Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Playlist: December

So it is December and the nights are closing in.  I think everyone is supposed to be quiet as a mouse and I am putting out mince pies for santa or something.

Instead I am deep into some games!

This month I finished playing Arkham City which was splendid.  I say finished, I haven't collected all the Riddler trophies or the challenge maps, but I have completed the main storyline, fought my way through baddies and bosses and thoroughly enjoyed it.   It's a very empowering game and extremely fluid.  Brilliant work there from Rocksteady, already looking forward to DLC / the next one.

Dear Diary.  I am a bad person for I have caved.  I know I said I wouldn't but I just couldn't help myself.  I too am a Skyrim Junkie.  Or not actually.  It seemed to be all everyone was talking about - one of my friends facebooks had 74 replies to a status about Skyrim.  Whenever people talked about 'examples of X / Y / Z type of game' it would be Skyrim that was mentioned.  It was it seemed the Mount Olympus of games.  Ambrosia of gaming here I come.  But I was a bit dissapointed.  It's good, the dragons look cool.  But it doesn't seem that good.  Maybe I'm missing something.  It really is just Oblivion but a bit prettier though isn't it?  They might have touched up a couple of bits but it really doesn't seem that different.  There are some nice features (I like the quest system, the snow looks amazing) but all in all...  I think it's rather over-rated.  I shall now don my flame-proof suit to protect me from the Skyrim love.

The iPad sees lots and lots of free stuff at Christmas, most of it fairly benile.  Bards Tale is quite amusing and a nicely done version and soon I will pick up GTA III as I've heard it's very good.  Nothing though has really grabbed me this month.

And then, of course, there's Star Wars: The Old Republic.  This deserves and will get it's own post.  However it is great.  There we go, that's my full academic opinion.  'It's Great'.  Really, it is.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

End of Level 1

Wow, end of the first semester and it went predictably fast.  What I really need is a progress bar to keep count I suppose.
 It would be hard to sum up everything that's happened so far but it has been great.  I have really enjoyed my classes with almost no exceptions which is quite astounding.  We've had Critical Analysis and Game Pitches as assessments and over the Christmas 'holidays' have an essay, a games design document and a evaluation to write.  On top of that I have more MMF to learn (MMF is the game making program we use on the course).

Along the way I have read a lot of games theory books, some more accessible than others, and been trying to keep hugely up to date (I say hugely, I mean as much as I can!) with all the 'gaming news' - Gamasutra is my regular stop over but I have about 15 sources on an RSS feed which I download and catch up with on the bus.  RSS feeds are great (I think I have one above which you could follow me on, which obviously you should!) because it means they send me the news.  I use Go Reader on the iPad in combination with Read It Later, which is fantastic for storing stuff for later consumption.

On top of all of this I am trying to read around the subject as much as possible.  A lot of people have talked about the need to be a bit of a rennaisance man in this subject - to know as much as possible about as much as possible, which certainly seems to be the case.  I have books on project management and structuralism to read next and on my christmas list is Technical Maths for Dummies.  I realise how much of a geek that makes me sound.  I suppose it is all part of Geekademia (which is a term I am stealing from one of my tutors (although I suppose it might be more common than I realise, it's certainly one I am fond of).

I'm also reading various psychology books, albeit mostly ones written in layman's terms to compliment some of my understanding of the topic I am writing my first 'proper' essay on, which is about the feeling of heroism in games, thus Jung is heavy on my reading list along with some Morphology of the Folk Tale and other such classics!  Naturally I am also playing lots of games (I'll post up more what I'm playing in the next few days, because, once more my play-list has moved on a fair amount)

It's quite a challenge this course, I think it's been about 14 years since my last official essay, and so writing and referencing 'all formal like' is quite hard going, but I am enjoying the challenge, and slowly getting to grips with it.  I am also finding that I am enjoying the reading a lot more than I thought I might before the course started.  The design element is also extremely fulfilling, which I sort of knew it would be but it still deserves an honourable mention!

Conferences, guest speakers, essays, lectures and many many books make up the majority of my life at the moment, but I have to admit that I am rather loving it.   Roll on semester 2.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Money Where My Mouth Is

So, in an effort to sort of put my money where my mouth is, and more importantly to please my godson (who is 9) I made him a little game.  It IS very simple but it works, and that was what I was aiming for. 

I thought I'd post it here mostly to see how to do it!  This probably isn't the best way to upload files that can be downloaded but I am still looking for good ways to do that!

So anyway without further ado, you can download it from here

It's called Zac Wars 2 and when you click the link you click Free Download and then have to wait 60 seconds.  It's worth mentioning too that it will tell you that the publisher can't be verified.  That's because it's me!!

I've since then put it up on a public folder on dropbox which is a much more efficient way of popping it up here of course!

It's worth noting that that will download an .exe file which you can then click to play.  It's not virus infested.  Well not as far as I know!!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Of Whether Pigs Have Wings

So the course is going well, it's deeply enjoyable, although I wish that I had 17 more days in the week to study everything that I'd like to get my head into! Life continues to be a little manic, I'm trying to get to some conferences when I can as well as the lectures, and am constantly on the look out for more games-y things I can do - if you have any suggestions then I would welcome them!

Lectures range from narrative in games to character design, from project management to how to deal with programmers (I am beginning to feel a bit sorry for them as they seem to get a hard time of it!)

I am reading more than I have for some time as I am trying to devour the essential reading and get in some reading of various texts that people describe as being 'really good read' (so far nobody has suggested any Mills and Boon).

There has been essays and presentations and at the moment the daunting task of designing our own essay title.

Everyone on the course is pretty great, there's been a lot of interesting talk about all sorts of games and general geek-ery. Still no karaoke but I haven't given in yet... It's a slight shame we only get to do one real piece of group work but I guess there's always the opportunity to do more during / later.

We have to learn how to use a game-making program called MMF which is absorbing and very user friendly, I am pottering around making little bits and pieces, and I might try and upload something here at some point (if that's even possible, if not then somewhere similar to here (I have no real idea how to upload a downloadable file to a blog so if there's a simple way then I'd welcome the advice!)

We see a lot of all of our lecturers which is great and they are all very approachable and helpful during times of lack of faith or just with generally helpful advice.

We had a visit from some old students which was both inspiring and practical - all of their advice was absorb as much as you can, make the most of everything and other similar sentiments. It was great to hear from people who were in our position a few years ago and are now, in a very real sense, 'doing it'.

As a list of things I am trying to learn a bit about that are not things on the course I'm learning how to use Microsoft Visio & Project, Maya and a bit about UDK, I am practising my photoshop skills (which are measly) and have learnt how to use Keynote and Presi, although Powerpoint remains a staple favourite. I'll probably practise a bit with some sort of art program at some point although it's never going to be my strong point. It's a lot about being a Renaissance Man it seems, and so anything I can pick up I will value. Suggestions welcome!

I've avoided buying Skyrim, because even though I would love to play it I fear it is just too much of a time sink at the moment. RIP Skyrim, see you some time next year...

Monday, 21 November 2011

November come and gone...

Wow, it's already almost the end of November!  Hard to know where it all goes, Well - this month it has gone into a few games specifically:

Dead Island - this has had a really mixed reception, which is in part I am sure due to the incredible trailer it released which had little to do with the game itself:

The reviews of the game have been equally mixed but I have loved playing it.  I am playing with friends and we are taking our time with it, exploring, trying to do all the quests, and just enjoying it.  I like co-operative games, far more than I like shooting my friends in the head (or in my case being shot by my friends in the head).  I think it has some really interesting features too - it's a zombie game where it's bright and sunny.  The island is in part, beautiful and scenic, there are some really different and quite expansive environments, some of which are quite unpleasant.  I think the character choices are interesting (they're all 'tainted' people in different ways, it's also a game that lets you choose from a variety of ethnicities which I think is interesting on a different level as well.  Gameplay wise it's interesting - it isn't as frantic as something like Left 4 Dead, but a bit more relaxed.  All in all I've really enjoyed it.

I've also been investing many hours into Batman Arkham City from Rocksteady which is absolutely fantastic, it's very similar to the first game but more - more gadgets, more space, more moves and more characters.  I'm still not finished with it, because I am playing it in a similar way to Dead Island and really savouring the experience.  The combat structure is one to be envious of - it's very fluid and variable, and the way they ramp up the difficulty is clever.  There are some challenges that are pretty extreme - I'm struggling with the flight ones - and the voice acting is superb taking as it does the talents of the animated series.  This has been the single player game that I have enjoyed the most in a long time.

On the PC I've played a little Dungeon Defenders, which is a co-op tower defence game, which has been quite a giggle although got a bit samey - I liked what they were doing with it though and the plethora of updates might mean that it's something I go back to at some point. 

I tried DC online, which is Free To Play and I wanted to be excellent...  Sadly the lag was just too much for me (and I suspect everyone) - it made it literally impossible to play with all my damage (being dealt) not kicking in until about 30 seconds after I started attacking, in the meantime my enemies were able to beat me up in 'real time'.  Boo.  Chat on forums and things indicated that this was only in the starting areas, but it was enough to kill it for me.  It's a real shame because I like the franchise but I just couldn't deal with the pain of it.

I moved on to Champions Online for a comparison which is also Free to Play - I haven't really delved into the Free to Play market before and it was an interesting venture.  Champions offers a  really good character customisation system in terms of costume and power IF you pay, and that was fun.  I am enjoying the game play and the way it all works, but not sure if it will hold me for a very long time.  It doesn't have that feeling of longevity that it would need for that.  Of course also The Old Republic comes out in about a month!  What's odd about Champions is that it's based on the old 1980s roleplaying game and it has stuck to that quite religiously, but that makes it feel rather dated in an odd way.  There are some interesting mechanics - you have to charge up your energy meter by using a power and then can use a tougher power, which is quite fun for a while, but there's not a plethora of abilities that you can choose from at any one time and so I get a little 'button-sore' after a while.  On the other hand it is free...

Naturally I played some more Sims 3 for a night or two!

I'm still playing Tomb Run on the iPhone, but my addiction to i-store games continues.  I am enjoying playing a bit of Scribblenaughts - it's a bit easy but it's a lot of fun and there's a lot of ingenuity in that game.  I enjoyed making a nuclear bomb the other day and getting an achievement of 'destroyed the world'.

And no, I haven't yet played Skyrim.  I will, and I know I will love it, but there's only so many hours in the month and Skyrim would eat them all, so I sorta plan to buy it when I have a bit more time and perhaps when it is discounted on Steam!!  I still have quite a few things I haven't yet finished so I am in no rush.  Until next time :)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Time Flies When You're...

... Working Really Hard.

So we're four weeks into the course at Brunel, already.  It's going great so far, and so in no particular order:

My journey in has got considerably more successful - I've discovered that there's a bus that goes almost directly to the university from almost directly outside my door.  This is quite a bonus and although it often gets me in very early it means that I have time to muse over things before we start and generally feel ready for the day, as well as sitting chatting with other people before we begin our class with some pretty good coffee!

On Wednesdays we have a design class which is deals with the practical elements and strategies of games design, it's a great class full of opinions and exercises.  Thursdays we have a theory class followed by a theory / business class.  It's allayed some of my fears so far with disucssion, note-taking and discussion of what the theory means in the 'real world' which is great.

On top of that we have at least three pieces of essential reading per week, which is normally a book and 2 papers or some variation of that.  There's a list of secondary reading too, which I would love to get to more of, but might realistically be something to look up more of later.  I'm learning to use MMF (multimedia fusion) which is a piece of software to help you deisgn games as well. 

That's before we get to 'assignment work' - so it's quite busy and taking a lot of time, but at the same time it's quite fulfilling and I am enjoying it a great deal,  I am massively looking forward to hearing some of the guest speakers and now looking forward to working in a team with some of the other students on the course on some of our assignments, we have a good year I think, and although it's going to be over all too soon I'm trying to take every opportunity on it that I can.

Here's hoping.

My Draft Essay 1 on which I've made 'a few' edits!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

I forsee a Dark day in my Crystal Ball.

See what I did there?

Apparently there is a Dark Crystal RPG in the making and unnoticed by me there are already some Dark Crystal books / Graphic novels out there.

I can't claim any credit for discovering this so here's some links:

Graphic Novel
The Film

That's it for now, but one to watch :)

Friday, 7 October 2011

More of what I'm playing

Bit of an update on the ‘playing now’ front.  It’s a busy time both in the office and starting university but I am still definitely trying to keep up with some game playing.  In a blast from the past and admittedly because it was free for a weekend or more, I downloaded Portal (the original game) and have started that – so far it’s a very similar game, with slightly less shine, which is to be expected, but it’s quite a lot of fun.  The humour of the game is still present and I am enjoying the puzzles of the rooms.  

I have (in a rash move maybe) rented X-MenDestiny.  This game rather passed me by in the trailers and hype – perhaps it didn’t get much, or perhaps I was just very focussed on looking forward to Star Wars, but I didn’t really know about it until I stumbled across it on an interview.  I liked the old x-men games (I still remember the old cabinet game) and like a bit of super hero action.  So far I have to say I am rather enjoying it – you get to pick one of three new characters and choose your power sets and choose what you advance as you go along.  It’s billed as a roleplaying super hero game.  I think that might be a bit rich in all honesty, as it is unashamedly linear with some side quests depending on who you side with (The Brotherhood of Mutants or the X-Men), however it’s quite a lot of fun, and some reasonably mindless violence with a bit of story and comic-book angst thrown in.  The characters are well animated with quite a few funky moves and there’s a real sense that you are the hero in it.  You also happen across various ‘famous’ characters from the series who are nicely acted and who fight you or alongside you quite regularly.  There’s something clever about this game, in that you are playing your own hero (well, one of their three) but you pick up X-genes which give you some attributes of the famous comic book characters (so for example you pick up Toad’s utility gene and you can leap around like he does), which is a nice touch and means you can be ‘a bit like your favourite character’ but still be playing your own character.  I am liking it enough so far to wish I had bought it I think, and it will warrant another play through, simply because of the choices you have (at least that’s the feeling I have currently).  All in all this feels like quite a clever merging of genres – jury’s out as to how well it will hold up.  So far: impressed.

The iPhone holds my attention in the elevator with Temple Run.  It’s a little game where you, as an avatart that looks a bit like Indiana Jones or that chap from The Mummy run from some shadowy creatures that run after you, you can’t stop so you have to tilt the iphone and swipe your finger to leap over obstacles and turn corners all the while collecting coins and trying to get further and score more points.  I suspect there isn’t an ‘end’ but the regular achievements and fast pace of the game makes it very playable.  Something else I like about Temple Run is that although you die frequently (inevitably) it’s very quick to restart the game and have another go (seconds only) It’s lots of fun, simple and addictive.

And so I wend my way toward SpaceMarine.  I come from a mostly roleplaying background and have played some Warhammer 40K tabletop games as well.  I have a fond place for the 40k background, indeed I might even play some Dark Heresy soon.  I wanted to like this game an awful lot.  But, I didn’t.  Warning: Spoilers ahead.  They’ve worked hard on it, to a point, you look cool, the fight mechanic is good, and you switch seamlessly from bolter gun to chainsword, slicing and dicing all the way.  There is a clever mechanic where you only get healed from killing stuff, and more by ‘executing’ (finishing move-esque) things. The story (which is conveyed through cutscenes only) is pretty simple:  Go to planet.  Kill some things there.  Stop the bad stuff happening.  Discover some chaos.  Kill it.  And that’s it.   The story is really really stock 40K.  Which would be fine, if this were an intro to the universe and it made all of that make sense, but they don’t really.   They do a great job of portraying the universe and don’t explain the background at all (seemingly aiming it at people who know the setting really well) and then tell a really basic story with no imagination to it.  The game feels like it is prime material for Downloadable Content but I’m not sure that I want to bank on that.  The multiplayer game is quite fun, it’s a bit of a COD clone, but it doesn’t suffer from a million people knowing the maps better than I do!  It’s not very imaginative (in the way that Assassins Creed was) but it’s quite fun and you can be chaos space marines, and everyone loves that!  All in all I would say that it was a very disappointing game.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Introductory Lectures and Influences

So, today was the day, it has all begun and I've had my first lecture. It was a lecture on the history of games and was given by Steve Jackson. Now as I've mentioned elsewhere I grew up reading Fighting Fantasy Books, they are in many ways what started me on this path and led me to here so there is a beautiful synergy to Mr Jackson giving my first lecture. It was a great and interesting start on the history of games, ranging from some of the first games we know existed and ended with a neat tail into digital games.

Steve Jackson spoke extremely eloquently on all sorts of historical board games, card games and moved onto miniatures, war-games and roleplaying games. I know that I for one found it fascinating and a useful lead into the subject. Anecdotes and facts meshed together neatly and put the topic nicely in context. I set a lot of store in good board games / social non-digital games and enjoyed mentions of some old classics as well as games that have taken up many hours of my life! I look forward a great deal to hearing him speak more and seeing more of what has brought him to this stage of his involvement with the industry. I was also enamoured of the fact that he can talk about the games he was playing last night. Hopefully at some point we'll get to play some games with him!

In other news I've begun to understand the bus system a bit more and it's an easy (if early) journey! I'm now on my way home to read some Rules of Play (Salem and Zimmerman) before tomorrow's first theory lecture.

Finally of course (and how could I not mention this) there was a major event at the university today, for which there were signs everywhere. You have probably heard about it on the news, but if not, then I'm sorry you missed it... How bizarre.

Big News?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

In The Beginning

So, as I mentioned in my details somewhere this is partly a blog about my travels I to Games Design. Today, being my first day at university (Brunel) I thought I would kick off with a post, rest assured I won't be posting about my travels to uni every day! However, it being 'the start I thought it was worth a note. Today is just a day of admin and signing forms, but it all has to be done. I am also using the day as a travel experiment - trains vs automobiles in many ways (no planes involved just yet), and will I suspect involve me getting lost, either on the way to the campus or at the campus... So, here we go.


Insert gap of about 3 hours
And that's that done. It's good to know it's an easy journey on the train, and will be quicker next time, given that I managed take the wrong bus. Twice. I am however officially a person at the university, have specc'd out where I need to go on Thursday for the proper induction lecture and am all in all looking forward to the beginning of the course proper. Must get home and order some books and things next!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Decision Tree

I know that this isn't really games related but it felt close enough to a Choose Your Own Adventure book to be worth including.  That and it made me smile :)

It is by a gentleman named (as you can probably see for yourself) Mike Naylor and it, and various other amusing 'mathemagics' can be found on his blog: Mike Naylor's Math Blog.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Exciting Times?

It seems to be an exciting time for games & things that I am interested in and for my games stuff in general, here's a quick summary for things I am looking forward to.

I am about to start my Masters Degree in Games design which is very exciting.  I am about to start running a tableop WFRP campaign using a couple of interesting tools and the excellent looking WFRP 3E rules.  I have discovered podcasts and am listening to various gaming ones.  It's a great way to pass the time whilst washing up or walking to work!

In games I have just bought Space Marine - I have always liked the Warhammer 40k setting - the whole techpriest, god-emperor feel is very stylish.  It's a nicely put together game, I fear it may be a bit short, but there is a whole world of expansion possible that I forsee in the future.  I'll be interested to see where it goes.  The multiplayer is fun too - a lot like CoD but I enjoyed it more last night than I did that 'classic'.

Starwars: The Old Republic, The Secret World are both MMOs that excite me.  I fear they may eat some time in the coming months.  If SWTOR dissapoints then a little part of me will die inside - I am perhaps a little over excited about this one.  By contrast Secret World looks interesting and will be a gem if it works. 

On the Xbox there is Batman Arkham City - Arkham Asylum was a terrific game, and following that there is the latest Assassins Creed game and Elder Scrolls V and Silent Hill: Downpour.  It's a lot of games, and sadly there is only so much time in the day.  Perhaps we could arrange for there to be one added?

FFG are also still releasing their Lord of the Rings Card Games, which are excellent (1 per month) and have announced a big expansion later in the year called the Khazad-dûm Expansion and in December are releasing the next WFRP expansion, The Lure of Power.  Exciting Times.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Old Habits Die Hard

When I was 15 I played a LOT of a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign.  It was tremendous fun.  I don’t think we knew what the real background of the WFRP world was, or much of the ‘canon’ but it was well reffed, with quite a few players and we played for a few years.  It was reffed by Peter Newman and I have extremely fond memories of it.
Here I am almost 20 years on <I weep at this>  and I was thinking that I fancy running some tabletop again and into the frame comes bouncing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition (WFRP).  It’s created by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) who I mentioned last month in this post.  I was quick to discover in my research that it has received quite a lot of praise and a fair amount of criticism also.  I was told by a few people who do use the sytem that it works well, which is encouraging.
It uses a lot of tokens and cards and components (something Fantasy Flight to nicely) to represent things you keep track of.  Some people accuse it of being a bit ‘boardgame-esque’.  Anyway I took a punt and bought it and very quickly fell for it.  It’s beautifully produced.  There are LOTS of extras for it, and it’s a really nice product.  I am yet to run the game (starting in a couple of weeks) but it seems like it will be a really good experience.  The idea of the cards is that it cuts down / out on the looking up of rules.  You have them there in front of you.  Even the dice are different and are pictorial, and supposed to make working out results dynamic and interesting.
Expansion packs cover a wide range of topics from Chaos Gods to disease and mutation to horses (!)  The artwork in them is fabulous and they are simply laid out and easy to read.  My only concern about them all really is the level of entry is quite high – you have to shell out quite a lot to have all the products you are bound to want, not to mention card sleeves and all that paraphernalia.
In total I think to have all the packs NOT including the published adventure material is well in excess of £200.  Which is a lot.  You don’t NEED a lot of it, but if you are like me you want it – which is the nature of a hobbyist I suppose.  And of course you don’t know what you’re missing until you have them.   IT’s important to stress again that you don’t need it.  The game (apparently) runs perfectly well without anything bar the base box set.
Nicely FFG have now released a component free version so you can be just pen and paper if you want, but for me that would take away some of the nice qualities of the game, some of the things that make it ‘different’.  You can also download quite a lot of the source books and guides in a PDF format, although it’s not included in the price, but it’s only circa $10 or less for E-copies of some things that.  There is also a dice rolling app on the iphone which is easy to use as well.  I thought it was a shame it wasn't free, but it's certainly cheaper than the dice sets at £7.99
There is a huge amount of source material available on the net and the Warhammer Online game means there is even more background readily available, I don’t really ever use pre-written campaigns but they are nicely done if you do with some nice props and things should that be your bag.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it runs – I am sure it will take a couple of sessions to be ‘smooth’ but in the meantime it’s an exciting system and I am really looking forward to taking it out for a spin.

Oh yes - where can you get it from I hear you cry?  Well, here is a good starter for 10...  (or should that be for one Sigmars Hammer and two boons?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

"And My Axe"

In a departure from my chat about the various technological games I am engaged in this is post about Lord of the Rings the Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games.(FFG)

LoTRtCG is a co-operative 'Living Card Game' (LCG), it has elements of Magic the Gathering (MtG) to it and is a bit like the co-operative boardgame as well - players choose a deck and play through a scenario with each other.  There is a mechanism to know how you are doing (quests and progress tokens) and automatic rules to decide who is attacked and by what (the threat meter).  The rules (so far) work extremely well, and as long as you keep the book to hand are fairly easy to follow once you have your head around them.  To aid with that Fantasy Flight have provided a full illustrated with examples rule book and also a series of You Tube videos which take you through the sequence of play and give examples of how it all works.  They are really handy when understanding everything.  In addition to that there are rules that are simply printed on the cards which are easy to follow.

The game can be played solo (which is quite tricky) or with up to 4 players.  There are 3 different quests provided with the core set have are increasingly difficult.  There are 4 player 'suits' - Spirit, Tactics, Leadershop and Lore - each of which have very different styles of play.  All in all there's quite a lot of variation just there.  Add to that that there is a set of ways to design tournament decks which allows you to create a deck of mixed 'suits'.  Of course you also get to control some heroes, 12 of which are provided with the core set.  Also in the core set are encounter cards which randomise what you face along the way (ranging from baddies to fight, things that happen or locations to visit.)

So why is it a Living Card Game?  Well, each month (or so) FFG are going to release an expansion, which will will provide a new quest (s), new cards for each suit, new heroes and encounter cards and other additions to game play.  These aren't like 'MtG' where you buy endless boosters to make up your collection, hoping to acquire rare cards.  Instead they provide a set list of cards to enhance the game in specific ways.  There are 6 expansions currently planned which tell the story of looking for Gollum.

The art work is beautiful and the card text well written.  The tokens are well designed and all things well put together.  It's worth mentioning that the game is based on the books, not the (excellent) movies, which might confuse some people when encountering the very powerful Glorfindel and not knowing who he is, but overall it probably doesn't matter much, you don't need to know.

This can be played as a random board game, or probably with a storytelling element, indeed when sacrificing one of your allies it's hard not to vocalise a "My dwarven miner valiantly gets in the way to save the life of Eowyn!"

There are a few issues discussed on forums about not having enough cards in the core set to make up a world beating tournament deck but that doesn't really worry me (yet at least) and FFG have openly said that they've made a game which is playable and fun with expansion coming in the future.  Lots of people talk about buying two or three sets to make a full deck, but that certainly isn't necessary for the casual player.

FFG makes a whole bundle of games, many of which I didn't know about and I think I will be investing in more of them as time goes on.  in the LCG range They are releasing a Star Wars Co-operative game next year and already have Game of Thrones, Cthulu & a Warhammer one, the latter three being Vs games, not co-op ones.  Not to mention that they also have a lot of big licenses (Conan, Battlestar Galactica and more) not to mention their own fine IP (Tannhauser & Mansions of Madness for example).

So far I am very impressed.  I've orded Hunt For Gollum (the first of the expansions) off the back of the experience so far and I am looking forward to more multiplayer action this weekend. 

It can be bought from various places including amazon and the excellent comic / games shop - Travelling Man

Monday, 25 July 2011

'Design Legend' and other titles

The winners of the 2011 Develop Awards, which recognises the best of video games development, have been announced in Brighton - I've copied them below.  I'm happy that Ian Livingstone who amongst other things wrote / produced many of the Fighting Fantasy books won the 'Design Legend' award, and I hope he starts using it as a sobriquet - "Hi I'm Ian 'Design Legend' Livingstone.'  Even if he doesn't though I'm pleased he got it as I grew up reading his books.

 Minecraft also picked up quite a few... and I still don't get it, but good on them.

 So here's the list:

New IP
Enslaved (Ninja Theory)
New download IP
Minecraft (Mojang Specifications)
Use of a licence or IP
F1 2010 (Codemasters Birmingham)
Visual arts
Limbo (Playdead)
Audio accomplishment
Papa Sangre (Somethin’ Else)
Publishing hero
Technical innovation
Kinect (Microsoft Research Cambridge)
Audio outsourcer
Side UK
Visual outsourcer
Axis Animation
Tools provider
Unreal Engine 3 (Epic Games)
New studio
Mojang Specifications
Micro studio
Mojang Specifications
Handheld studio
Rovio Mobile
Business development
Mind Candy
In-house studio
Media Molecule
Independent studio
Development legend
Ian Livingstone
Grand Prix
Rovio Mobile

Thursday, 21 July 2011


I admit that I am a fanboy (Fanboi?)  but the news that The Old Republic is now available for Pre-Order excites me. 

I was keen enough to track down the collectors edition (only it seems available from Game in the UK), and was slightly depresssed to find it was £129.99.  I don't think I am that much of a fan!  So then the question was - am I enough of a fan to pre-order it from Origin - which still gets me a few little funky items...  I am depressed to say I am!  Aparently though demand is high and not everyone will be able to preorder... so get them in now kids!  OR perhaps that's a marketing scam.  I dunno.

The cheapest option is (of course?) Amazon.  But you can also get it from Play

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Small World - not a witty title.

Last night I and a friend fancied playing a board game, but one was sadly lacking.  My thoughts turned to the iPad and a quick search of the app store led me to Small World developed by Days of Wonder.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but there were a few reviews that looked good, it was quite pretty looking, was only a few pounds and of course it had Wizards!!

The next few hours passed with us playing quite a few games of this delightful board game.  It's a 2-player board game where you play a fantasy race taking land and getting points.  Each race has a racial benefit (like getting more points for hills or forests) and a class (like flying meaning you can place your tiles anywhere) which are mixed up each game. 

It's quick and simple to learn but there are nuances to the races and classes that meant that it kept us thinking and coming back for more.  The graphics are pretty and functional, the interface is seemless and helpful.  I haven't played the board game but came to understand the rules during the first play through. 

There are two 'mini-expansion packs' available to purchase from in the app which gives you some more races and classes.  If I had to criticise I would say there were perhaps a little overpriced compared to the price of the game, BUT they did add some new dimensions to the game.  It would lovely to see a different board layout as well, after our multiple play throughs that might have been nice.


Apparently it's a very good adaptation of the board game, I haven't played that but it looks like it  is from the pictures.  The UI means that you don't have to turn the iPad round (it reverses for the other player if you want it to) and although the instructions throw you in quite quickly we didn't find it a problem.

Small World gave us a very fun evenings play and I'll certainly come back to it.  I very much hope they'll release some more of their games on the iPad and I'll pick up their other offering (Ticket to Ride) at some point and I will probably look at buying some of their board games too.

They have a great quote on their website which I think sums it up well, so I have reprinted it here:

"Digital board games have several advantages over cardboard: They're always with you, they save space, they take care of all the record-keeping and rules enforcement, and they're a lot cheaper. Small World hits all these marks."
Julian Murdoch for GameSpy

Monday, 11 July 2011

What I'm Playing Now 2

So in an effort to stay vaguely current I thought I'd update this page, it might be something I try to do monthly.  I should say that I am terrible at sticking with something from beginning to end so I do quite often dot about between games.  Last months update is here.

I'm still playing LA Noire, about which I will write in more depth at some point.  I can't help but think it's too easy at the moment...  Sims 3 still amuses me and Rift still calls me back a bit as well.

I have indulged in the Steam sale over the last few weeks and picked up some things that I wanted which I saw on offer and couldn't resist.  I can't help but notice that it is the month of the sequel!

The Witcher 2 - I enjoyed the first story of Geralt and invested in the second.  So far (and it hasn't seen much air yet) it's very pretty, it's very smooth but there's a lot of cutscene.  I think more than gameplay as yet.  But time will tell.  It's also quite unforgiving, so lots of saving is par for the course.

I also invested in Bioshock, the original game because everyone tells me how amazing it is.  I am pretty impressed so far and it was £3.49 which I think makes me a winner!  (This game somewhat dissapointingly though doesn't fit in with the month of the sequel so I rectify that below!)

Portal 2 was another reduced buy because lots of people rave about it.  Perhaps I will be too, certainly I'm impressed so far.

And finally for now I bought Neverwinter Nights 2...  My inner geek couldn't resist it for £5 with change!  I'm looking forward to playing it.  I didn't try the dungeon designing thing in number 1, but intend to in this version. 

All of this ended up with me investing in a new graphics card as well - I thought mine could handle the pace but I was proved wrong.  I have to recommend the helpfulness of the people at PC World - they knew exactly what they were talking about and I got a great deal with a card that was on sale.  Hooray. 

I have been somewhat snowed under with work of late so none of the games have seen enough play time, but in months to come I am sure they will get some hours of enjoyment / frustration thrown at them!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Secret Interests

I watched the new trailer today for Secret World, an MMORPG from Funcom set in the modern world, which seems a bit Lovecraftian / modern horror / dark future to me.  It looks like a lot of fun and I am very much looking forward to pumping some hours into this.  There is also endless (well, a lot at any rate) room for expansions and new areas to develop of visit and that's great too.  There are more snippets on You Tube of course.

It raised for me a couple of things - the importance of 'the catch' - I am not a big fan of games with guns but like conspiracy stuff and this game instantly had me hooked.

It also addressed something that I have a little bug bear about which is the '2-faction game' - it seems to me that when most games launch they have two factions and never the twain shall meet.  I know that it's often addressed later in expansions (like the City of Heroes expansion Going Rogue) or DLC but I rather like that from the get-go this has three factions.  I *hope* that there's interaction between them as well (that isn't just beating them up!) but we will see.

Obviously three factions means more development work (or I suppose less 'complete' factions) but even so the choice appeals to me.  Now, which one to choose in order that I might be able to sign up for the beta (you get to pick on the website after a test (here) which leads you to a sign up form.  Choices choices choices...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

The way people play games interests me, and what they choose to do with their in game time.  In  his blog called Dead End Thrills  Duncan Harris shows how he has taken time photographing sceneries using mods and tools and applying real world photography principals to his art.  It's worth a look - his GTA IV pics are here but you can see others around his site.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Steam Powered

I admit I haven't got into the whole digital delivery of games yet, which is probably very old fashioned of me.  But I sort of intend to!  Anyway, Steam has a Summer sale on.  I intend to buy Witcher 2.  Not that I really have time to play it at the moment, but it's good value, so probably worth it.

The Heist - iPhone - *CONTAINS SPOILERS*

In case you missed it in the title this post contains spoilers for the game, so you should probably only read it if you  a) aren't going to care, b) aren't going to play the game or c) get some perverse satisfaction from being angry that there were spoilers in something you read...

The Heist gives you 4 types of puzzle to solve:
  • remove the block by sliding tiles
  • Sudoku
  • Remove control move blocks around to get them onto squares
  • Link point 1 to point 2 (like pipes)
Each of the puzzles has 4 levels of difficulty, each of level of difficulty has 4 puzzles. So all in all you're sort of paying for 64 puzzles.  Which perhaps isn't very much, but that's only part of the appeal of the game. 

They premise of The Heist is that you are helping a woman break into a bank vault.  On the main screen is a picture of said vault with some security measures.  There's an XP bar at the bottom and as you complete puzzles that goes up.  When you've done a set quota of them you break one level of security, and the graphics change a bit, which is all quite pretty and amusing (and this level of bank security explains a great deal about the whole banking crash we've been through.)

The puzzles aren't that difficult in the main (which is good because I'm not very good at them) but keep you gently challenged - it was my ideal elevator / waiting for the kettle game. You don't have to do them all, which means you can focus on the elements you're better at if you want to just progress on in the story

What defines the game though is the clever gimick.  Here comes those spoilers I mentioned.  Did you get that?  Spoilers ahead....

When you start a new game your phone rings, and when you answer it a woman talks to you and asks you to aid her in the heist, and gives you some strict instructions about how to get through the vault to victory.  You can put her on speaker phone and there's a picture of her in  your contacts and everything.  Brilliant.  If you're not expecting it it comes as a surprise and a welcome one.  It's quirky and a great gimmick and a bit of exposition to the 'story' of The Heist.  After that she 'calls you' after each level and a couple of times during the event and at the end she factimes you.  Brilliant.

On top of  all that there's a prize.  It's a downloadable puzzle game from Steam, which is a nice touch.

It's a very clever way of spicing a simple game up and the people over at Macheist (it's worth taking a look at their website too, as it contains lots of nice bits and bobs) deserve a little round of applause.  I'll certainly be downloading the next game, mostly because I want to see where the story goes next!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Enabling Disabled Gamers

This morning I stumbled upon 'Nerd Alert', which had a video called Enabling Disabled Gamers.  I wondered if this was a vaguely inapropriate comic turn but it turns out that it's an episode of a regular video commentary on various pop-nerd-culture things.

It features a a segment where a gentleman called Chuck Bittner who describes himself as "quadriplegic stand-up comedian (okay I'm the "can't stand up" comedian) and avid video game player" talks about his petition for button remapping so he can more effectively (or in some cases at all) play console games.  That led me to his site which is called Ask A Capper which is found here. It addresses some really interesting issues about access to games and is well worth a read / watch.  

On top of that it's also well worth checking out the other Nerd Alert videos which amid the humour raise some interesting points.  Their 'back catalogue' is found here.

I should warn you that their videos contain some NSFW language.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

How Not To Write...

A friend of mine (Dr Esther MacCallum-Stewart) linked Darius Kazemi's article on 'How not to write Games Essays'  and I thought it was both amusing and interesting - It's from the blog site Tiny Subversions and can be found here

Monday, 27 June 2011

iPad / e-reading / looking forward

I remember when I heard about ebooks and thought I'd never be impressed with them.  "I would never", I said, "want to read a book on a device - it's just not right"...  Well, how wrong I was - I love reading on the iPad and I am told the Kindle is a joy as well. 

With mobile gaming becoming an ever-increasing medium of game playing (who hasn't heard of Angry Birds these days) I thought that this was a great example of ways in which mobile technology can be 'exciting' and interactive and bring new life to literature.  Not to mention that of course this could be integrated with games in the future.

(For anyone who doesn't want to / can't click the link it's a link to an article about The Wasteland and it's iPad app which is pretty cool!)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

A Galaxy Getting Further Away...

Star Wars Galaxies is a bit like UK libraries for me. I don't use my local library, but I still want it to be there. So when I heard that they're shutting down the servers and closing down Galaxies I was a little bit sad. I only played it for a few weeks, I didn't even like it very much, but still. I am unreasonably excited about the new Old Republic game as well. But still. It's sort of the end of an era. An era I wasn't part of, but I could have been... There's time between now and December I guess. I probably won't bother. But I'll always sort of wish I had.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Chosing Your Own Adventure

I grew up with the Choose Your Own Advenutre style of books ~ Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Citadel of Doom, City of Thieves et al.  I read others but the Fighting Fantasy series by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone books were my staple.  I saved up pocket money and bought the next one - always increasing my shelf of green spined adventures.

I was interested therefore to read this article on some of their evolution and loved the bit at the end about Utopia - options outside the choices.  Even if you don't read the article it's worth skimming to the end just for the final few paragraphs.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

What I'm Playing Now

So here's some thoughts on things I am playing now.  I'll try and keep this a bit updated every now and again.

The Sims 3 (PC) - this drags me back in every now and again, aided by them bringing out expansion packs of course.  The most recent is Generations.  Now as an expansion pack so far I haven't really seen it in evidence, but I like the idea of it.  I'm not sure it fits with my playing style of The Sims, but I am looking forward to making an imaginary friend in the game (which is about imaginary friends... Go figure!).  It fades but never disappears, my love of The Sims, so I am happy to be playing it once more.

Rift (PC) - Some time ago I kicked my Warcraft habit.  It's been a while, but now I am back paying an MMO, and I have to admit it's just as addictive as ever it was.  Rift is nicely put together, it's pretty , it's slick, the talent system is nice, and it's so <em>familiar</em> that it was like putting on an old favourite jumper.

Dragon Age 2 (Xbox)- I was enjoying this a bit a while back, but it hasn't caught me in the way the first one did, and I don't know why. I should get back to it at some point.  The first game was excellent - but so far this one hasn't quite lived up to that.

LA Noire (Xbox) - I've been quite a fan of Rockstar games, and have played quite a bit of various GTA games and Red Dead, now I'm trying out LA Noire.  It's quite an engaging game, there are different things to do in it, and it draws you in.  The characters are interesting and there's some definite backstory that will hopefully become clear over playing.  I am a little worried it might be a bit easy, but so far it's an enjoyable experience.

Jack of all Tribes (iPad) - I enjoy time management games, in the vein of Dinner Dash, but they are all very similar.  It's a format that works but doesn't seem to lead to new innovation very much, so when I saw this I thought I would give it a go.  It looked like it might be a combination of time management and resource maangement.  Sadly it failed to impress - it's shockingly easy, I didn't fail at any of it's 40 or so levels.  There really was no challenge here.  Rather dissapointing.  It was pretty but that was about it.

The Heist (iPhone) - I am  not very good at puzzles, it's a fact, but I quite enjoy them.  The novelty of The 'gimmick' in the Heist is very good.  I'm not sure that they've made enough of it, but it's clever and worth the price of the game I think.  Behind that there are some moving block puzzles and soduko, connecting the pipes and a sort of remote control thing.  It's simple but it passes some time.

Doodle God (iPhone) - I have completed this now but it kept me coming back.  It's a sort of match things up game to find new stuff which you then have to match up.  It's surprisingly addictive and has some mini games in there too.  So far the mini games haven't grabbed me but I haven't yet deleted it, so they may get  a look in.