also some nice, subtle cues in the movie about how to craft a kingdom rules by wise, benevolent monarchs if you pay attention. The look and feel of the capital city and even the royal couple in particular convey a lot without any explicit exposition. I think one of the coolest and most important things you can pull out of this movie, though, is that you can get a fairly solid story (and even portray some real evil) without going all horrific and gruesome. The "mother" in this movie is also an excellent example of restraint and subtlety in villain design.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cleared: Priest

Well, tonight I was in the mood for a cheesy action movie, so I swung by a redbox on the way home and rented Priest. And what I got was indeed a cheesy action movie. That said, it's not terrible as cheesy action movies go. The fights are fairly decent (if completely physics-defying), the story is passing fair (if utterly formulaic), the actors aren't awful. It's not a horrific, painful thing to watch, at least not if you do so at home on your PC while doing other stuff like I did. One thing I really did like about the movie is that the vampires weren't all beautiful and sexy. In fact, they were nothing of the sort. They were eyeless, gruesome, leech-like things and that was really cool. (In fact, they were a completely separate species, rather than cursed or infected humans and that was cooler still.) The filmmakers also did a nice job of stirring some varying genres together in a way that actually felt far more seamless than it normally does; depending on where the characters were, you got either Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, or Western feel, but it still felt like the same world. That was cool.

RPG notes: Aside from the movie's new take on vampires, this was about the most formulaic thing I've seen in over a year, which sadly means there really isn't too much else to glean from it as far as game ideas go. But let's linger on the re-imagining for a moment, shall we? There's a lot of value in the idea of taking something and making it look different in a game. In fact, that was one of the things I really liked about how Paizo did Pathfinder monsters - yeah, they're the same critters with the same capabilities and usually a pretty similar role. But the flavor and appearance are changed just enough to feel different. That can be really valuable and can let you get more mileage out of familiar elements than you otherwise could. Beyond that, you have a really smooth genre-mash, but that's hardly new, if a lot of fun.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cleared: Pandorum

Woo Hoo! 20 movies cleared! I finally got up the gumption to watch Pandorum and was glad I did. First of all, I'd forgotten that the movie stars Ben Foster, who I always really like as an actor, and this was no exception; he's as great as ever in this. Also, without spoiling things, for a sci-fi action-horror movie this has an incredibly hopeful thread that runs through it. Foster's character in particular is an amazingly gutsy, heroic and decent sort. He's also smart, which is nice to see. I enjoyed the movie a great deal, and I'd love to see a sequel that picks up a few years after the end of this one, though it would feel completely different. If you can handle a few scares and some gore, I'd recommend it. Oh, and a weird misconception the box art and posters give that I'm happy to dispel: the movie is not all about body horror involving tubes. Its scares come more from environmental dangers, claustrophobia, and madness.

RPG notes: [SPOILER WARNING] Everything I'm about to discuss in this part of this post is about as spoileriffic as spoiler-y spoilers can be. If you haven't watched Pandorum and want to, for the love of cinema, do so first and only then read further![SPOILER WARNING]

This one was packed with cool ideas, most of which are only truly revealed towards the middle-to-end parts of the film. The idea of a "last colony ship" with the sole survivors of humanity onboard escaping from a destroyed Earth is obviously one that's been done a number of times before, but some of the other elements are completely different. For example: the ship ISN'T actually in space at all, having crashed in the ocean on the planet they were headed to hundreds of years ago. Humanity actually IS saved, they just didn't realize it, and once they escaped from the hell that was the inside of the Elysium, you get a very strong sense that everything is going to be okay for them. The monsters inside the ship (evolved/mutated humans adapted to live inside a ship) were also an interesting, incredibly creepy touch and one that could make for a very cool set of opponents if done correctly. If I were going to run a game in this setting, I'd almost certainly start it about an hour after the movie finishes. That ship is full of resources, but it's also dangerous. The planet is dangerous in different ways, and also unknown, but also full of possibility. In fact, if you wanted to run a post-Pandorum game, there's actually an existing product with a lot of similar concepts that could be easily hacked to do it: Blue Devil Games' Dawning Star setting. The base concept, however, needn't be limited to sci-fi or even space travel games. Refugees trapped in an ark that's become a very dangerous place that need to escape to a better life that's waiting outside if they can just figure out what's really going on would work in fantasy, too. (You could do planar travel or even just a sealed "tomb" designed to wait out something like the Lunar Rain from Dragonmech or even some sort of other apocalyptic event (possibly even a cyclical one) that affects a fantasy world.