EGX 2016 and Beyond!

EGX, formerly the Euro Gamer Expo, started yesterday. Last year I was there for the duration of the event, but this year due to professional responsibilities—and the fact that I like getting paid for my work—I can’t make it to the first two. But tomorrow and Sunday, you can bet I’ll be there. There are a few games already in my sights, most of them in the Rezzed section. Continue reading EGX 2016 and Beyond!

Writing a Novel – The Voice

This will be an odd one in the writing guides because it’s not just for novel writing, but also for articles and blogging. It’s about Voice. In articles and non-fiction this is the author’s voice, the quirks, slang and turns of phrase that make readers quickly identify who the writer is without even looking for a name. For example, if you were to read articles by game critics Jim Sterling or Ben Croshaw you would quickly realise they’re the authors as each man has his own way of describing things, of using (and sometimes abusing) the language to explain their points.

On my end, I can only hope that you get some of my humour in my writing, perhaps a bit of my bitterness or awe at certain topics and ideas. But for the most part, the complaining and moaning should be enough to say, “This is Kevin’s work.” It’s either that, the repeated use of “funnily enough” or the overall lack of passive voice in sentences, because I don’t like it. Continue reading Writing a Novel – The Voice

The Road so Far – May, Internet, Videos & More

I said last month that there would be more of these catching up articles and I keep my promises!

The last few weeks have been very interesting. The last time I wrote one of these I mentioned I finally made it to the UK, right? It’s been a dream of mine for years and it finally happened. Exactly a week after my last catch-up article, I started work with my first client–I’m a freelancer though I think ‘mercenary’ sounds much more badass, so let’s use that one–and at first, I’ll admit, I was ready to be distant, professional to a fault, but I couldn’t. First of all, it’s really not my style, I’m way too open and enjoy joking around way too much, and secondly these guys are awesome. Where normally I’d be annoyed at going to work day in and day out, I’m enjoying my time with them. And it might be my England-fandom speaking, but I don’t mind commuting from my new hometown–a nice seaside village in Essex–to London for work. I really don’t. Continue reading The Road so Far – May, Internet, Videos & More

Back in a Jiffy!

For the past few months, I’ve been streaming to my LawfulGeek Twitch channel, after finally moving from my original one. I worked with an artist to get things looking perfectly and slowly worked towards growing the channel…with not much success, though I don’t let that stop me from broadcasting as I really enjoy it.
Continue reading Back in a Jiffy!

Journalist Evolution – My Worst Articles

As a writer, my skills and personal style are constantly growing, always maturing and changing. Just on experience, what I write today is going to be better (sorta) that what I wrote yesterday (maybe). But sometimes you have to go back and analyse your articles and fiction to find out what was wrong there, what mistakes you made and what you can learn from them. So today, as part of my continuous growth as a writer and (amateur) journalist, I’ll talk about my worst articles. These were flawed pieces from the get-go, and had an immense impact on me. Continue reading Journalist Evolution – My Worst Articles

The Blogging Perspective

Without having a reason to blog, many of us will simply sit around, always thinking that we can do better than those who write for a living. Well, if this isn’t motivation enough to begin blogging, then it’s time for you to consider all the other reasons why you should start up your own blog. The only way to drive this message home is by explaining my own reasons for beginning my ventures into the realm of writing. Continue reading The Blogging Perspective

A Hell of a Rough Time

Disclaimer: The following post isn’t about blame or excuses. My actions, merits and flaws are my own and I’ve owned up to them whatever they may be.

In March 2015 The Mental Attic came back stronger than ever, with a five-article-a-week schedule, one I’m keeping up even today. It’s not been easy sometimes but I’m doing it because it’s worth it, because it’s part of my dreams and I decided I would pursue them, all of them.

But to get there, to find that resolve, I had to go through one of the worst periods of my life. Not many people know this, not even some of my closest friends. I don’t talk much about what happened to me last year, the bad days. But I’ve come through it and I feel it’s time to tell the tale. There are three main reasons for this. The first is catharsis. I find peace in talking about my issues and writing about them. Writing for me isn’t just something I love and enjoy, but also a way to express myself when I can’t talk about things or more recently, when I don’t have many people to talk to. The second is hope, as in I hope knowing what happened to me and the mistakes I made will help you not make them if you ever find yourself in my situation. The third is about the site. I created The Mental Attic with the hope that people would use it to express themselves, to help each other grow and learn. It would be hypocritical of me to ask this of others without me doing the same.
Continue reading A Hell of a Rough Time

Triple-R: Remakes, Remasters & Rehashes!

A few months ago, an acquaintance and I had an interesting conversation on WhatsApp over the subject of remakes. And as I played through the Grim Fandango remaster and saw the slew of once-mobile games being re-released on Steam, I couldn’t help but go back to that conversation and see not only my points validated, but the other’s as well.

Remakes & Remasters are very similar in that they take an old property and give it a fresh coat of paint and make it accessible to new generations. The major difference is a Remake can, and most likely will, change elements of the game from gameplay to plot—such as Tomb Raider Anniversary or Gabriel Knight 20th Anniversary—while the Remaster will generally just upgrade visuals and audio and maybe add a new control scheme—Grim Fandango and Monkey Island Special Editions.

But both bank on nostalgia. Of these two, the target audience isn’t the new generation but the old one, those that played the game when it originally released. They will want to get the new version in hopes of recreating the feeling they had while playing it the first time—and be ultimately disappointed when that doesn’t happen.

In this case, Definitive is a synonym for remastered!
(Image Credit: United Front Games) In this case, Definitive is a synonym for remastered!

Take the Tomb Raider reboot, a topic I’ve almost run into the ground these past few months. On release it moved over 3.4 million units—impressive, unless you’re Square Enix, in which case it’s a ‘disappointment’. How many of those 3.4 do you think were new players and how many were die-hard fans of the original Tomb Raider series? I’d be willing to bet that at least 70% of those were classic TR players.

I’m not completely against Remakes/Remasters, there are circumstances when I welcome them. Grim Fandango is an example, as it was impossible to easily purchase the game before this re-release. But if you can still buy the game and it still runs in modern computers without much issue, then the remaster/remake starts leaning towards nostalgic cash-grab.

Remakes & Remasters are easy, my acquaintance said and after careful consideration I had to concede the point. Even if you have to remake the game from scratch—by which I mean art, voice, coding, etc.—the truth is a lot of the work is already done. You already have a script, a sequence of events and a completed design that you know works, so there’s no need for reiteration.

I use the term Rehash but I mean sequels, new entries in a series and anything that is not a new IP. From Mario to Call of Duty, rehashes keep bringing you similar experiences over and over. And much like the previous two, there’s not a lot of risk involved in their release. The only way a developer will go for a sequel is if the first one sold well or at least met expectations. Based on the first title’s numbers, it’s easy to predict how much revenue the next one will generate. Thus, it’s safe from a business point of view. If the game has a particularly strong following, then it’s even safer to release a Rehash than a new property.

We can see evidence of this in the many cases of games modified to be part of a given series, because it ensured people would buy them. Devil May Cry 2 and the American Super Mario Bros.2 are two of the most famous cases. The former started out as a brand new IP before they panicked, slapped Dante on it and released what is the most reviled entry in the series. The latter released in japan as Doki Doki Panic, but since the actual Super Mario Bros. 2 released in Japan was so unforgivingly difficult, the American market got a heavily modified version of DDP, which might explain why the plot of that game made little sense!

(Image Credit: NVidia) Unity proved that sequels are a double-edged sword if handled incorrectly.
(Image Credit: NVidia) Unity proved that sequels are a double-edged sword if handled incorrectly.

However, depending on the franchise—or the developer in Nintendo’s case—rehashes can be a double-edged sword. While it’s true they carry significantly less risk than a new IP, the longer a series runs, the higher the expectations. Failing to meet them can lead to catastrophic results for that IP. One example is what happened to Ubisoft last year with Assassin’s Creed Unity. After Black Flag, the expectations for a new Assassin’s Creed were at their highest, so when Ubisoft released an unpolished game, the resulting outrage and backlash was so strong they had to give away DLC and even entire games for season pass holders. Nowadays developers & publishers use DLC sales to make to get as much profit out of a title as possible, so you can imagine just how much money was lost because of Unity’s failure. For me, it killed all love I had for the series. And if I’m not alone in that sentiment, it compounds the problem Ubisoft faces for its next Assassin’s Creed. A scorned fan is a scary thing in the videogame industry.

Rehashing does allow refinement of a series’ formula. It’s the reason all 3D Mario games are nearly perfect, and how Black Sails was the culmination of Assassin’s Creed’s design, or even the Call of Duty games—I’m not a fan of them but I have to admit they are very well designed, because each iteration has helped polish out the base concept and mechanics.

This is why you rarely see new IPs from major—big-budgeted—developers, because it’s too risky. It’s much easier to rehash, remake or remaster something than giving you a completely fresh idea. Even smaller studios often go this way because it’s an easy way to make money—I apologise if this comes off as a tad too cynical.

As the videogame industry and its corporations grow, we’ll see more sequels and remakes and fewer new IPs, because shareholders, board members and even just the five-man-studio will want to avoid risks as much as possible. And you can’t really blame them considering how expensive some of the latest games have been in terms of development costs. Last year I wrote an article about the insane budgets for most modern games—visuals and art being the most expensive part of any of them—and things don’t seem to be getting cheaper. Thus, it becomes paramount that there is a profit, or at least a return of investment.

The good news is that for every two developers that play it safe, there is one daredevil that takes constant risks with new ideas. Some are indie but there are many established studios out there willing to take a chance with a new IP.

And of course, there are those studios so big and so powerful they can take the risks without much issue. Blizzard Entertainment is an example, a company (in) famous for its “It’ll be done when it’s done!” attitude towards development and release. World of Warcraft, Diablo III and StarCraft II have given the company so much revenue they can take as many risks as they want. The recently announced and in development Overwatch is an example, a fresh IP in every way, including genre.

How does this affect us? Well, we need to keep an eye out for those new properties because they tend to fly under the radar of most big-name gaming sites, unless the developer is one of the big ones like the aforementioned Blizzard. On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t buy remakes/remasters of a game unless A) you can’t get it anymore or B) it doesn’t run on your operating system. The likelihood of the original being a superior game is quite high.

And as for sequels I think the only thing we can do is what we already do: play them, enjoy them and then complain about the developers not coming up with new IPs. It’s what we’re used to doing anyway and if there’s one thing my acquaintance has a point on it’s, “you can’t force gamers to do anything!” And yes, I do realise what that means with regards to my previous statement on remakes!

What are your thoughts on Remakes, Remasters, Rehashes and the state of the industry?

Potential of the Tomb Raider

Yes, I insist on using Rise’s naming style for my articles. It’s a terrible name for a game.

In the past few weeks I’ve ranted quite extensively on the Tomb Raider series, both on my low expectations when it comes to the upcoming title Rise of the Tomb Raider and about the reboot series overall.

I even considered ranting a bit more just on the very sore subject of the timed exclusivity, but that topic’s been run to the ground and as a very wise friend said on twitter, enough is enough.

But I still feel there’s a lot to say about this 20 year-old series.

In past articles I’ve been quite negative and resistant to change, but I’ve made it clear that I want to be wrong! I want Rise to make me eat my words. I want the Tomb Raider not only to rise but also to stand tall and keep going.

I know I’ve made it seem as if I wish this Lara never existed, and it might be partially true, but it’s just because I know how strong a character the original was, even in all the silliness of her series. She was confident, strong, capable and brilliant. She faced everything head on, even if she had doubts, remorse or reservations. But she also enjoyed herself. She saw the wonder and beauty in every place she visited and she pulled you in so you could see things from her point of view. Everything was an adventure to her and she took as much joy as she could from whatever she did, something I wish I could do more often.

Her Ladyship Croft!
(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons) Her Ladyship Croft!

As a character I admire the original Lara and I found her more inspirational and captivating than most male video game characters. As gaming changed and we entered the dude-bro era, Lara remained herself, with all her charm, wit and copious amounts of sarcasm. And of course backflipping, diving and shooting animals!

At least until they moved on from her to Nu-Lara.

I don’t want this new younger Lara to be exactly the same as the original, as much as it may seem like it. But I do want her to inherit some of her traits. Tomb Raider 2013 was a misery fest, and so far, between all TR media, it seems they want to take her into the “angst-filled hard-ass” archetype and I hope it doesn’t happen. The world doesn’t need any more of those. We need someone who sees the beauty and wonder in everything, someone who reminds us that even the worst circumstances have some good in them. Nu Lara is strong, we know that, but so far the only growth has been on the scabs covering her many wounds. Even the comics—bridging the games—have too much pain and misery and very little happiness.

I’ve said it before. When you’re telling a story, if there aren’t good moments, then the bad ones lose effectiveness. And so far, Lara has had too many bad moments and very few good ones. Her close circle of friends is less there to offer comfort and support but to be victims and hostages.

Enough with the blood & mud and doom & gloom. Let's hit some ruins!
(Image Credit: Dark Horse Comics) Enough with the blood & mud and doom & gloom. Let’s hit some ruins!

If Tomb Raider were a novel, I wouldn’t worry about the character because she would be in Rhianna Pratchett’s hands and she is an outstanding writer. But the creative vision for the character belongs to the developers and so far, they seem to prefer grit and misery to adventure and excitement and joy. For Rise, they tell us she’s having issues dealing with the events of the first game (or possibly the events of the 2nd, as we don’t know if the therapy is before her trip to Siberia or after), and she’s going to a therapist. I fear this is just to make Lara much more vulnerable, and that the therapy is just a “plot gimmick” for this game instead being instrumental in the character’s development.

But there I go again being negative. Sorry about that.

I want Lara and the new Tomb Raider series to learn the lessons of its predecessor and combined with its own stories evolve into something new and better. I want this Nu Lara to be better than the original. I want her to inspire people as much as the original did—including me. I want her to find the joy of exploration, the awe and wonder and the adventure in life, instead of just wading through pockets of misery.

For the games, yes I want to see more puzzles. I know, I sound like a broken record on this, but it’s part of the adventure genre. It’s part of that sense of wonder I mention, to find ancient ruins with incredibly complex mechanisms you need to piece together or use in some way to progress. Sure, we can get away from box pushing, I’ll be the first behind that idea, but we need that awe, that joy of discovery and that’s what I want the series to bring in the future. I hope Rise’s tombs will be as good as they promise or even better. I want them to be complex, and combine items and physics and platforming.

Go big, go silly, go insane! Be stupid, be brilliant!
(Image Creidit: Otakusphere) Go big, go silly, go insane! Be stupid, be brilliant!

In terms of platforming and acrobatics, I want Rise to take it into a bolder direction and future games to go even further. From the classic pits with a rope over them to ditching the climbing gear and just do it by hand. My good friend, Kelly from the Archaeology of Tomb Raider, said that a lot of the challenge of platforming went away with the auto-grab and that is generally true, but there was still a great chance of failure. If you don’t believe me, just check out my Tomb Raider Underworld and Anniversary videos, you’ll see me dying often enough. And that’s where I hope we’ll move, not into the same platforming elements from the past, but the same challenge and risk, to those moments where if you don’t jump at the exact edge, you won’t make it across the gap. I know I’m sounding nostalgic and wishing this series was like the past one, but again, I just want it to learn and use the past series to evolve into something better.

Finally, combat. They’re already going in a very good direction by letting you sneak past enemies instead of just shooting and killing.

However, the one thing I want the most for Tomb Raider—as a game—is for it to be sillier. Gameplay and events grounded on reality are good but sometimes you can squeeze a bit more fun out of a sequence if you allow for some nonsense. Perhaps it’s physics not working exactly as they should, or the character being more agile than she should in a given situation, such as five back-flips in a row while firing two guns at incoming raptors. The Oni were a good first step, but I hope they step further away from ‘reality’ and more into the silly bits!

More tombs, more complex ancient machines!
(Image Credit: Stella’s Tomb Raider Site) More tombs, more complex ancient machines!

And all that together is what I want and what I hope from the Tomb Raider series in the future. I don’t want Lara and her games to mimic the classic series, but I do want them to acknowledge their existence and use them to improve upon, to evolve into a series that will have cynical fans like me jumping for joy and enjoying adventures with this Lara as much as we did with the Classic.

But until I play Rise, I can’t do anything but that: hope.

Rezzed 2015 – Zombie Vikings

You know, I’m happy I didn’t just keep to my schedule. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the chance to try Zombie Vikings with Zoink Games PR-Man Mikael Forslind. When I approached him and asked about the game, he immediately said, “Want to give it a go?”

How could I say no to that? So I took the 2nd gamepad and played a two-man coop with him, with another person joining us afterwards as we cruised through a couple of the demo levels killing monsters as our zombified Viking warriors while we spoke about the game and its development and everything else!

Zombie Vikings is a 2D sidescrolling beat-em-up in the same vein as Final Fight or Double Dragon where you control up to four undead Vikings, called into service by Odin himself. Loki has stolen his remaining good eye and made off with it for some nefarious purpose so he needs you to go get it back for him!

Loki and company discussing Odin's last eye! I love the art style! Loki's Guybrush Threepwood's Evil Twin!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Loki and company discussing Odin’s last eye! I love the art style! Loki’s Guybrush Threepwood’s Evil Twin!

The game is very easy to pick up and get into, with the familiar control and game style. Each of the zombies has a basic attack and a signature one and you can charge both of them. For my zombie, a burly female Viking, her charged main attack was a spinning one that reminded me so much of Link in The Legend of Zelda. Her signature was throwing out her arm like a hookshot if you allow me more Zelda comparisons, dragging her towards enemies, but when you charged it, it made her big muscles get even larger and then blow up, causing area of effect damage. She would then pop-up without losing her health.

In fact, there is no health in the game and as zombies your characters can’t die. They will however lose body parts. During our playthrough, Mikael’s character lost his head quite often and it was my responsibility to pick it up and bring it back to his body to get him into fighting shape again. In fact, picking other characters up is a valid playing strategy as there are some escort side-quests (more on that further down) and you don’t want them to get hurt. Besides, when you pick things up the characters will raise their weapons and the objects or people will just hang from them. It’s quite hilarious.

Mikael and our third man's Zombies: Caw-Kaa and Seagurd!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Mikael and our third man’s Zombies: Caw-Kaa and Seagurd!

The two sidequests we did were an escort mission and a fetch quest. The first one was to find a blind witch’s cat, or what she thought was a cat, and the reward was a nice sword shaped like a skunk’s tail. I really enjoyed this quest because it wasn’t just escorting the witch and finding the cat while wading through enemies but there was also a PVP element to it, as you need to deathmatch for the weapon. With zombies not dying, this meant fighting until someone lost their head. We were playing a 2-man game at the time so it was a simple match, but it left me wondering how fun it would be with all four players there in a free-for-all. Oh and by the way, I won!

The second mission I found to be even more enjoyable. First, it was rather short, just getting a jar of medicine from a goblin. We had our third player with us at this point and while Mikael and he distracted the creature, I quickly snatched the jar and took it to the doctor waiting for us.

Here's my Zombie, my girl Gunborg! She's ripped!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Here’s my Zombie, my girl Gunborg! She’s ripped!

The second reason I liked this quest much was because it tied to and demonstrated something Mikael mentioned when I asked about the characters: the four of them are unique, each with their own personality, and personal goals and stories. During the campaign, the players would experience those different stories. In this case, the person the doctor was asking the medicine for was one of the vikings’ mothers, their estranged and almost forgotten mother, and seeing the mother speak to her undead child was both weird and funny and very touching.

One of the things Mikael was very keen to point out was that this wasn’t just a random button masher. There are cutscenes, side-quests, exploration and subplots to help break up the pace of the game and help it not become monotonous. Adding the colourful art-style, it also gives the game plenty of personality and charm, something to raise it above others in the genre.

During our playthrough we saw a few of the cutscenes, the first one with Loki speaking to a mean looking troll and the others being mid-mission and serving as side-quest and NPC introductions. The scenes themselves aren’t animated, just still images with text, but they work wonderfully for the game’s style. I’m not sure if they have audio—we didn’t have any headsets and I couldn’t hear anything over the rush of people in the venue.

The ‘cinematics’ also helped tell you about the zombies’ personalities. One of the characters told the witch with the skunk ‘cat’ something like “Lady, that isn’t a cat!” showing his perhaps brutal honesty or just bewilderment at the weirdness of it all, but he was quickly interrupted by my character berating him, “Shut up! She’s giving us loot!” I couldn’t help but laugh at this.

Seagurd's special skill is badass!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Seagurd’s special skill is badass!

As we played through the demo we collected loot from the quests and gold from enemies and chests and when I asked what the gold was for he told me there would be upgrades between stages, from more damage to special actions like double jumps. I followed it up asking if those special abilities would allow for greater exploration, maybe find hidden areas and he replied that of course, but also certain characters would have access to specific areas tied to their story and the same applied to the side-quests. If he hadn’t been playing his particular Viking, we wouldn’t have gotten the medicine side-quest, as it was a character arc quest.

In terms of exploration, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the stages themselves aren’t completely flat, but have several layers. At one point, to get the witch’s side quest we crossed a bridge I thought was pure scenery, and it took us to a new area, a new foreground, with everything else moving into the background. The only thing I could say was, “This is awesome!” It’s such a simple element, such a tiny mechanic but it adds so much to the exploration, as I’m sure I’d be looking around for every branching path for secrets!

Gunborg fears NOTHING!!!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Gunborg fears NOTHING!!!

The game’s inspiration, for me, was clear. Norse mythology with some variation on the Einherjar myth, but Mikael told me there was more to this. Sure, there was the Norse myth connection and there would be Norse characters popping up throughout the game, but the real inspiration was old buddy-cop and road-trip movies, where the journey itself is the important bit, as well as all the strange things that happen on the way.

While we played, I wondered about what game modes there would be on release, thinking it was perfect for an arena-type mode, where you get waves you need fight off. He said it was a good idea but they didn’t have plans for that yet. He did mention, however, a secondary mode and it caught me off guard. It was something I didn’t really expect: soccer. But this being Zombie Vikings, it’s not a ball and you won’t be kicking it. Instead, you’ll compete to pick up goblins from the ground and chuck them into dragon mouths. Not exactly soccer but hey, it works!

Both the Zombies and Loki will meet a ton of interesting characters. I wonder who she is!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Both the Zombies and Loki will meet a ton of interesting characters. I wonder who she is!

Zombie Vikings is set to release later this year on PS4, PC, Mac and Linux and is currently in development using Unity, which was the tool of choice for most developers in the event. This is one I’m keeping an eye out for—I can’t wait to play it with my friends online. It would also make an awesome party game with local multiplayer!