Rezzed 2015 – SkyScrappers

Ground Shatter’s SkyScrappers was a lot of fun to play.

Starring a group of adrenaline junkies with no greater joy than beating the crap out of each other while racing up buildings in the middle of demolition, the game is fast-paced, acrobatic and extremely fun to play with others. I believe they have plans for online multiplayer but the local was fantastic, as I played against 2/3 of the team. They thoroughly kicked my ass of course, but at least I won 2 rounds. This is a four-on-four race and combat, and you need to win 3 straight rounds against your opponents.

You have two ways to do this: you either race to the top and reach the roof or you beat up everyone else. Having a lead on the race to the top is also a valid combat strategy because the one at the top determines how fast the screen scrolls up and if you fall under the lower screen limit, you take massive damage and respawn further up. It’s very similar to how Super Smash Bros. works in terms of leaving the stages.

The controls are fairly simple but it takes practice to master the movement and combat. You can jump and attack, but the jump distance and momentum depends on the angle of the debris you’re using as support. With the right angle, you can shoot up past your enemies and take the lead or an ineffectual little hop before you die, as I did for most of the match.

This game had one of the funniest inspirations of any game I saw at Rezzed: the art, plain and simple. The development team were big fans of the artist’s work and just created a game that would let them use it. To be fair, the art is pretty awesome.

With a game like this one I asked what game modes there were, as I figured some people might get tired of the frantic combat and it turns out there is a secondary pure racing mode, without HP and where you just need to make it to the top. You can still fight and kick and throw things at your opponents but they won’t die, which to me adds a lot more tension.

Speaking of throwing things, one thing I loved doing while I fought them was hit debris their way. When I did it right they tumbled way down and had to make their way back up. The downside was they then went after me because of it! Too vindictive these guys! They later told me I was right in hitting debris, and that it was one of their favourite strategies because if you pulled it off it was incredibly rewarding.

The game’s still in Alpha Stages but I loved what I played of it. And I will definitely organise a tournament as soon as I get my hands on a build, so we can all enjoy it and have tons of fun!

Rezzed 2015 – Sublevel Zero

I’ll say this: I hated Descent, the original big daddy of the Six Degree of Freedom genre (6DoF). I found it confusing, dizzying and uncomfortable. Then again, at the time I had no choice but to play it on a keyboard only setup, so that might have had a lot to do with it.

So as I sat down to play Sublevel Zero by SIGTRAP Games I thought I would thoroughly hate it. There were two versions on show: the first using gamepad or keyboard + mouse and the second using dual joysticks and the Oculus Rift. There was someone on the Rift version so I took a couple of shots at the demo with the K&M…and I liked it. I really did. It wasn’t even disconcerting to change pitch and inclination and roll around and change my perspective. It all felt really cool and I had a blast, no pun intended.

(Image Credit: Sigtrap Games) Pew-pew-pew! I can't believe how much fun I had with this.
(Image Credit: SIGTRAP Games) Pew-pew-pew! I can’t believe how much fun I had with this.

By then the Oculus version was free so I jumped on it and I sucked at it. The VR worked wonderfully and one of the coolest things they did was alter your point of view depending on how close you are to the sensor. If you moved away from the screen, you would see more of the cockpit, and if you moved closer, it was like leaning over the edge—very interesting and adding a lot to the immersion.

I tried my best with this version but the turning/pitching stick was a bit too over-sensitive for my clumsy hands and I spent most of the time in a constant barrel roll and not the fun laser-deflecting kind. By the end, I did catch my bearings and started progressing but the VR version had a time limit and I’d gone way past it.

As I stood up, Luke Thompson—one of the developers and SIGTRAP founders—asked me, “So, what did you think?” And I told him everything. His reply to my barrel roll was simply, “Yeah, it might be a bit over-tuned, but that one’s a really good and precise joystick…the other one is just complete crap and it’s much stiffer!”

(Image Credit: Sigtrap Games) You wouldn't believe how many times I bounced around this hallway!
(Image Credit: SIGTRAP Games) You wouldn’t believe how many times I bounced around this hallway!

When I asked him how the title came to be, he told me it was something that came naturally from a conversation between the team members. One of them had just come out of making a procedurally generated dungeon crawler. Speaking about it and being big Descent fans, Luke tells me he said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to have [a procedurally generated] Descent?” The idea caught on quickly between them and when a third friend suggested the underground theme, Sublevel Zero was born.

SLZ was one of the few VR-focused games I saw at Rezzed and like all of them, this was a title conceived for the technology. According to SIGTRAP Games, the right way to play it is with the Rift and the dual joysticks, with single-stick and keyboard being the second best. As much as I enjoyed the Keyboard & Mouse controls, they made it perfectly clear that this was the wrong way to play it, but didn’t judge me too harshly.

I won’t lie to you, SLZ was a hard game and now I know it’s going to be even harder on release because of its rogue-like mechanics. If you die, that’s it, start from the beginning with another ship and give it a go. Luke did say, however, that there would be some hard checkpoints at various intervals in the game so you could start from that point instead of from the beginning, and like other rogue-likes, your earnings and collections in one play would carry over to the next so you can craft new items and systems. There will also be a New Game+ and I had to ask: “If you die at New Game+, can you start from NG+?” I was worried he’d say no and in that case, the game would be BRUTAL, but thankfully, he didn’t say that!

Technology and the pursuit of it are at the core of Sublevel Zero’s plot. The game’s setting is that far into the future where the universe itself starts collapsing and no one can figure out why. Your character and his teammates find an unused research station that might have all the answers and perhaps a solution to the crisis. Collecting technology then not only becomes a mechanic but part of the game’s story and progression. Enemies will drop random loot mostly in the form of weapons—with variable stats—and items, and bosses will drop larger pieces of ancient technology, unusable by the player but part of a plot collection.

(Image Credit: Sigtrap Games) One of the first rooms I got tossed around in while using the joysticks!
(Image Credit: SIGTRAP Games) One of the first rooms I got tossed around in while using the joysticks!

Luke went a bit further on the upgrade mechanic and how it tied to the loot system. Using the crafting system, once you’ve collected the corresponding blueprint, you can combine some of your weapons into new ones. This adds a level of strategy and risk/reward management to it because you might not want to combine weapon A with B until you find a higher valued version of the two of them.

One thing that I didn’t see in the demo version was the inventory system. I mentioned to Luke that there were items you collected by interacting with them and others you just had to touch. He explained that the former go to your grid-like inventory, and the others are just consumables. He admits they need to make it a bit more clear, though.

When I asked him on funding and if they would attempt any form of early access or crowdfunding, he said no because Mastertronic had already picked them up straight out of the game-jam where they first built a demo for the game and have been funding the development ever since. In his words, “They’ve been amazing and I really have nothing bad to say about them!”

(Image Credit: Sigtrap Games) The enemies in this game hit hard!
(Image Credit: SIGTRAP Games) The enemies in this game hit hard!

Sublevel Zero is coming this year to Steam and the Rezzed build will be available soon for download and testing, and I’ll be sure to let you all know when that happens! It might be time I get my hands on an Oculus Rift (or a Samsung Gear VR)! And it might be wrong, but I think I’ll stick to Keyboard & Mouse for this…sorry SIGTRAP but I suck at dual joysticks!

Rezzed 2015 – Machiavillain

Machiavillain was a game I was incredibly curious to see. I’ve always liked the role reversal games, where you’re the villain. My friends know how much I love the Overlord series. And while I’ve never played it, I’ve always wanted to give Evil Genius a shot. So when I saw what French studio Wild Factor Games were doing, a Dungeon-Keeper style game but featuring classic horror monster and horror film rules for killing teenagers, I had to check it out!

Machiavillain makes you the mastermind behind a monster mansion. At the start, you’ll have a façade and gold to buy, but only Mummies and Zombies to do your bidding. The first thing you need to do is build your house, add furniture and make sure to add accommodations for your monsters. They might be minions and possibly soulless but they deserve room and board just like anyone else!

Do NOT disrespect the rules!
(Image Credit: Wild Factor Games) Do NOT disrespect the rules!

Then it’s time to start bringing in the victims, ranging from jocks and cheerleaders to geeks and virgins. Killing them drops loot and materials you can use to craft and feed your minions. Your zombies like Geeks very much because of their big brains! The more you kill the better your reputation is and you can recruit even more monsters to your mansion. But if too many victims escape, you get too much notoriety and then the authorities show up, followed by hunters if things get worse.

Monsters shuffle around rather slowly, but you can increase the game time to make time go faster, but you need to be careful because overworked monsters will abandon your mansion.

Each of the monsters has a different power. Zombies infect, Dracula can turn into a bat and hypnotize victims, The Werewolf is fast, etc. When I went through the monster list I saw there was a Freddy Krueger one and I immediately turned to face Wild Factor Founder and Lead Programmer, Alexandre Lautié, and Zimra the artist, and asked them “What does he do? I’m a massive Nightmare on Elm Street Fan!” They beamed at me for this but then gave me an embarrassed “We don’t know!” Poor Fred had just been added to the roster and they still weren’t sure what to do with him. And being big fans just like yours truly, they wanted him to be special. I can respect and applaud that. Only the best for that depraved monster Freddy!

DIE TEENAGER!!!!
(Image Credit: Wild Factor Games) DIE TEENAGER!!!!

On their inspirations, they mention Dungeon Keeper on the gaming side, but Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods as well. For the Horror game rules, a mix of classic horror films and the Scream series. I joked with them, saying, “Rule, don’t ever say ‘I’ll be right back!’” and we shared a nice laugh between us film geeks.

My turn with the game was terrible, but I had a ton of fun losing. I built a simple 1-room house and made the mistake of rushing to get victims in before my minions had finished. A couple came in and caught my monsters brick and carpet-handed and they both escaped to fight another day, while my minions kept at their original tasks completely embarrassed. I’d seen screens of them cleaning up blood and I didn’t even give them that!

You get victims into your house by putting up ads, and they range from generic ones that bring you random teenagers to specialised ones to bring in some of the bigger fish, such as the virgins and geeks! Then you just need to make sure your monsters are prepared and you have enough traps to lure the stupid teenagers away from each other. Remember, you can only kill them when they’re alone, unless they’re having sex! For this particular scenario, Wild Factor have even included a bed that folds on itself, as seen in Freddy vs Jason. You can’t imagine how delighted I was to hear that!

From what the team told me, you can build as large a mansion as you want, there’s enough space for it. The only limitation is you can’t build upper floors, though they did tell me the finished version of the game will have basement for the house’s spirit energy generator. To prove their point they loaded a previous game and the mansion made everything you’ve ever built on any of The Sims to shame! Compared to that, my little murder shack was sad and pathetic, but they assured me I would one day have my own monster murder mansion!

The little white tiles are the spots your monsters will put down flooring and stuff!
(Image Credit: Wild Factor Games) The little white tiles are the spots your monsters will put down flooring and stuff!

I found the visuals quite charming. Everything, including the monster carnage looks just so bloody cute! The first thing I did with my mummy was make it hide as a lamp by wearing a lampshade. It was too cool!

I can’t wait to know more and will be keeping an eye on this game and try to get as many previews as possible as they move from Alpha to Beta to release!

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Shoutout to Alexandre Lautié and Zimra!

The Rezzed 2015 Experience

I have to say, after the past three days, I like Rezzed. I don’t have any point of comparison though as I’ve never before been to any gaming convention/expo. This was my first time and it was fantastic. I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. Continue reading The Rezzed 2015 Experience

Dracula: Read and Loving it!

When I was in high school they forced me to read some old, old novels by national authors and for the most part my experience with Venezuelan authors was that they had very limited ideas when it came to stories. They were all about farmers and the people in power and the struggle of classes. All of them, every single one of them the same crap. I hated every one of those novels, even if in the country they are timeless classics. Might be the reason I don’t usually go for novels tagged as “classics,” they give me bad memories. Then again, I have read some outstandingly bad books in my time, some of which were lauded as magnificent by established authors and critics alike.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know about the first book I read for my pleasure. This was the book that turned me into a bibliophile, hunting for more stories to read and what would eventually drive me to write my own: Dracula by Bram Stoker. I’ve wanted to talk about this book for so long but never found the chance. But now with the Begorrathon I think it’s the perfect time to talk about it. In case you didn’t know Bram Stoker, the author, was Irish. Do note that this isn’t a review, this is pure fan-gushing!

I remember reading Dracula in Spanish first, then getting the urge of reading it in its original language, only to discover that the Spanish version I read had omitted entire pages from its translation.

Dracula opens with Johnathan Harker, a solicitor, travelling all the way to Dracula’s Castle (I’m always tempted to call it Casltevania, being the gamer I am), to finish the paperwork for the reclusive and eponymous Count’s purchase of Carfax Abbey. But things don’t go easily and Johnathan ends up trapped in the castle while the Count makes his way to London and begins targeting the young solicitor’s loved ones.

What first stuck me with Dracula was how Stoker tells the story. It’s point of view narrative but from diaries, journals, correspondence and even newspapers. Every chapter features one or more such mediums and through them you learn snippets of the story from the characters’ perspectives, while at the same time getting to know them quite well. Each of them has their own way of writing, of referring to things, of conveying information. Some are more emotional and other much more logical. Even when doing pure exposition, it’s disguised as part of a conversation or told in small bits in one of Mina or Dr. Seward’s letters.

I’ve always loved Count Dracula as a villain, especially in this novel, and it’s for one big reason: he’s a complete monster. Over the years many adaptations have tried to make him seem relatable, to change the personality as much as possible. And nowadays we often see such villains—those you know would be good guys if their lives had been different. Not Count Dracula in Stoker’s novel, this was a monster from start to finish, driven by his own lusts and desires, no humanity whatsoever and even now, I find that refreshing. I like those relatable villains as much as everyone but sometimes you just want a monster to fight, one that doesn’t give a flying toss (nor a walking or swimming one) about anything other than itself and who is as inhuman as possible. The Count fits that bill. He is completely evil and loves it.

Then there’s the rest of the cast. As I mentioned before, you get to know most of them through their writing, but they’re all wonderfully done, even those you only hear accounts of–Quincy Morris and Arthur Holmwood. Quincy in particular is a fan favourite, as is the astounding Professor Abraham Van Helsing. I loved them all, from bubblehead Lucy (she really is, not the best head on a set of shoulders) to the deranged yet somber Renfield. In my mind, they look like their actors from Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation, which means Van Helsing will forever be Anthony Hopkins in my mind. Not a bad thing!

I love the pacing of the plot, from the mysterious Count’s introduction to the strange ‘illness’ affecting Lucy, Van Helsing’s appearance and Johnathan’s Return before the hunt begins in earnest and ends with a desperate bid for the Count’s head before the sun goes down. Some people feel the ending lacks punch because there isn’t a fight with the Count at night, but I disagree. The book establishes very early on that the Count is too powerful, so the race is to kill him before he can rise for the evening. I loved it because it made sense.

The Count’s power level is another thing I always enjoy and one thing that’s made me look at the Vampires in modern stories with pity. Dracula walked in the sunlight, and during the day, when he was weaker, he could still summon storms, call animals to his side and even turn into them. He’s resilient and overcomes pretty much every barrier put in his way. At night, he was unstoppable. His only weaknesses were the dirt crates he rested in, established very early on and exploited to kill him; and his pride, his greatest flaw, overconfident that they couldn’t stop him. It’s what inevitably forces him to flee London.

Dracula will always hold a special place in my heart, and I still read it from time to time, even if just the opening pages, to remind myself of how everything starts. And during this year’s Begorrathon I’m raising my non-alcoholic glass to Bram Stoker and this novel that changed my life.

Tomb Raider: Rising or Crashing?

In my last article I spoke about my low expectations about the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider, sequel to the 2013 reboot simply titled Tomb Raider. But since then, I’ve been wondering about the reboot itself and the tone they chose for it, the style of gameplay and in fact everything about the damn thing.

Before I go any further though, I do wish to say it ticks me off that they chose to name the reboot simply Tomb Raider. For one it shows a definite lack of imagination, and there was already a game called Tomb Raider, the original, the one that started it all, the one remade into Anniversary. In a way I get it, it’s marketing to make sure that when people think Tomb Raider they think of the new one and not those that came before, not that it’s even possible. The reboot was just a droplet in the vast waters of the franchise. They do it to build their new series on the bones of the previous one, almost forgetting it ever existed. You can tell this by the interviews with the developers, at no point do they ever reference the previous installments, not even to say how it inspired them or how much fun they had with them. No, those don’t exist anymore, now you have Tomb Raider (2013) and the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider…what a silly name for a game.

This segment alone has more interesting gameplay across the board than all of TR2013
This segment alone has more interesting gameplay across the board than all of TR2013

As much as people complained about the Devil May Cry reboot, at least they paid homage to the predecessors and even called the game DmC to make sure it stood out as a different game.

Recently I’ve been playing Tomb Raider Underworld, the last in the old-Lara saga and I’ve been having a ton of fun with it. From the puzzling to the challenging platforming (I say challenging because there is an actual chance of failure) to even the combat, which is as much part of the game as everything else. It never takes center stage and is just added there for a nice adrenaline boost before you go on your way crypt robbing.

Playing the game after writing last week’s article made me wonder: did we really need a reboot? Underworld marks an end to the storyline they had built for the original Lara, finding the answers she’d been looking for. It was a very personal and emotional quest and perhaps future games wouldn’t have been able to top that. So perhaps we did need a reboot, but then again, they could’ve gone on to expand the lore and world, and give Lara even more adventures, maybe even retcon some of the worst moments in the series—Angel of Darkness for example.

This is what amounts to a 'puzzle' in this new series...
This is what amounts to a ‘puzzle’ in this new series…

In some way, the new Lara Croft isometric games have continued the original series, but they’re watered-down Tomb Raider games in the best of cases. Not slagging them off, they’re fun games, but not true TR experiences.

But the true question on my mind is if the reboot we got was the one we deserved, the one to push the series into new heights. A lot of game media outlets seem to think so, but I am still not convinced. I’m an old school gamer, I remember every title I’ve ever played and I always know what I like about certain series. For Tomb Raider it’s the adventure, the discovery and mysteries and all of those are missing from the new series. You have a wonderful location in Yamatai, with locations untouched for maybe centuries and at no point did they manage to instill that joy of discovery, that sense of pure awe and wonder about this strange place. They were too busy instilling within you a sense of panic and fear, two emotions that couldn’t be further from the core of what makes Tomb Raider what it is.

And for a game titled Tomb Raider, there were very few tombs and the ones present were so shallow in content they have always seemed like afterthoughts to me. This is even more apparent when you realise they were mostly optional—you could ignore them and it’d be the same—and the only thing you got from them were more parts for upgrading your gear. And inside these tombs you would find one puzzle at best, so simple in its design it bordered on lazy. In just the start of Tomb Raider Underworld I saw three puzzles that surpassed everything the 2013 reboot had to offer me and in doing so left me even more disappointed in the new series.

So much potential, so incredibly underused!
So much potential, so incredibly underused!

I expected a Tomb Raider to have combat, but also exploration, puzzling and, to some degree, secrets to uncover. Out of those we received mostly combat, in increasingly creative and gruesome ways. The puzzling is mostly missing, unless you call cranking shafts and spinning valves puzzles, and the exploration is too shallow. The only thing you’ll explore for is for the hundreds of collectibles that in the end do little but give you experience points (and the GPS caches that lead to one of the most underwhelming ‘reveals’ in history). I mentioned in the previous article that the only collectibles to add anything worthwhile were the artefacts, which ranged from “Made in China” fakes to a few genuine antiques. Still, I felt these could’ve been much more important. They could’ve been used to drive the game’s narrative in addition to the island’s backstory, as Yamatai’s history during wars and occupations isn’t really relevant to the plot. But if you had artefacts on the cultist antagonists, they could’ve enhanced the storytelling by giving you a bit more insight into their motivations.

https://twitter.com/JHNTWEETS/status/573816436356968448

That tweet got me thinking about another possibility. Could it be what we know now as the Tomb Raider reboot started its life as something else entirely and just got the name slapped on it to help boost sales? It’s been done in the past a lot, from Doki Doki Panic getting an American release as Super Mario Bros. 2 to Devil May Cry 2 being another game entirely with character model changes. It would explain the drastic departure in style and tone from the series’ predecessors.

This is what the game is all about: Hurting Lara!
This is what the game is all about: Hurting Lara!

JHNTWEETS also said something interesting about Tomb Raider last week. He said the reboot was a misery fest and it’s a point I mentioned in the past article and one of the things that I find most jarring about the reboot when you put it as an entry in the overall series. They tried to sell us a story about Lara learning to survive but she already knew how to do that! It’s made pretty clear by her and everything else in the game that Roth taught her everything she needed to know to survive. The only thing she learned how to do in Tomb Raider was how to kill people! Well, that and she learned how to take a punch, a kick, a stab, gunshots, spikes, a fall down a ravine and almost drowning. This is the game that took every opportunity to hurt Lara, because they seemed to have taken the “hardship/pain builds character” thing a bit too literal. I’ve played thousands of games where characters start out as innocents and become hardened badasses by the end and Tomb Raider 2013 is the only game where I’ve seen the character subjected to such a degree of punishment. It’s almost as if they took an unhealthy amount of glee in beating the crap out of her.

On a final note, I find it laughable how they keep pushing this new Lara (or Nu-Lara as I like to call her) on us as the new strong female lead, the new badass. We already had one and her name already was Lara Croft. I already knew how amazing she was as a character and they didn’t need to give me a misery-filled experience to prove that. Here’s a tip for all the developers aiming for this new wave of grittiness (Neo-Gritty basically): you don’t need to do it. Be gritty if it serves your world, but don’t fool yourselves by saying this is the only way to develop characters. Second tip: Misery is only effective if there are good moments to counterbalance it! Tomb Raider 2013 had waaay too much misery, to the point where the audience just stops caring.

This classy lady!
This classy lady!

Rise of the Tomb Raider is coming and not only have I low expectations but I feel the series as a whole isn’t rising as the title suggest but digging a deep hole for itself. I’m sure Rise will be a good game on its own, but with everything that’s been said about it I’m almost completely sure it’ll be terrible as an entry in the Tomb Raider series. The new games aren’t taking the series to new levels, they’re not evolving the concept and making it better but instead they’re slowly eroding the identity of the Tomb Raider series and I fear it’s only a matter of time until it’s there’s nothing left but another generic third person action game just carrying the franchise’s name. Dear lord I hope I’m wrong…

We Are WoW Players

All MMO players have their quirks that sometimes separate them from the overall gamer population. We’re a weird bunch no matter how you cut it.

I’ve played a few MMOs over the years, from Ragnarok Online to The Old Republic but by far the strangest and funniest bunch I’ve ever played with have to be the World of Warcraft crowd. Continue reading We Are WoW Players

Fear is the Mind-Killer

I have to confess that until a week ago I was terrified. It was my natural state of being, constantly afraid and anxious. Always wondering what might happen and letting all the things out of my control affect me more than they should. One of my biggest character flaws is my lack of confidence in my own abilities. A good friend told me recently that I need to have a lot more, and she was right…as usual. Continue reading Fear is the Mind-Killer

Deus Ex Human Revolution Director’s Cut – Reworked Boss Fights

When Deus Ex Human Revolution first released, there was quite a bit of backlash because of the boss design, forcing you into straight-up shootouts when your build might not be the most Action Star oriented. Thankfully, this “little” issue with the game has now been fixed with the Director’s Cut, released on October 2013, in which all three major boss fights: Barrett, Yelena and Namir have been overhauled, allowing for multiple strategies depending on your build. Continue reading Deus Ex Human Revolution Director’s Cut – Reworked Boss Fights

Grim Dawn Now Available on Steam

Grim Dawn, the Action-RPG Spiritual Successor to the now defunct Iron Lore’s fantastic Greek Myth inspired Titan Quest, is now available for purchase on Steam, with both a 10% discount until November 12th and Early Access for those who purchase it. Continue reading Grim Dawn Now Available on Steam