Monthly Archives: January 2014

Wolf Among Us Episode 2 Smoke and Mirrors Trailer – Worth the Wait?

When I’m watching a hot new show, it’s torture waiting a week between episodes.  I can’t imagine waiting four months.  That’s about how long fans of TellTale’s Wolf Among Us will have waited for Episode #2, “Smoke and Mirrors”.  The trailer’s out and it still has no date, just “Coming Soon”.  That’s managing expectations, I guess, but it’s been four months already so set a date and stick with it.  The game looks pretty darn good, though.  The choose-your-own-adventure episodic has a murder mystery,  violence, games, and a strip club.  Good drama.  The only knock on TellTale is their look is very cookie-cutter.  Take the same art from Walking Dead, same tone, same characters basically, and sell season passes.  I hope they go on the edge and change things up for Game of Thrones, out later this year.

Dawn of the Plow – Plows are plenty, but Plowers few

I wake up every morning wanting to plow some snow.  Unfortunately, I live in California.  Fortunately, Dawn of the Plow is here to hit that fix.  Dan FitzGerald’s iOS, Android and Desktop game is $1.99 and it looks awesome – check out the trailer below.

And then ponder on the spirituality of snow-plowing.  It falls from the sky.  Softly, slowly.  It’s beautiful.  Marvelous.  But then it piles up.  It blocks your path.  It buries you.  It freezes you.  It kills you.  And so the Master says, “The snow must be plowed”.  And we must do as the Master says.  Plows are plenty, but the plowers few.  Who will drive that plow?  It is a sacrifice not all will make.  And we devote our existence to plowing that snow, which ultimately melts, and then it disappears, only to reappear, and so the cycle begins anew….

Video Games that will help you get a job

Games not only reduce stress, they can also help you find the perfect sushi chef for your restaurant.  There are start-ups now that produce games used in job applications such as Knack’s “Wasabi Waiter”.  Possible age or gender-related disparate impact claims notwithstanding, I think it’s a great idea to have performance in games predict job success.  But I don’t think you need to pay these startups for their games.  There are plenty of games already in existence that’ll help you ID that perfect hire.  Here are examples:

1) JOB: Human Resources

GAME: Knights of the Old Republic.  Every HR person needs the Jedi Mind Trick.

2) JOB: Pizza Delivery Guy

GAME: Grand Theft Auto.  Drive, deliver, and most importantly, get that MONEY!

3) JOB: CEO

GAME: Castlevania.  Crack that whip!

castlevania

4) JOB: CMO

GAME: Tapper.  Keep the booze coming.

5) JOB: Politician

GAME: The Walking Dead

6) JOB: Lawyer

GAME: Dance Central

7) JOB: Dictator

GAME: Tropico

8) JOB: President of US

GAME: Frogger.  Don’t get hit!

frogger

9) JOB: Ted Cruz

GAME: Alien: Isolation

10) JOB: Anything in corporate America

GAME: Pac Man.  Run around in a maze, avoid the ghouls trying to destroy you, eat a lot of crappy little pellets, find that rare bonus pellet that’ll give you the boost to eat the ghouls chasing you before time runs out and they stab you in the back and dissolve you into nothing.  Do well in Pac Man and you’ll do well in the big game.

PacMan_01

How Video Games Saved My Life, Part 2: How to Relieve Stress with Video Games

(Part One)

There were some tough times after that first weekend. Jobs were difficult to come by. I used my credit card for rent. At parties, I couldn’t finish one drink with the same girl because inevitably, the question came up: “What do you do?” My entire future seemed to be crumbling before me. It was the most stressful period of my young life.

I needed an escape. I turned to video games. Nothing else worked for me. Even now, with a great job and a loving family, I still need to step away once in a while, and put a band-aid over that cut to buy time and avoid the mind-screwing, and the potentially destructive first moments of stressful situations. Games do that for me and here’s how:

The first thing to keep in mind is that not all games will help. Some games might actually make you more stressed and frustrated. If you are looking for a game to help you with stress, select one that:

1) Engages the mind; AND
2) is Challenging, but Winnable; AND
3) creates a sense of Accomplishment

There are many great games that fit the bill, but I’ll use Creative Assembly’s Total War series as the example.

1) Games that ENGAGE the mind

For an activity to be an effective stress-reliever, it must be one that engages your mind. Television is a passive activity, and I often find my thoughts drifting when watching a show, regardless of its entertainment value. Some games may be fun, but they don’t engage the mind. I love hunting games and FPSs, but they are often reactionary, reliant on motor skills. I can play Halo and rehearse a presentation at the same time.

The engagement of the mind also involves creativity. Puzzle games make you think, but there’s one solution to the problem. Total War makes you think at different levels and it involves creativity. First of all, you are thinking at the strategic level: how to win the campaign against the French, how to capture Jerusalem without starting a war with the Turks, and so on. You also think tactically during battles: how do I defeat the Spanish army when I’m out-numbered 3 to 1? Well, there’s this hill. They’re mostly cavalry and I have pikemen, etc.

When a game engages your mind, you are no longer thinking about the lay-off, or the break-up, or whatever else life spews at you. And more importantly, an engaging game engages you even when you’re not playing. When I’m in the middle of a Total War campaign, I’m constantly thinking about my next move. Again, games will not solve your problems, but it will give your brain and body a much-needed break from them, which is important, especially at the onset.

2) Games that are CHALLENGING, but WINNABLE.

Seems obvious, but this balance is very important. A game that is not challenging will bore you, and you’ll stop playing, and you’ll go back to mind-screwing yourself. A game that is challenging, but not winnable, will frustrate the heck out of you and you’ll break your keyboard and throw things at the cat. Total War is challenging, even at the Normal difficulty setting. It takes time and strategy to defeat your enemies. Sometimes there are set-backs (“oh, man, my entire Crusade got wiped out”), but overall, the game is winnable.

3) Games that create a sense of ACCOMPLISHMENT.

Simply winning a game doesn’t always create a sense of accomplishment. If I hit the high score of a jewel or bubble game, it’s definitely cool but I never feel a sense of accomplishment because it’s largely achieved by chance – the right colors lined up.

The best games for relieving stress will have smaller accomplishments leading up to a bigger one. In Total War, winning a battle against the rebels creates a small sense of accomplishment. Capturing your most belligerent neighbor’s capital, after several blood-bath assaults, is another. And until the entire campaign is won, there are numerous wins – hard-fought wins – along the way. Every time I play Total War, even if it’s just an hour, I feel I have accomplished something.

And that feeling matters. When you’re down and everyone is kicking you, and your life sucks hard, you NEED a victory. You need to win a little, even if it is a stupid video game. You need that little boost, even if temporary, so that you keep your mind from jabbing itself repeatedly with an ice-pick.

Finally, when you are stressed, don’t play online. MOBAs are obviously off-limits, but other online games as well, even chess. The competition is unpredictable and you may meet that one a-hole who will crap on an already crappy day.

Like everything, games can become addictive and even harmful, but you will not go there because you are responsible and most of all, you are a winner – a winner with a flat tire that will get fixed.

How Video Games Saved My Life (Part 1)

I received the news on a Friday.  I’m convinced my manager hated me because Friday is the worst day in the week to get axed.

Not only was I dealing with the fear and shame of unemployment, I had the entire weekend to sit at home and think about it.  It was 2007, a year before the Great Recession, and no one else had been laid off yet.  I canceled my night out with the fellas.  I told them I was sick, I had the flu.  No way I’d spend the evening laughing at Steve Jobs jokes or talking about this new thing called the “smart phone”.

I ate instant ramen that night instead of sushi.  Expense-cutting had to happen now.  Who knew how far my severance will stretch?  If it was a Monday, I could start searching for work right away.  But it was Friday afternoon and no one called back on Friday afternoons.  I hated my twenty-something manager for it.  She could’ve transferred me, or given me a bigger severance, or more time.  She could have at least waited until freaking Monday.

I drank that night.  A lot.  It helped.  It made me feel good for a few hours.  Then I threw up.  Then I passed out.  Then I woke up in the morning with a hammer pounding my head.  I felt like a bigger loser.  Something told me to head outside, to meet with friends.  To talk.  Drink coffee.  Get some good food in the belly.  But I didn’t want to see anyone.

Out the window, I saw a heavy-set mail-woman struggling up the apartment stairs.  She didn’t look happy having to deliver a box on the second floor.  I wanted to say to her, “At least you have a freaking job!”

I didn’t know what to do.  I needed to get my mind on something.  Watching TV didn’t help – I kept drifting back to my crappy situation.  I got on the internet, looked at job boards, then inevitably landed on Facebook, or it could’ve been MySpace back then, or even Friendster.  It was some social bragging site like Facebook is now, and my buddies from high school, and college, and everywhere else were having their second child, or buying their 4-bedroom house, or the new car, etc.  I closed my browser, stared at the screen for a while.

stress_02

I looked down and saw a game.  It was Total War: Medieval 2, which had come out a year before.  I hadn’t played it much because I was focused on my career, which seemed to be in complete tatters now.

I started the game, took breaks only to eat and sleep — I was King of England that weekend.  And it was good to the be king!  I subdued the annoying Scots, swept down Western Europe and Spain, and sent wave after wave of crusaders to the Holy Land.  The game didn’t solve my problem.  I was still unemployed.  But it was an aspirin I desperately needed.  A bandage to stop the bleeding.  Sometimes, you just need something, anything to keep you from mind-screwing yourself.  And games did that.  It helped me get through the most difficult weekend of my life.

(Part Two)

The Amazing Spider Man 2 Reveal Trailer – sometimes the villain is more awesome than the hero

Electro always fascinated me.  He wasn’t some alien or mutant or a multi-billionaire.  He was an ordinary working man who got electrocuted, and suddenly he’s spurting bolts of lightning like Zeus.  That PG&E guy outside your window…he could become Electro one day.  If I had studied electrical engineering, had a job climbing poles, and then in carelessness, shocked myself, I could be short-circuiting Manhattan and menacing Spider-Man.  Magneto recruited Electro.  He declined Magneto’s offer, but had he joined, they would have been one badass Electro-Magneto.

Electro

Electro

Kraven the Hunter is also interesting.  The Russian accent, the fur, the tights.  He could have been a WWE wrestler.  Electro and Kraven are the featured bad-boys in the new Spider-Man movie and game.  Check out the reveal trailer for the game, narrated by Kraven (transcription below):

“A killer still roams in the guts of this city and you let him walk away.  Have you done your best to stop him?  To bring this murderer to justice?  Your are gifted with wonderful powers, but still you are unable to track down the prey who matters most to you.  Allow me to help you.  I will make you what you are meant to be.  The ultimate hunter.  Never forget what you do defines who you are.  Let’s see if the hero or the menace will crawl from the dark.”

The Beenox/Activision game will feature an open-world Manhattan for Spidey to un-judiciously sling his web.  I dislike spider webs and finding them in the corner of my ceiling annoys me like nothing else.  I’d hate to go to my high-rise office and see a thick spider spew stuck to my window.  The game also has the “Hero or Menace” option, which basically means I’ll play the game twice, one good and one bad.  The Peter Parker side games gives you missions where you walk around, take pictures and be a boring nerd.  I would rather play side games as Electro, the blue collar utility worker turned Greek God!

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition Trailer – Next Gen is some fine hair

The joke is that Lara Croft is a hot young woman because the original character designer, Toby Gard, wanted to stare at her fine backside during the long hours designing and playtesting the original Tomb Raider. It may very well be a joke, and I’m sure there were valid reasons for Ms. Croft’s hottieness, but bottom line, we’re all extremely thankful that she is what she is. And with time and technology, she keeps getting hotter and hotter, and is primed to arouse a new generation of raiders. Check out Next Gen Lara in the Definitive Edition trailer below. Her backside is still great, but now she’s got the flowing hair to go with it. There are also changes to her skin, a swinging axe, arrows that move around, and some other stuff, but none of that really matters because her hair is freaking awesome!

Open Panzer – Lodz-Warta River Walkthrough

The Wehrmacht’s campaign in Poland doesn’t get much war-game coverage, perhaps because it was a relatively easy blitzkrieg-in-the-park.  Well, the first battle of Open Panzer’s Fall Weiss campaign was anything but easy.  It took me several weeks, and several re-starts to finally achieve victory over the Poles in the 25-turn Lodz-Warta River scenario.

The objective is to cross the Warta River, control it, and take the city of Lodz in the East.  The map is divided into three sectors: North, Center, and South.  The primary strategy is to cross the river at the weakest point in the enemy line, penetrate and flank the enemy at the river, and still have enough strength to attack the heavily-defended city of Lodz.

North, Center, South.  Attack like a door.  Open in the south, swing shut in the North.

North, Center, South. Attack like a door. Open in the south, swing shut in the North.

North:

The river’s North has the stiffest enemy defenses.  There are two main fortifications supported by several infantry, artillery, armor and an anti-aircraft gun.  Every time I tried to attack head-on, my troops got completely annihilated.  I tried crossing in the far northern edge of the map where there are no defenses, but the troops got wiped out once discovered.  Eventually, I kept my infantry back and waited for my troops in the Center and South to break through.  Once they broke through and reached the North, I assaulted the enemy from both the front and rear.  Even surrounded, the Poles wiped out most of my men – probably an entire battalion.

I snuck my scout unit across the river in the far north and had them take undefended mini-objectives in the nearby areas, including the airfield, which becomes important mid-game.  I also sent the group’s howitzer south to support the assault in the Center.  I kept all my other infantry back and placed the anti-tank gun defending the objective hex.  The gun will get bombarded and will need to be reinforced several times.  This was essential because it kept their artillery busy and prevented the Poles from counterattacking in the North.

The survivors.  This was all that remained of the battalion+ men that assaulted the river's northern defenders.

The survivors. This was all that remained of the battalion+ men that assaulted the river’s northern defenders.

Center:

The defense in the Center is tough, but with the support of three howitzers and reinforcements several turns in, it should fall by turn 10.  Once crossed, the enemy will counterattack with cavalry.  Yes, horses! But disrespect them, and your men will be run down like a sloth on the autobahn.  Once the counterattack is defended, send two of your artillery, your AA gun and several infantry to attack the defenses in the North.  Send as many as you can.  Everything else, including troops from the South will move across the center of the map toward Lodz.

South:

The South is the easiest to penetrate.  Rush your troops across the river head-on and overwhelm the defenders.  Support them with artillery and both fighters.  Once across the river, move most of your men up north to assist the Center group.  Once the Center is clear, move them east toward Lodz taking other objectives along the way.

The only unit that didn’t head north was my recon car, which I sent directly east to take several undefended mini-objectives to acquire much-needed prestige points.  Reinforcements arrive in the southeast mid-game, including a couple of fighters.  Be smart with them and they should be able to take the three main objectives south of Lodz without assistance.

The map should look like this around turn 17.

The map should look like this around turn 17.

The final two objectives should be the river’s North and Lodz itself.  Reinforce your troops as much as possible, and throw everything you have on these two points.  Don’t focus on the enemy’s support units or the static emplacements.  Assault the unit guarding the objective hex, and then assault them again.  Use suicide attacks.  Get kamikaze with your aircraft.  Take that objective!

Additional tips:

When crossing the river, think “wedge”.  Open a hole and pour your troops through that hole making it wider.  Ignore outlying pillboxes and bunkers.

Aircraft is valuable.  Save them.  Be smart with them.  Don’t use them in AA-infested airspace unless it’s near the end of the game.

Victory at last!

Victory at last!

Tanktastic Review – never underestimate the power of the spawn

PvP tank games are deep-rooted in video game history.  From Combat on the Atari 2600 to Tron to World of Tanks, gamers have been swiveling their turrets and firing HEAT at each other for decades.  What is relatively new are PvP MMOs that are also FTPs (got all those acronyms?)  Unfortunately, two of these FTPs, World of Tanks and Tank Domination, have also been PTDs.  What is a PTD?  Don’t worry if you don’t know because I made it up.  It stands for play-then-delete.  It means, play a bit, then get it off your tablet, phone or PC without paying a dime.  It means, there are too many other FTPs that want to move in.  Luckily, third time’s a charm, and Tanktastic is an FTP that will take up long-term residence on my iPad.

The hangar

The hangar

At first glance, Ukrainian developer G.H.O.R.’s Tanktastic is similar to the rest of the herd.  It has essentially the same interface and structure: create a profile, go to your hangar, pick a tank and join a battle.  For faster upgrades, pay money; otherwise, level-up the old school way, by playing the game.  Tanktastic’s graphics are also on par with the others — nothing to write home about.  The game has a similar selection of tanks, and the controls are standard: virtual joy stick on the left, turret control and fire button on the right.  There are both first person and third person POVs.

The Quiche strikes again

The Quiche strikes again

What sets Tanktastic apart from the other two is in the power of the spawn.  In WoT and Tank Domination, there is no spawning after death.  If you die, you’re out.  You can watch or go back to the lobby, but that’s it.  There is no returning to the fray to enjoy the instant gratification of revenging your own death.  You’re out and that means you sit and wait, or join a different game.  The objective is to enhance realism and encourage team play, but what no-spawning really does is it annoys the gamer like nothing else.

This coward shot me in the back

This coward shot me in the back

That’s where G.H.O.R. got it right.  When you die in Tanktastic, you’re back in the fight in 5 seconds.  Gamers don’t want to wait an entire round.  Most don’t have the patience to work out a team strategy or wait behind a bush for the enemy to cross its line of sight, which is a passive tactic resulting from no spawning.  What tank gamers want is to launch their AP rounds and see the fireworks erupting from their foes’ turrets…again and again.  FTP developers must understand that gamers want to play, not wait (or pay money to not wait).  If there’s too much in-between downtime, then gamers will move on to the next hot FTP on the block.

Tanktastic also gets points for sparing us the annoying drill sergeant and useless tutorials seen in the other FTPs.  G.H.O.R. seems to know what gamers want and don’t want, and Tanktastic is the first PvP MMO FTP tank game that is a PTPA (play-then-play-again) .

Good selection.  The locks mean it wants my money.

Good selection. The locks mean it wants my money.

Graphics are ok, but it's the ability to spawn that makes this game quiche-worthy.

Graphics are ok, but it’s the ability to spawn that makes this game quiche-worthy.

Dark Souls 2 trailer – get ready to be CURSED!

The Dark Souls 2 trailer is out and when they say curse, they mean CURSE! The art folks at FromSoftware went autobahn on this one. There are some seriously jacked-up monsters here including a mummy-knight, a baby rancor, a queen alien, a horned demon similar to LOTR, a dragon, a behemoth, and some fiery blob thing with damned souls sticking out of it. Everything and anything you think of when you think curse are featured.

The annoying low-camera angle aside, the trailer shows some intense moments and cinematic cut-scenes. The audio could have been mixed better. Some of the narration is difficult to hear. Here are the transcription and titles:

Old woman:

“Perhaps you’ve seen it. Maybe in a dream. A murky forgotten land. A place where souls may mend your ailing mind. Long ago in a walled off land far to the north, a great king built a great kingdom. I believe they called it Drangleic.”

Title:

Bearer of the curse, seek misery. Till this frail hope shatters. Lest this land swallow you whole. As it has may others. The curse is a part of life itself.

Old woman:

“Your wings will burn in anguish time after time. All that is your fate. The fate of the cursed.”

I found the game play on the first Dark Souls to be often repetitive, but the sequel seems to have the intensity and variety I was hoping for in the first game. I can’t wait to get cursed!

It’s out on Xbox 360 and PS3 on March 14 and PC a bit later.