Thursday, August 17, 2017

Belated PAX East 2017 Coverage Roundup - 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 Ape Out was one of my favorite items. Below is the first block of articles I wrote while attending the show this year. Enjoy!


PAX East 2017: What is PAX?

I often get asked what exactly is the PAX East show?  Is it about videogames? Tabletop Games? Art and Culture in Videogames? The music inspired by videogames? A social mashup of videogame and pop culture fans? The answer is all of this and more.  For those who do not know the history, PAX is technically called The Penny Arcade Expo, a conference looking at all things game and nerd culture that came from the imaginations of the team behind the hugely popular online comic Penny Arcade.  The creators always wondered why there was no show/conference that really welcomed and embraced the fans of the video and table top gaming scene.  There are plenty of video game events, but they are mostly industry driven and not terribly welcoming to the everyday enthusiast.  The first PAX was held in 2007 in Seattle and since that time other venues popped up. PAX East in Boston, followed by PAX South in San Antonio and PAX Australia in Melbourne.  Over the past 10 years what started as an experiment has literally turned into a world spanning event that people plan months to attend.

The Social Side of PAX East
PAX East is a three day event spanning Friday – Sunday in March or April and it is held at the BCEC conference centre in Boston, Massachusetts.  While the focus of PAX East is the expo hall, panels, and tabletop area, there is a very robust social scene that has sprung up around the conference.  Over the course of the event (as well as days before and after) there are a number of gatherings, parties, meetups, and industry events that all can participate in.  The highlights, for me at least, are a mix of industry sponsored and community run events that highlight the uniqueness of the gaming world. Every year I attend a Pokemon themed pub crawl called the Pokecrawl; this may sound like a way to just drink the night away, but it is a great community event that raises thousands of dollars for Child’s Play charities and brings people of all walks of life together. I often also join boardgame meetups – the biggest of which is in the Westin the night before PAX – the hotel gives up a lot of space and hundreds of gamers converge to play dozens of different titles.  During PAX there are a number of sponsored and community driven parties as well at pubs, bars, and hotels that give attendees a chance to mingle with developers and each other. This social side of PAX East is a truly great thing and something that is a big part of my personal PAX experience that I look forward to each year.

PAX East 2017 Preview: Elex


PAX East is a huge show with hundreds of developers and games to experience, one of the ones that caught my eye was Elex by Piranha Bytes due to its odd mix off science fiction and fantasy in a post apocalyptic open world.  Following the general trend of the Fallout series Elex is focused on a pivotal character who has a special background, in this case he is a former soldier called an Alb, and his emotions are muted by a component called Elex that gives him powers no human has. The protagonist crashes on a mission far from home and the Elex starts fading from his system, this triggers emotions to start forming for the first time in his life and sets him on a path to either save the world or destroy it.

The premise is pretty cut and dry despite the fantastical trappings but what grabbed my attention was the striking world design and staggering amount of choices.  Elex is a game that lets you play as you like. If you want to help everyone and be the hero you can, if you want to fight everything that moves and take everything not locked down you can do that as well.  As you explore the world of Elex you will encounter NPC’s factions, towns, cities, monsters and your former Alb companions.  Characters can be interacted with, factions can be joined or opposed and the towns/cities can be explored to enable quests and new information about you and the world.

PAX East 2017 Preview: Divinity Original Sin 2


Divinity Original Sin was a huge success on Kickstarter back in 2013 when the platform was just starting to get some traction for crowd-funding games.  Not only did they far exceed their funding goal, they took that money and invested it into an incredibly deep and enjoyable experience when the game launched in 2014.  Not resting on their laurels Larian Studios revamped and tweaked the game and released an enhanced version on PC as well as expanding to consoles in 2015.  To say Divinity Original Sin was a success was an understatement.  Now the studio is back with the sequel funded by another successful Kickstarter campaign and while I am a backer of the game and want to stay away from playing until the game is finished I could not help but take it for a spin at PAX East.

Divinity Original Sin 2 looks initially to be a very similar game to the original but digging into the gameplay a bit and experiencing some of the story beats I can see where some major differences are coming in. First off the narrative experience has been greatly enhanced with all companions having major story arcs that you can hop into if they are your companions or take part in directly if you choose their archetype when creating your character. For the demo I chose the Red Prince template and was instantly enveloped in his story which revolves around the fact that he is a Prince of the new reptilian race featured in the game who was isolated due to his incredible tactical skills. He was locked away and only let out when he was needed and now he is captured and subdued with a Source collar blocking his powers. One of the cool but subtle things I noticed while wandering around as this character was that everyone of his race knows him and gives him incredible respect, a neat touch.  I also liked that even though I selected a template I could change the sex or appearance of the character, so while the story and skills were pre-selected (though skills could be adjusted too) the character is still unique to your preferences.


PC Review - Darkest Dungeon - Crimson Court

Darkest Dungeon is one of my favorite go to games, I drop in and play the game frantically every few weeks trying to get further and further in the brutal world it envisions.  When the Crimson Court DLC was released I had to dive in and see what the developer Red Hook had up their sleeves, knowing it was going to be difficult and hopefully as addictive as the main game.  Having played through quite a large amount of the Crimson Court content I am further convinced the team at Red Hook are maniacal geniuses as they have added content that is even more punishing then the original material yet still oddly fun and addicting.
The developer added the Crimson Court as a layer to the Darkest Dungeon, one of the really cool things is that you can choose what bits of content you want instead of implementing the whole DLC.  Only want the expansion options for the settlement?  Or just the new Flagellant character?  Perhaps just the extra dungeons and town events? All these are options you can tick off in the main menu before you start the game. Regardless the content is in addition to the Darkest Dungeon experience, instead of a separate area you explore.
The material does not introduce itself right away, except when blood vials drop, which are essential to the additional content experience.  Instead the new Flagellant character, more on him later, is introduced randomly as you click on the wagon after each foray.  The extra dungeons also appear after you have explored a few times in the intro scenarios and that is when it truly gets interesting.  A plague of insects hit town suddenly reducing the effectiveness of stress relieving activities.  This is a big deal as the Hamlet is the only safe spot you have and now that is compromised.  A newly revealed dungeon called the Courtyard seems to hold the answers to solving the insects and it was labelled short so I headed in with low level characters and faced a challenge I could not beat.  Feel free to check out my fresh gameplay stream that shows some of the content.
The developer has since patched the game and the new area clearly states it is not a newbie mission, but I ran through it prior to that (and a few times since) and saw some of the tweaks from the new content.  First off there is no light meter, meaning torches do not raise your light and ward off bad effects, there is no light and you are always inducing stress due to the cursed area.  Torches give you a buff, but do not mitigate the dark.  There is a mechanic called Bloodlight that stresses the characters as you travel, some monsters add to the Bloodlight level if they hit you increasing the stress you gain; it is a cruel spiral that punishes you as you proceed.  There are also monsters that can infect you with the Crimson Curse which makes you need constant blood supplies.  These were tough to come by but now drop more frequently and Red Hook will be adding a new ‘Gather the Blood’ quest which will give a steady supply.
The Crimson Curse is the most brutal of the additions closely followed by the increased stress Bloodlight hands out.  The Crimson Curse cannot be cured (outside of special drops from a boss in the Crimson Court dungeon) and can be spread in the hamlet.  It is nefarious and adds a frantic dynamic to the game that further amps up the tension as well as strategy needed just to survive.  The added stress is a huge problem because until the insects are banished the tavern and abbey will not relieve as much stress as before giving you a roster of perpetually fragile characters.
The new character the Flagellant is a weird, weak yet nearly invulnerable character that adds a new way to play through these brutal dungeons.  The Flagellant has very little health, but that is actually good because he gets stronger the closer he is to death and he has an insane deaths door resistance stat so as long as he can be restored to 1 HP at least in between attacks he will typically never die and deal more and more damage. Playing him requires sacrificing yourself in favor of the other characters (hence the name) so you can stay strong as you are close to death.   A great character that takes some strategy to play but can keep your party venturing deeper and deeper into the Courtyard and other dungeons.
Other interesting additions is that the Courtyard does not start out fully mapped; you have no idea how big (and it is BIG) the map is.  As you explore more paths and rooms get revealed which was a nail biting experience as I was teetering on my last legs of health and sanity.  The DLC also adds some new building options called Districts which are end game builds due to their sheer cost. 
  They are worth exploring as they add class specific improvements as well as tweaks like more torches, gold, and other bonuses.  It is a nice addition that makes grinding to level and improve characters more worthwhile as you can take your spoils and further upgrade the Hamlet and district buildings.
The Crimson Court is a worthy addition to Darkest Dungeon as it continues the brutally hard but very satisfying ebb and flow of the gameplay and simulation with its added content and scenarios.  The new creatures, characters, environments and bosses are as lovingly (and creepily) represented on screen as the original content. The art style of this game is truly stunning and while the animation is simply the sheer beauty of everything is a sight to behold.  The Crimson Court is at a point that experienced Darkest Dungeon players will face a withering challenge as they attempt to plunge the depths of the content, but Red Hook is constantly tweaking and adding to the experience as a living project and I recommend any fans of the original game explore this new content, but take it slow and careful or you may fall as I did.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Dad Plays Games at Lunch Episode 6 - Alien Isolation

I had a look at the Crew Expendable DLC in Alien Isolation as I had never tried the DLC before.  I really loved the fact that the original cast came back in and played their characters, unfortunately it felt like they literally phoned the lines in.  I am sure the budget and timing was tough to negotiate, but the performances are not what they could have been.  Regardless it was a really nice touch.  A drawback to the DLC is it seems that you cannot save and restart where you left off and that it all has to be played in one go, thankfully it is short and I explore the whole story in this playthrough.

The gameplay is tough and very tense and as you can see in the playthrough I died more than a few times.  Well, I actually died more than a few times, and in the end finished the short DLC which leads us back into the Alien Movie.  I hope you enjoy this episode, although my goodbyes at the end are cut off, the full game is truly beautiful, scary and a true addition to the Alien Legacy.

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: