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    The Simpsons Game (DS)    by   jp       (Sep 21st, 2022 at 12:45:05)

    Ok, so a little Youtube sleuthing (5 minutes, really) shows that - it seems like the basic storyline and overall structure of the game (DS) is the same as the other console versions. However, those are in 3D (not sidescrolling 2D or kind of isometric 2D) and...look worse? I can't tell if the gameplay is wonky or not - but they did go with 3D looks pretty good! (saw xbox360 footage). It's obviously stylized to look like the show. I'm going to assume that the gameplay is better - mostly because of the additional freedom of movement making the location puzzles seem less linear/obvious, combat seems more open - less just having to take hits will button mashing - and there's more "resources" (e.g. voice, animation, characters etc.) and features. I think the cut-scenes in the 360 version are animated - so it looks like some of the ones in the DS game where recreated in-engine and then exported to the DS? Like, wow.

    I guess picture thought: Should we consider The Simpsons Game (DS) a contemporaneous demake of the 360/ps3 version? Clearly the console version are deeper/richer/have more features and so on - and clearly they're following the same big picture game design in terms of powers, abilities, locations, and also storyline.

    Oh, and yes - Will Wright does appear in the console version!

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    Unexplored 2 (PC)    by   jp       (Sep 21st, 2022 at 12:26:24)

    Here's another game I'm playing thanks/for/due to my critical game design seminar!

    I haven't played ALL that much - in terms of hours. I'm still in my 2nd run - and the 1st included all the tutorial/on-boarding and wasn't that short in terms of playtime because I was reading everything and trying to wrap my head around the game. So, quick thoughts for now:

    (a) I’m really enjoying the fate system – it’s a cool way to solve so many design problems without requiring a lot of development time implementing multiple gameplay sub-systems. This seems like it adds so much RPG flavor in a way that is mechanically fun. At the moment I’m still having a hard time understanding how the system connects to/relates to my character and their attributes – but I think that’s mostly my lack of knowledge more than anything. Oh, the fate system is basically a system where you (representationally) randomly pull a token from a bag - and hope it's green (success) and not red (fail). I think the kinds/numbers of token in the bag when you start is dependent on your attributes and other modifiers. But, there's some wrinkled: There's a spirit points system where you can spend 5 pts to draw again, if you run out you can draw again - but suffer a negative status effect (fatigued?), and some tokens let you draw again for free (there's tokens that add more green tokens to the bag, etc.). So, it's a system that mirrors the usual "check for X" you see in TRPGs, so you can use it to handle picking locks, climbing, etc. all kinds of things - thus super flexible!

    (b) I love the lore/information system that adds things to the map for you to explore/find. It feels really rewarding to just have stuff pop-up on the map even if I don’t plan on getting to it yet. I’m only in my 2nd run (first one was longer than I thought) so I still don’t have a good understanding of how these things will play out over multiple runs (if at all). So, if I clear an area of the sigils – is that area “empty” in future runs? I think there is an effect, but I’m not sure yet and looking forward to exploring that as I play more. The idea is that when you die - you continue as a new character, but it's been a few years and time has passed so stuff updates on the map! There are factions that are possibly fighting each other and stuff like that.

    (c) I’ve been playing on my Steamdeck – and it works really well! Some text is a bit small, but I’m also getting older and that’s an extra challenge. I’m just (positively) surprised by how smooth it seems to run. I haven’t done any specialized tweaking of options or whatnot – so just “vanilla” loading as it were.

    (d) I still don’t understand the overall progression system in the game across runs – I know there’s stuff that gets unlocked and so on, but it’s not that clear to me how the overall narrative is/will progress. With these games my (as a player) worry is that each run will make the overall game harder (because “evil has made more progress in taking over the world”), but that seems untenable in a game like this – too easy for players to get to an overall world-state they can’t get out off – the lead designer is super smart, so has thought of this but I don't know how – so at this point I’m very curious to better understand (as a player) how the meta-progression works. I don’t know yet because I haven’t played enough.

    (e) I invited the designer to talk to class and as he was answering their questions I had an "epiphany" – “Wow, Civ is a roguelike!” which is perhaps an obvious epiphany – but there you go. This was mostly because I sense that Unexplored 2’s “run” is quite long (play time wise) – which makes it “feel” less rogue-like because you don’t have that many iterations on each run? I’m curious how long a “normal” run that ends in success takes for this game – it seems like a long one, but again I don’t really understand at this point what the overall meta-progression is like (e.g. I solve/resolve the first quest I’m sent on, and then die, do I have to do it again?)

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    Legends of Runeterra (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 19th, 2022 at 14:17:30)

    Officially retiring this. I started a long time ago and never really got into it until recently. However, I've discovered it's a massive grind. A fun CCG, but also a massive grind. I've stayed in the single-player area, which involves a map with various regions. Each region has a handful of adventures that are rated at different "star" levels (1-star, 1.5-stars, etc.). Your goal is to unlock and level up the game's champions to tackle harder and harder adventures.

    There are so many champions! I unlocked four (of maybe 20? 30?), leveled one up to level 12 (out of 30), another to 8, another to 5, and had managed to win all the available adventures through 2 stars. I don't know how much time this took. Early runs at 1 or 1.5 stars could take 15-30 minutes. The 2-star runs were taking about 75 minutes. Runs involve a series of battles. You choose your champion and your adventure, and get the champion's premade deck. Cards in the deck have various special items equipped, which boost their abilities, depending on your champion level. So with any given champion, you begin with the same cards, although they are modified for your champion's level. Once in the adventure, you choose nodes along a winding and branching path. Nodes contain battles, item shops, chests, healers, or other types of encounters. There is a lot of strategy and planning. Your battles will be against different NPCs with different decks who have different relics equipped. You can see some of this information ahead of time, and generally can see a node ahead of you, although there's usually not much you can do given the information. You could choose the battle with the relic that seems easier to handle, choose to get healed instead of buy items if you have no gold, etc. So there is a healthy amount of crossing your fingers, although over time I did start to learn the types of decks I was facing.

    Anyway. That sounds so complicated writing it out. And there's so much more. There are TONS of card mechanics to deal with. Even playing as long as I did, sometimes the games would get so complicated with so much shit going on and abilities and equipment stacked, that I would get very lost. In fact, the last game that I did lose was like that, against some magic fairy wizard character who kept summoning these 5/4 (power/health) cards and getting Spellshield (blocks spell effects targeting the card) and Overwhelm (excess damage against an enemy card hits the nexus, which as in League of Legends, is your health pool) on them. Then the adventure mod gave enemies +2 power every time they attacked, so these protected 5/4 cards grew until I couldn't block them anymore. She was also slinging 0- and 1-cost spells around like there was no tomorrow. It was brutal!

    Before this loss, I had been realizing that the single-player mode is just playing these same adventures over and over and over, grinding the 25-some-odd champions, grinding your "legend level" (which is a meta-level that awards bonuses across champions in all adventures), and grinding quests to get cards, shards, and the zillion things you need to unlock characters, level up characters, craft cards, and so on. Plus--oooh, Riot you are so mean!--you constantly get experience for quests and rewards that can only be obtained if you pay real money. It shows you progress on these quests alongside the others so you see how much other stuff you could be getting. There is no end in sight!

    I initially compared this to Hearthstone, but it seems much more complex of a game, which is cool. However, I played Hearthstone from the time it started, so I watched it become more complex as it evolved. I jumped into Legends of Runeterra after it had been around for years. I can't imagine what it would be like to jump into Hearthstone after half a decade. Just thinking about this makes me nervous for the other card games in my backlog, like Gwent or Slay the Spire, that have been around a minute. I did enjoy my time with this, and perhaps I'll load it up again in the future, but the time would be better spent on the backlog!

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    In Sound Mind (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 19th, 2022 at 06:57:15)

    I had zero expectations for this. Never heard of it before seeing it free on Epic. It seemed like a nontraditional horror/FPS with some trippy visuals. What did I get? A story-heavy game about a psychologist unraveling the mystery of his patients’ deaths, a government conspiracy, and his own psychosis. It's a VERY clever premise as presented. About 3/4 of the way through, I had a sad feeling that it was moving toward a more generic central plot and that the setup wouldn't deliver, but it mostly does. I even teared up at the end. It was so SWEET and I love cats.

    You wake up in the basement of a three-story building. Eventually, you (the player) start to realize who you (the character) are. You find your office, your home (there’s a portal to it, don’t ask), a talking cat, and lots of mysterious purple substance that looks like radioactive waste. Most areas in the building are blocked off. The game is divided into "tapes," which you find through a series of other portals into your patients’ homes. Like a metroidvania, new parts of the building open up as you gain new items in each tape (e.g., a piece of glass to cut through police tape or smash boards, a radio device to jam electric boxes, etc.). The tapes are your recorded sessions with patients and the game proceeds as you play through each tape, transported into some hellish version of the patients’ realities. In each of their tapes, you trace their descent into madness, fight them in truly epic boss battles that span most of the tape, and bring some closure to their part of the story. But it only deepens the overall mystery and their connection to one another.

    In Sound Mind shines in numerous areas, but I'll highlight the epic boss battles. Since the tapes are the patients' realities, you might imagine that the patients are omnipresent in each level. Good guess! Sometimes the entire tape feels like a boss battle. Not only are the tapes set where the patients finally lost it (a ravaged supermarket; a lighthouse and surrounding beaches; a state park; industrial mining operation), but the patients are there, manifested in horrific versions of themselves. It's hard to choose which one to talk about. The first one might have been my overall favorite tape. The second one presented me with the most tense moments of the game. The third one had the longest and most epic boss battle. The fourth one was probably the least impressive. And the final boss battle was whatever (he pesters you throughout the game and looks like a doddering Freddy Krueger).

    The first tape is for a patient who can't handle other people looking at her. You (her psychologist) try exposure therapy and have her go out to a familiar local supermarket. She can do that, feels comfortable there. But then it closes, pushed out of business by the game's version of Wal-Mart. She goes there and, long story short, smashes it up and kills herself with broken glass. You get a piece of said glass, which is a creative tool for the rest of the game. Not only does it cut police tape and smash boards, but if you hold it up, it highlights objects (key progression objects, upgrades, electrical grids) behind you. They remain highlighted for like 10 seconds after you put the mirror down. So in this way, you can find hidden keys, health upgrades, figure out how to open electronically locked doors, see hidden paths, and so on. It's pretty neat!

    In the third boss battle, you fight a man who is very angry over losing his job, transformed into a bull-head-shaped truck engine that zooms around the map trying to kill you. You basically lure it from place to place as you develop a way to pacify it. This involves a big puzzle synthesizing a drug, navigating a conveyor belt maze, completing a puzzle with fuses to lift an elevator and navigate a power grid, avoiding the bull in a train yard, and more. One of my favorite parts was in the second boss battle where you are fighting "the darkness." You have one fuse and have to get through dark areas by sprinting from fuse box to fuse box trying to create lit areas so the darkness wouldn't get you. Scary!

    Sometimes, the levels can feel a bit long though. This is due to the game's main weakness: its combat (not good for an FPS!). Shooting is very basic and enemies dart around too much for the guns to handle. It is the least fun part of the game. There is basically one enemy type, besides the bosses. It does have a couple variations, but they both jerk around and are hard to shoot in the head. Stealth is also totally broken. I may have snuck by one enemy once. There's a whole stealth stat! You will never need this, rarely be encouraged to try it, enemies will see you anyway, and you'll always have enough ammo to kill them.

    To sum, In Sound Mind was surprisingly good. Most of the time, I thought it was great. The story, bosses, and puzzles are highlights. Combat with normal enemies becomes a slog. Actually in the final boss battle, I quit killing them and learned I could just run past them. I'd definitely recommend this for something a little different. Oh, also, the soundtrack is excellent. I have to look up the band that did the music, The Living Tombstone. Their songs fit/set the tone of the game perfectly.

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    The Simpsons Game (DS)    by   jp       (Sep 18th, 2022 at 23:40:41)

    This game is both terrible and amazing. I've finished - and the challenge definitely ramped up significantly, almost to a "ugh, why bother" stage. But, I did complete it!

    Terrible? Well, the controls feel a bit wonky, the combat system isn't that responsive and you feel like you can't help but take damage - so it's just button mashing in the end. The platforming is floaty, I often died from things that came out of nowhere (off screen). In all it feels like a crappy old school platformer (with easy puzzles) and brawling from the old, often unfair and unforgiving.

    BUT, the level design is really fun, and interesting, and funny, and wacky - and everything you'd expect (hope for?) in a Simpsons game that really tries to be as true to the spirit of the source material as possible.

    The game really goes meta in terms of it being a game and the characters knowing it's a game - you even meet Matt Groening because he supposedly has the power to save the town from the alien invaders (but he doesn't really care) - so you go to god - who's all distracted playing a DS game for help! Also, along the way, you meet villain Will Wright who is taunted mercilessly as he floats around on a platform powered by a "The Sims" crystal. Oh, an EA executives are also made fun of (and the company as a whole). They try to bribe the mayor so he wont ban Grand theft Itchy - but there's a riot.
    Oh, you also save some 16-bit versions of Simpsons characters from another videogame. The whole thing is loony crazy - like many of the Simpsons episodes.

    I checked the final credits and Will Wright and Matt Groening are thanked - but they don't appear in the cast. So, their voices were done by actors and not them? I'm not sure - but Will Wright did sound like him, but who knows.

    So, the game was well worth playing for that - and to be fair the gameplay while wonky is varied and surprisingly so. There's lots of things (e.g. Space Invader style short level) that appear only once...almost as/for a gag. Definitely a lot of thought and care went into the game. So what happened? Why the rough edges? My guess is that short time and budget meant that it shipped when it needed to rather than when it was done? I also wonder what the connection/relation is to the other Simpsons games ("The Simpsons Game"). Perhaps the DS version was the little sibling title? It feels like the gameplay is unique to this title, but I could be totally wrong. The other games are PS2 era? I'll have to check just for my own curiosity.

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    Life is Strange (PC)    by   dkirschner

    Excellent, intriguing, deep world. Very Twin Peaks. ------------ Worth playing, goes long and gets super sweet though.
    most recent entry:   Wednesday 4 January, 2017
    HUGE plot twist at the end of episode 3. My girlfriend had been saying that the game was interesting and she really wanted to keep playing to find out what happens, but that she didn’t feel invested in any of the characters. The end of episode 3 changed that. It had us thinking about some crazy butterfly effect scenarios. I had predicted generally what I thought was going to happen at that point, and I was right! Sort of. I just keep thinking back to the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode where Homer goes back in time through the toaster and keeps altering the future – one where it rains donuts, one where Flanders is dictator of the world, one where everyone is a lizard person, etc. For my part, I’ve was invested in the characters at least since the end of episode 2 (really touching scene).

    One comparison we’ve made to The Walking Dead is that character emotions in Life is Strange aren’t animated that clearly. You can’t see subtleties well. It makes it hard to discern what exactly a character is thinking or feeling about another character or an event, or to gauge sincerity and other things. Allison says that makes her care less about them. I like how they present these archetypal characters (high school jocks and cheerleaders, punk rock girl, paranoid war vet, cool teacher, etc.) then turn a lot of them on their head so characters are never quite how you stereotype them.

    Some of the rewind time puzzles are really clever. The game, while surprisingly mundane for large part, consistently surprised me with moments of “what!?” and “wow, that is cool!” One part has you and Chloe breaking into the principal’s office. I keep realizing what Max is doing (or what I’m making her do) with her time powers just as Chloe realizes it. Reminds me of when I realized Max had powers as Max was realizing it. It’s weird. In a good way.

    We’re still trying to figure out exactly how the story branches from options we didn’t choose, but we’ll wind up online for that (did other players kill Pompidou??). Oh, one thing that is wonderful about Life is Strange is that because of the time rewind power, you can always choose every major dialogue option and see how it plays out. In fact, after making a choice and seeing what happens, Max will usually second guess her choice and wonder if the other option(s) would have been better. You rewind, choose another, see what happens, then just go with the one you think is best. It’s great because it’s actually part of what the character can do, not just a gameplay mechanic. Like, Max actually IS rewinding time to play out her other options and considering them all JUST LIKE YOU ARE. It’s so neat.

    We beat the game last night, and in the end, we agreed that it was worth playing, beautiful art and music, great character development, and all around impressive narrative in a video game with the rewind time mechanic. Sure, Max and Chloe make some stupid choices that don't make sense (call the police, geez!), but given the amount of dialogue and characters, it's great. But, if it wasn’t a video game, the story would be sort of blah. I’ve read/watched/played a hundred things about time travel, the butterfly effect, and chaos theory. They’re almost always neat because these are almost inherently cool ideas. We liked the end, both of the murder mystery plot and the tornado plot, though Allison claims she called who the killer was in the first episode (She said it but also said a lot of other people!).

    Also, the game started to drag on and on. I think it could have been several hours shorter. I was getting tired of the long dialogues between Max and other characters especially in the midst of really urgent events. Toward the end, these dialogues were really saccharine sweet and cheesy, and Max and Chloe’s “best friends forever” stuff was irking me. I guess we all had friends like that (or maybe you were that friend), but I don’t relate.

    I don’t want to go into details about plot because spoilers, but we’ll be talking about it for a few days I’m sure. Our big question was which ending is canon? And also, we wanted to know like…why/how did Max get time rewind powers? And what happened to people and Arcadia Bay after the game is over? Some pretty big questions left open. But the character relationship stories were wrapped up. Yay!

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