Thea: The Awakening ‘demo’ now available

It is with utmost pleasure and anticipation that I would like to announce that there is now available a demo for MuHa Games’s Thea: The Awakening.

But, this is not just a demo in the traditional sense. This is not just a glop of the first several hours of gameplay which is then abruptly ended by the game sending you to the Steam store page. In a fantastic gesture of confidence MuHa Games has made the entire game available for a trial run, albeit the Early Access version from last fall. But, even in that, even in its nascent stages, Thea was, and continues to be, something really special.

Thealogo

It is a hard game to describe without going into details because it does not conform to any archetype. To say it is a 4x would be wildly misleading, for there is no expanding or exploitation. To say it is a grand strategy would be erroneous because in-game events can suddenly bring your campaign to a bloody, and sometimes unfair, ending. And yet, to call it a Roguelike would only hold true in that any progress made in a campaign – any XP – however piddly in amount, is accumulated to help in unlocking and leveling up new overlords to play as in subsequent playthroughs.

To say it is a tactical game can likewise be misleading because all encounters – whichever of the half dozen types one may be – are not handled in a traditional point-and-click hex arena but rather in an innovative and fun table-top card game setting.

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The survival aspect of Thea is my favorite part of the game. The hunting and gathering, the resource management, the personnel management, the crafting – it is an integral part of gameplay and not just utility, another thing you have to handle and worry about. The crafting, especially, is more than just lumber + iron = sword. All the basic resources have several derivatives with values that can have tremendously different effects on the attributes of what is being crafted. These items have very real and functional numbers that can aid in gathering more resources or talking your way out of an encounter or attracting different types of populace to your single village. The choices made in crafting and equipping matter, and…

… And there I’ve done it; I’ve gone into details. #sorrynotsorry

Thea: The Awakening is just one of those games that is best learnt by playing because it is the sum of so many parts. It is a brave endeavor. And the love that MuHa has shown for it – the growth and free DLCs, updates and features – is only making the game that much greater.

Even if the ‘demo’ is the entire game in its Early Access state, it is still but a tantalizing taste to what MuHa has done to it since official release, and, no doubt, what they have in store.

The demo is available on the game’s Steam page.

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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.

Xbox One: What I think

So I, with half the internet, watched this afternoon’s Microsoft Xbox ONEne Reveal. (Is it “ONE” or “One”?). Here are a few thoughts that I think pretty much sums up a lot of the feeling I got watching Twitter and chatting with fellow blogger James during the event.

  • Games: Where were they? This whole EA partnership makes me feel icky and the lack of NCAA among the four “Pillars” of games was disappointing. I would bet real American Dollars that NCAA games sell better than both UFC games and NBA games (but of course couldn’t touch FIFA or Madden). I could take or leave Call of Duty: Ghosts. The feed I was watching wasn’t in HD, so I didn’t get the full effect of the compare and contrast to MW3 and MW:G, so maybe that could have made an impact, but EA and COD did not get me excited about playing games on the Xbox One.

    I will play games on this machine, right?

  • Details: Sure, they had a few technical details (processor speed, RAM) but what about the harddrive? The optical drive? I know it has been reported elsewhere that the new Xbox would have a Bluray drive, but I would really like to have that confirmed.
  • That controller: It’s a thing of beauty.

Xbox One Controller

  • The other stuff: The TV/Cable/DVR integration is really, really slick. I know a lot of people poo-poohed it, but I think that if it seamlessly, it’s going to be awesome.
  • The Kinect 2: The new Kinect has promise. Clearly there is potential there. If nothing else, telling the Xbox to turn on and it recognizes me and logs me in, that is pretty slick.

So, am I getting one? Probably. Most likely. For a host of reasons (brand loyalty, the Halos, the achievements). But is it possible I’ll opt for the Playstation 4 this generation? It’s a possibility. A slim one, but a possibility nonetheless.

Will you be getting one?

Site update

I should have done this years ago — buttonmashing dot com has been retrofitted with a mobile theme and the ability to detect mobile/smart devices and present the site in a more mobile friendly manner. It won’t look like anything special, but now those of you using your fancy iDroids and anPhones will now have a hopefully better experience.

If there is anything awry, please let me know. (These changes will unfortunately delay the Power Rankings until tomorrow)

Batman: Arkham City Screenies

Kotaku has 20 new screenshots from Rocksteady. Re: Batman Arkham City. Fall of 2011 cannot come soon enough. I’m thinking of playing through the first game again just for kicks.

Image above is in higher-res if you save it.

Back to the Future

One of this blogger’s top five movies of all time is a little known indie art-piece called Back to the Future. I love it. I love all of it.

Telltale Games (a developer I’m coming to love as well) has released a tease of information about the BttF game they are creating:

  • it’ll be episodic
  • it’ll use the likenesses of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox
  • Christopher Lloyd has been confirmed for the voice of Doc Brown
  • it’s being penned by the original writer Bob Gale
  • it’s set in 1985 Hill Valley, will include the DeLorean, and will include characters from the movies

Count me in.

This is what it feels like to submissively pee a little?

Source: USA Today

Now, You Can epic Win

Remember a while back we posted about the to-do app for iDevices called Epic Win. Touch Arcade tells us it’s out.

Torchlight 2 Announced

Torchlight 2 Announced, to the surprise of no one.

Torchlight 2

How will this affect the MMO version of Torchlight?

Space Invaders Infinity Gene [Lasting Longer]

Almost a year ago, we brought you some news about Space Invaders for all the iDevices. Taito has had a FREE update in the works for some time now that adds a new ship, a sideways mode, and the option to get some more ships via DLC. This was my iPhone FGotY last year and this keeps it right on the homepage of my iPod. The update is on the App store now.

Next Generation can wait

Xbox 360 SlimI’ve always worried that the five-year cycle of consoles was going to rear its ugly head soon. Maybe, I thought, it might turn out to be six or seven years, but it was coming. Either way, I’m not ready for the next generation. It definitely looks like we’ve got some time, especially after Chris Lewis, Microsoft’s executive VP of Interactive Entertainment in Europe said, “What you’ve seen is with this new sleek design and Kinect for Xbox 360 we’ve got at least another five years of this generation…”

Music to my ears. Especially when I end up trading in my old, 20 gig Xbox 360 in for a new Slim 360.