Archives for April 2016

The Friends of Nintendo Humble Bundle

The Friends of Nintendo Humble Bundle is currently available, offering a number of Nintendo Wii U and 3DS games.

I could be mistaken, but as far as I can remember, this is the first time Nintendo games have been available as part of a Humble Bundle. And it’s a great deal — 13 bucks gets you everything, including Street Fighter IV for the 3DS and Darksiders 2 for the Wii U.

Sifting the Chaff: Paradox and the Next Generation

Paradox Development Studio is coming at us on two fronts. They’re flanking us!

The most immediate approach is Stellaris, their intergalactic grand strategy game – due out May 9 and is now available for pre-order. I’ve been skimming the dev diaries and youtube videos, and am generating marginal-to-lukewarm interest. Paradox will be implementing some very interesting ideas about the structure of every playthrough, but overall what I am seeing doesn’t really blow my skirt up. (In fact, if to the stars we must go, I’m actually leaning towards taking the Distant Worlds:Universe route.)

However, I will be following very closely the game’s reception upon release. Scrutinizing, even. (There is an overarching purpose for this course of action which I shall explain later.) What I will be looking for is this: How complete is Stellaris? By saying ‘complete’, I do not speak of game-stopping bugs or graphical spasms. I want to know how fulfilling is the gameplay? Does it seem like there are voids that future DLCs will gladly and conveniently fill? How will the UI – admittedly not Paradox’s strongpoint – withstand the use and abuse of a broader gaming populace? In other words: How sound will Stellaris be and how badly will players bounce off of it?

The future of the company requires that Stellaris be rock solid. Not only is the hype through the frigging roof, but now that Stellaris is available for pre-purchase, if there is anything less than smooth-sailing the backlash will be severe and demoralizing. Bitter nay-sayers will pistolwhip Paradox, citing the company’s history of ugly new releases and will identify the mountains – and hundreds of dollars worth – of DLCs that are available for Europa Universalis 4 and Crusader Kings 2, claiming (somewhat erroneously, though not completely) that each expansion is just another patch job that gamers should not have had to pay for. The peasant rabble will swell and be foolish to ignore.

But let us have hope. The company has grown and matured these last few years. And, at least in respect to the condition of newly-released games, matters have improved since the days of yore. EU4 and CK2 were, for the most part, able to stand on their own two feet. Let us hope that Paradox has learned from history as they plan to move forward…

Indeed. The time has come for the company to pass the torch. Stellaris is one of the newcomers. It is garnering tremendous attention. Message board and comment sections are buzzing.The hype train is real. Paradox seems to be capitalizing on the fact that this game breaks the traditional Paradoxian mold. The marketing has been tasteful… and fun! Space aliens and pew-pews have a broader acceptance compared to hard historical settings. And now, in this, the new generation, it looks like Paradox will have both.

Which brings us to the discussion of the second – more important – newcomer: Hearts of Iron 4.

Where Stellaris looks to the stars and is dictated by scope, campaign structure and a dash of RNG, Hearts of Iron is very much grounded, very much logistically detailed, and very much akin to the mold of a Paradox game.

The Hearts of Iron series – three titles in all, each with varying number of expansions – is known for being notoriously complex, dense, and difficult for newcomers to take on. Despite this, the framework for the games is interesting. They operate in the narrow window of time that leads up to and plays out through World War 2. Conquest isn’t always the goal. Because the time frame is so short and the details are so concise, objectives can take on a more ahistorical flavor. Knowing that a world war will break out, the player can build a campaign around this determination.

Hearts of Iron 4 looks to intend to follow this same formula but with a greater emphasis in streamlining the in-game logistics. I’d say ‘simplify’ but that would send tremors down the spines of veteran players. But it kind of looks like this is what Paradox is doing: Cutting the crap and interconnecting many of the mechanics. The process has been a slow and deliberate one. HoI4 doesn’t have the luxury that Stellaris currently has; It can’t get too wieldy with (re)defining itself.

And come June 6, the game will have all sorts of players shoring up, with many others reconnoitering from perhaps their empires in Stellaris.

That’s the rub: How do you gently onboard new players to this game with a reputation without turning your back to the veteran players of the franchise?

There has already been talk of streamlining and creating, essentially, mutually exclusive military profiles. This method seeks to focus the player’s attention to certain aspect of the game and not just throwing a wall-of-game at him. Another way to onboard new players has been put in effect already. Paradox sponsored a 3-part video series at the Extra Credits youtube channel. This series gives an overview of the economic and industrial factors behind WW2. It is a great attempt to, at the very least, orient new players to the historical goings-on that are at the foundation of Hearts of Iron 4.

But to veterans of the HoI series, the historical goings-on of WW2 is old news. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. Because of this, there’s a good chance that many of them will chafe against all this talk of streamlining, favoring the wall-of-game of previous HoI iterations. So, to ease the low-level player rumble, Paradox, sticking to a proven game design model, is basically coding the game to easily facilitate modding. Paradox is leaving the game wide open and is practically daring modders to have at it. Nary a ten minutes will pass in the preview/gameplay Twitch VODs when a commentator will make an observation or answer a question from chat and respond with, “I’m sure someone will mod that in”.

Whoever that ‘someone’ is could be someone who has followed the Hearts of Iron series from the very beginning or it could be someone who is new to the Paradox fold, perhaps even drawn in by Stellaris. And that is exactly what has me so excited: To see just what can materialize when this motley crew of players coalesces upon Hearts of Iron…

And that is exactly why the initial release of Stellaris needs to be a smooth one. The next phase of Paradox is hinged on this. It’ll be interesting to see how many of the newcomers from Stellaris also make the leap into HoI4. Even more so, how many of these actually stick around. Hearts of Iron 4 has the potential of not only being a great game with a diverse player set who may or may not mod the shit out of it, but it also provides many philosophical and theoretical platforms to explore – And that, in and of itself, is reason enough to stick around.

Paradox is taking a rather aggressive stance with flanking us with two strategy games that are nearly polar opposite. But I see it as quite an adroit maneuver: reap a huge audience with Stellaris and let Hearts of Iron 4 sift out the chaff, so that a new player base, tempered by wisdom yet eager to move forward, may carry the company into this next generation.

Weekend Gaming – Victoria 2

I can’t stop thinking about Victoria 2. I can’t. I just can’t. The game is just so interesting and logically constructed! Part of the joy in this game is figuring out how all the systems work and work together, and I learn so much with every passing campaign.

So, check it out:

My first campaign was as the U.S. I clicked on a few things here and there and was then promptly overwhelmed. After which I abandoned ship.

My next attempt was as Belgium. It is smaller and a little more manageable. I clicked a few more things here and there and gained a rudimentary understanding of just what the devil I was actually doing.

Like a Sir

Like a Sir

Next, I gave another shot at playing the USA because, you know… ‘Murica. Acting from what I learned as playing Belgium, I set off to create a solid infrastructure through my own resources as well as tapping into the global economy – easily one of my favorite aspects of the game. It was during this campaign that I learned the intricacies of influencing the political leanings of the populace. My people never really seemed to recover from the civil war and rebels were popping up everywhere all the time. And that, as they say, was that. Campaign = Over.

Learning what I learned. With what little wisdom I had firmly in my pocket, I gave Italy a shot. Technically, started off as Two Sicilies but with the intention of forming Italy. I learned about quick ways to rise to Great Power status and what is available once you attain that position. Not to mention, I also drank from the bitter cup and experienced what happens when you are surpassed by another rising nation (JAPAN!) and are pushed back to Secondary Power status – of which includes the inability to FORM ITALY!

Forgive me if this post reads like a dry history lesson, but it is hard for me to contain my enthusiasm for how Victoria 2 is framed and constructed. The game operates within a relatively narrow window of history (the Hearts of Iron franchise has Vicky2 beat. More on this in a later post) and it seems like more opportunities arise in closer succession. This is because the world between 1835-1935 was in fact a time of change and of opportunity. The world was becoming more global. As a player, I take a step back to see how that works. And I see that that is really cool!

This weekend, I reckon I shall give another shot at playing a secondary power with the intent of unification in some manner.

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Awesome News is Awesome: Hand of Fate 2 is Happening

Gaming news has not really been part of the regularly scheduled programming here at ButtonMashing – or, for that matter, neither has regularly scheduled programming.

But this news is too great to pass up.

Defiant Development recently announced the existence of Hand of Fate 2, sequel to their 2015 deckbuilding-RPGish-brawler hybrid. It is projected to be released around this time next year. Details are scarce at this point, but what is known sounds very, very promising.

Destructoid speaks of things like new weapon types, an improved success-fail card draw sequence, new opportunities and limitations in deck building, companion warriors.

Kotaku was privy to a few more juicy details. Here we read about a greater emphasis in varied deck building, as opposed to min-maxing your way to the top. Defiant plans to address the brawl sequences hoping to make them far less buttonmashy as the first game’s – as they, admittedly, can tend to be. Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo, in speaking of game director Morgan Jaffit, explains: “The impression Jaffit gave about the game is one of improvement rather than reinvention.”

Further investigation shows that Defiant are focused on the right things.

Indeed. Both of the above links, in varying degree, touch upon an improvement that I am most excited for. As a primer to this, I draw your attention to the trailer below.

Yes. The Dealer is back from the abyss from whence you’ve banished him. Half a scared face is evidence of his determination – “… to this mortal realm,” he spats. The table has changed as has the setting. Whereas before, the two of you sat inside a grand hall, light failing to reach the distances of the corridors that surround the table. Now, the setting is a little more cozy, perhaps as humble re-start to the dealer’s efforts of flaunting life & death. I mused in a previous post about the dealer’s steely eyes looking into mine, how mine compared to the others who have sat in this player’s chair. Now, it seems the player may have the upperhand; we may gaze into his eyes and see glares of defeat, of spite, of vengeance.

Hand of Fate’s presentation is remarkable. The setting. The dealer. The music. It is a mysterious place I loved being inside. The themes of games, life, death, and power permeate in nearly everything you do, punctuated by the dealer’s own quips and criticisms – if he is not directly dealing you cards or handing off tokens, he is in the shadows spectating your every move. Hand of Fate operates on different planes of reference, some more obvious than others, all of which may or may not cycle through each other. There is an undeniable presence of mysticism. And then there are the fundamental questions such as: Who exactly is this dealer? What was that vortex that swallowed him up at the end game? Why does he spite this mortal realm so? Is he a slave to it or the fabricator? Or both? What exactly is at stake?

Who is the dealer? What is that vortex? And where is the Vortex leading to?

Who is the dealer? What is that vortex? And where is the Vortex leading to?

Plus, I would be absolutely remiss if I do not mention the fantastic compositions of Jeff van Dyck. The music is a primary element to the setting of Hand of Fate. Tracks can elicit sensations of contemplation, thoughtfulness, foreboding, wonder, determination. The music works in fluid harmony with the rest of the game, enhancing the situation through atmosphere or a driving tempo, and never overextends itself.

All these things considered, the game is a compelling experience in that there could be so much more under the surface, in the shadows, in the words left unspoken..

… Or not.

And that uncertainty is, at least in my head, utterly intoxicating.

Unfortunately, the journey that the player takes in Hand of Fate does little for the game’s setting. Though there are distinct storylines buried in the cards, each with its own affects and rewards, there is a definite lack of cohesion between these stories and the one-off situations that may be drawn.

The improvement mentioned, in varying degrees, in the Kotaku and Destructoid links that has me most excited is the proposal of quests and storylines. There seems to be planned a more call-and-response approach to the player’s actions and decisions, instead of the player just hopping from one downturned card to another. Totilo explains, “… Defiant Development can tie the different possible outcomes of those battles to different branches of a mission.”

The cards of Hand of Fate 2 may have that longed-for cohesiveness in line with the mysteries of the game’s tiered setting. Each card may a vignette that could either answer some of these essential questions listed above, or, more preferably, enlarge the cloud of mystery – to answer a question with a question.

I could very well be flying off the rails with all this pondering. Again, as stated above, there could be more to this mystical setting or there could very well be not. But, Jaffit explained something to Kotaku that I find tremendous comfort in. When speaking of intended improvements, Jaffit gives an example whose implications tell me that Defiant’s thinking is on the right level.

Some of Jaffit’s ideas for changes are charmingly specific. It bugged him, for example, that players of the first game could buy cards in the stores that they could encounter from turning over a shop card while playing through a deck. “The shop system is wrong,” he said, “not that anyone has called on it.” Since the game showed the player’s character walking into the shop, players were essentially seeing something from the card level come to virtual life, as they did the cards that spawned real-time battles. By that logic, he lamented, there shouldn’t be cards within the shops. There should be rendered items that the cards would have represented. “It’s the wrong philosophical layer of abstraction and it actually bugs the crap out of me.” It sounds like he’s going to address that with his team in the sequel.

This is not a ‘charmingly’ specific attention to detail. I perceive much more gravitas to this example than it being merely charming. It shows that Defiant see the necessity of creating a multi-layered setting with stronger, more convincing continuity. And I can only hope that this line of thought extends out to the quests and storylines.

April Releases

April marks the release of the HTC Vive, the Valve VR experience. There are a couple other big titles, including Quantum Break and Dark Souls III, so this month is shaping up to be a decent month of games. With that said, on to this month’s releases:

Xbox One

Week of April 5th
Star Wars Battlefront Outer Rim
Fallout 4: Automatron
Quantum Break
RBI Baseball 2016 – I haven’t followed baseball closely for a few years now, so I don’t know which Boston Redsox player is featured as this year’s cover athlete, but it sure looks like he’s REAL excited about diving for the ball!
DiRT Rally

Week of April 12th
Dark Souls III

Week of April 26th
Tales from the Borderlands
Lichdom: Battlemage


Week of April 19th
StarFox Zero


Week of April 12th
Bravely Second: End Layer

Week of April 19th
Langrisser Re: Incarnation – Tensei

Week of April 26th
Pokemon Rumble World
SEGA 3D Classics Collection – I know this whole “SEGA games on Nintendo systems” thing has been going on for quite a while now, but 14 year-old me would be very disappointed to see Sonic on a Nintendo. (That being said, I’d be perfectly happy with Altered Beast)


(**Editor’s Note: There are a TON of games coming out at the beginning of April on Steam, mostly VR games. I didn’t think that every game deserved a link, but if you have new VR Kit and you’re wanting to get some games, there possibilities are numerous)

Week of April 5th
Gunjack
Enter the Gungeon – (Guns are apparently a thing this month)
Outrage
Until I Have You
Fortify
Glitchrunners
Silver Bullet: Prometheus
The Fifth Expedition

Week of April 12th
DARK SOULS III
Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan
Secrets of Deep Earth Shrine

Week of April 19th
The Banner Saga 2
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
Wayward
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada

Week of April 26th
Pavilion – If looks were all that counted, this would be a 2016 GotY contender.
Cubium Dreams
Elite vs. Freedom


PS4 Banner

Week of April 5th
Ether One
DiRT Rally
RBI Baseball 2016

Week of April 12th
Ratchet & Clank
Dark Souls III

Week of April 19th
Zombie Vikings
Lichdom: Battlemage

Week of April 26th
Tales from the Borderlands


Week of April 5th
Assassin’s Creed Chronicles

Week of April 26th
Stranger of Sword City

What are you picking up this month?
(Note: As always, all Amazon.com links have our affiliate code embedded in them. If you purchase something through our link, we get a little commission. It’s appreciated.)