Add on Items

Back when Amazon Prime first started, I liked it for convenient shipping.  They’ve since added a lot to the Prime package.  I was initially worried that the shipping  combined with 1-click ordering would result in too many impulse purchases.  In fact, I didn’t turn on 1-click for a while after I subscribed to Prime.  It didn’t actually happen.

The flip side, back when Amazon listed Prime as on a trial basis, was a worry that Amazon would cancel the program because people would grab one cheap item at a time because it was easy with Prime and 1-click.  Amazon got much better about combining orders that hadn’t shipped yet.  After adding all these features to Prime, they couldn’t really just cancel it.  I suppose they could just remove the shipping features now, but that would be a PR nightmare.  Mostly they’ve managed the problem by limiting items eligible for Prime.  It seems like they’ve relaxed that in recent years.

Strategically, I find their new solution interesting.  Now, a bunch of smaller items have been labeled ‘add on’ items.  You can’t just purchase them alone.  There might be a secret back door way that I haven’t figured out, but the system is designed to get you to buy $25 worth of Amazon items before you can place the order for the add on item.  Obviously, third party items don’t count.

I’m not sure if it is a genius or stupid move.  On the stupid side, you’re making it harder to purchase some items and emphasizing the limits of Prime.  On the genius side, you’re stopping people from buying items that lose Amazon money and encouraging customers to buy more at once.  It will be interest (perhaps only to me) to see how it plays out.

Permanent link to this article:

Game of the Week: Tomb Raider (2012)

tombraiderWelcome back Lara Croft. Or should I say hello to the new Lara since this is a reboot.  I know that much was made of how would Tomb Raider respond to the success of the Uncharted series.  Though both Drake and Croft share a lineage that includes Indiana Jones and Doc Savage, I always felt that Lara was closer to James Bond.  Maybe it’s just the British accents, but the world spanning adventures often thwarting a global conspiracy using technology and gun play always made the connection for me.  Lara had a few snazzy outfits as well.  The uneven nature of the ambitious adventures didn’t hurt the connection either, at least on the video game front.

I wasn’t reminded of Nathan Drake while playing the new Tomb Raider.  It actually was more reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed 3, especially the parts with young Connor.  You were working your way to becoming truly dangerous and powerful, but you were still vulnerable.  This new Tomb Raider feels like it dives into that part of Lara’s life. There are also some obvious parallels to the TV series Arrow even though almost all of work on Lara’s story must have been done before that series premiered.  Regardless, it makes for some good synergy if you experience both.

This is young Lara out on her first adventure.  She starts out injured and unarmed with minimal skills.  By the end she’s a machine of rolling death that even the slow witted antagonists start to fear.  I actually think they could have gone further with this.  She’s done so much that it would have been rewarding to see some enemies break ranks and flee once they realize SHE’S attacking.  I guess that means I was invested in the journey and development.

There’s a pretty good story here, but it’s bound to be controversial.  It’s not due to need to protect Lara.  It’s that the story is a puzzle that the developers let the player piece together as they as they find journals and artifacts.  In other words, you could miss most of it if you don’t go searching for all the collectables.  It’s a good idea in that you’re right there with Lara trying to piece together this mystery.  Again this could have been taken further.  There are several cut scenes that were written to be clear regardless of how much information the player had uncovered.  It would have been quite effective if they could have tailored them based on the player’s collection success.  It probably wouldn’t have made financial sense though.

The action is solid and the combat rewarding (especially if you concentrate on the bow).  You don’t have the freedom of movement of an open world game.  Everything is signposted and restricted in true metroidvania style.  It is more fun to play around old areas once you have all the gadgets.  The two big areas of success are pacing and sense of place.  The island feels big and hostile and alive.  You definitely feel like a raider even if the tombs are short, few and far between.  You also feel that everything is building towards a climax.  Your skills, equipment, the characters and the story are all soaring upward like the rockets from a fireworks display.  When the explosion hits, it’s satisfying and worthwhile.  I even appreciated the little head fake they gave us toward the end.

In summary, there are many things you could nit pick about Tomb Raider, but the game much more than the sum of it’s parts.  In the end you feel like you’ve been part of Lara journey from a young woman to the beginning of a legend.  Highly recommended.


Permanent link to this article:

The Old News Section

Some of you may have noticed that is down again.  It’s been hacked twice in the last three months.  I’ve been working on trying to convert the data to a more secure content management system.  Thus far I’ve failed.  I can’t really leave it up as a virus risk to people who wander by.  So it will be down at least until I get some kind of fix.  If anyone has suggestions on converting an old postnuke site to something more secure, I’m all ears.  I know I could hire someone to do it, but this task is just beyond my level of expertise.  That means I need to bang my head against it for a while before I give up.

Permanent link to this article:

Game of the Week 10,000,000

tenm10,000,000 or ten million is a combination endless runner, match three puzzle and roguelike RPG.  It’s odd and a bit brilliant. It’s available for iOS, Android and Steam.  It’s graphics are reminiscent of an early roguelike.  You could either call that inspired or ugly.  I wouldn’t argue with either.

The premise is very simple.  You wake up in a cell deep in a dungeon.  To unlock the exit, you have to score ten million points in a single run.  Don’t let your paltry first score scare you.  You’ll constantly be increasing your score multipliers.   Mine was somewhere over 120 when I escaped.  Your avatar starts running towards the right when you begin a new run.  He is stopped by doors, chests and monsters.  Doors and chests have locks that can be opened with keys.   Chests grant inventory items.  Monsters must be defeated with weapons or magic.

The real action happens on the puzzle grid below your runner.  You have to be constantly matching three.  You want to match swords or wands when facing monsters.  You match keys to open locks.  You match wood and stone to build up your resource stockpiles.  You match backpacks to gain inventory items.  Inventory items include single use attack items, keys and healing items.  These can be selected whenever you need them though you have limited slots to hold items.

Ideally you are constantly making progress to the right.  You match attack items as soon as you hit a monster. Kill it grab their gold and keep running.  You match keys as soon as you hit a lock.  You are matching resources and backpacks between obstacles.   You stop at obstacles and are pushed left by monster attacks.  The stronger the attack, the greater the knockback.  Once you are knocked back to the left edge of the screen your run is over.

Then you find yourself back at your cell.  Now you have some resources.  You can use your wood, stone and gold to upgrade the shops around your cell.  In the shops you can buy upgraded weapons, magic staves, potions, armor, etc.  Each upgrade makes you a little stronger, letting you run a little farther, scoring a little more.  The further you get in the dungeon and the higher you level, the tougher the monsters become.  So you are constantly balancing your equipment, dungeon level and potions.  Did I mention that potions always have a positive and negative effect?  This allows you to focus on what you need most.  So you might get extra gold and no experience or vice versa.

Of course, the puzzle board and monster appearance order are random, as are the items you stuff in your backpack.  It means each run feels different and you’re always making interesting choices.  At $2, this one is pretty much a no brainer if the subject matter interests you at all.  Highly Recommended.

Permanent link to this article:

What is real, Snuffleupagus?

My daughter was watching Sesame Street. I suppose it’s good with its computer graphics and parodies of recent pop music hits.  Sometimes it makes me feel old.  I remember when Mr. Hooper ran Hooper’s Store.  I remember when the Twittlebugs were just a composite shot to establish their size.  I remember Super Grover before version 2.0.  I remember when Kermit the frog reported live from Sesame Street.  Mostly though, I remember Mr. Suffleapagus.  I remember when everyone thought he was Big Bird’s imaginary friend.  None of the adults ever saw him.  It was like our own secret club that knew Snuffy was real.  Yep, sometimes it makes me feel old.



Image from James Hance.  Buy some of his stuff. He’s a pretty cool guy.

Permanent link to this article:

Game of the Week: Assassin’s Creed Revelations

AssnCdRevIf  you’re going to call your game Revelations, the actual revelations should be pretty darn good.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. It doesn’t ruin the game, but it adds to the overall feeling of jumble that is this game.  Simply put, there are too many ideas in this game.  Everything is just sort of put together and where it doesn’t fit, they just shoved harder.  You would think this results in an unplayable mess.  At times it feels that way.  However, the core gameplay loop is just so good it’s able to overcome all that and be an enjoyable game.

It’s not a new gameplay loop.  It’s the continuation of the refinement that began in Assassin’s Creed II and progressed in Brotherhood.  There are a few dead ends in their quest for progress this time.  I don’t know who thought the carriage chase sequences were so good that we needed more.  The one at the end is so ridiculous that is almost verges on parody.  Really though, when it gets silly, it’s actually more fun than the beginning.  I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not.  Don’t even get me started on the mess that is lair defense.  I’ll just say that using your highly trained assassins as cannon fodder seems to go against the whole philosophy of the rest of this game and the others in the series.

Once you’re actually on the loose in Istanbul (not Constantinople), that loop really kicks in.  Yes, you have to collect the five magical macguffins one of which is being held by the evil whozits.  Now you have freedom again and can start to feel more powerful.  Of course, you’ve been stripped of nearly all your cool armor, weapons, tools and money.  Did I mention that Istanbul (and surprisingly all the Mediterranean is Templar controlled territory?  It’s time to start building up again.  Naturally, as an assassin, doing that involves rivers of enemy blood.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the early game is the tension in the city.  The Ottoman Sultan rules the city.  His guards and Janissaries patrol it.  The Templars run sections of the city that you haven’t liberated.  These two groups don’t like each other.  You can exploit this for fun and profit.  For instance, killing a Templar roof guard and throwing him down in a crowd between Ottoman and Templar forces will cause a commotion and a fight.  This can be useful for sneaking past or just thinning out the opposition.

You also get a few new toys.  You get a hook blade that can be used to make city traversal more fun especially when combined with high launch points and parachutes.  You move beyond the basic smoke bomb into advanced grenade territory.   You have lethal, tactical and diversionary variants for four different types of shells.  Theoretically, you can lay elaborate traps or isolate targets.  Mostly I used them to thin crowds or discourage pursuit.

The story isn’t that great.  Few of the characters are memorable.  The revelations are underwhelming.  The Desmond memory challenges have so many awful decisions in them I’m already trying to scrub them from my memory.  Yet, when you’re just on the loose in Istanbul completing missions, taking over territory and eliminating high value targets, it’s a great game.  Overall, recommended for fans of the series.  It does get big bonus point for not forcing you to repeatedly do things you don’t enjoy just to complete the game.  You can literally ignore whole systems of the game if you don’t like them.  I wish more games were like that.

Permanent link to this article:

Game of the Week: Spiderman Shattered Dimensions

Spidey_SD_Xbox_360_Flat_smallIf it wasn’t a comic book (game) plot, Spiderman Shattered Dimensions’ plot wouldn’t ever be taken seriously.  It’s the kind of thing a thirteen year old boy dreams up to tie the doodles together in his notebook.  However, as a device to give me different spins on Spiderman gameplay, I’ll take it.

Let me get the worst part out of the way first.  It appears that the developers, Beenox, don’t like webslinging.  They like web zipping instead.  Anyone who loved Spiderman 2 (the game), knows why this is disappointing.  If you’re willing to accept this, you have a pretty good game.  If not, it’s time too look elsewhere.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the positives.  First, the game is narrated by Stan Lee.  This sort of instantly negates the levels of corniness that follows.  You have jumped into a Saturday morning cartoon and are willing to go with it.  Once you’ve been called a true believer, who are you to argue?

Next you get four different Spiderman games in here.  You get the Amazing and Ultimate versions of the webhead. You also get Spiderman Noir and Spiderman 2099.  Admittedly, using common controls they can feel a bit alike at times.  Beenox did a good job using distinct art styles and varying mechanics to give each a different spin.

Amazing Spiderman feels most like the Spidey we’ve played before.  He’s a good combination of power and agility.  He uses a lot of web based attacks.  He’s also where you miss the wide open webslinging the most.  He probably has the biggest mouth which makes him entertaining.  He has no unique powers but is well balanced and doesn’t feel weak in any area.

Ultimate Spiderman is in the black suit.  He combines web and tentacle based attacks.  With the black suit he has more raw strength so excels in direct combat.  He also has a rage meter that builds up as you fight.  Once full, you can unleash it to go all ‘Hulk Smash’ on everything.  This gives him a very direct sort of feel.  Tactical retreat isn’t really in his vocabulary.  This may make him the least challenging, but it remains fun.

Spiderman Noir is the odd spider out.  Except for a few arena areas, he doesn’t spend his time fighting.  If it wasn’t set in the Twenties or Thirties, you’d say he was copying Batman.  He lurks in the shadows and takes down the baddies one at a time when they least expect it.  Clearly the developers were inspired by Batman: Arkham Asylum.  If he leaves the shadows, he’s quite vulnerable.  Really, if caught outside the shadows, retreat is his only option.  I don’t know if I’d like a whole game of this, but as a change of pace, it was pretty great.

Spiderman 2099 is not Peter Parker.  You almost have to say that otherwise you really couldn’t tell.  He is Spiderman in attitude and abilities. Beside the shiny, high tech suit, he has two things that stand out.  One, he has accelerated vision that seems to slow down time for a bit.  Functionally, it works much like Ultimate’s rage mode, but it feels different especially when you’re dodging high speed missiles.  Next, 2099 spends an inordinate amount of time falling.  He has several sections where he is diving after someone or something.   He can accelerate and dodge obstacles.   Accelerated vision is sometimes useful here.   Unfortunately, it’s just not very compelling gameplay.

That sort of brings up a main point to the game.  Much of it feels like experimentation on a theme.  Much of it works.  Some of it fails.  Some fails spectacularly.  The best part is that none of it overstays its welcome.  Levels aren’t overly long and few of the bosses or their fights feel similar.  With something new around each corner, including progressive power ups, the game maintains a fun pace.

I could go on about the unique spins some of the universes have on classic villains.  Or I could go on about how Hammerhead felt like a rip off of Dick Tracy, but that would be missing the point.  The fun in the game is the sense of discovery.  If you have interest in comic games and can get over the webslinging issue, definitely recommended.  Excelsior, true believers.

Permanent link to this article:

Game of the Week: Super Hexagon

superhexagonSuper Hexagon is a strange game.  You die.  You die over and over again.  You actually fall into a rhythm of dying.  It’s not about succeeding.  It’s about surviving as long as you can.  The only controls are your left and right buttons.  Think of it like Pacman only you’re chased by the maze itself instead of ghosts.

You’re just a little triangular ship trying to avoid being crushed by the walls closing in on you.  The problem is the screen is rotating while you rotate your ship to avoid the hazards.  The colors change along with the wall thickness as you go.  The whole screen pulsing to the beat of the music.  Sometimes you even invert light and dark.  It’s like everything is working to distract you from your seemingly simple task.

That’s not what happens though.  You sort of get sucked into the vortex of the game and enter a focused mode of thought.  When you hit that groove where each move is perfect and also hits on the beat, it’s pure gaming distilled.  Then you die.  Successful games are measured in seconds. Feel you’re getting too good, go to the faster, crazier mode.  That’s also a good idea if you’re stuck on making progress.  You get used to moving a little faster and the original game slows down a bit.

It doesn’t hurt that the female voice starting and ending your game (as well as noting progress) is quite pleasant.  You always have your high score to chase.  It’s not a game where you’re going to lose yourself for hours at a time.  Got 5-15 minutes to kill.  Perfect game.  Recommended.

Permanent link to this article:

Game of the Week: Nimble Quest

Nimble QuestIf you’re one of those people asking why no one ever crossed the old cellphone game snake with an 8 bit RPG, what am I saying?  People don’t ask those questions.  It’s really only the kind of thing that comes up in a brainstorming session.  However, in the case of Nimble Quest, it turns out to be a gem of an idea.  First off, the bad.  It’s a free to play game where everything can be unlocked if you’re willing to fork over enough real cash monies.  A good chunk of the game can be enjoyed without spending a cent.  In my book, that’s a pretty good balance.  Your mileage may vary.

I could describe the game in more detail, but you probably already have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen.  You start off with one hero selected from any that you’ve unlocked.  They will be the head of the snake.  If they die, it’s game over.  Each hero is a different class with different health, armor, attack speed and attack strength stats. Each has a different attack style based on what you’d expect from standard RPG tropes.  So you’d expect a mage to be a glass cannon.  Melee fighters have to get in close.

As in snake, you move in the compass directions.  You turn by swiping that direction.  Running into walls or enemies kills your hero.  If an enemy comes into your attack range, they’ll be attacked.  If you kill the enemy, they’ll drop gems, power ups, tokens or heroes.   Gems are the basic currency of the game.  They can be used to level up your heroes or increase the effect of power ups. Power ups generally increase your survival by healing or buffing your team or cursing or damaging your enemies.  Tokens can be used to buy in game, per game buffs or to continue your game.  Heroes will add one random, unlocked hero to your team.  More heroes on your team increases your firepower and helps spread out the damage.  You can only have one of each hero active and your snake can only grow as long as the number of heroes you’ve unlocked.

Enemies are random from a selection for that zone.  They either move alone or in groups of three.  If you kill the head of a group of three, that team dies.  You have to kill a set number of enemies to clear a zone.  Once cleared, a bunch of gems appear.  You have to grab as many as you can before the timer expires.  Each time you clear a zone you haven’t beaten before, you unlock a new hero.  Clear numbers and enemy toughness increase as you progress through the zones.

Like snake, the action can go from leisurely to pretty hectic rapidly. There’s enough depth here to keep things interesting and to keep you coming back.  It’s not a game you’re going to disappear into for hours at a time, but it can make fifteen minutes fly by.  It’s fun enough to make you feel like throwing some money the developers way.  That’s what I’m looking for in free to play games.  Definitely recommended.

Permanent link to this article:

Lucasarts Memories

Lucasarts LogoDisney is closing Lucasarts studios.  While I still can’t suppress a little smile when I see the Lucasarts logo at the start of a game, it’s been a long time since the glory days of the game makers.  The first Lucasarts game I played was actually a Lucasfilm Games division effort called The Eidolon.  It was different and imaginative.  It could be fun in spurts.  I believe I played it first on our old Atari 800XL.  I later had a 130XE so it could have been that.  What I really liked about the game was the sense that they were trying to create a world.

Of course, my fondest memories are from Monkey Island and X-Wing.  I started gaming with Infocom text adventures.  I was lucky to computers around most of my life.  From the old Timex-Sinclair to the TRS-Model III to our Atari’s to eventually PC’s, there was always a computer around.  It was amazing what we put up with back in those days, but the games made it worth it.  Infocom was one of my first loves.  I was so bad that I worried that graphical adventures might ruin the genre.  King’s quest and Leisure Suit Larry started to turn me around.  My Dad loved Police Quest so I got to try those. I think my brother got me The Secret of Monkey Island as a Christmas gift.

There had been plenty of funny moments in games I had enjoyed.  Some had even been labeled as comedies. Monkey Island brought a whole new level of zany to my computer.  It was like a Monty Python pirate skit had exploded out of control.  Yes, some of the puzzles were obscure, and I wasn’t always sure where to go or what to do, but I was having fun the whole time and laughing along the way.  I even finished the game on my own which was pretty good in the days of paid hint books and hint lines.  It was a dark time before the internet and gamefaqs.  I enjoyed other Lucasarts adventures, especially the Indiana Jones games and Grim Fandango, but Monkey Island holds a special place in my heart.

Similarly, X-Wing is so near and dear to me that I can’t imagine what my gaming life would have been without it.  I grew up in a small town.  I didn’t know anyone my age who didn’t love Star Wars.  Not everyone was able to afford the big play sets or ships (I personally always wanted a sandcrawler and an AT-AT), but we all had some action figures.  We all wanted to try the Death Star trench run.  So you can imagine my excitement when I first heard that Lucasarts was going to make an X-Wing game.  My mind instantly locked my S-foils in attack position.  I can’t remember if we even had preorders back then.  I might have just kept calling and pestering my local store.

Ah, the bliss of the first play.  Now it would seem clunky and primitive, but back then.  The sound, they nailed the sound.  I was flying an X-Wing. Ok, I think the first mission actually had us liberating some X-Wings.  Actually, I’m sure there was some flight control tutorial.  No, I seem to recall blowing up some inactive TIE fighters.  So many memories, dogfights, base raids, A-Wings, Y-Wings with ion cannons, stupid escort missions, blowing up star destroyers.  It was so much fun.  Then it culminated in the attack on the Death Star.  All the Death Star missions were tricky, but the trench run was unforgettable.  I recall jumping up and whooping out loud the first time I hit the exhaust port just right.  Then they released the Imperial Pursuit expansion with interdictor cruisers.  Losing the advantage in a hit and run raid because the interdictors had arrived just proved the level of immersion I had for that game.  I know not everyone loved the B-Wing in its self titled expansion, but I was thrilled with the raw firepower.

Yes, I know that TIE fighter was a better game.  The missions were better and the plot had that whole secret society angle. The whole thing seemed more refined.  Add to that the raw fear of flying a generic TIE fighter without shields, it was quantifiably better.  It was such a relief to get in the more advanced fighters.  However, it didn’t have the magic of being the first time.  Perhaps I’ll jump in the cockpit again if I can get my TIE fight collector’s edition to run on Windows 7.  I’d play X-Wing, but someone, long, long ago in a lifetime far, far way borrowed it and never returned it.  I think I have the original floppies but no drive to play them.

I know many people have said it recently, but I’ll miss Lucasarts even though they’ve been gone a long, long time.

Permanent link to this article: