Weekend Gaming: Minecraft, Dota, Zelda

My kids love the food court at the mall near our home. They love it because the food places have an employee out on the main floor passing out samples. That’s right, my kids are those greedy kids that pester the workers, and I am that parent that allows them to do it. So, while I am waiting in line at a particular food establishment my kids are making the rounds, sometimes completing two circuits before I even have a tray of food.

Recently, and continuing onwards into this weekend, my gaming routine is similar to my kids’ activities in the food court. Instead of investing my attention to a single title I’m just circling around, nibbling at several games that bare no relation to each other in genre or system… And am totally satisfied with the nourishment this brings. The current games in my circuit (beginning from oldest to most recent):

I continue to slowly build and explore my Minecraft seed. I established myself in a Plains biome, building into and atop this weird single mound right in the middle of a field. Adjacent are extreme hills to the south, extreme hills to the north, dark forest to the northeast, and there’s a massive swamp somewhere west-ish. I would give my left arm for a desert; I need Cactuscactus for cyan dye – oh man cyan is so pretty. Had I known better at the very beginning, before even creating this world that now has many hours invested into it, I would have made a 1.7.10 version instead so I can install some mods. At that, I just need to keep a close eye out on a few specific ones to be updated for 1.8. NEI is an absolute mess right now; don’t bother with it.

Moving onto the next station… Outland is platformer/jumper, and the PC port of it doesn’t suck. I played the demo on the PS3, loved it, and was crazy stoked with it came to Steam and went on sale. Awesome music. Snappy gameplay. I kind of wish the player would be rewarded more for enacting fancy fighting maneuvers, but I’m just being foppish. Whatever. You don’t know me.

Next station… The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I gave my 3DS some TLC. The decision to boot up Zelda was impulsive. I’m slowly warming up to the game. The 2D puzzle mechanic is fun, though sometimes I feel that the top-down view works against it. It’s been fun to re-live the giddy excitement of toting the 3DS around and getting StreetPasses.

Jason Buttonmasher and I began a new Anno 2070 co-op campaign. Rather, he invited me to participate in his campaign where I get sloppy with building placement and he steals all my tools. All the underlings on his island are wroth because I am not producing a sufficient quantity of tea. Meanwhile, I take all of his copper so the super-beings on my island can have PDAs. This is supposed to be a cooperative venture, right?

And speaking of cooperation: Sire, Tony Buttonmasher will be home for the weekend, taking some much needed R&R from a rather rigorous work assignment out of town. It goes without saying, the dude is foaming at the mouth for some DOTA. I may pencil in some time to play alongside he and his Juggernaut – because I am so indispensable.

Pray tell, what are you playing this weekend?

Unsolicited Mental Objects #6

Tony: So the “sequel” to Terraria was announced recently and the Terrarian in me got super excited. I recently started playing Terraria again and even picked up the Xbox Live Arcade version of it so my boys could enjoy it. I don’t think they’d admit it, but I think they might like it more than they like Minecraft. And they kinda love Minecraft. That affection could be described as “effusive”.

I love Terraria, too. I love that while it’s open-ended and sandbox-y, it has goals and “end points”. I love the exploration aspect of the game and finding new little pockets of abandoned houses and caves filled with ore gets my gears going. So when I read about the Terraria: Otherworld announcement and watched the teaser trailer, I was a little unsettled about this next chapter in Terraria.

See, while Terraria does have those previously mentioned “end points” (be they bosses or descending to The Underworld) those are completely arbitrary. Sometimes world events, like the attack of the Goblin Army, are unavoidable. But other times, it’s a conscious choice to summon the Eye of Cthulhu or the Eater of Worlds. Defeating these bosses doesn’t result in Saving The World. To me, that’s not what Terraria is about. Defeating them gets you a huge pile of loot so you can craft bigger and better swords and guns so you can summon them again, rinse and repeat.

So this new Terraria, with it’s theme of “saving the world” troubles me. I don’t like the idea of having an end point. I just want to do some exploration, mine some ore and maybe fight some big bad bosses. I’m just a simple guy with an iron pickaxe. I’m not a hero.

Nick: Sunless Sea bummed me out. Either my expectations were too high or the gameplay turned out to be a flop – or both – but, man, I don’t have it in me to continue. After 10-ish hours of game time, a pit formed in my belly whenever I thought of playing more, which sucks because on paper Sunless Sea has much going for it.

Part of this state of mind may stem from a personal aversion to text-heavy, story games. I’ve always been under the impression that if I wanted a good story I would read a book. Reading an abundance of text on a self-illuminating screen jars my concentration. Call me old fashioned, but it is what it is.

But, I was willing to make an exception with the text-heavy Sunless Sea. When researching the game prior to purchase I found the setting very appealing. I was engaged by the emphasis on exploration. Developer Alexis Kennedy quoted Joseph Conrad in a blog post on Gamasutra, which, in a small way, was a huge selling point for me. I also took heart to the promise that Early Access purchasers would acquire future DLC for free – of which, the game’s Kickstarter total has sealed the deal on at least one of them, a submersible to use to explore the depths of this Sunless Sea.

And so, for the first few hours I truly was engaged. Perhaps a little miffed I could not increase the size of the text, which makes zero (0) sense to me in a game whose main interaction with the gamer involves reading. I chose to not dwell on this and continued to plod along. I like the mechanic of captains passing down attributes to proceeding captains. I like that sea stories are a form of currency; this helps reaffirm the game’s themes of loneliness and longing.

But you know what I, player of Sunless Sea, longed for after a while? Some actual hint of gameplay.

My problem is not that the game moves slowly. My main issue is that this fictional world doesn’t evolve, which makes the game feel like that much more of a pointless, slow grind.

Upon the death of your captain, the fog of war floods the map once again and you must start afresh with a new captain. Only now, the game takes the islands and landmarks of the sunless sea and shifts them around. Should you embark and come across a familiar island from the previous captain the story of that island stays the same; the player is still clicking through the same narrative branches. This is unrewarding of the taxing efforts needed to get to these locations in the first place.

I’d like to see more life out there on the sea other than myself, monster and pirates. I want dynamic opportunities to intercept ships, besiege pirate strongholds, use the vertical canals to go to the surface, conspire in more detail with factions of islands, confirm whether this or that sea story is fact or myth. I want this stuff to happen sooner. The player can be the bridge between these solitary islands and their stories. To cast a beams of hope in a dank and dismal world (which, BTW, can be better presented. People are going all goo-goo-ga-ga over the atmosphere of Sunless Sea. I dunno, maybe I’m just being picky, but I think there is more to atmosphere than the sound of water drops processed with tons of reverb). But right now – and I may give the game another go – I am just another wayfarer locked up in my own mind and stuck on a ship with other crazies.

Jason: I’ll warn you right now, this UMO is filled with #firstworldproblems.

I recently took a plunge and ended up replacing the GPU on my machine.  I moved from an AMD Radeon 5770 up to a NVidia GTX 960. While I’m super pleased with the results a little part of me was let down.  The jump in framerate is really notable.  I’m pulling around 60fps on ultra settings for all of the games I play.

Something was off though.  I noticed that I definitely wasn’t as excited as I was when swapped my 2008 macbook for my custom built PC. The graphical leap there was REALLY notable whereas the jump here was slightly less huge.

That made me realize that this wasn’t a problem with the card, this was a problem with the games I play.  Going through my currently playing steam list I’ve got no games newer than 2-3 years old and most of them are not designed to be graphically intense.

So this week will be filled with me sampling the action filled, super pretty games that I keep avoiding to play MOBAs.  Bioshock Infinite, Batman Arkham (Fill in the Blank), and Endless Legend here I come!  Hopefully that’ll help me appreciate what I’ve got.

 

Nick’s 2014 Game of the Year: Hearthstone colon something about WOW

I am initiating this post in the heat of the moment. Yes. Fury percolates my blood right now. My eyes are twitching just as feverishly as my hands. I am yammering out loud.

I am am am am am am in a state of extreme agitation because I just lost four matches in a row in Hearthstone. Which is, in all honesty, nothing new. Losing streaks happen. But these were sloppy losses, achieved by playing stupidly. Each of the matches at one point were tilted ever so slightly in my favor. But then one critical misplay on my part ultimately led to an embarrassing, enraging demise. I should have walked away after the third loss, but I was stubborn and went back for one more match. After that defeat I was furious; I backhanded my can of Diet Coke from off the desk and sent it flying into the next room. This string of losses seems to sting more than the others.

HSCover

And so, in this state of mind – this state of what I shall call ‘rabid lucidity’ – I am hereby declaring Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft to be my 2014 Game of the Year. Because I can! Because not doing so would be exactly what this stupid game would want! I have the upperhand, fool! Indeed. The fire which doth burn before mine eyes brings forth a clarity of understanding, a recognition of why this game stands apart from all the others I have played this year.

I still hate Hearthstone so much right now…

But there are times when I feel contrary to this, times when I hoot & holler with surprise & delight. There was that one time when, as a Shaman, I danced around two opposing legendaries for three turns, slipped through the cracks with a Spellbreaker and pulled off a miraculous, windfuried victory. I was so giddy I had to go for a walk, grinning from ear to ear the entire time, chuckling to myself, delighted at the flood of endorphins that unleashed as I watched the Paladin’s portrait explode. And hopefully that haughty Paladin had to go walk off the percolating fury in his blood after that loss, just as I may or may not have had to do an undisclosed number of times.

Indeed, no other game this year had me groveling and soaring as much as Hearthstone. It’s like being in a high school relationship all over again. Sometimes I swear that we are meant to be together forever; Other times, out of spite, I don’t even answer the phone. I have torn down Hearthstone desktop wallpapers so fast it would make your head spin.

Hearthstone has exclusively solicited other kinds of behaviors, which is the main criteria that I am using to declare this as my GOTY. (I’ve calmed down now, BTW.)

No other game had me talking out loud while playing. While Hearthstone certainly can churn emotions, its simplicity as a CCG and its unrepentant RNG-mongering keeps me on my toes. And the best way to keep from slipping into analysis paralysis each 90-second turn is to converse to myself about strategies and risk assessment. The extra step of vocalizing keeps me focused. Even if I’m tapping away on the iPad while laying in bed, and even after the elbow jabs from my wife.

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

No other game was as methodically played. Meaning, this goes beyond ingame activity. I make sure munchies are within reach. I have tunes in queue to match my mood and at the ready to be changed on a whim. Music level and game sounds level need to be perfectly mixed and are futzed with constantly. My head needs to be covered, preferably with a drawn hoodie. I need a ‘nerves toy’ to fidget with while I wait for my turn – a deck of cards to endlessly shuffle or one of my kids’ slap bracelets.

No other game has as many logged hours this year as Hearthstone. Granted, I don’t know for sure exactly how many but I am guessing it to be somewhere in the range of one and infinity. And because the game is available on iOS it’s easy to sneak away with the iPad at a family holiday function and play a match or two. Either on iOS or Windows, I rarely have matches go longer than 10 minutes. There’s always gold to be earned, booster packs to buy. Sometimes I don’t feel like building and experimenting with a deck. Sometimes I don’t feel like playing Hearthstone at all. Contrary to a grand strategy campaign or story-heavy games, you can walk away from Hearthstone for a week or more and then be able to pick right back up – there’s always other players in queue. This is one of the reasons I enjoy staying within range 22-15 of ranked play; the opposing decks are never the same, always a mishmashing hodge podge. It’s fun playing below the meta threshold. Always fun enough to keep me coming back sometimes after sometimes.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

And finally, no other game was quoted so often by my family. There was a short while during the end of last summer where this was a thing. It was memorable and fun. In Hearthstone, soundbytes accompany every card placement and movement. If the card is a minion the soundbyte is some form of vocalization. And if something involves vocalization my kids are all over it. This mimicry was mindfully executed. Say, if I was arriving home after being gone all day Mitchell would shriek “Gimmie a big hug!” ala Leper Gnome. “Follow de rules” ala Aldor Peacekeeper was a parental favorite, though it didn’t always work – in fact, it rarely worked, but it was certainly fun to hope.

Hearthstone was, and continues to be, a game that always seems to be so near, even if I am on a self-imposed ‘break’ from it. Despite its simplicity as a CCG, Hearthstone still feels like a complete package. Its snappy response and interactive board are just as critical to its success as the swift match-ups and evolving playing field. The game is constructed in a way that the player still has room to ease into the hot seat; thus, cultivating a mutually beneficial relationship. This post would not exist otherwise.

And so, here’s to another year of facepalms and jubilee, backhanded Diet Coke cans and awkwardly-quoted Paladin cards. “Boys! Look who it ’tis!” Indeed, dear Innkeeper. Glad to be back.

Weekend Gaming : Minecraft, Something Else (But Probably Not)

I have never ever, ever, ever, ever, in a hundred thousand million years ever thought I would get into Minecraft. Looking in from the outside, what I saw didn’t look interesting. This disinterest continued even after some hands-on time with the PS3 edition Santa recently delivered to my 7-year old son. It was fun to share this world with my progeny, neat-o to explore it, but it was an activity I did mostly out of love and support for my kid than actual enthusiasm for the game.

Then I discovered Redstone.
MIB

Redstone has completely reoriented my perception of Minecraft. And this is exciting, not just as it pertains to the game, but conceptually. I am engaged by the fact that a single aspect of a game, no longer clouded by my ignorance, gives a novel dimension to the bigger picture, generates new ideas and approaches. Oh man… Son, this is a philosophical rabbit hole I am not prepared nor smart enough to jump in. In what other games has this happened?

So, I discover and get all ramped about redstone. I try to explain circuits and logic gates to my boy. He brushed off my enthusiasm as if it were dorrito crumbs and went back to shearing sheep to facilitate the production of his purple carpet (Sure, dude, go ahead and use all the Lapis Lazuli I mined with the sweat of my brow). Later that night, after he went to bed, I logged back in and, like some amateur alchemist in way over his head, began tinkering with this magical red powder. Fascinating.

Long story short, Mitchell was severely displeased with the changes I made to his world: “It’s my game, and you played without me?” Point taken. Go back to making your carpet. Rookie.

However, I was allowed to dabble just enough that I am ready to begin my own world. Without him! I don’t need him or his carpet (yes, I do). I am considering taking this one step further and purchasing a copy for the PC. The modding possibilities alone have me just as giddy as redstone. It would be a survival world; I am more interested in making rickety, practical contraptions for home defense than in building majestic stone palaces from infinite resources. We’ll see how it goes.

What are you playing this weekend?

(And thanks for visiting ButtonMashing. We are in the process of tweaking the layout of the site and working on some new content. Because we care.)

Unsolicited Mental Objects, Week of 11/9

Nick:
BLIZZCON! BLIZZCON! BLIZZCON! (Shouted to the tune of a monster truck rally)

Blizzard’s dog-and-pony took place this past weekend. There was much news and enticing reveals. Really, the only area of interest for me was any and all information about the upcoming Hearthstone expansion Goblins Vs. Gnomes, and more specifically a preview into some of the new cards. I am enough of a filthy casual to not absolutely need these cards; I still have many holes in my collection as it stands (Defender of Argus plz). But I was curious enough and aware of the meta enough to anticipate what Blizzard is cooking up. And what exactly are they cooking up? More RNG, that’s what.

Some of these cards are absolutely nuts on the randomness! PC Gamer posted 37 of these new cards, and I’m wondering (hoping, perhaps) if these cards are some of the more extreme cases. For example: Enhance-o Mechano, a 4 mana 3/2 minion whose Battlecry is (you ready for this?) Give your other minions Windfury, Taunt, or Divine Shield (at random). I don’t know if I laugh because of genuine giddiness or irony. This is one of the more extreme samples but other cards share in a lesser degree of this menagerie of functions.

I’m still not sure how to all the way feel about this. In a great interview with Blizzard senior producer Yong Woo, he says that this increased randomness is designed to heighten a player’s emotional amplitude and to mix up the meta. This is all well and good, but perhaps ultimately not for me. All this extra randomness, all this zaniness… I will be all about it at first. The new cards will help revive some of my lesser-used ones, find a new synthesis for them. Indeed. People are going to be constructing all kinds of creative and whacko decks. I just fear that overtime the Goblins Vs. Gnomes will (to steal from Mitch Hedberg) be like pancakes: You’re all excited at first but by the end you’re f#*@in sick of ‘em. All this RNG just sounds too dang slippery for me. I’m still up in the air about it. But we’ve also only seen, what, only 20-ish% of the new cards. I’ll bet there will be some sexy new silence cards somewhere there.

Tony:
I am old. I remember stand-up arcade games like Zaxxon, Elevator Action and Joust. My kids do not. They have been raised on Minecraft, 3DSes and Wii-U’s. Is a history lesson necessary? I would like them to understand where games have come from and appreciate what they have now. So, thanks to the Internet Archive, I can let them play (read: suffer) through some old-school classics. I give you The Internet Arcade:

The Internet Arcade is a web-based library of arcade (coin-operated) video games from the 1970s through to the 1990s, emulated in JSMAME, part of the JSMESS software package. Containing hundreds of games ranging through many different genres and styles, the Arcade provides research, comparison, and entertainment in the realm of the Video Game Arcade.

The game collection ranges from early “bronze-age” videogames, with black and white screens and simple sounds, through to large-scale games containing digitized voices, images and music. Most games are playable in some form, although some are useful more for verification of behavior or programming due to the intensity and requirements of their systems.

The Internet Arcade can even detect and use a gamepad. Some of the games I played around with are a bit sluggish and clunky to control, but it was a fun little trip down nostalgia lane. I don’t think the kids were impressed.

James:
I’ve only played a few matches of Dota 2 so far this week. Both of the matches I played were a landslide victory with the first matches having the other team rage quit. A rage-quit win can be satisfying, but the best is when you can dominate a team without any extra handicaps. This is where the second match comes in: EPIC WIN!

I really enjoy playing Centaur Warrunner because he has some really great burst damage with an area of effect stun and his ultimate can effect everyone on your team wherever they are. His ultimate allows all allies to run at a fast speed and they also gain the ability to run through enemies and in the process damage/slow them down. It is definitely a great ability when you notice someone trying to run away from an engagement that went bad or if you need to give a teammate a boost in speed to catch a retreating enemy.

I’m looking forward to playing some more Dota 2, possibly some Smite, StarCraft 2, or even Diablo 3 on Thursday night.

GAME ON!

Jason:
An unexpected arrival on my front porch turned my digital gaming experience this week into an analog one. Until recently Marvel Dice Masters, a dice based magic the gathering style game, had been unavailable to the masses due to a production shortage. They’ve recently released a second set to meet the demand and I couldn’t help picking it up.

It arrived on Monday and I couldn’t wait to rip it open of the box and play a few games against my wife. The gist: you work to acquire dice from a pool in the center of the table to build your arsenal of superheroes that attack, defend, and acquire more dice. It’s a great mix of luck and strategy and at less than 15 bucks it’s worth every penny. Amazon still has a few copies available.

The only downside is that it has roots in the CCG blind acquisition model. You buy booster packs that contain a random assortment of new dice and the heroes and villains that go with them. However, each booster comes in at a cool $.99. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw a game component sell for less than a dollar. It’s likely that I’ll pick up a good handful of them before all is said and done.

WizKids definitely knows what they’re doing.

Unsolicited Mental Objects, Week of 11/2

Unsolicited Mental Objects is a new feature we’re going to try out. The idea is pretty straight forward. Every Wednesday (except for today) the ButtonMashers who chose to participate will perform a brain dump concerning anything gaming related he or she has experienced during the previous week. These mental objects may comprise knee-jerk reactions to gaming news or reasons for abandoning a game’s campaign, analysis of a failed Dota match or musings about avatar creation. The goal is to be more actively aware during our gaming time and to present it in a way that is organic, engaging and current.

The overall idea being that these posts can be a seed-bed for discussion in the comments section and possible future ButtonMashing posts. Collaboration, if you will – Collaboration between readers and writers, and to possibly blur that line over time. Let’s roll…

JASON:
NoMOBAvember was going to be a thing. I had the hashtag lined up and the marketing practically wrote itself. I had grand visions of digging into my steam library and actually finishing two or maybe three whole games this month. I sold myself on the idea that MOBAs are drastically changing the way I interact with my entertainment choices and not always for the better.

It was going to be a time for reflection.

It was going to be a time to appreciate what I have and what I’ve been missing.

Oh look, it’s November 1st. It’s 10 o’clock in the morning. Crap, I’m playing Smite.

While it was a weak way to start my week I decided that I wouldn’t let it hinder my plans to get back into my steam library. I started by jumping back into Skyrim bent on playing a character who wasn’t a stealthy bowman.

It’s not been a fantastic experience so far. I’ve been trying to enhance my return to Tamriel by loading in mods only to have my gameplay mired in crashes, glitches, and slow loads. So I think I’m going to give up on that approach. Later this week I’m looking to jump into a fresh install with no mods and take it from there. After all, the base game is the one I fell in love with three years ago.

NICK:
Jason did indeed act on a ray of inspiration with NoMOBAvember. I embraced the idea but only because it was going to be no real challenge for me. I can stand on my ivory tower and glare down on everybody else. MOBAs haven’t really been on my menu lately. The last time I played Dota was the night several weeks ago when James and Tony kicked down my door and, before I knew it, usurped my dainty internet connection with their laptops. I relinquished, and the three of us sat in my dining room and played a few matches. Being physically in the same room like that was something we always talked about doing. Communication is much more effective. But screaming at my monitor at the two other guys on our team is still pretty useless.

But, yeah… NoMOBAvember continues to be a piece of cake for me. I too desire to dig into my Steam library and make the time for some of the more overlooked titles. This past week I played and enjoyed Gunpoint. I am currently romping around in Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers. This was a title I bought at 90% discount just days before this past Steam summer sale. I felt in my heart of hearts at the time that I would never get around to Tiny & Big; it would just get buried under everything else. But nay. I’m glad I started the game. It is a fun open-world puzzler with a quirky, silly vibe that reminds me of MDK. A breath of fresh air. And after Tiny & Big is complete I reckon I shall give Guacemelee a whirl.

As Jason said, part of the intent of NoMOBAvember is to appreciate what I have been missing. I have 24 more days of treasure hunting my own Steam library. Ta-Ta!

JAMES:
No NoMOBAvember for me!!!! Nah Nah!

I’m still playing Dota 2 and Smite as my main choices of gaming. If I am not playing and have a moment, I tend to stream some Dota 2 on my phone or tablet through a Twitch app. I’ve been meaning to get back to some Vita game time – finish off the Uncharted game I have for it or play some more Dragon’s Crown, but I just haven’t gone back to it.

Be on the look out for a lengthy post about Dota 2. Dropping soon!

TONY:
I loved Jason’s idea for abstaining from MOBAs for a month, but I just can’t do it. Dota 2 is still my game of choice for many reasons, but right now my gaming time is constrained to the point that I have come to rely on a Dota match not exceeding an hour of time. This is huge.

I’m also doing things in Dota I’d never thought I’d do in a Free to Play game. I know there hangs a thread, which will be the topic of a future post. But Dota has grabbed me like no other game has in a LONG time. But I recognize I have so many other options. I will force myself to play something not-Dota this weekend.

(No) Limits: The Development of Limit Theory

The truth is that sincerity in art is not an affair of will, of a moral choice between honesty and dishonesty. It is mainly an affair of talent.

– Aldous Huxley

Josh Parnell is the sole creator/developer of the upcoming procedural universe realm Limit Theory, to be released sometime before 2015 is half concluded. Successfully Kickstarted, Parnell has been chugging away on the game now for nearly two years. And he is really on to something…

Part of his development routine this past year involves recording monthly dev updates and uploading them to his Youtube channel. These updates serve many functions. They are evidence of progression for that past month, which Parnell is almost skittish to provide to his backers, always hoping it is sufficient for them (which it always is). They are also a fascinating look into not only the evolution of the game but into Parnell’s thought processes as well. Each update provides the details, glimpses, modifications, restructurings of a game that is sure to be a work of art – and the most recent one is a whopper.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with LT, this latest update, update #20, is the perfect crash course. Update #20 includes two months worth of work (Parnell had to skip a September update) so naturally it is bursting with juicy details. Not only that but it is adopting a new format for presenting the game’s progress. As in previous updates, just about every angle is covered: Grahpics, UI philosophy, game theory, and, most importantly, the code.

Indeed. The code. The heart and soul – a term I am not using frivolously here – of Limit Theory is Parnell’s own Limit Theory Script Language (LTSL). Much of his efforts continue to be placed on perfecting this language and its utility. Now, I am not a programmer – my language ability takes on a more traditional function (although the structure of both code and written word can achieve similar effects of subtlety and beauty. A comparison that interests me greatly, and a possible ButtonMashing post later on). But in my ignorance I can still identify Parnell’s confidence in the motivations of creating LTSL, and of creating a procedurally generated universe game.

I can likewise sense and understand the trepidations of other Limit Theory followers. The main concern being this: Is there a game here? Parnell’s intense focus on LTSL is creating a fantastic and vast exoskeleton, one that will support easy modabilty. But, come release date, will there be anything of substance inside? I have pondered, and hoped against, the possibility of Parnell burning himself out on LTSL and then being forced to cobble together some form of rickety gameplay. This concern is legitimate and sound…

…But also incredibly short-sighted.

I trust Parnell. I trust that he will deliver because he knows the risks. But he is confident in the code he is creating. His confidence, and mine in him, rests in the very name of his game. Limit Theory is a philosophy which adheres to overcoming just that: limits. Intellectual limits. As a developer, LTSL is his way of overcoming the limits of game creation and grasping on to the ideas that spark as a result. This is how the development of Limit Theory has felt organic, personal and compelling. Parnell is riding high on the freedoms his work has created.

And his enthusiasm is contagious! I want to see just what I can do, what self-imposed limits I can overcome. I trust that the gameplay will mirror its own development in that same sense of freedom, space and creativity – a sort of call and response to a randomly generated virtual universe.

As can be gleaned from update #20, the technical foundations of Limit Theory are now fairly secure. Now is when the floodgates burst open. “Everything in time… as always,” he says. Now Parnell can focus his efforts on the creation of a game. No. Not merely a game. Something… higher…

Weekend Gaming: Reus, Crusader Kings 2

Amongst other activities which I have going on this weekend one of the highlights is that I will be sans family Saturday night into Sunday afternoon. And though I will miss them ever so dearly (yes, yes, of course) I am anxious – nay, revel – in the opportunity to be a bachelor even if it is just for one 18-hour period. There was a time some years ago when I would have made plans to use this time to go be, yknow, social, or looked up to see what bands are playing live in various watering holes around town. But I am old and fat now, and the motivation to do any of these things is equivalent to that of zero (0). Instead, I shall take advantage of being childless, having zero (0) expectation of being woken up early Sunday, and stay up until one million o’clock playing video games.

Two games are currently occupying my thoughts. Their genres are very befitting for my intention of playing for the long haul this weekend. Or, at the very least, the time enough to become actively engaged in a campaign that will carry on after Sunday.

Out from left field, the first is the God/Sim game Reus. I picked this up during the Steam Summer Sale of ’14. I’ve dabbled in it here and there since then, earned some achievements, unlocked additional resources, learned the ropes. The ‘ropes’ in Reus are many, and they crisscross and thatch and weave.Reus Reus doesn’t have a learning curve so much as the new player has a sort of… methodology curve. The other day I was studying the game’s wiki when my wife happened into the room, glanced over my shoulder at the screen and ultimately declared: “That looks like homework. Why would you want to play a game where you have to look stuff up like that? (No you’re not getting a second monitor…)” I asked myself the same thing. Reus at times does make me feel a bit stressed; there are always so many things to consider, so many well-balanced ecosystems at stake. But a weird ember of logical masochism deep inside me keeps me from turning my back on the game altogether. Mostly this is because I recognize that the game has a very, very cool concept at its foundation and, despite my struggles, it presents that concept well. Part of my weekend gaming activities is to fan this ember by honing my own methodology for achieving objectives in Reus.

The other game is a more familiar one but with some new branches of DLC I have yet to explore. Just around the time that I was finishing up the Iron Fisticle review I was feeling a hankering for some Crusader Kings 2. And then, as if reading my thoughts, Steam rolls out a weekend sale. Between Oct. 2 and Oct. 6 Crusader Kings 2 and the rest of the Paradox Publisher catalog is heavily discounted. Heavily discounted. Like, whoa, kind of discounted. Various bundles are now available and game collections are updated. For CK2 I picked up the Rajas of India expansion and a few character portrait DLCs. So, it is safe to assume that my weekend gaming regimen will include some medieval duplicity and zealotry.

It is worth noting for anyone equipped and interested that Crusader Kings 2 is free to play all weekend. The game is a refreshing departure from the standard top-down map domination strategy game. It takes strategy, yes, but if you can incorporate just a tiny bit of imagination – just a titch of role-playing – the game will wisk you away. Such crusades. Very Dynasties. Wow.

What are you playing this weekend?

Iron Fisticle, review of.

Iron Fisticle asks the question ‘How well can you keep it together with your back against the wall?’ Developed by Confused Pelican this game is a dual-stick top-down carnage fest whose gameplay and visual style hearkens back to the glory days of blowing two weeks’ worth of allowance money in a single afternoon at the video arcade. It is claustrophobic, tense, bombastic, and worthy of a critical look. Button Mashing turns the table and now asks the question: How well can Iron Fisticle keep it together with its back against the wall?

Mechanically, the game is straight forward and familiar. The player controls an armored knight and uses his default battle axe and other various weapon power-ups to carve his way through waves of ever-pursuing enemies, enduring and maneuvering through the levels of the game.

The level design, though modest, is deliberate. The game map consists of only four floors. Each floor contains battle chambers, increasing in total number with each higher floor, wherein the main carnage occurs. Each chamber is a single screen, no panning or roaming around, and has its own structural obstacles which can help or hinder your gameplay: make one false move and you will yelp with horror as you find yourself suddenly cornered; make one smart move and you will mow down your enemies without mercy. Between the patchwork of chambers are different types of connectors which host either a ‘bonus stage’ or a shop for power-ups or nothing at all and you just move right on to the next chamber.

Come at me, Bro!

Come at me, Bro!

Know this: Iron Fisticle is not a dungeon crawler. Exploration has no place here. Literally. There simply isn’t room for it. The arrangement of chambers is clustered instead of labyrinthine. Your end goal – the boss – is clearly labeled on the map of every floor. The game will even stymie your attempts to wander through each floor (no back tracking!) as if to flush you out into the presence of the floor’s boss. Chambers are not grand arenas nor do they house hidden nooks with super sweet loot. This choking sense of immediacy smothers out any need or desire or thought for exploration.

Iron Fisticle’s narrow, claustrophobic scope is its greatest strength. It doesn’t try to be more than it is, washing out the potency and crunch of the gameplay. It doesn’t try to be anything else, though some extra effort into the presentation would help the game stand out – more on this later.

Indeed, part of the challenge of battling in such a claustrophobic space is trying to maintain both a microscopic and macroscopic view simultaneously. Each chamber quickly becomes clogged with enemies. So, while you are hacking away at the immediate threats you must at the same time keep an eye out for minute openings and empty pockets which you can use to maneuver the mindless mob, and position yourself to best utilize your timed powerups.

There is also just the right amount of types of enemies. The game balances quantity and differentiation very well, prompting you to make realtime decisions in movement based on how much of what is coming at you. Enemies are not in a frenzied rage but are still persistent, so persistent.

Focus fire these little pricks ASAP

Focus fire these little pricks ASAP

Most of the time the safest place to be, whatever the situation, is with your back against the wall, skirting the perimeter. Overtime a satisfying momentum is established; once you get rolling it’s hard to call it a night.

A major speed bump to this momentum is the ‘bonus level’. The bonus level switches gears from top-down slaughterfest to sidescrolling jumper. The obstacles and loot are randomly generated and the controls are laggy. These levels are not only pointless but botches up your mojo, your tempo, your pulse. They kill the momentum. They are not very bonus-like: You will see 5X more coinage in a regular slaughter chamber than in the entire run of the bonus level, and the rewards for completing it are also rather piddly. There is very little motivation to take the bonus levels seriously. More often than not, as my veins are still pumping neon adrenaline from playing a previous chamber, I take the first opportunity to perish in a bonus level just so I can move on to the next chamber.

Though the claustrophobia is practically palpable while in the chambers, the game gives the player a gratifying amount of elbow room when it comes to the metagame – another one of the game’s strong points. Once you beat a boss and enter a new floor, that new floor is now available for you to jump to from the title screen – a design that is sure to make any roguelike purist scream to the heavens. Likewise, some of the connectors between chambers are shops where, from four randomly generated items, you can purchase ability upgrades or health. Some of these ability upgrades are permanent, carrying over into the next game. These options – these freedoms – provide an opportunity for players to tailor their experience with Iron Fisticle.

The most important freedom the game gives you is the option to erase all progress data. Because, admittedly, once you’ve maxed out your avatar the game quickly looses steam. You are so tremendously OP that there is little challenge left. So, reset that sucker back to level zero and experiment with your own self-imposed restrictions during another playthrough. Yes. The replay value is subtle but quite tremendous.

Aside from the lame-duck presence of the bonus levels, the only other area of improvement involves the lack of attention to details in the rest of the presentation. Particularly, more love could have been given to the audio which could bolster stronger, more confident gameplay and add character to the game overall. There are times when the game gets delightfully chaotic, a mishmash of activity. During these moments I’d like to hear more from my avatar, something other than the indiscernible grunts when taking damage and disgust when you pick up certain loot. The ‘taking damage’ soundbyte needs to be more pronounced, so I can hear just how much heat I’m taking and can try to GTFO. Hoots and hollars, taunts and jabs, praises to GabeN. Something! The same goes for footsteps. It is just this robotic clunk-clunk-clunk, regardless of the frothy viscera that is smeared all over the floor. Let’s hear some sqishyness!

This may seem nitpicky, but attention to little details like audio and health bar and bonus bank placement can really go a long way. It can ultimately help raise Iron Fisticle above the din and come into the focus of many more perspective gamers – a place where the game belongs.

Held up against the wall, Iron Fisticle does indeed keep itself together. It is unadulterated arcade action but could have been more outstanding with just a little more attention to details in the presentation. It recognizes the focused scope it which it operates and does not overextend itself. Solo or co-op the game is an absolute blast to play, just as were the arcade boxes of old.

(Couldn't resist)

(Couldn’t resist)

Weekend Gaming: Hearthstone, Anathem, not Divinity: Original Sin

For this weekend I foresee myself giving a disproportionate amount of attention between Hearthstone and Neal Stephenson’s tome Anathem.

Not a video game.

Not a video game.

Somewhere around the time when my tooth pain (as can be read in the previous WG post) was getting the better me and when I was growing weary of Divinity:Original Sin I decided that I needed an upheaval – or, a restructuring, if you will – of my leisure time activities. I was in a gaming slump. And when things get like that I take it as an indication that I am in need of some Analog Time. I’m not going full-on Luddite; this is not a post decrying technology. But every now and then I need to tip the scale in favor of the printed word. Anathem continues to be just the book for the job. The book’s length and subject matter demand a heady dedication if there is any hope of making it through to the end. Which means that, on many evenings, this requires me to power down the computer and burrow in with my reading lamp.

Although the Gaming & Book scale has been tipped, do note, as indicated, that the whole contraption has not toppled. Hearthstone is the perfect game for filling in those semi-brief blocks of time when I’m not reading Anathem. Currently, I’m not so much concerned about the ladder climb than become better acquainted with the classes I’ve yet to play, namely Paladin, Warlock and Warrior. I eased into the Druid pretty well this past week, and I still hate opposing Mages. Hunters are all the rage now but I’ve been able to manage and tame the majority I’ve come up against. I still have to give Arena a serious try – Maybe this weekend, maybe not. I’m amassing a decent chunk of gold so maybe I’ll buy into a Naaxramas wing. What to do. What to do. So many possibilities.

Concerning Divinity: Original Sin… Too often I would think, Man, this game really makes me want to play XCOM. Indeed. I enjoy the tactics, even the inventory management. But I am not all that invested in the story (I rarely am in video games). This apathy combined with the game’s lack-of-hand-holding (which I do not bemoan) does not sync well over time. I’m not quite sure where to go next, and the thought of fishing through lines of dialog with NPCs to trigger a quest that points me in the right direction makes me grunt. So, Divinity and I are in a stalemate right now. Man, this game really makes me want to play XCOM. And wouldn’t you know it: XCOM along with select other 2K games are on sale this weekend on Steam.

What are you playing this weekend?

P.S. The cause of my tooth pain was never really identified. I heard three different answers from three different dental professionals. And yet, the pain originating from my second molar persisted. The dentist subscribed an antibiotic and a pain killer, which was completely ineffective. We tried a root canal, which was a bumbling failure. At my wits end and contrary to professional advice I decided to just have the stupid thing pulled. The process was Medieval and awesome and horrible and brief. And now, three days later, this is the most comfortable I have felt in a month.

Not a video game.

Not a video game.