Game of the Week: Sleeping Dogs

260px-Sleeping_Dogs_-_Square_Enix_video_game_coverI played the original True Crime: Streets of L.A.  It wasn’t up to Grand Theft Auto standards, but the spin of playing a cop and the increased focus of melee combat bumped it up a few notches.  Having Christopher Walken as a narrator didn’t hurt either.  I enjoyed that game but didn’t finish it.  The sequel set in New York got worse reviews, so I didn’t buy it.

When I heard that Activision was rebooting the series with a version set in Hong Kong, I was interested since I had enjoyed Stranglehold with a similar setting and premise.  Then Activision shut down all mid level game development to focus on AAA titles.  I later heard that Square Enix had picked up the project and rebranded it Sleeping Dogs.  I just assumed that the end result would be mediocre at best.  Reviews and impressions painted a more positive picture so I planned to pick it up when it was on sale some time.  Before I got around to that, Sony announced that it would be a ‘free’ game on Playstation Plus.  While Plus is not free, I have found it to be a great deal because of quality games like this.

Sleeping Dogs is an open world sandbox set on the island of Hong Kong.  This is a streamlined playable Hong Kong that reduces distances and density, but they’ve managed to create a believable, lived in space.  Different sections feel radically different.  With cars, motorcycles, boats and cabs (for fast travel), you can get around anywhere quickly.  Clearly United Front learned the most important lesson from Rockstar, make everything fun.  Ok, not everything is fun, but most core activities are.  Unarmed combat, melee weapon combat, ranged combat, driving, racing and vehicular combat are all fun.  Unarmed combat and vehicular combat are the standouts in the game.  Both give you a real feeling of power and destruction combined with high risk.  It’s nearly impossible to get through completely unscathed, but skill will carry the battle (at least after upgrades).

With a strong gameplay core, you might think the story stinks.  No, not really.  As long as you don’t compare it to reality, it’s a fun ride.  If you go in with a Hong Kong action movie mindset, it’s even better.  You have a ton of characters with larger than life personalities.  They get into outrageous situations and clash in mighty conflicts.  If you don’t pay attention, some of the names and terms can be confusing, but the game does a good job keeping you on the right track.  Even though the characters are kind of wacky, the voice actors are good enough to humanize and make you care for them.  For instance, when a battle breaks out at a wedding, you actually feel upset that someone would break tradition and do such a thing.

That involvement is the driving force that pulled me into the game world.  I wanted to know what would happen to these characters.  I wanted to make Wei a little stronger, more respected and dangerous.  That’s the mark of a good game.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I stuck around to get my first ever Playstion Platinum Trophy.  That’s a story for later.  Overall, very highly recommended.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/07/game-of-the-week-sleeping-dogs/

5000 Miles

Small 5000 milesI may be a kind of old, kind of fat gamer, but I do try to look after my health.  Since my taste in food is pretty unhealthy, I tend to focus on exercise (and portion control).   Mostly, I run, ride my bike and lift weights.  I sometimes swim when my shoulder holds together.  I also try to help my kids practice whatever sport they’re playing at the time.  I just hit a milestone on my bike that I wanted to share.  I just passed 5,000 miles on my bike.  For some people that might not be a lot, for me, riding on weekends and free days, it’s an accomplishment I’m pretty proud of.

How far is 5,000 miles?  Well, I live near Houston.  I looked it up on this nifty page.  Madrid, Spain, Casablanca, Morocco and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are all around 5,000 miles from Houston.  With my next ride, I zipped past Paris, France.  I’m not much of a fitness role model, but I do know this:  find exercises you enjoy and stick with them.  Perhaps I’ll see you when I hit Switzerland.  I’m not looking forward to the mountains.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/07/5000-miles/

Email not Sending

MS-Outlook-2007All of a sudden a few weeks ago, my email stopped sending.  It wasn’t on all of my accounts or devices.  I could receive email, but I couldn’t send it.  Eventually I figured I could send from my phone and webmail for my email and gmail.  So it had to be the way my local accounts were configured. The problem was that I hadn’t changed anything.  It turns out that my internet provider had changed something.  They had started blocking port 25.  This made sense since a lot of spam and other automatically generated messages use that port.  However, they just updated their email FAQ without sending any notice of the change.  Thanks for the heads up guys.

It turns out the reason that only some of my accounts didn’t work was that newer accounts automatically set up shop on port 587.  The older accounts that I had imported from my last computer were the ones configured on port 25.  So I changed all my accounts to use port 587.  Then once I knew what I was looking for, I found the updated FAQ on the Comcast support website.  Of course, reading that I found out that Comcast recommends the use of port 465 with SSL.  I’ll get around to that sometime guys.   Anyway, if you’re troubleshooting email send problems, this might help.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/07/email-not-sending/

Game Story from Gamers With Jobs

Crusader_Kings_II_box_artSean Sands of Gamers with Jobs has written an excellent game story about the emerald isle.  It’s well written and makes you want to play the game.  That’s exactly what I look for in a game story.  Here’s a link to buy the game if it inspires you.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/07/game-story-from-gamers-with-jobs/

Custom Foosball

ping-2-foosballI played a lot of foosball in college.  I wasn’t the best, but in a 2 on 2 game I was a darn good defender.  We had a ton of fun, probably even more than the Xybots game cabinet that was in the same room.  So I was pretty thrilled by this article on making custom foosball figures based on real people.  One day I’ll probably buy a 3D printer.  Until then I can enjoy the stuff others make with them.  Thanks to Make magazine for the article and picture.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/06/custom-foosball/

Closed for Remodeling

Sorry for the lack of updates. We’ve started some remodeling for our house. I didn’t realize how disruptive and consuming the process would be. I hope to get back to regular updates soon. Just to be clear, it’s just my house that’s being worked on. I’m afraid improvements to the site might need new management.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/06/closed-for-remodeling/

Xbox One and the PS4

Now that Microsoft and Sony have had their big next generation console press conferences, we should have a level field to compare them.  Unfortunately, neither side wanted to play ball.  Sony made their pitch at developers while showing lots of games and no hardware beyond the controller.  Microsoft made a pitch for the unified living room showing hardware but few games.  These presentation left gaming fans wanting more.  That should be a good thing for an upcoming launch.

Sony translated their conference into a steadily building positive buzz.  Yes, there were some haters, but overall they received positive coverage and dominated the console news for nearly two months.  Microsoft sort of exploded onto the scene.  Or perhaps they imploded.

Here’s the goal of any news conference especially one dealing with rampant speculation.  Replace all bad messages with your message that puts your product (company, candidate, etc.) in the best possible light.  No one really achieves that completely, but success is measured by how close you come to that goal.  Microsoft had a near total failure.

Now a failure to communicate doesn’t mean that the product will be a failure.  It just makes things more difficult.  It also doesn’t reflect on the quality of the product.  Based on everything I’ve read, I’d expect the two products to be very similar inside the box.  They both have AMD 8 core x86 chips with AMD graphics integrated on the system chip.  The PS4 has more graphics cores and faster memory, but the impact on multiplatform games should be minimal.   In fact, the similar architectures should make porting much easier.

Raw power has rarely been the deciding factor in console wars.  The upcoming generation will probably come down to focus and exclusives.  Both controllers look to make modest improvements on the versions they are replacing.  I don’t know if lighting effects trumps vibrating triggers or not.  I don’t think Sony’s touchpad will be a significant factor, but I know I’ll feel less silly swiping on my controller than I do making some of the silly gestures I make with the current version of kinect.  Speaking of kinect, it and Playstation’s move both feel gimmicky.  I’ll have to see something compelling to change my mind.  In general, I do support more controller options over fewer.

So what about focus?  Sony only wanted to talk about games and especially game developers.  That easily resonated with gamers.  Microsoft wanted to own the living room.  I don’t have a problem with that goal.  It’s just that every effort thus far has been a flaming disaster.  Not to mention that everyone has a different idea about what ‘one box’ should do.  Here’s mine.  I need a cable box plus an over the air tuner.  I need a DVR with multiple tuners.  I need a surround sound receiver with multiple HDMI and legacy inputs.  I want streaming and downloadable video.  I want a game player with backwards compatibility.  I want a blue ray and DVD player.  I need internet access that supports apps and channels.  I need to be able to control it with a remote, with voice and my smartphone or tablet. I want a seamless, consistent interface.  Clearly I am insane.  Honestly, on that list, Microsoft doesn’t do too badly.  The problem is making what they offer work with what I have.

Theoretically, my receiver has HDMI control (or Consumer Electronic Control, CEC) after a firmware update.  I haven’t actually tested this out.  My TV does not.  For some reason Tivo doesn’t seem to support it either.  Perhaps Microsoft could work that out since the Tivo can be controlled over the home network and both need to be ‘online’ to keep working.  Even if I had all CEC devices, there’s no guarantee that they would play nicely together with the XB1 as they’re from different manufacturers.  Even people with CEC devices from the same company have had problems with compatibility.  There have been anecdotal reports that the more CEC devices you add, the less stable the setup.

If CEC isn’t the solution, then we’re stuck with an IR blaster.  Don’t get me started on IR blaster problems.  Even if it works, I dread to think where I’d have to place a blaster to hit my Tivo, receiver and TV.  Perhaps you can daisy chain them together at cheap Microsoft accessory pricing.  Of course, the rest of the world can avoid this trouble since the TV features aren’t available there.

Update:  I’ve heard that Microsoft is going to use Kinect 2.0 as an IR blaster.  The Kinect points the wrong way, but they claim that the signal will bounce off the walls and still work.  Good luck with that.  It’s even worse since the XB1 has no way of knowing if the blast bounce worked.

If I get it all working, it sounds nice.  I can use voice control for everything.  Well, it doesn’t sound like it will initially be able to access anything recorded on my Tivo.  I also wonder if I can exclude voices.  I really don’t want my three year old shouting, “Xbox, watch Word World.” and having that work when I’m trying to game or watch a show or movie.  There have already been threats of griefers shouting “Xbox, turn off” over voice chat.  That shouldn’t work, but I wouldn’t throw out that headset just yet.

Speaking of getting things working, the truth is that I’m going to wait before I buy an Xbox One.   It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited for a major console release (sorry WiiU).  Even though I don’t consider myself an early adopter any more, I’d be tempted to grab one of these consoles before Christmas.  If I do, it’s going to be a PS4.  It’s not just that I still have my abiding Playstation love from the PS2 or the fact that I’ve ended up playing my PS3 much more in the past couple of years than my 360.  It’s not even that the last few dashboard updates for the 360 felt like they were more about serving ads to me than improving my gaming experience.  No, it’s that I got burned hard on the 360 launch.  I went through at least four consoles (it might have been five though I try not to think about it too much, the flashbacks, the horror, the horror) in my battles against the red ring of death.  Yes, Microsoft kept sending me refurbished units, but it wasn’t until the dual die shrink Jasper units were released that I hunted one down and paid cash for the peace of mind.  I still remember looking at the model and serial numbers to make sure I got the right version.  To be fair, that unit has lasted for years without problems, but I can’t in good conscience buy another Xbox console without giving it at least six months to prove its reliability.

I must admit that I don’t understand smart match as a new feature for the XB1.  I’m all for better matchmaking.  After all, it must be hard to find people as incompetent as I am at online shooters.  I don’t understand why you’d ever want matchmaking that takes so long that you want to watch a movie or video.  And if I ever started playing another game while waiting to get into an online game, I’m unlikely to go back to the online game.

In short, Microsoft needs to turn this ship around and prove hardware quality and functional software to get me to bite.

 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/06/xbox-one-and-the-ps4/

Game of the Week: Game Dev Story

gamedevstoryI’ve probably bought too many Kairosoft titles.  Game Dev Story is the reason why.  At least, that’s where it started.  Conceptually, it’s pretty brilliant.  They made a game about making games.  Throw in a lot of game references and a retro art style.  It’s like catnip for gamers.  I suppose some PC gamers might be upset that the PC market gets short shrift, but you have to remember this is a Japanese game.

You start out as a small development house hiring some rookie developers.  They each have a job area (coder, designer, writer, etc.)  Then they’re ranked on abilities (programming, scenario writing, graphics and sound).  Your team works together to create games based on the type and genre you choose (i.e. Golf Simulation).   Based on their abilities, inspiration, breakthroughs, teamwork and luck, they’ll build up your game’s attributes such as fun, creativity, graphics and sound.  Then those attributes, platform market size, advertising and your popularity determine sales.  More sales means more money you can plow back into your next game, training people, improving resources, or outsourcing parts of development.

The best part of the design is that there’s always something you can improve.  You can level up your team or hire better team members.  You can train your team to increase stats and unlock new game types and genres.  You can develop for different game systems with larger installed bases.  You can use boosts to improve your current project.   Eventually, you can move to larger offices that support more team members.   You can experiment with mixing up different game types and genres (though they didn’t enjoy my ninja puzzle game for some reason).   You can take short term contract projects to boost your cash.  Later, you can even build your own game console and make games for it.

There are many different variables to tweak that makes each play-through different.  Random events spice things up as well.  Unless you’re trying to mess up, you’ll keep making better games that make more money.  That money lets you do things to make better games.  It’s a vicious cycle.  In fact, when I started up a new game just to refresh my memory on all those variables I lost myself for over an hour.

Don’t let the cute art style put you off.  There’s a meaty game here that will suck you in.  Though not all the Kairosoft games are this good, the best are something to behold especially if it hits one of your areas of interest.  With just a warning for addictiveness, highly recommended.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/05/game-of-the-week-game-dev-story/

Earth is Safe

google earthLookout is the antivirus software on my android phone.  It scans in the background, but it also scans any time an app is updated.  Most of my apps are ‘trusted’ apps and allowed to update on their own.  Every once in a while Google updates Google Earth.  Once it does, Lookout scans it.  Then I get this alert on my phone:

Scan Completed:  Earth is safe

It makes me smile every time.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/05/earth-is-safe/

Game of the Week: Fantasy Empires

Small FE CoverI could write a book about the golden age of SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc.).  What a great name.  If you’re at all like me, you’d just want to support a company with a name like that.  There are several games I bought on the strength of that brand alone.  Fortunately, I was rarely disappointed, hence the golden age.  The first SSI game I played was Kampfgruppe which was way beyond my then thirteen year old mind.  Shortly afterwards, I played Phantasie.  That was much more my speed.  Then, I had a lot of fun with the AD&D games.

Eventually, I came across a game called Cyber Empires by Silicon Knights.  It was a neat mix of strategy and action set in a world of warring giant robots.  Looking back, it might have been a bit shallow, but I loved it.  When I heard that a sequel was coming, and that it would have the D&D license, I was ecstatic.  That sequel was Fantasy Empires.  I played it for a long, long time.

The story is wonderfully cheesy.  The Dungeonmaster is tasking a group of warlord challengers to battle to unite the world of Mystara.  They must conquer the world one territory at a time, building their armies, magic and heroes to conquer lands, one another and eventually the world.

Effectively, there are two parts to the game.  You have the turn based world map and real time action of the battles.  This was years before the first Shogun: Total War.  Here’s a look at the strategy screen:

Small FE Strategy Screen

The images are taken from my old paper manual.  It’s a bit dog eared from my constant flipping through it.  Sometimes I miss paper manuals.  Anyway, as you can see, most of the screen is dominated by the scrollable world map.   That’s the Dungeonmaster on top.  He has some neat animations that add to the game.  There are three orbs representing your current levels of Druid, Cleric and Magic User power respectively.  Those allow you to cast spells that affect an entire region.  Below the orbs is your gold piece total.  You’ll spend that quickly building your empire.  In the middle, below the Dungeonmaster, is the end turn button.  Across the bottom are the buttons you’ll use to build and manage your empire all framing the minimap.

Here’s what you can build in the game:  Keeps, castles, armories, temples, towers, armies (dwarves, elves, shadow elves, halflings, undead, orc and human fighters), heroes (elves, magic users, clerics, druids, fighters, and dwarves) and siege weapons (catapult, ballista and battering rams).  You’ll need nearly all of them to conquer the world.  Heroes, in some way, are the heart of the game.  They start off weak, but through battles and quests, they can grow quite powerful.  This is important in combat section of the game.

In combat, Fantasy Empires doesn’t give you tactical control of your troops like Total War.  No, you’re launched into a massive game of Gauntlet based on the units you brought to battle.  You do have the opportunity to set your battle lines before the battle as well as cast spells if your heroes have the ability.  You’ll have direct control of one of your units, usually the most powerful hero you brought to the battle.  You can also take control of any other unit on your side, but this leaves your heroes vulnerable so it’s often best just to use the hero leadership ability to maneuver troops around the battlefield.  Your hero only has attack and block buttons, but they’re quite powerful and can turn a close battle.

Castles and siege weapons add a bit more depth to these action oriented affairs.  The attacker can’t win without taking the castle.  To do that they’ll need to breach the walls either through magic or sheer force.  The magic can be through a global spell like earthquake or your magic users fireball attack.  Force is your catapults breaking down the walls or your battering rams breaking through the gate.  There’s just enough control to make you feel like you always have something important to do in a battle.  After the battle, heroes gain experience and regular troops can gain veterancy.

Between battles heroes go on quests.  Many times they die on those quests.  If they return, they come back stronger and may bring magical loot.  Some of it is equipment for them.  Others are might magical items stored in your vault to increase your power.  Most of these allow extra uses of global spell without draining your mana.  Some have other game changing powers.

There are other things I could talk about like the risks of sending armies by sea or the impact of range units in combat, but the most import thing to me is that this game started my love of the 4X genre.  Yes, even more than the original Civilization.  Highly, highly recommended (if you can put up with the dated graphics).  Here’s a map of the game world:

Small FE Map

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/05/game-of-the-week-fantasy-empires/