Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Five: Video Games of 2012

  • Here they are, the five games that defined the year for me. As always, keep in mind that I'm only picking games that I've actually played. So if there is some awesome game that I'm missing, it's likely that I never played it. Or maybe you have really poor taste. Whichever excuse works for you.

  • Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer - Although it came out in 2011, I didn't get a chance to play it until I got my iPhone this year. For all of the talk about how Apple's App Store is better than the various Android offerings, Ascension is the only game that makes me glad I switched. A simple deckbuilding game in the vein of Dominion, I have lost hours to building a card engine and watching it go. Whether I focus on Lifebound heroes to build up victory points or Void heroes to slim my deck to a perfect killing machine, I'm always excited to draw new cards and see how they will interact. With all of the apps available on the phone, this is the one I come back to time and again.

  • Fallen London - I think it was Tom Chick who convinced me to finally try out Echo Bazaar, the game that would eventually become Fallen London. You would think that after reading all of the tweets and blog posts, I would have been tempted sooner. But as soon as I did, I was sucked in to a fascinating world. The writing is excellently flavorful, giving me a reason to come back to the stories again and again. My exploits were amazingly varied and always exciting. I ended up playing for several months (partly because I could play in a browser at work) right up until I hit a grind that could be measured in astronomical units. So I may be done, but I sure had fun. You can try it out yourself right here.

  • Guild Wars 2 - Everything leading up to the reason of this game turned into anti-hype for me. Nonetheless, I could not miss the launch, buying my account just hours before the game opened. I'm glad I did. Guild Wars 2, while not the MMO messiah many were hoping for, is a smart, lovingly crafted attempt to answer the problems with the genre. I played it hard for a couple weeks, then went back less and less often. But it was glorious while it lasted.

  • Mass Effect 3 - My troubles with the ending notwithstanding, Mass Effect 3 is an amazing culmination to the best series this console generation. I could go back to that galaxy time and again and always be excited to see something new. If the conversation about the game has scared you away, put that aside. Mass Effect 3 is as good as we expect from the series. And, hey, the ending isn't quite so bad any more.

  • 10000000 - If there was one game that pulled be away from Ascension for a couple of months, it was 10000000. It is a simple match three where, instead of matching gems, you match melee and spell attacks, keys, items, and crafting ingrediants. Along the top of the screen, your character runs through a dungeon. The matches you make determines your progress, whether you unlock a chest or defeat the monster. With crafting and leveling mechanics, I was hooked on yet another Bejeweled clone. Once I hit the titular ten million points and won the game, I only have gone back occasionally to best my high score. But it was an absorbing run for such a simple premise.

  • Now that you've seen my list, varied and eclectic as it is, what were your favorite games of the year?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Random Shots: The Year That Was 2012

  • Looking back at 2012, I find that gaming has not been a priority. I've spent more time reading, listening, or watching games than I have played. Between work and parenthood, finding the time and will to start a game has been difficult. But those games that have essentially forced me to play have be extra satisfying. It's time to look back at my prediction from the beginning of the year and see which came true.
  • SSX - Prediction: SSX will announce another delay, but it will be a day one purchase no matter when it is released. I will enjoy the game quite a bit and make one trip through the campaign until I reach some event that my aging hands just can't get me past. It will a serious contender for my Top Five list anyway.

    Result: There were no additional delays announced, but I did purchase it on day one. Unfortunately, SSX didn't click with me. The tracks were unforgiving and not a lot of fun. The campaign was annoying and the customization was a laugh. I probably could have spent more time learning the game, but life it too short.
  • Diablo III & Torchlight II - Prediction: Ready for the crazy? D3 will be released before TL2! Even so, I will finish Torchlight 2 first and it will end up on my Top Five next year.

    Result: Even crazier, I was right! D3 did launch before TL2. But I have never finished either game. And, spoilers, neither made the Top Five.
  • Mass Effect 3 - Prediction: First day purchase of the standard edition. I will play and enjoy ME3 but I won't play any of the side games, like the multiplayer, even if some one were to ask me to. And at the back of my mind, I'll wonder if I got screwed out of enjoying the end of the trilogy because I didn't buy into their expanded vision of the game.

    Result: I wasn't going to, but the pull was too strong. Day one purchase, standard edition. I did play and enjoy the single player game without partaking of the multiplayer or the apps. And it turns out that my enjoyment of the ending was not effected by the expanded gaming options at all. Amazing that.
  • Guild Wars 2 - Prediction: GW2 will be a special edition preorder and first day purchase for me. I will play as much as I can, but will have difficulty finding the time to do so, straight through the end of the year. But even then, it will be a Top Five game for me.

    Result: After facing a mountain of hype, I almost didn't even buy the game. I did end up with the digital deluxe edition on day one, played for a couple weeks, and then slacked off. Tune in tomorrow for the Top Five.
  • Bioshock Infinite - Prediction: Bioshock Infinite will be a later purchase, either on sale or used. I will play for a few levels, but eventually get frustrated with some bit of shooting that I can't get past.

    Result: Um, failure to launch this year. Will return for 2013 predictions.
  • Grand Theft Auto V - Prediction: I'll end up buying GTA V at a discount due to a gift card or rewards certificate. And I will play as far as the main campaign will let me, so long as I don't run into that one mission that I can't beat. But I won't play nearly as much of the side content as I did in SR3.

    Result: Again, failed to launch this year. I'm a lot more interested in this game than I was twelve months ago.
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - Prediction: When Reckoning comes out, I suspect that I'll have other games on my mind. But I will eventually pick it up once word of mouth spreads about how good the game is, despite its poor sales. And I will enjoy the parts of it I play before moving on to the next big thing.

    Result: Well, I did wait before buying it. But since it was so recent, I can't tell if I'm already done with it or not.
  • XCOM - Prediction: I won't buy this game, and it will be a poor performer, sales wise. Expect to read a lot of "I told you so" posts this year.

    Result: This one is amusing. The prediction was about the FPS version which failed to come out and may no longer exist. But then there was the new turn-based strategy game and it seems amazing. I just got it for Christmas and I'm looking forward to playing it as soon as I get near an Xbox.
  • Of my predictions, the ones about my purchasing decisions were most likely to be right. At least for games that actually released. How was your 2012?

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Random Shots: In Memoriam - 2012

  • Once again, Anjin In Exile looks back to those we lost in the game industry over the last year.
    • Adam Adamowicz, 43, concept artist for Bethesda Softworks, credits include The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fallout 3, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

    • Dr. Christopher Erhardt, 50's, Professor of Game Design and Production at DigiPen, credits include Pool of Radiance and Battletech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception

    • Michael Kuehl, 32, programmer for Insomniac Games, previously of Electronic Arts and Infinity Ward

    • Bill Sears, late 50's, known as Phosphorous, artist, designer, and musician, co-founder of Digital Eel

    • Mike Singleton, 61, pioneer in ZX Spectrum gaming in the 1980s, credits include Midwinter, Lords of Midnight and Doomdark’s Revenge

    • Joe Skivolocke, 44, artist, credits include Warhammer 40,000: Rites of War, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Island Life and My Vineyard

    • Sean Smith, 34, information technology officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, played as Vile Rat in Eve Online, killed in attack on U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya

    • Paul Steed, artist and designer for Origin and Id Software, credits include Quake I, II, & III and Wing Commander III & IV

    • Jack Tramiel, 83, founder of Commodore International
  • Our thoughts go out to everyone who lost a loved one in 2012.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Played Lately: The White Birch - Prototype

  • Purchasing access to Double Fine's Amnesia Fortnight is one of the best decisions I've made this year. I've watched day after day as these games took form over the course of two weeks. When the opportunity came to download the prototype, the game I chose to play first was The White Birch.
  • Inspired by Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, The White Birch is a puzzle platformer, drenched in atmosphere and beautiful to behold. It is amazing to see what the team achieved in just two weeks. There are some clever puzzles and mechanics, fun animations, and great scenery.

  • Since I watched the playthrough on the Double Fine livestream, I didn't have any difficulty finding my way up the tower. The only issues I ran into were matters of execution. I was able to play the game to completion on my first night, but could not complete it on the second night I tried. I want to blame the game and its prototype status, but I also know that I get impatient and fail to play properly.

  • If there is one thing I don't like about the prototype, it's the ending and the fact that it has one. It is such a huge tease. I want the game to keep going, prototype or not!

  • More seriously, though, there is a lot interesting from an intellectual point of view in playing a prototype. Of course it isn't perfectly smooth, there are a few interesting bugs, and it is short. The Amnesia Fortnight documentary showed the team fighting a bug that would leave the main character in a flying state after a cutscene. They decided that, since they couldn't solve the bug, that they would just have her reset at such a point. She does a little hop occasionally that is a side effect of the fix. I'm sure it drives them crazy, but I think it's awesome to peak behind the curtain.

  • If you are curious too, there is still time to get access. The Amnesia Fortnight Humble Bundle is still available for the next few days if you want to try all of the prototypes and documentaries. I'm only one game in and it's already worth it.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Played Lately: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

  • So this happened.
  • Considering all of the time I've taken examining the fall of 38 Studios, you might have thought I would have played this long ago. It turns out that, curious as I was, I wasn't about to pay full price for a game that only reviewed okay. So, I waited for the price to come down. Then I waited to make sure I had enough money. Then I waited for the stars to be right. Then I made sure I still had enough money because, you know, things.

  • It turns out that Reckoning plays just like a single-player MMO, for all the positive and negative that connotes. There is no end to the content available. You just have to look for the gold exclamation points. Crafting is interesting in that there is no grinding to level your skills. But then there's no need to craft at all unless you need something.

  • The biggest positive of the game is the open character system. Any character can advance in warrior, rogue, and mage skill trees and mix-and-match as you see fit. I'm playing a pure mage at the moment, but I could respec and be playing an entirely different character at a moment's notice.

  • I haven't been too far in the game. Leveling is slow and I'm still tied to the first quest hub. Game time is hard to come by, but even then I've only been able to play an hour or two at a time before I need a break. If I even finish, it will be a miracle.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

News Filter: Layoffs At Trion?

  • This is interesting.
  • If you don't know who Jen MacLean is, you obviously haven't been following the news about 38 Studios. Let's just say that she's in a position to know. No idea what this means for Rift, End Of Nations or anything.

  • Still looking for confirmation....

  • UPDATE: Here you go.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Random Shots: The Internet Brooks No Irony

  • I haven't ever heard of Nikole Zivalich. I'm not sure how many have. After the VGAs tonight, a whole lot more people will know her.
Image Courtesy of Kevin Dent
  • My initial response was "What the fucking fuck?!?" My next response was to do a little digging. It turns out that she was in on the joke.

  • So, no need to freak out yet. But I fear for this woman's future on the internet.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Random Shots: The Hobby Horse, A Rant Delayed

  • Turbine decided that they needed a monocle of their own. But since hobbits are naturally hesitant, they decided to try it out on their test server before letting it go live. The internet responded in a wholly even-handed and practical way, as only the internet can. Today, Turbine temporarily recovered from whatever insanity afflicted them. (I wonder if it is the same madness that brought us Incarna?) And now the fifty dollar hobby horse has gone back into the closet where it belongs.

  • If you've come to the conclusion that things have come off the rails over at Turbine, I might be forced to agree. Even Green Armadillo has turned a skeptical eye to the company.

  • The free-to-play model is no longer the panacea everyone assumed it would be. More and more companies are finding that, instead, free-to-play is a short term fix for a long term problem. For MMOs to operate, they need revenue. If you just let people play for free, there is no revenue. Someone has to pay, and companies like Turbine have to find things to sell. But most things in an MMO are finite. Unless you can convince people to continually purchase consumables, you have to come up with more and more things to sell. And the things have to be more powerful or more exotic to make them more enticing than the things people have already bought. Fifty dollar hobby horse.

  • I for one, don't care if Turbine wants to sell a ten twenty-five fifty dollar mount. It's just a symptom. When CCP started showing these symptoms, the community intervened and the game recovered. LoTRO seems to be too far gone.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Played Lately: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Games

  • We drove up to my parents' house for Thanksgiving this year. That night, after the feast was put away, after the football was over, after everyone else had gone to bed, my brother and I broke out the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Games from Fantasy Flight Games to relive some of the Star Wars battle from our youth.

  • Game 1 - For our first game, we played with the Quick Start rules. I took the Rookie Pilot and he played the Academy Pilot and Obsidian Squadron Pilot. The rules call for a 2x2 play area. I didn't bother to measure. We just set the ships up closer to one another. The Quick Start rules are pretty stripped down. There are no actions, no upgrades. Just turning and shooting. There is one other difference between these and the real rules: if your ship can complete a move, it doesn't move at all. My brother misjudged his third move with the Academy Pilot, put him in front of his superior, and locked out his move for the round. My brother does not handle frustration well. This was not the last time Academy Pilot would do something stupid during the night. The match ended with TIEs gunned down and the X-Wing limping away with three hits.

  • Game 2 - It was an easy choice to move up the standard Rules for our next game. We set up the default scenario again, my Luke Skywalker versus his Night Beast and Obsidian Squadron Pilot. I decided to see if the superior shields and firepower of the X-Wing would allow me to fly headlong into the TIEs and pulverize them. The dice told me know. I came away with my shields down and a hull hit without inflicting any appreciable damage on my brother's team. I tried to put up a fight afterward, but it was a forgone conclusion at that point.

  • Game 3 - It was getting late at this point, but there so much in the rules and in the box he did hadn't played with, we had one last go. This time with the Advanced Rules. We set up four asteroids to make the flying more interesting, though they ended up in a straight diagonal across the field. And built our own squads. The rules suggest 31 points if you are playing out of the box. But my brother wanted to take Luke Skywalker and R2-D2, so we bumped it to 32. I went for Mauler Mithel with Marksmanship and an Academy Pilot. I should have known he would be my undoing. To surprise the X-Wing, I turned the Academy Pilot across an asteroid and opened fire. It was sure a surprise and put my brother on the defensive, but I was trying maneuver Mauler more carefully and the Academy Pilot got chewed up before I could get him in position. It was a tight battle at the end. R2 got the chance to restore shields twice as I continued to pour fire into the X-Wing, which I think saved him. Scratch off two TIEs.

  • I didn't end victorious, but it was fun. I don't know when I'll next have a chance to play, but I'm definitely putting more ships on my Christmas wish list.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.