Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Dad Plays Games at Lunch Episode 5 - The Evil Within

Welcome to another episode of Dad Plays Games at Lunch Episode this time I take a look at The Evil Within!  I like me some horror games and this one was masterminded by the team that made Resident Evil so it promised to be a scary one and mostly it delivers.  The Evil Within starts very tense but ends up actiony and then tense again and I kinda like it.  The game is very Japanese though with weird characters, stereotypical male/female personas and lots of yelly exposition.

The art style is really cool though with a dank/dirty grimy veneer that makes the game very atmospheric.  The Evil Within did not blow the doors of the gaming industry but it was a modest success and a bloody good time.  It has been out for a while so fairly cheap steam copies are pretty easy to find.  Make sure to play with headphones on and the lights lowered...enjoy me trying to get through part of the game and failing pretty hard at times!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

PAX East 2016 Coverage Part 3

This is the final instalment of my look back at the PAX East 2016 conference and the articles I wrote there.  As mentioned in the previous posts this convention is not straight videogames and it is certainly not about marketing speak.  There are real chances to speak directly to developers, I had some great chats with the creators of Battleborn, We Happy Few and Fated to name just a few.  The show is always terrific and the atmosphere in Boston is incredibly welcoming.

There are always a number of after events to attend and this year and I was lucky enough to attend a few of them.  I always show up for the annual alchohol infused but charity driven PokeCrawl and this year I also attended a social with the Fated developers, headed to a Hitman party and then had late night drinks in the suite of a middleware developer and his friends that I met at the party.  The point is that PAX East inherently brings out a great, friendly and inclusive crowd and I can't wait for next years event.

PAX East 2016 Preview: ‘Thimbleweed Park’

As a long time fan of adventure games (mostly rooted in classic Lucasarts titles) I was more than a little excited to check out Thimbleweed Park from Lucasarts alumni Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick at PAX East.  What made the experience even better was having a chance to chat about the game with Mr. Gilbert directly at the show.  Thimbleweed Park is a refreshing throwback to an older generation of adventure games that feels modern while still retaining the look and feel of the classic titles.

At PAX East there was a relatively small slice of gameplay available to try but it introduced me to three of the main characters from the upcoming title.  The first two are FBI agents Ray and Reyes who at first glance have a very Mulder and Scully from the X-Files vibe that I asked Ron about.  He told me that when they initially developed the characters they wanted to have two agents who meet for the first time in game and have some conflicts that added narrative to the characters.  He mentioned that similarities to the X-Files heroes was unintended but noticeable now, they may look like the characters from the Television series, but they act quite differently.  The demo did not give me much room to get to know them but it did teach the first hints of character switching and transferring items to get the initial simple puzzle, taking a picture of a corpse, completed.

Read the rest of the Thimbleweed Park Preview on Blogcritics.org

PAX East 2016 Preview: ‘Let it Die’

In the gaming industry there are few people as unapologetically authentic as Suda 51 from GrassHopper Manufacture and at PAX East I was able to meet him and try his new game Let it Die. The game itself surprised me with how much I enjoyed it because it will be a Free-to-Play title and that usually ends my interest pretty quickly.  Let it Die has all the hallmarks of a Suda 51 game, crazy characters, over the top scenarios, and shocking visuals, and in the end I could not help but enjoy myself playing it, the fact that Suda was next to me reacting as I played didn’t hurt the experience at all either.

Suda was on hand when I checked out the title and, with the help of a translator, I learned that the world of Let it Die is one formed after an apocalypse event has occurred and all of the surviving people are in a sprawling tower.  It is a brutal existence Suda told me so everyone is out to get you and each other so you have to kill to survive and let it all die as the game title suggests.  The game is a third person survival action title and as the demo booted up I was greeted with a character only outfitted in a dirty pair of underwear.  I smiled and noted to Suda and the translator that it now feels like  a Grasshopper game; I am running around almost naked.  They laughed and Suda let me know that I would soon find some gear and weapons. I also asked if I would be able to customise characters in the full release and they assured me that many customisation options would be available so the character represents what you want on the screen.

Read the rest of the Let it Die Preview on Blogcritics.org

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Whiskey of the Year?

Late in 2015 a relatively inexpensive, frankly cheap, whisky from Canada called Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye won a very prestigious award - Worldwide Whiskey of the Year beating out out champions from Scotland, Japan and the US.  In the words of the reviewer Jim Murray:

“Crown Royal Northern Harvest pops up out of nowhere and changes the game,” said Murray of the whisky, which he awarded a record-tying 97.5 out of 100 points. “It certainly puts the rye into Canadian Rye. To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.”

Naturally as a developing Whiskey connoisseur I wanted to try this $40 bottle of Rye Whiskey myself, but an announcement like that broke the walls of the drinking world and the Northern Harvest Rye has been selling out for nearly 6 months with further accolades coming in the meantime:

In addition to being named 2016 World Whisky of the Year, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye received a double gold medal at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is part of Crown Royal’s vast portfolio of variants for whisky lovers to enjoy, including Crown Royal Regal Apple, the #1 innovation launch across U.S. Spirits over the past 12 month period, according to Nielsen and NABCA (Source: Nielsen xAOC 52 weeks through 10/10/15, NABCA 52wk ending 9/30/15), and Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel, a double gold recipient and winner of “Best Canadian Whisky” in the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Well I finally got my hand on a bottle yesterday as stock levels are now steady (with many local liquor stores having nearly 100 bottles in hand) and I gave it a try last night.  I used a chilled glass and drank the golden liquid neat (no ice) and I have to say I was far from blown away. The first sign that this would not be the World's best in my (very humble) opinion started with the aroma.  It was not the smooth almost gentle notes I get from a Macallan Amber or the strong vibrant whiff of Glenrothes Select Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky.   Instead it was strong, almost overbearing smell that evoked a feeling of a strong spirit instead of a subtle one.  Because of the strong aroma, perhaps due to the high percentage of rye, I was not able to discern any of the ingredients at first smell.

Next came the taste, a healthy mouthful to start and here at least I was impressed at the beginning at least.  The flavors did come out as the Whiskey hit my tongue, I could taste fruits, some vanilla and other hints of ingredients I could not place.  I like that the Northern Harvest Rye sat well on my palate and the taste and warmth slowly spread.  Drinking the gulp down the result was a very smooth drink, but one that almost shocked my system with heat and potency.  I am not sure what I expected from this drink as naming something the best in the world has to be a very subjective (despite years of experience) process, but this drink was just overbearing.  There was nothing subtle in this whiskey, it is not terrible, in fact I quite like it, but it is far, far from the best.  In the past five or so years I have tried many different whiskeys and this one is good but nowhere near the top.

What is my top choice thus far?  Well the ones I mentioned above are my top two - Macallan Amber being my favorite and a very different style the Glenrothes Select Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky being my second choice.  Glenrothes is the better bang for the buck, but the Amber is oh so smooth, delicate and wonderful on the palate.  If you have the means always have a bottle of the Macallan Amber in your cabinet for those special occasions or rare casual drink

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dad Plays Games at Lunch Episode 4 - The Division

Taking a little break from the PAX East recap posts I wanted to show a little more of my Let's Play series Dad Plays Games at Lunch.  In this episode I was playing some Division days after launch and wowee was it laggy and tough to play.  I have since finished the game and it is collecting a bit of dust but I plan to re-visit to check out how it has evolved.

The Division is fun but very flawed, the game really falls into a series of patterns very quickly as I highlighted in a Review on BlogCritics recently.  Get into new zone, complete a couple of story missions (which are quite good) complete the same exact side missions from the previous zone but against slightly different enemies.  I also found that the customization has some high points - Gun layouts and modifications, and low points - really, REALLY boring outfits which has me wondering why I am exploring so much.  In Destiny the armor just looks cooler and cooler, in The Division I get to choose between a purple or black Parka.  A little lame :/

Anyway, here is the Let's Play, it is early in the games launch and the load times and glitches were pretty Epic, the first few minutes is just loading screens which got much better as time went on - Enjoy:

Thursday, July 07, 2016

PAX East 2016 Coverage Part 2

Sorry for the long delay, life gets real busy around here!  So on to more PAX East coverage, one of the things I love best about the show is how diverse it is.  I attended panels on games, but also on diversity, tabletop, game design and more.  I also get a chance to check out hardware such as the HTC Vibe and Occulus Rift as well as unconventional playtests like board games.  PAX East is an incredible experience in how involved the attendees are, everyone is happy, cosplayers are everywhere and the vibe is always incredibly positive.  On to the coverage from the show:

PAX East 2016 Preview: Betrayal at House on the Hill – Widow’s Walk Expansion

PAX East is not all about video games or nerd culture; it also has a robust tabletop and roleplaying experience that is easy to lose hours in, if not days, during the conference.  At this year’s show I was able to try the upcoming expansion of the classic game Betrayal at House on the Hill called Widow’s Walk. The original game, released nearly 10 years ago, is still played regularly all around the world. The expansion adds more of everything that is great about the game and expands the experience in a natural way that is appreciated.
The premise of Betrayal at House on the Hill is that you are a group of strangers exploring a creepy house one room at a time. In this tile-based game, as the characters move they add room tiles to the house, making the game unique every time you play it. The base game had a basement, main floor and upper floor; the expansion adds a fourth floor in the form of a roof/attic level, and dumb-waiter icons that allow quick travel between floors. The extra level (which includes a room called the Widow’s Walk, of course) adds a further level of depth to the game, as you can have interactions across four levels of the house.
PAX East 2016 Game Preview: Seven – The Days Long Gone
I love games of all types – racing games, Lego games, first-person shooters, third-person shooters, and RPGs of all types – but the type I have a true weakness for is isometric RPGs. If they are done right I lose myself in those games; I just enjoy the perspective of seeing the world and controlling my character as he/she interacts with everything.
At PAX East I was able to check out a game called Seven – The Days Long Gone, an isometric RPG set far after the Apocalypse, where technology and fantasy meet. The game certainly has its rough edges but there is plenty to like, and there are some ideas I have not seen before in a game like this.
Not much is revealed yet about the lore of Seven, but I do know that the entire game world is a prison complex that you need to navigate. Your character starts as a new prisoner and you need to hit the ground running and figure out whom you can trust and what you need to do to survive and move deeper into the prison world. The game has a striking visual look and feel, the characters are slightly cel-shaded, and the world is a mix of vibrant sci-fi motifs and dilapidated slums and warrens.
PAX East 2016 Preview: Pyre
Supergiant Games is on a roll, their first two games, Bastion and Transistor, were groundbreaking games that had vastly different gameplay styles from each other but both focused on innovative narrative styles and featured music that not only enhanced the experience, but was a necessary part of the games.  Now they are back with their third title Pyre, a stylish adventure/strategy/narrative game that stood out as one of the best titles at the crowded PAX East conference.

Pyre gives an outstanding first impression with it’s stunning art style as soon as you start playing it.  The game oozes personality with the quirky characters introduced right away, and the vibrant color palette is a welcome sight with so many games focusing on gloomy visuals.  The game starts with you near death and found by a group of exiled wanderers; they nurse you back to health and discover that you have the rare ability to read and decipher the lore books they need to compete in the Rites – a secretive competition through which they can find a way to return home.  They welcome you into their travelling wagon, which will be home base and where most customization occurs and head out into the world called the Downside to initiate the Rites and start their journey.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

PAX East 2016 Coverage Part 1

I attended PAX East once again and as always it was an amazing time, the show just never gets old for me. You can browse Triple A blockbusters like Overwatch and walk 10 feet to see a small game called Thimbleweed Park in the Indie Megabooth. There are huge Tabletop areas that you can sit and join Magic or D&D rounds (as well as dozens of other game systems), you can chill in the arcade or handheld lounges, get food, attend panels and just have a glorious time. 

The fact that it is in Boston is the icing on the cake, it is such a cool chill town with hundreds of years of history, architecture and amazing seafood. I attend PAX every year to represent Blogritics.org as a freelance writer and tend to write 8-10 articles about games and events at the show. I checked out a ton of games, panels and events, but I have to say Fated on the VR platform was one of my favorite items. Below is the first block of articles I wrote while attending the show this year. Enjoy! 

PAX East 2016 Preview: Fated: The Silent Oath

This year can easily be called the year of Virtual Reality, with the Occulus Rift, HTC Vive and Samsung Gear all out in commercial release and The Playstation VR coming later in the year some amazing VR titles are arriving. I tried a very promising title called FATED: The Silent Oath at PAX East and it wowed me with it’s detailed interactions and focus on storytelling.

The demo was unique to the show as I was sitting on a bench holding horse reigns and there are some scents, wind, and fog that hit me as the demo runs, but even without that it would have been a stellar experience. The game takes place in a Norse mythology infused world, and I was part of a family trying to stay alive during the end of the world – Ragnarok. 

The game starts with my family and I on a carriage as I guide the horse using the reigns. It starts calm at first with the wife and daughter chatting with me; my daughter sat next to me as the journey progresses. As this is VR I could look all around, looking behind as the family talks or all around at the waterfalls, trees, and mountains surrounding me. At one point two giant ravens landed on the carriage and I found myself jerking away from them, the immersiveness of VR in this game cannot be understated. The main character doesn’t speak (part of the story focuses on him losing his voice) but because of head tracking I could nod and shake my head to answer. 

Click Here to read the rest of the Preview on Blogcritics.org

PAX East 2016: Inside Gearbox Panel

Gearbox has a long history in video games with their start as a mod developer for Half Life and then as an independent developer creating Brothers in Arms, porting Halo to the PC and then finding major mainstream success with the Borderlands series.  They have had highs with Borderlands and theHomeworld remasters and lows with the Duke Nukem Forever completion and Aliens Colonial Marines, but they never fail to entertain with their dynamic presence and passionate approach.

I checked out their panel at PAX East and, while it was a little awkward and uneven, they had some interesting information about their upcoming titleBattleborn and some tidbits of the very early (at the conception stage really), but inevitable next title in the Borderlands franchise.

The panel started slowly and with some magic from the President of Gearbox Randy Pritchford as they waited for Kinda Funnys Greg Miller to join them a tad late. Once he arrived they entered into a discussion about Battleborn, which just ended it’s open Beta as it nears the May 3rd launch date.  Randy was joined on stage by producers, art directors, and writers from the series to discuss the creation process and lifecycle plans for Battleborn.  Right at the start they talked about how they will provide 5 new characters, and the game starts with a staggering 25 already, for free over the next few months and that the Season Pass will offer 5 DLC packs that focus on story and co-op content.  All PVP (Player versus player) content will be free for all owners of the games which is a welcome change from the Call of Dutiesof the world.  This promises to reward players with a steady stream of content both on and offline which is great news.

Click Here to read the rest of the article on Blogcritics.org

PAX East 2016 Preview: Thumper

PAX East is as full of Triple A games as it is independent and quirky ones. I had the pleasure of trying Thumper by Drool Games on the Playstation VR platform, and this is a game that shows what great audio and visual design can accomplish on the Virtual Platform.
Thumper is described as a “Rhythm Violence” game in the vein of Rez and AudioSurf. You are represented by a silver ship that looks like a futuristic Beetle as you coast along vibrant and whirling rails towards portals and bosses. Music is your guide, and the name Thumper comes from the need to jump and thump on light symbols on the ground. You also need to hold on to the button or ‘note’ when passing through flat lines on the ground, and you need to aim into corners to avoid taking damage. All of this thrown together with the electronica soundtrack pulsing and changing as you progress made for a trippy and enveloping experience as I soared though the neon-infused landscapes.
Played on the Playstation VR system (which by far is the most comfortable of the three big VR vendors) added an immersiveness to the experience that is hard to describe. You can see the winding track ahead pulsing and changing as it stretches to the edge of your vision. Explosions, lights and pulses rock around you and make you feel like you are jacking into the Net as Cyberpunk movies portray it. You swiftly fall into this world in the VR experience and move in tandem with your ship as you try to navigate to the end of the level.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dad Plays Games at Lunch - Episode 3 - Diablo 3 Re-Visited

Episode 3 of a Dad (me) playing Games (in this case Diablo 3) at Lunch (I had a sammich I think?) was a chance to re-visit Diablo 3 after many months. I bought Diablo 3 day one and finished the game pretty quickly and swiftly got bored. The games was bogged down by terrible loot drops, a real money market that imbalanced the game and real progression required multiple playthroughs. In the last three years though Blizzard has added so many modes and features as well as an expansion called Reaper of Souls. I jumped back in and finished the expansion and saw what the new loot drop mechanic is like (it is awesome) and got acquainted with the Seasons mode, bounties and many other great modes. Enjoy while I run through the start of the season and see the carnage I inflict as I run through a chunk of the early game.