December 2011

My Utterly Predictable Top Ten Games Of 2011 List

10: Catherine

Catherine was a game whose core gameplay was awful (essentially a very twiddly platform game). And you didn’t care because the game itself was so compelling. Japan is a society that takes adult games seriously (and by that I mean games with mature themes, not Jenna Jameson Modern Warfare 4) and thus we get games like Catherine, which start as a rumination on love and regret and veers into very weird places. Pity about the actual gameplay!

9: Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout 3 was very awesome – as someone who lived in the DC area for a few years it was pretty nifty actually recognizing the post-apocalyptic wreckage of many places I was familiar with,  not to mention just being a great game in general. But it was very much apart from the canon established by Fallout and Fallout 2. Fallout: NV, on the other hand, very much was Fallout 3 in all but name. The only two problems with it: wacky instability when it shipped, and the fact that the timeline has moved so far in the future that Fallout 4 is kind of pointless without some sort of license reboot.

8: Hatoful Boyfriend

Hatoful Boyfriend is a romance simulator where you compete for the attention of pigeons. I don’t need to go any further.

7: Bastion

Lum added Bastion as number 8 on this list. Lum didn’t know what else to say other than it was a really good game and that adding a dynamic narrator to a rogue-like was a work of genius. Thank you, Lum.

6: Portal 2

Like any sequel it wasn’t as OMG WHAT as the original and the gameplay itself started to drag near the end but it still had great writing and the best rant ever put into a video game.

5: Dungeons of Dredmor

Best Use Of Necronomiconomics As A Gameplay Mechanic 2011. This is a very silly game that you should be playing. It’s fun! It’s hardcore! You need the lutefisk for the lutefisk god!

4:  Kaiserreich for Darkest Hour

This will take some explanation. Darkest Hour is a fan-made iteration of the ever-Lum-praised Hearts of Iron 2. Part of its feature set is support for fan mods. The most well-concieved mod for Darkest Hour is a game called Kaiserreich. Kaiserreich postulates a 1936 world where – stop me if I lose you – Germany wins World War 1, the Whites win the Russian Civil War, Communist revolutions overthrow the governments of France (who takes refuge in Algeria) and Britain (who takes refuge in Canada), Hermann Goering sets up a petit empire in the former Belgian Congo Mittlelafrika, Austria-Hungary is finally about to fall apart, the United States is about to be riven in dueling revolutions between the Communists of Jack Reed, the Fascists of Huey Long, and the military coup led by Douglas MacArthur, and Russia can go in any of four different wild directions from a Communist takeover to a Czarist revival. And it works.

3: All The Games I Should Have Played But Didn’t Have Time But Heard Were Really Good.

You know, Dark Souls, Arkham City, Saints Row 3. I’ll get to them. Eventually.

2: Skyrim

Skyrim is the latest version of The Bethesda Game – you know, the one they keep making ever since Daggerfall (trivia: my first foray into games writing was a walkthrough/support site for Daggerfall). This one, they got right. Skyrim really is a non-linear fantasy simulator that is utterly epic in every way and there is almost no wasted space. It really should be the #1 entry in this list and they really are pretty interchangeable at this point.

1: Star Wars: The Old Republic

Yes, the developers and inside baseball commenters will be debating throughout 2012 whether EA has literally moved the barrier of entry into MMO development into the level of small countries’ gross national product with the sheer thunderclap scale of investment that SWTOR represented. But let’s not let that detract from what SWTOR accomplished: storytelling in an MMO that works as the center point of the game. Also, lightsabers. SWTOR is fun. SWTOR is incredible amounts of fun, while redefining what an MMO is. Is it really an MMO when a game essentially is a Star Wars game that millions of people are playing at the same time? Who cares… it’s fun. Games are supposed to be fun, and SWTOR gets that – a point too many MMO developers have forgotten.

My Life With The Jedi Kill Kult

It was on an unnamed battle station, set up by Republic spies, where I fell from grace.

You see, up until that point, I had seen myself as an honorable man. Of course there was chaos and atrocity all around, but this was war, and war can be harsh. But I had a code of honor, and the knowledge that although many judge our Empire harshly, I fought for stability and order.

But the dark side… it was so seductive. It beckoned with the siren lure of shortcuts and the red haze of murder and power. I was strong, though, and could resist, and was even developing a reputation as an honorable Sith, odd though such a combination could be.

It changed when I finally met the nemesis of my master. Although through a hololink, it carried enough weight of what I, my people were fighting against – the sneering superiority of a caste that assumed it knew all the answers, the mocking calm of someone who assumed that only he had the path of honor and justice.

He was on a path I could no longer follow. That I had to prove wrong. That I had to destroy utterly. That I *could*.

I cut down his defenseless minions without a second thought, and my saber turned red, and I leapt into the abyss willingly.

Why yes, I am talking about an MMO. And what’s more, describing the point in an MMO where I made a decision to change my character’s progression, counter-intutively from a character building perspective, solely because of events in the game’s story.

During Bioware’s development of SWTOR, they often talked up storytelling as the missing link of MMO gaming, the “fourth pillar” of what makes a compelling game. Now we have an emphatic example of this development philosophy. It may well not be for everyone – even in a game such as World of Warcraft, people rapidly “click through the quest text” to continue with the game. That’s not an option here – you are part of an interactive movie, where the setup for even the most bog-standard kill 10 womprats quest (which are present in full force) is fully voiced and animated. You could conceivably spacebar your way through every conversation cutting short every cut scene, but at this point you are missing, well, the game.

So, yes. SWTOR tells a good story. This is a Bioware game, so this is pretty much a given. How much of a GAME is it?

Well, if you go into SWTOR expecting Star Wars Galaxies II, you are going to be very disappointed. SWTOR comes down very heavily (in fact with a Sith downward saber stab) on the side of game vs. world. There are some nods towards a deeper MMO community (such as social unlocks based on how often you group with others, and a fairly brilliantly handled pre-game guild launch that automatically load balanced guilds amongst servers) but SWTOR is a game. And many similarities to World of Warcraft are wholly intentional – to the point where popular WoW addons-to-game-systems such as gearscore are already baked in. Remember Wowhead? Welcome to Torhead.

If you’re really, really tired of World of Warcraft (and after seven years, a few million people are) then that alone may cause you to recoil. But if you see the World of Warcraft-centric game systems as a grammar used to build SWTOR’s language, it becomes clearer why those choices were made. In fact, in my week or so of play, some of my more “doh” induced boners were in areas where SWTOR veered away from World of Warcraft’s interface. Did you know that when you buy skills from trainers in SWTOR, the skills for your advanced class (another, rare divergence from World of Warcraft) are in a separate tab from the skills for your base class? For seven levels I didn’t!

If I have one criticism of SWTOR at this early point, it’s that for the initial 25 levels it seems to be, for the most part, a single player game played in parallel with many other people. This was fairly obnoxious when, for example, others would ninja-grab world quest objectives. There are instances (called “Flashpoints”), daily quests intended for groups, the aforementioned social rewards for doing them, and of course PvP (including battlegrounds). But up to this point they haven’t really been part of my focus.

You see, I’ve turned to the dark side. And I have a lot of red murder to catch up on.

Blizzard Announces RealID 2.0: What We Should Have Done The First Time

Welcome to BattleTags, otherwise known as “how every other unified IM service works”.

A BattleTag is a unified, player-chosen nickname that will identify you across all of – in Blizzard Entertainment games, on our websites, and in our community forums. Similar to Real ID, BattleTags will give players on a new way to find and chat with friends they’ve met in-game, form friendships, form groups, and stay connected across multiple Blizzard Entertainment games.

Tools Are Cool

(This is a post in response to Jon Jones, smArtist for hire’s technolusty blog post from yesterday.)

Hi, I’m Scott, I’m a technoweenie.

I try to keep everything pretty simple… my primary “work” machine is my Macbook Pro. I’ve used it for years now, and now that I’m at a workplace that doesn’t freak out when I bring my own machine in for work, I can use it as my primary work machine yet again. I have years’ worth of handy OSX applications so it really is a force multiplier. And because it’s OSX and not Windows it actually, you know, rarely crashes or goes down. See?

Mmm, delicious uptime goodness.

And for toting it between work and home, I have a docking station set up at both places so I can just drop the laptop into the dock and fwoomf, I’m up.

So why am I such a fervent Machead? Because it has stuff that works, generally far more efficiently and elegantly than Windows equivalents, and having stuff that works makes me look smarter. Apps that see regular use while I work: (comes with OSX): I love It just works, and allows me to search years’ worth of email in seconds. Couldn’t live without it, and I haven’t found anything as just-work-ish on Windows. Sometimes I get seduced by some feature in Postbox, but I always come back to

Excel: The OSX marketplace for spreadsheet applications is pretty limited. Apple’s version, Numbers, isn’t good enough for serious work. Excel for the Mac is functionally equivalent to the Windows version. Some things you’ll never escape.

Keynote: Why I originally bought my Mac – I blame Trey Ratcliff for this one, he made Keynote presentations that were things of painful beauty. Once you use Keynote, you’ll never use Powerpoint again.

WriteRoom: One of the hardest things to do is to concentrate on just writing. At least for me. (It’s also why I work better on OSX. People tell me “Oh, there’s no games on that!” Well, yes. I have a gaming machine for that. No games is a *plus*.) WriteRoom is the best of the minimal text editors – you can easily just focus on writing and hide everything else.

Eclipse: Eclipse is the Swiss Army Knife of code editors. Open source, cross platform (it runs in Java but still runs fairly well on modern machines) and generally is the best at what it does. Except for web page editing. For that I have:

Coda: the best web page editor on any platform.

Pixelmator: I’ve just started switching to this from Photoshop, which I’m more than a few versions behind on. Pixelmator is affordable for normal people and eminently usable for image manipulation.

Balsamiq Mockups: Another cross-platform app (using Adobe Air), this does one thing and does it very well – it helps you quickly kick out user interface prototypes. Among other handy features, it creates everything in Comic Sans font just to make clear to everyone THIS IS A PROTOTYPE DO NOT USE THIS IN A SHIPPING PRODUCT FOR THE PUBLIC. Seriously if you use Comic Sans in anything public-facing I will hurt you.

That covers most things I use on a close-to-daily basis. I have a Windows desktop at work for tool-chain related things (yes occasionally I must work with other people) and an iPad which I use mostly to take notes and read newspapers (only half of which is work related). But my MBP is my baby. DON’T TAKE MY BABY.