Tag Archives: Games

Café Carnage: Dev Update #1

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Ahoy there! I sort of semi-mentioned Café Carnage in my last Friday blog, but since I’ve now had some time to think more about possible ways the game could be improved (as well as getting a few tabletop gaming friends to play it and see what they think), I’d like to document the results of playtesting of Café Carnage v2.0 and offer some thoughts about what changes could be made. These game dev blogs are primarily a vessel for me to screw around with ideas and develop concepts, but hopefully that’s interesting to you guys, too.

So, in that spirit: onwards!

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So, essentially, Café Carnage is a party game. A light, card-based game with minor elements of strategy and push-your-luck but, at its base, it is a party game (albeit – at the moment – only a party that only four people are attending). The version of Café Carnage [v1.0] that Marco, Dickson and I developed as part of the Global Game Jam 2015 (#SotonGameJam) was a very simple, party-game for four players; stripped of some of the more fancy ideas that we came up with, in order to get a workable, fun game completed in the 48 hour time limit. To download the Print ‘n’ Play version of Café Carnage [v1.0], take a look at the link below:

Print and play files: Café Carnage – Global Game Jam 2015 game by Marco Caldarelli, Simon George and Dickson Chui // Ages: 8 and above, playtime: 15-30 minutes.

In its primitive state, it’s a short, no-brain, luck-pushing game that essentially boils down to picking the right time to run from your bill-paying responsibilities: basically, picking the right day (of five) to play your “Run!” card and hoping that none of the other players play theirs at the same time – it’s a slightly amplified version of the famous Unscrupulous Diner’s Dilemma. There’s some slight more complexity and decision-making as to when to pick the best time to run, but, in essence, there’s a fairly clear way to victory that sort of becomes obvious once you’ve played it more than once.

But that’s fine: Café Carnage is intended as a party game; one in which you quickly bash out a playthrough in 15-20 minutes, call your friends “bastards” and perhaps have a chuckle or two along the way (results may vary).

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The difficult problem now lies in how to develop Café Carnage [v2.0] and take it one step further into a more robust, more interesting game. After last week’s jamming, I’d sort of identified three key areas that I wanted to develop further in Version 2.0:

  • More players (5+)
  • More player interaction
  • More variation in the points/cost balance (and penalty for going over budget)

During #SotonGameJam, we only really tested and balanced Version One with 4 players. The idea of the game was, initially, to be a party game that could be played with a group of up to (say) 8 people who then debate over the bill; much like a large group meal IRL. The main logistical complication in adding more players lies in supplying sufficient number of cards such that, over the five rounds of the game, you’re not endlessly shuffling the discard piles and that there’s enough variety in the various dishes that diners can eat. Adding more players does, however, screw with the rules governing how diners can “Run!” from a meal and how only the ‘slowest’ diner (i.e. the player that consumed the most food that day and hence is the most out-of-shape) gets caught and all others escape without paying their bill – in a four-player game played over five rounds, the chances of 3+ players choosing to “Run!” at the same time is unlikely (in testing, rarely did more than two diners choose to “Run!” at the same time), but in a game with 6 or more players, you’re going to get multiple runners every round. How to ‘fix’ this such that one single diner doesn’t end up having to pay for 3-4 other meals (from successful escapees) is still an open question.

Regardless of any increase in players, a way of stimulating more interactions between the players is an important task. At present, players simply choose their three dishes (starter, main course, dessert) secretly from other players, and then the card showing what they choose to do when the bill arrives, before there is any engagement between the players in revealing what dishes they ate and revealing their chosen SHARE BILL/PAY SEPARATELY/RUN card. That there’s so much time spent simply doing your own thing means that there’s not only the potential for Analysis Paralysis (AP) to creep in, but also that the players are silent through this phase; which is not so fun. In Version One, what players choose to eat and choose to do when the bill arrives is in no way based on what anyone else is doing – you essentially do your own thing regardless of what other players might do, so you may as well be playing a solitaire game or playing against a droid. For Version Two, I’d love there to be more ways in which you can actually play against the other humans; be it by forcing engagement between players and revealing something about what everyone had to eat that day (perhaps, while everyone is eating their dessert, diners can choose to ‘grill’ [pun intended] a particular player about how much their starter or main course cost?), or more directly through bonus action cards or special powers that allow players to sabotage other diners’ meals.

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One other thing that became apparent during the #SotonGameJam testing was that, even though Café Carnage Version One was incredibly well-balanced for four players (due, largely, to luck more than any tactical game design decisions), games would often end quite close in terms of the final scores of players. While this is not necessarily a massive issue, it does mean that games can be lost or won based on a single, minute decision (for example, choosing a one-star Starter dish rather than a three-star one); or worse, sheer luck. Furthermore, this also penalises heavily any player that is involved in an unsuccessful “Run!” attempt, because the requirement for them to pay for their own meal in addition to the meals of all other players who successfully escaped means that they’re near-guaranteed to end up way over their budget and heavily out of the running.

Aside from Version Two addressing the problem of multiple (3+) runners during a meal, it is fairly clear that a better cost/star ratio needs to be manufactured: in Version One, a one-star meal costs one ‘money’ (there’s no set currency for Café Carnage yet); a two-star meal costs two ‘money’; a three-star meal costs ‘three’ money, and so on. Because of this (and because any remaining budget at the end of the week contributes to Victory Points), points at the end of the game tend to vary between 35 (for winners) and 25 (for losers) – considering that players start with 30 ‘money’, this is not a huge variation (although not an unreasonable one).

There are some options for making this more interesting, and for elevating the tension as to whether the gluttonous diners successfully share the bill (thereby forcing other diners to share the burden of your expense): one is to modify the “exchange rate” between stars and ‘money’ – e.g. a one-star dish costs one ‘money’, but a two-star dish costs two ‘money’ and a three-star dish costs five ‘money’; but at the end of the game only stars count as Victory Points (not your remaining budget), but you lose Victory Points if you end up in debt at the end of the week. Alternatively, there’s the ‘Tastes’ variant that adds additional ways to earn stars/Victory Points as bonus value-for-money – each player is dealt a ‘character’ that appreciates certain types of food (e.g. Pepper Grylls likes her food to be vegetarian and/or healthy; Josh Rogan enjoys spicy foods, etc.), and bonus stars can be collected by choosing dishes that meet your diner’s requirements.

I don’t know what the solution is to this problem yet, but it’s good to have ideas.

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Anyway, last Sunday, I gathered a bunch of my gaming friends ‘round my place to give Café Carnage a few rounds (with differing variants) to bash out some new ideas and brainstorm. I’m still thinking about the findings and feedback of that endeavour so I’ll leave those thinkings to the next post; but suffice to say that, after playtesting, I would like to add the following goals to the initial three that I laid out earlier in this post:

  • Less downtime/AP/potential for decision-making (and less shuffling time)
  • Action cards and during-dinner hijinks (e. stuff happening between courses)
  • Physical money (instead of a money-track)

So yeah, there you have the basis for Café Carnage Version Two. I’m still working hard on thoughts for Penny Black and my binary game, Bit Pattern, but I’m fairly pleased with the progress with “café game” as well 😀 Until next time, then. Godspeed!

[Zinar7]

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Last weekend, in less than 48 hours, I helped design a novel café-based card game from scratch.

I can scarcely believe that it’s been a whole seven days since the beginning of the whirlwind Global Game Jam 2015 / #SotonGameJam tsunami that wiped out 48 hours of my life last weekend but, evidently, it has. I’ve got a bigger game dev-based post in the works in which I want to write about my various board game projects (Penny Black, Babbage and, now, Café Carnage), so I won’t take up too much time here with them, but yes, in 48 hours Marco, Dickson and I came up with a brand new card game called Café Carnage as part of #GGJ15, and you can download the print ‘n’ play files here ~

Print and play files: Café Carnage – Global Game Jam 2015 game by Marco Caldarelli, Simon George and Dickson Chui // Ages: 8 and above, playtime: 15-30 minutes.

Café Carnage is a party, bluffing-type game where yourself and three friends decide to visit five restaurants with an initial budget of £30, and attempt to eat the most food whilst trying screw your friends over by getting them to share the bill when you’ve eaten heartily, or running away when it’s time to pay the bill. In the end, we actually managed to pretty much come up with the whole of Café Carnage in less than 20 hours after a false start where we focussed on a different concept, which sort of makes it even more surprising that we actually have a game to show at the end of it. And it works! It’s not the world’s best tabletop game nor is it free from minor problems and limitations, but it’s a playable game and (at least from the playtesting we managed to get done during #SotonGameJam) people seemed to be enjoying it 😀

There’s more work that can be done on it towards refining it, but it’s totally playable as it is for four players looking to have a quick, light-hearted bit of fun ordering food and trying to bluff your way out of the bill. So yes: overall, in between the panic-designing and epic exhaustion that were sort of hallmarks of the jam, I had a good time at #SotonGameJam. It certainly proved a dramatic, rollercoaster way of spending a weekend; even if it did – at times – help to fuel the raging inferno of insecurity in my own abilities and ideas.

Recently, a lot of my insecurities have (sort of) come to the forefront of my mind and hammered away at my sanity more often than I’d like. Over the years, I’ve become quite good at burying the insecurity and covering it up with distractions or occupations or (more genuine) stresses and strains; but, with my current situation of being between-jobs and on my own at home for most of the time, there’s considerable time for the insecurity to chisel its tiny way into your sanity and start tinkering away into your confidence and self-belief. I’ve never been particularly affluent in self-confidence and self-esteem but, recently, things have sort of accidentally conspired to erode what faith I did have in myself; causing me to doubt the confidence in my outward persona and the things that I say, make and create. The general result, essentially, is that I’ve had too much time to overthink a lot of things, and to reflect on where I am in life/love/legacy and whether I measure up to the imaginary standards I’ve concocted that I think the world is expecting me to live up to.

Whenever I’m faced with a question of “whether I’m good enough”, I naturally end up comparing myself to unrealistic benchmarks (famous people, fictional characters, people that I perceive to be “winning at life”) and conveniently forgetting about the millions of other people around me that have normal lives and normal expectations set of them; as well as the flaws & imperfections that my beloved ‘benchmarks’ inevitably possess in addition to their positive qualities. My brain knows that, rationally, there is no point in comparing my physical appearance with that of Tom Hiddleston but, for some reason, it seems to interpret the fact that Tom Hiddleston exists – and is uncomfortably pretty and charming – as some sort of sleight on myself and my own looks. I can sort of understand where it’s coming from, though: when Hiddlesexy is wandering about on the same celestial body as I am, who the hell would be physically attracted to me?

The thing is, such thoughts are far from helpful. I might be wholly unconvinced by my physical looks and (most of the time) think that I’m some sort of hideous troll, but that’s not to say that everyone else thinks the same, too. Naturally, I see my flaws and my imperfections because I’m looking for them, and I see them every day in the mirror or in my brain or in my hands and am continually reminded that they’re there. They’re there, right in front of me, all of the time and, because of the way my brain works, they blot out all of the good bits that aren’t flawed or opaque and cause me to forget all that’s good about me and the confidence I have in myself & my abilities. Deep down, I have trust that I’m not a terrible person nor possess the world’s most repulsive appearance, and that I have qualities that People value and want to have around them, but the brain sometimes has rather unhelpful ways of trying to be ‘helpful’.

It’s been a bit of a choppy sea that I’ve been sailing in these last six months out of long-term relationship, and I’m still finding my sea legs. I’m still properly figuring out where I stand in the world, now that I’m standing in it on my own; and, in trying to establish my comfort zone, I’m sort of still feeling around for signs that I’m doing things right and that everything is okay. I’m the sort of person that wears their heart not only on their sleeve but on their every facet, and so it’s sometimes easy for my exposed heart to find itself injured in the process of everyday life – in the absence of corrective feedback or affirmations of “yes, you’re doing things right”, my brain tends to interpret the neutrality as indications of my visible failures or inadequacies. Again: not helpful, brain.

I need to let go of who I think I’m supposed to be, and embrace everything that makes me, me; imperfections and all. Just because I am not some famous, swooning celebrity who’s solved cold fusion and won a Best Actor Oscar and climbed Everest does not mean that I am not still a kind, generous, intelligent, thoughtful, funny person that’s – in his own way – unique and talented and beautiful.

I can do a lot of things that a lot of other people couldn’t even consider doing: I mean, last weekend, in less than 48 hours, I helped design a novel café-based card game from scratch. I bet Tom Hiddleston couldn’t do that, even if he would look infuriatingly pretty whilst trying.

[Zinar7]

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friday_003

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On Wednesday, I resurrected an old friend and restarted the bi-weekly (ish) ritual of sitting down with a few friends and watching some crappy, cheesy, low-budget horror films. This used to a regular thing that we did a few years ago and many good times were had but, in more recent years, life sort of got in the way and we kind of forgot about it. Anyway, with the turn of the New Year, I felt it was time to shamble down to cemetary again and dig up the corpse of the magnificent ScareFest such that we may, once again, marvel at unconvincing acting, horrendous special “effects” and terrible storylines in the company of snacks, drinks and good friends.

The original idea was to establish a night dedicated to watching pairs of horror B-movies: one properly in the realm of Z-movie horror with crappy budgets; one relatively good one with a moderately bigger budget and fair critical acclaim. Such fun was kicked off on Wednesday with ScareFest #01: Dolls and Dogs, which married the low-budget Doll Graveyard with the minorly-higher-budget-but-still-not-a-huge-budget Dog Soliders. It turns out that both performed pretty much as expected; with much commentary on low-budget actors trying to ‘do’ the ‘acting’ thing, confusion as to why the back of the DVD box for Doll Graveyard recounts a completely different premise for the film than the one shown onscreen, and excitement at the appearance of Davos Seaworth from Game of Thrones as a Special Forces Captain in Dog Soliders.

Anyway, the proposed schedule for ScareFest: Season One is thus:

ScareFest #01: Dolls and Dogs
Doll Graveyard (Charles Band, 2005) and Dog Soldiers (Neil Marshall, 2002)

ScareFest #02: Creaturezoids
Creepozoids (David DeCoteau, 1987) and Feast (John Gulager, 2005)

ScareFest #03: Biohazard Detected
Spiders (Gary Jones, 2000) and The Rage (Robert Kurtzman, 2007)

ScareFest #04: You Had Me in Stitches
Skinned Deep (Gabriel Bartalos, 2004) and Stitches (Conor McMahon, 2012)

ScareFest #05: Cradle of Flesh
Cradle of Fear (Alex Chandon, 2001) and MindFlesh (Robert Pratten, 2008)

If you would like to join in the horror movie fun, then you are very welcome to – give me a shout or something and I’ll add you to the next event! Also, if you have any crappy B-movie suggestions then I’ll add them to the rota 😀

Anyway, onto less horror-film climes: today marks the start of #SotonGameJam, which is part of the Global Game Jam 2015; an initiative to have a whole bunch of people, scattered across the planet, to design a game (digital or tabletop) in 48 hours. The Southampton portion of #GGJ15 is being co-organised by a few people I know, and the jam itself will be happening all weekend in one of the computing labs at the University of Southampton. I don’t really know what my game will end up being about, but thinking about it has already sparked some ideas about designing some kind of card game that revolves about binary numbers and bit patterns – Of course, maybe that’ll go completely out the window when we learn the (as-yet unannounced) theme of #SotonGameJam, but it’s still exciting stuff and I’m mega looking forward to getting involved.

Whilst I’m clearly already getting excited about my next board game design project, it’s notable that I still haven’t gotten much further with my other game-design opus, Penny Black, since I last blogged about it – largely, I’m too scared to play-test it and discover its flaws, lest it shake my confidence in what my creative juices can help to lubricate. Like many artists, I’m often too much of a perfectionist to fully relinquish control of what creative output(s) I manage to spew forth and, likewise, am very sensitive to criticism (even If it’s constructive). I suppose that I should just fucking do it and set up a playtest night with a few friends to give it a try with four players, and see what happens. I’m not sure what I’m really scared of (perhaps it’s finding something game-breaking or fundamentally wrong with what I’ve dreamed up), but I trust the opinions – and compassion – of my tabletop friends not to completely slam it, so I really should just roll the dice, deal the cards and see what happens. Hey, who knows, maybe it’ll be really good? And hey, if it’s not, then the feedback will be constructive and make the game better and, maybe, somewhere along the line, something awesome might happen with it. You never know ‘til you try, do you?

On the subject of game dev that I’m totally taking undue credit for, this week Citizens of Earth came out on Steam and pretty much every console ever, and towards which I very minorly contributing by doing some beta-testing way back in 2014. I’ve not played the most recent build and haven’t played it all the way through (I was involving in bug-testing of the very early section of the story and in combat and stuff), but from what I was involved in, it looked exactly my kind of turn-based (J)RPG-type game and I’m heavily looking forward to actually giving it a bash. I didn’t delve into any code and I was mainly looking at playtesting and usability and in-game bugs/crashes, but it’s nice to feel like I helped to make it better in some way. I considered making a proper video game for #SotonGameJam, but my coding skills are totally not in prime physical fitness for making anything other than a very simple, turn-based/logical strategy-game-thing, and I figured that I could have more fun doing the same sort of thing in the physical realm (with cardboard tokens! And wooden cubes! And 3D-printed Cthulhu meeples!) anyway.

Anyway, I’d better get shiftin’; I’ve got game-jamming to do. Let’s get to it.

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Reviews #14: Gabriel Knight – Sins of the Fathers

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Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Platform: PC (version tested), Mac
Release Date: October 2014 remake
Developer: Pinkerton Road Studios
Publisher: Phoenix Online Studios

I missed Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (GKSotF) the first time around. Y’see, I was always a LucasArts brand of adventure-hound rather than a Sierra one; craving the comedy adventures in the vein of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Full Throttle (along with other, non-LucasArts games like Simon the Sorceror and Broken Sword) rather than more serious titles, like Gabriel Knight. However, since 2014 marked the twentieth anniversary of GKSotF’s release and saw release of an anniversary remake by Pinkerton Road Studios, the time seemed as good as any to leap into the world of Gabriel Knight and his roguish brand of amateur crime-solving.

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Jane Jensen’s Gabriel Knight series still remains a heralded classic in the point-and-click canon, touching upon a tale of murder-mystery stuffed with conspiratorial happenings, secret voodoo cults and suspicious events. The titular Mr. Knight is a brash, book shop-owning novelist from New Orleans, who becomes increasingly involved in police investigation of a case known as the Voodoo Murders through his friend Detective Moseley, before getting in far over his head. Over the course of ten game-days, the player must manoeuvre Knight around various scenes and locales of New Orleans (and, later, Germany and Africa); examining objects, harassing the townsfolk and using objects with other objects in the time-honoured point-and-click fashion. However, what sets GKSotF aside from the average is Jensen’s superb narrative: where my childhood adventuring through the LucasArts catalogue mainly stroked the soft underbelly of light-hearted storylines and comedic set-pieces, GKSotF tackles far more dense subject matter; a true crime thriller, with its fair share of grisly crimes and decidedly ‘grown-up’ themes. It’s reminiscent of a page-turning detective novel, with some excellent story pacing and an array of suspicious characters all, inevitably, involved in a complex web of mystery that maintains a respectable level of tension throughout the experience.

A key part of maintaining this atmosphere lies in the engaging, well-balanced, puzzle design. While some puzzles will have you scratching head for a while, they rarely feel unsolvable; yet, never facile, either. Solutions are never made too obvious (nor is the player ever steered toward them using petty hand-holding), yet pose a median level of difficulty that don’t challenge either the player’s intelligence or stupidity. Furthermore, the puzzles all maintain relevance to the ongoing storyline and police/spiritual investigation, meaning that the game largely doesn’t feel padded out with extraneous hoop-jumping or completely bizarre, shoehorned puzzles. To my knowledge, there was only one occasion where I hit a puzzle that I would never, ever have solved without the hint system (spoilers: it was the exact wording for what I was supposed to write on the tomb wall in the voodoo code) and, of course, the ‘engage with the mime’ puzzle near the beginning of the game is possibly the most tedious puzzle that I’ve ever encountered in an adventure game, but we all make mistakes.

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GKSotF should also be commended for not relying too much on the adventure games staple of constant back-and-forth between characters or scenes to progress the action; not that engagement with NPCs feels too much like a chore. Aside from the game’s abrasive voiced narration (which, thankfully, it is possible to mute), voice acting varies from ‘really good’ to merely just ‘acceptable’, and the initially-tedious dialogue animations certainly endear and lose their irritation. Dialogue trees are also well-constructed to avoid too much repetition and deliver the ongoing narrative in a focused, natural way. In this respect, the presence of a physical narrator of Gabriel’s actions feels like an alien concept (at least when compared to the LucasArts style of having the main character comment, narrate and break the fourth wall) since it disengages the player from Gabriel himself, but adds to the feeling of being involved in a detective serial or TV movie. Pretty much all of the dialogue, scenery and storyline are – I’m led to believe – faithfully recreated from the 1993 original version of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (except now rendered in prettier high-definition graphics and cut-scenes) and it’s satisfying to find that GKSotF has aged commendably in the intervening two decades.

In general, the updated character models are well-rendered; faithfully-recreated scenes are packed with prettiness to look at and it all represents a fairly solid modern take on Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. If there’s a weakness in the visual and atmospheric update, it’s in the game engine – the commitment to re-drawing scenes from the original leads to the limiting decision to use high-definition, 2D backgrounds with 3-D Unity-driven character models walking overtop, rather than fully-3D scenes. 99% of the time this raises no issues, but occasionally presents unfortunate graphical glitches and evidence that the gameworld is merely a 2D plane with characters pacing around atop a stationary texture. It’s not a game-breaker, but merely leads you to occasionally feel like you’re playing an adventure game version of The Sims.

[FYI, if you want to get hold of the original version of GKSotF, then head over to GOG.com]

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But, I’m nitpicking: the fact that you notice such mild gremlins and glitches is simply because the rest of GKSotF is so solid and enjoyable. Sure, the storyline drifts off a little in the last third – away from the more interesting ‘police’-type investigation and toward a more linear path of “do this, then do this, then do this”, which feels just a teeny bit padded out – but it’s because the majority of the game feels so well-paced and –balanced in terms of both narrative and gameplay.

In truth, I was expecting to be a little disappointed by Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. My curiosity had been piqued by Yahztee & Gabe’s playthrough of the first hour or so on Let’s Drown Out, and I’d expected to be mildly engaged by the storyline but to find fault with the game’s mechanics and object/NPC interaction. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, to discover that it’s one of the best adventure games that I’ve played in recent years. Despite a few flaws, it’s still a masterclass in adventure game design and well worth a visit for the narrative exposition alone. Perhaps it’s testament to the forward-thinking innovation of the original, or the persistence of the point-and-click genre in being stuck in the mid-Nineties, but if ever there were a time to discover the world of Gabriel Knight (or perhaps just revisit it), then it’s now.

[Zinar7]

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Penny Black: Dev Update #1

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For those that aren’t aware, I’ve been working on a board game. It’s been boiling around in my head since May or so; where it initially saw a great flurry of activity but, due to various other things, kind of got put on the backburner until a few weeks ago. However, in the last month I’ve focussed more time on it and into getting it to a position where I (and perhaps a group of friends) might be able to actually give it a try. Hooray!

The title of the game is Penny Black, which some of you might recognise as the name of the world’s first postage stamp designed by Sir Rowland Hill in 1840 for the Royal Mail. As you can therefore imagine, Penny Black is themed around a fictional Post Office; not in Victorian England but in the fictional Republic of Sinestria. So, what’s it all about? 

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SUMMARYPenny Black is a strategy board game with a postal theme. Players take the roles of trainee sorting-office workers in the Mighty Republic of Sinestria, where the postal system has recently been introduced. In this role, players compete to serve customers, stamp their letters and process them into the Post-Bot’s mailbag in order deliver these to the intended recipients and earn points. However, the citizens of Sinestria are sceptical of this new postal system, and players will need to meet their various demands and expectations in order to secure the success of the Sinestria Republic Post.

The more letters that are picked up and delivered, the more trust players will acquire from the public (measured in terms of Victory Points) and, at the end of 7 days of training, the performance of the new trainees will be rigorously assessed. If players misplace letters or deliver them late, they will lose trust from the public. Furthermore, fellow players will be aiming to hinder each other or engage in outright sabotage, so players must maintain awareness of the competition.

Due to a malfunction, the Stamp Machine does not output the correct stamps but instead spews them out randomly onto the Sorting Office counter. Players will need to collect the correct stamps, pick the most viable customer letters, and make sure that they are in the Post-Bot’s mailbag at the correct time in order to score Victory Points.

The Chief of Post for the Government of Sinestria has vowed to permanently hire the most successful worker to be elevated to the position of Post-Office Manager, a highly respected position, based on players’ performance in efficiently collecting stamps, sorting letters and getting them into the mailbag at the correct time.

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I’ve just reached a point of having the rules for v0.1 of Penny Black pretty much shaped up and written down. I’m yet to get round to playtesting, but I’ll look into doing so at some point over the Xmas period. If you would like to know what the hell Penny Black is all about (and, indeed, what the hell I’m talking about during the rest of this post), then a .PDF of the rules is here:

PennyBlack_v0.1 (December 2014, .pdf)

 

DISCUSSIONThe main concept of Penny Black is similar to a number of games that require collection of tiles/resources in order to purchase other cards, which require a varying combination of resources – these include titles like Unexpected Treasures (by Friedemann Friese) and Felinia (by Michael Schacht). In Penny Black, these, purchased, cards must then be redeemed by placing them in the mailbag at the appropriate time (and in competition with other players who are looking to do the same, perhaps with some amount of skulduggery) in order to score points.

Hopefully what is unique about Penny Black, when compared to other games based on collecting stuff and using it to buy other stuff (even so far as Alhambra by Dirk Henn), is that there is a ‘timing’ aspect to having the right things at the right time, and in the right place: the mechanic of having a semi-random method of dictating when a letter delivery takes place (defined by a dice roll which may mean that the Post-Bot moves at a steady 1-step pace [most likely], a rapid 2-step pace or does not move at all [least likely]) means that there is, hopefully, unpredictability as to when points are scored; wrestling complete control from the players and adding more tension along with incentive for skullduggery. The unpredictability of what exact delivery conditions (i.e. what earns bonus points for players when a delivery happens) also, hopefully, adds to the variation between games and leaves players guessing as to what will earn them points.

PB2

The main method of how players collect stamps is one of the key parts of Penny Black that I still don’t yet have a solid ‘feel’ for. I expect that over various iterations of the game, how stamps are collected by players will likely evolve a bit; perhaps taking cues from other games. For example, Felinia lets you collect similar tiles based on a ‘bidding’/market system, although this requires application of some sort of currency system which would add extra complexity to the game. I thought about some sort of worker-placement mechanic, but this seemed like an overly elaborate way of simply collecting resources. Maybe I’ll look into playing other games with similar mechanics, and see if there’s anything I can borrow or adapt if the current mechanic doesn’t feel quite ‘right’.

In the first iteration of Penny Black, the mechanic to collect tiles is largely similar to that of Ticket to Ride (by Alan R. Moon), yet with some similarities with Splendor (by Marc André): there is a general pool of stamp tiles, drawn randomly from a bag, that occupy six stamp spaces on the game board. On a turn, players may choose an action to activate the Stamp Machine, which re-fills any empty stamp spaces (left empty after previous players have taken stamps), and then choose three stamps to take from the available pool. Players may hold seven stamp tiles at a time. From their collection, players then trade the correct stamps with those depicted on an available customer letter in order to ‘stamp’ it and to prepare it for delivery, or use certain combinations of their stamps to influence the motions of the Post-Bot to speed up or slow down the time until delivery, or to kick out another player’s letter from the mailbag and replace it with one of their own. Yes, I know the Post-Bot is currently R2D2, shut up.

PB3

Another aspect that isn’t currently in place in Penny Black is the concept of having ‘special’ stamp cards. In addition to the way that basic stamp tiles are drawn from the bag and players may pick from them, I’m toying with the idea of having additional stamp cards that either allow a player to use them as any individual stamp, or perhaps as a double-stamp of a single colour. Further to this, something that isn’t yet fully-formed in my head is the method by which the Post-Bot either adds incentive (or penalises players) when it has reached the end of the Delivery Track yet the mailbag is not sufficiently prepared. It might be that an elegant way of killing both birds with a single stone would be to have the Post-Bot give special ‘one-shot’ stamp cards to all players that succeed in delivering a letter; although I’m aware that this might leave certain things overpowered, or lead to situations with runaway winners. In the current iteration (v0.1) of Penny Black there’s no facility for this yet, but it might be worth considering in a later iteration to see how it works. Certainly, I feel like a technique whereby players are rewarded for putting letters in the mailbag (not necessarily just for delivering them) could be an option; which might be as simple as taking a stamp tile from the available stamps on the Sorting Office Counter.

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So, in a nutshell, that’s Penny Black. Of course, it’s going to take a lot more shaping up and refining before it’s something that could potentially be released to the outside world but, even at this very early stage, I’m bloody proud of how far I’ve gotten with it.

The next stage, really, is to test the game with some actual play. After I’ve fiddling with it myself and an imaginary table of gamers, I’m going to look into recruiting a few friends to giving it a go and providing some feedback on the game (in addition to identifying the glaring holes or errors in design). With a game like this that will require a significant amount of balancing in terms of how many points successful deliveries should be worth, how long there should be between deliveries, how easy or hard it is to collect the right stamps and purchase letters, etc. I feel that there will be a lot of tweaking necessary to weigh out the game so that it brings a balanced atmosphere. I’m intending on documenting the progress fairly methodically to establish what’s working and what’s not, so expect more posts in this series on the continuing development of the game and my thoughts on it.

If you’ve got ideas on thoughts on the status of Penny Black, then I’d love to hear what you think. Hey, maybe it inspires you to think about designing your own game; or just creativity in general. If I can spark some imagination surrounding interesting board game themes or creativity, then that’d be awesome.

[Zinar7]

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Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites

Scary
Since tomorrow is the 2014 edition of the Capitalism-fest that is Hallowe’en and the “scary things” closet has already been opened once again and a whole bunch of horror media sent barrelling our way, I thought I’d consider the role that video games play in our annual celebration of creepiness. Hurrah!

I’m a sucker for horror movies: creepy ones, silly ones, gory ones; you name it, I’ll devour it. Horror video games, on the other hand, can GET THE FUCKING HELL AWAY FROM ME.

Joel Cuddles

Largely, horror films completely fail to give me the creeps: perhaps it’s the knowledge that it’s all just a big scam, and the girl being chased by the guy with the big axe isn’t really being chased, and the guy with the big axe doesn’t really want to examine the girl’s internal organs in minute detail and with the complete opposite of surgical precision. Like everything in the movies, it’s just a big ol’ fake and there’s really nothing to be scared about at all.

At best, a surprise set-piece will give a brief shock, but never nightmares: the only things in recent memory to actually, properly, scare me were the Spanish original of [.REC] (which, incidentally, I will never ever watch again; not because it was too scary, but because the next time I see it will be a disappointment and I want to maintain it as one of my favourite horror films of all time) and pretty much all of The Descent (which was largely an hour and a half of Scary Things Jumping Out at You in the Dark™). Aside from that, I’m pretty unshakeable even in the face of maddening terror. When it comes to horror video games though, then you can rewrite all the rule books and Consequences Will Never Be the Same.

It’s here that I should probably define what I mean when I say “horror game”:

Horror Game [hawr-er geym]

n.  A video game whose predominant function is to scare, or thrill, above and beyond a regular ‘action’ game.

“I played this horror game last night and it was so scary that I accidentally vomited out my internal organs.”

It’s not a necessary prerequisitive for horror-games to be action-based, but most fall under the well-trodden banner of ‘survival horror’: your Resident Evils, your Silent Hills and your Alone in the Darks. These (almost universally) place you in the scope of some city-wide outbreak of nasties keen to chew on your face; away from which you must navigate your way (from fixed camera angles) in a third-person manner whilst simultaneously trying to find your wife/daughter/dog and understand what the hell’s gone wrong with the world. Even so, there are plenty of other horror-filled titles that meander away from the standard ‘shoot at and run away from the monster things chasing you’ to encompass psychological horrors, as well as the physical ones. I can categorically say that I will never, ever ever ever play Amnesia: The Dark Descent: I may own it on Steam, thanks in some manner to some Humble Indie Bundle somewhere along the line, but I’ll never install it.

Broadly, I watch horror films to be amused (usually by their shocking production values, hilariously bad dialogue and entertaining special effects), not to sit on the edge of my seat. but I can at least appreciate that some find horror films “scary” in some way. Horror video games, on the other hand, require direct input and often an emotional attachment (likely with the main character or perhaps for a “damsel” in “distress” that provides the key focal point for the story slash action) which amplifies the terror through your desire to see them survive the ordeal.

With a horror film, you know everything’s on rails and that the horror will progress without your direct involvement; you’re just along for the ride until the credits roll. If you do get scared, the action will progress regardless and you’re safe in the knowledge that, in 1-2 hours’ time, it’ll be over; no matter how much (or little) you engage with the scares. Where horror movies largely stick to the same sort of tropes (meaning you can largely predict how and when the scares are going to take place, who’s going to die, when something’s going to jump out, yada yada), proper horror games don’t have the same heritage and traditions and are tend to be far more innovative and inventive with how they give you the creeps. Aside from the more direct input that the player has on the action in a horror game than horror movie, this might also arise because of the relative infancy in which horror games inhabit, at least when compared to the 100-odd-year history of cinema.

Around this time last year, Naughty Dog unleashed one of the defining games of the PS3 generation in the form of The Last of Us; a survival-horror (ish) adventure game combining tension, emotion and zombie-ish things into a snowball of praise and Game of the Year (GotY) nominations from gaming critics. A year on (and with its recent re-release on PS4 in the form of a ‘remastered’ edition), many critics still view it as the high point of the previous console generation, drawing comparison with some of the ‘greats’ of cinema and banding around nicknames like “the Citizen Kane of games”. Still, given that the first, proper, piece of horror cinema is almost a century old now (widely accepted to be the creepy, unsettling The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), it’s unsurprising that video game developers have caught on to the main tricks of making a survival-horror game scare both physically and psychologically, becoming genuinely innovative with its horror engagement and leaving much of cinema’s generic horror output writhing in the dust.

LastOfUs

Given the immense (and almost universal) acclaim in which it is still held, I kind of feel I should play The Last of Us, but it just doesn’t grab me enough to give it a go (pun very much intended). I don’t go overboard for survival horror, and never have been: I think one reason why I dislike survival horror is that it takes itself so darned seriously (that Silent Hill dog ending aside), whereas all my favourite horror films (The Evil Dead, Saw, The Happiness of the KatakurisZombieland) are those ones that blow things over the top and deploy entertainment and/or comedy to complement the terror. The slow, tense styles of most survival horror titles hold no sway: the prospect of having to tensely save ammo/health and be frightened to death around every corner is often not the greatest motivator.

Instead, I prefer to be far more ‘gung-ho’ in my gaming style: it’s much more enjoyable to be charging around levels at full-tilt, full unloading clips of ammo in every available direction and trying to have as much fun (and cause as much chaos) as possible; preferably to a soundtrack delivered by Andrew W.K. or Turbonegro or something equally mental. This does, however,tend to make me a bit rubbish at stealth-based games like Thief and Hitman, let alone standard survival-horror games where you’re encouraged to save every last bullet and avoid alerting the entire zombie horde by careering around throwing grenades at the scenery. For shoot ’em ups of every colour and creed, I far prefer those that distribute copious amounts of ammunition and supply copious hordes of ghoulies/baddies to use it on; such as the glorious Bulletstorm or the masterpiece of Halo. “Saving some ammo for later” just isn’t in my dictionary, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I do stray into the darkened realms of horror gaming, I tend to to fall back on my love for zombies and zombie movies as a crucial pivot and gossamer connection to the world I know and love. And, even then, I like my zombie games to be entertaining struggles rather than bleak journeys of mere survival based on scavenging for crumbs of survival; the likes of Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead providing far more amusement than any number of repetitive, po-faced Resident Evils. I’ve recently been playing through Organ Trail (Director’s Cut) once again; clocking ever more hours into its cheesy, tongue-in-cheek conversion of the classic Oregon Trail into a homage-filled zombie survival adventure and enjoying every minute of it. And even then, if Plants vs. Zombies still isn’t the best zombie game ever made, then I’m a giant heron.

Okay, so enough about full-on ‘horror’ games; what about scary monsters and nice sprites in mainstream gaming at large? There’s an increasing trope for so-called ‘regular’ (non-scary, or mainly non-horror-based) games to artificially use ‘scary’ sequences to add to the drama or tension of a regular ‘action’ game, particularly in first-person person shooters, to varying degrees of success. Half-Life 2‘s superlative Ravenholm sequence is still one of the scariest (and most memorable) sequence in a modern first-person shooter, whilst the Sander Cohen section from BioShock – with all of its weeping angel-style mannequin-splicers and haunted theatre props – is one of gaming’s most expertly-executed creep-fests. Whilst Treyarch’s Call of Duty titles – with their schlocky zombies and undead Nazi footsoldiers – just feel like a tired resurrection of the same old trope of taking a standard game and trying to shoehorn some shocks into it, Red Dead Dedemption‘s glorious DLC/story expansion ‘Undead Nightmare‘ managed to implement a superlative zombie mode with infinite more care and grace.

Aside from traditional survival-horror games, there’s still a whole bunch of originality to be found within the ‘horror’ genre; resisting the mainstream horror genre’s tropes of endless wandering through endless dark, tight, grey corridors shooting zombies and collecting herbs. The likes of Project Zero (multi-platform, 2001-), Eternal Darkness (GameCube, 2002) and Cursed Mountain (Wii, 2009) come critically acclaimed by those in the know, demonstrating that there’s innovation to be found if players wander off the beaten survival-horror path, and the indie community also seems to be leading the charge in horror gaming of late; with particular successes such as the aforementioned Amnesia series, Penumbra: Black Plague and, this Hallowe’en’s breakout hit, Five Nights at Freddy’s. The equally-fascinating and terrifying Slender: The Eight Pages (which I have played; although not for long) demonstrate that terror can be inflicted without a bullet ever being fired.

So, despite the fact that I’m active only in the fringes of horror gaming, I’d wager that the genre is in fair health; so long as you steer clear of the kind of trash that The Evil Within appears to be peddling. With the growing success of Oculus Rift and true-VR gaming, I can only imagine that the successes of immersive, truly scary video games will also go interstellar. Schlocky, jumpscare games might not be my exact cup of tea, but I’m fully in favour of the injection of psychological, unsettling horrors into video gaming as a whole and engaging stories that place less emphasis on shooting space marines and more on tapping into the brain’s psychological fears. Game designers, take note plz.

Anyway, since this post has mainly been about scary things and personal gripes, I thought I’d leave you with a wonderful scene of beauty and harmony and everything that is ‘right’ with the world; don’t have nightmares.

MemeCenter_1375716630592_653

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Reviews #13: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – The Graphic Adventure

IndyTop

Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Platform: PC (version tested), Amiga, Atari ST, Mac
Release Date: July 1989
Developer: Lucasfilm Games
Publisher: Lucasfilm Games

Way back at the beginning of January, I made a promise to ‘Play More Point-and-Click Adventure Games (at least one per month) and Blog About Them.‘ As such, I felt that it was appropriate for my first adventure game, er, adventure to delve into the depths of time and unearth a relic that’s almost as I am and, as such, has long-since been forgotten by all but adventure game connoisseurs. With that in mind, for January’s point-and-click odyssey, I decided to dust off LucasArts’ Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade tie-in adventure, plunder its nostalgic treasures, and see what comes out in the wash.

IndyLstCrsde_1

IJLCTGA finds LucasArts (then still known under ‘LucasFilm Games’) still very early in its adventure game career and it most certainly shows; not only graphically, but also in terms of writing, puzzle design and overall vision. That’s not to say that it’s a complete Neanderthal – indeed, IJLCTGA marked the introduction of the now-classic ‘Look’ and ‘Talk’ verbs to the LucasArts canon of adventure games – but, in comparison to the later SCUMM-engine classics of Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max Hit the Road, it’s almost neolithic. Individual scenes and areas are sparse with objects to interact with, little in the way of deep conversation with NPCs, and experimentation with items isn’t rewarded with witty asides or funny dialogue in the same way that later games took so much pleasure in delivering. Despite the fabulous basis provided by John Williams’ superb score for the Last Crusade movie, music isn’t the IJLCTGA‘s strong point either (you’ll go forever without hearing a note, then some scenes have sound) but at least the primitive pixellised graphics show some solidity; even if Indy tends to stand out from the pretty backgrounds kind of like the cartoon archaeologist that he is in the movies.

That being said, the skeleton of the classic adventure game system is alive and well, and the constant back-and-forth of trailing between areas, picking up items and hulking them around in Indy’s TARDIS-like pockets will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played an adventure game. As such, it’s easy to get going straight away and plough right into the adventuring; which is good, because you’re thrown in pretty much immediately without an introduction or prologue, save for a brief ‘third wall’-breaking message from Indy: “Hi, I’m Indiana Jones. Welcome to my game.”

IndyLstCrsde_9

Not that you really need an introduction, given that the game accurately (if rather broadly) follows the major events of the third Indiana Jones movie. Although this breeds familiarity and instantly lets you dive into the main game, this seems to come at the expense of a proper, three-dimensional story and character development; neither of which can be found here. The story can be subjective, though, depending on certain actions: in some playthroughs (depending on what you do at various times) you’ll visit particular scenes and areas from the movie; in others, you might skip them entirely. There’s also a comedy of inconsistencies: for example, you’ll solve a Führer-based puzzle in Berlin by replicating the movie exactly; but in the Grail Temple, reaching for the obvious wooden cup isn’t necessarily the correct choice.

In fact, the movie’s pivotal point is warped beyond recognition, such that is literally random as to which is ‘true’ Holy Grail; unless you happened to stumbled on the entirely missable clues from way earlier in the game and unintuitively piece them together to work out the solution. If not, then you’ll have to keep re-playing the whole of the Grail Temple until you magically stumble across the correct Grail; which, as you can imagine, is a whole barrel of laughs if you choose poorly and have to replay the same three puzzles through up to ten times). It’s just another inconsistency in a game that often feels like a patchwork of ideas, crudely glued-together and shoved out of the door without the addition of any sort of depth or bolstering of either the gameplay itself, the overarching story or the playability of certain sections. A victim of its obligation to coincide with the release of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie? Perhaps.
Yes, because that's the rational thing to do when you've just crashed a biplane into the side of a house.

Yes, because that’s the rational solution when you’ve just crashed a biplane into the side of a house.

Naturally for a movie blockbuster, the original source material piles action on thick-and-fast and, so, it’s not surprising that this bleeds into the tie-in game. Where later LucasArts games held a strict rule that death was unattainable, the final third of the IJLCTGA descends into a mess of mandatory arcade sequences and scruffy 2D melee and aerial combat where you’ll see your fair share of ‘Game Over’ screens: take a wrong step, and you’ll be sent back to the title screen to re-load your latest game save. I’m led to believe that the combat sequences around Castle Brunwald and the escape from Germany can be avoided (with suitable dialogue choices within some of the sprawling conversation trees that develop when you cross a Nazi guard), but I rarely had such luck even when re-loading and repeating interactions to find each guard’s weak spot. Each time, you’re thrown out of the immersion and into a deep pond of frustration; the onset of each combat sequence inevitably leading to the ‘Game Over’ screen  and the loss of yet more patience.

The primary problem (aside from often-ridiculous difficulty spikes and sometimes-incomprehensible juxtaposition in context of the rest of the game) with mandatory arcade sequences in adventure games is that they tend to detract from the main thrust of the game; story-based point-and-click adventuring. I have to admit that I was forced to resort to the (lifesaving) Universal Hint System on more than a handful of occasions in order to circumnavigate the game’s second half of crippling, frustrating action segments. Whilst I relied on a complex web of savegames around Castle Brunwald and only sparingly leant on FAQs, the soul-crushing escape from Germany – and string of unskippable guard interactions – was enough to force me to throw trial-and-error out of the window and rely on a helpful walkthrough merely to save me (or my PC) from violent injury. The end result is that you end up feeling somewhat ‘robbed’ of an adventure game; so forceful is the game’s abandonment of traditional point-and-click action halfway through in exchange for sub-par arcade-style progression.

You'll see your fair share of these

You’ll see your fair share of ‘Game Over’ screens: don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Of course, it’s easy to criticise IJLCTGA with the benefit of twenty years of progress in video game design. I guess the problem is you can’t judge a twenty-four year-old game by today’s standards; no matter how you look at it, it just won’t add up. Considering IJLCTGA in the context of PC gaming (and, in parallel, the entire point-and-click genre) largely still in its infancy, it’s easy to see the influence it’s had in setting some of the key themes for the entire genre and, those pesky arcade sequences aside, there’s a solid adventure game buried amongst the archaelogical rubble.

As I hinted at in my opening sentences, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has somewhat been eroded by the ravages of time and, much like Dr. Jones in his most recent movie outing, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade defiantly shows it age. However, like any archaeological artefact, look hard enough and you’ll find some gold beneath the grime, and there’s a sprinkling of (albeit somewhat primitive) charm to be found among the frustrations. The arcade sequences will always feel like a punch to the stomach, but there’s some fun to be had when you’re let loose to point-and-click to your heart’s content. Remember: it’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

[Zinar7]

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That’s No Moon

I need to lose some weight. I’m not saying I’m like some kind of Small Moon or anything like that, but the PhD lifestyle (sitting at desk all day, eating all day to keep alertness levels up, not getting time for exercise) has hardly been kind to my figure. This will not do.

So, I’m starting a new regime which consists of the following details:

1. Stop Putting So Much Stuff in my Face ~ Yes, I eat far too much. It’s not necessarily what I put in my face (being a vegetarian, I eat a fair amount of fruit and vegetables so it’s easy to tick off my Five a Day), but just the sheer quantity. For a start, being located in the exact same spot for nine hours a day means that there’s an obvious temptation to eat whatever food you’ve brought in for snacking (mainly fruit), and the proximity of a chocolate bar vending machine is hardly helpful. Even out of my office hours, I often find I snack even when not hugely hungry; perhaps there’s something psychological going on there. Either way, cutting down on the quantity I eat is a necessity, because I sure as hell don’t use up all the energy I consume (nor need to consume to replace expended energy) and I could get away with eating a lot less.

2. Be Better About What I Put in my Face ~ Despite the above, I do still have treats and snacks of fatty stuffs a bit too often for my liking. I’ve got a hella sweet tooth and often crave chocolate-y things, and will pick sweet stuff over savoury every time. Also, when I’m left to my own devices and have to fend for myself and find food, I generally go for the easy option of heating up some bread and spreading something on top, or just eating something out of a packet. If I ate more ‘proper’ food, then I’d be filled up for longer and not continually snack on small (and maybe sweet) things.

3. Get Up and Do Stuff More ~ I’m pretty lazy. There’s plenty of opportunity to go do fitness-type things, but somehow I never bother; it’s easier to sit around the house eating toast and watching Top Gear. I should just go out of the door and sodding do something. The only regular exercise is the 20-minute walk to and from work each day.  I certainly haven’t done as much inline as I’d’ve liked this year – I should just bloody well grab my mp3 player, stick my protective gear on and jump on my skates for a blat around the Common or somewhere inline-safe. Why the hell not?

4. Never Take the Easy Option ~ I’m guilty of a number of things which reflect my general laziness: Taking the lift when I have only a handful of flights of steps to climb. Driving into work on the weekend when I could walk like I do the rest of the week. Eating easy, unhealthy food when I could construct a healthy meal with some home-cookery if I’d only input a modicum of effort. Of course, it’s going to take some thinking to get me into new routines, but it won’t take long to adapt to new ways of doing things.

5. Sweeten the Pot ~ Of course, the idea of being fitter and leaner and sexier is enough of a motivation to get in shape, but sometimes I’m forgetful and need extra bonuses to get me to do things. So the question is how to reward me when I’m doing things which are good for me: the problem is finding rewards which aren’t counterproductive (e.g. ice cream, chocolate, chips). Coming up with Rewards is going to be a tough battle, but targeting what appeals to me is pretty key to its success: fr’instance, I recently got back up to speed with JRPGs on the DS by buying a second-hand copy of Pokemon SoulSilver complete with the Pokewalker accessory. So now, in an effort to gain both gaming and real-life EXP, I’m making conscious effort to walk everywhere with a Tentacruel in my pocket. It doesn’t make me feel any more like a grown-up, but at least it massages my necessity to turn everything in normal life into some sort of game.

6. Remove the Misery of Exercise ~ One of the main problems I find with organised exercise is that it’s so damned boring. I can’t think of anything less appealing than going to a busy, grey-walled room full of ungodly machines of torture and sweaty, boring fitness freaks. I’d much rather get my kicks from the great outdoors where I can look at the scenery or laugh at the general public, or perhaps some sort of home-gym set up where I have aforementioned ungodly machines of torture positioned in front of a TV, games console and I can level-grind my way through Xenoblade Chronicles or watch The Rock while I pedal away on a cycle machine for a while.

I guess my main reason in defining things is that, now I’ve said all these words, I’m now committed to doing something about it. This is by no means a guarantee that I will do something about it, but it certainly means that I can’t go the other way and get fatter, lazier and an even more close resemblance to Jabba the Hutt. If I start now, then that gives me a head start on New Year’s resolutions, and might mean that I’m in good stead by the 1st January to actually maintain the regime for the whole of 2013. We shall see.  Wish me luck.

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Reviews #11: The Last Story

 

 

Genre: JRPG. Third-Person Adventure
Platform: Wii
Release Date: March 2012
Developer: Mistwalker Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
The Last Story is a conundrum: brilliant in places; tragic in others. Pushing the graphical bar right to the top, Mistwalker’s latest JRPG  arrives just as the curtain’s beginning to drop for the Wii: while in the main it succeeds in the face of adversity, a few unforgiving niggles ultimately prevent it from achieving true greatness.

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Sinister Future

Currently, it’s looking like my review of Destroy All Humans! might be my last, at least for a while. Time is quite precious to me at the moment and, as it turns out, playing games is a lot more fun than writing about them. It’s always been my intention to ‘up’ my use of this blog, and that I should update more regularly – but less formally – than what I’m doing currently. My first few reviews for No More Heroes and LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 pretty much wrote themselves: Indeed, I knocked those out during short breaks at work. Of late, however (starting with Epic Mickey, which took about six months before I actually posted it) I’ve found significantly higher barriers from me getting them done; partially because I’ve been so darned busy at work that I’ve no motivation to pseudo-‘work’ in my free time by writing reviews, and also partially because the backlog of EVERYTHING I currently have. I’d much rather this be a freeform blog in which I’m free to talk about whatever I want in a relaxed way and when I have something I want to say, rather than expending all my creative juices on formal reviews and having little time for more jolly fare. I’m hoping I can keep up reviews of new stuff (i.e. new music/videogame releases), such that my opinions will be useful to others who’re considering picking up the same release, but my experiences with other stuff may be documented in a more relaxed manner.

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