Archive for March, 2011

Home Sheep Home

Posted: March 30, 2011 in 3.5 Hearts
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Home Sheep Home is a fairly simple puzzle platformer where you’re trying to get three sheep back to their barn. You have to take into account the differing sizes and weights of the three sheep. Its a really interesting way to think about puzzles. I also really like the way the graphics are done so that nothing seems out of place, not even the little hint bubbles. The controls are extremely simple. You can either play with keyboard and mouse or completely with the keyboard. To switch between the sheep you’re controlling, you can either click on their portraits in the top corner or hit the 1,2 or 3 key for the sheep you want. Isn’t that neat?

There are 15 different levels to play through and once you complete a level, you unlock the next two levels so even if you get stuck you can continue on. Sure, you have some levels you haven’t beaten, but you at least get to try the levels further on. This holds true until the last few levels. I’m personally stuck on level 13 and let me tell you, its crazy.

You might have noticed that you recognize the sheep in question in this game. Well, the answer is that you do if you watch Wallace and Gromit. See, there’s Shirley on the far left and Shaun having coffee and little Timmy over on the right. Neat, huh? There’s also a contest going on right now that involves playing this game at Shaunthesheep.com. I’m not sure of the details, but you might as well have a look.

All in all, this was a really nice little game. Nothing spectacular, but fun to play for a few hours. I suggest checking it out, but its not like its something you absolutely have to play. Plus, the little sheep is adorable. The graphics are cute, the controls are simple and the puzzles are really hard. All in all, I award Home Sheep Home with 3.5 hearts.

If you’d like to play this game either where I found it on Kongregate or at the official Shaun the Sheep page, you can find it here and here.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I’ve been quite sick. Well, now its time to talk about my new favorite toy : the Fudge system. I picked up the book for this at PAX East this year. I might have mentioned it.

justfudgeitThe great thing about Fudge is that you don’t really need to follow the rules, know the rules or even care about the rules. My favorite quote from the book was something to the tune of here’s a table you can use, if you like tables, and if you don’t, just make it up. I ran a game of Fudge during Gaming Weekend at school. The campaign has the intentions of continuing, but we haven’t yet due to outside forces. The characters involved are amazing. So, we have the fairly stereotypical bookish wizard with his familiar, an ermine named Vlad. Then we’ve got the energy manipulator who also happens to be a prostitute by night. Then the divine oracle who worships the stars and has something of a temper. And last but certainly not least, the druidic water bender. The characters were all made purely subjectively and the things on their character sheets are just the kinds of things that they think they should be able to do. And let me tell you, they can do some pretty wacky stuff. The quote from the session that has been bandied about the most, I think, is “We do not condone violence in this school! Mind crush!”. It was beautiful. The roleplaying in the session was way more than I tend to see in D&D and I really feel like Fudge helped. Especially since skills and attributes are recorded as “Good” or “Fair” or “Excellent” not as numbers like in other systems.

 

Fudge (role-playing game system)

Image via Wikipedia

I really like the concept of using Fudge dice, which have +, – and blank on the sides. It allows for the game to be much more subjective. I also house ruled out rolls for things that a player’s character should just be able to do. For example, a 7th year wizarding student should be able to cast a mage light without any trouble, so they just can. There’s still the¬†possibility¬†that they will backlash themselves. I use the fatigue table in the Fudge book to handle this effect and it works beautifully.

My players really loved this system and character creation didn’t take nearly as long as I’ve seen it take in other systems. It was largely them deciding what they wanted their character to be and coming up with skills based on that. My players used 2 of the 4-5 different magic systems presented in the book, and I’m considering writing a new one. Its an amazingly adaptable system, as evidenced by the community forums which can be found here. The Fudge system allows, no encourages, people to add their own content and to make custom content for their own settings. Fudge is inherently a rules-light, worldless system that focuses on the story, not the rules. But for people who like the feel of the D6 or the D20 or even diceless, there are rule sets for that. Its completely amazing.

Overall, I love Fudge, my players love Fudge. Fudge is truly the storytelling system I’ve been looking for. I hope that other people who like tabletops but hate rules can check it out and give it a try. I give Fudge a 5 out of 5. It has fulfilled my every hope and dream.

 

Nintendo 3DS

Posted: March 16, 2011 in 4 Hearts
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So, I tried this little guy out at PAX. A lot of the features sounded absolutely amazing. For starters, it has the usual 2 screens where the bottom one is touch, it also has the internet capabilities of the earlier DSi and there are the normal a,b,x,y,l,r and directional pad. On top of that, there are 3 separate cameras and an analog stick. The two cameras are the back are for, get this, taking 3D pictures. Now if that isn’t cool enough, it can also do this neat trick where you put a sticker on a table, lets say you use a question mark block.

That’s a really nice simple image…and you know what they can do with it? Triangulate distance and lock on to give an anchor for a 3D object in the game world that you can¬†maneuver¬†around by moving your 3DS. Yes, you heard me right, you can move your 3DS to avoid 3D game obstacles. There are so many ways that could be awesome. I played their demo game which consisted of doing just that to shoot targets and in the end fight a dragon. It had a learning curve to it, but it was really really fun. The cameras are aided by gyros and motion sensors and stuff so I expect games to come out that fully utilize this potential.

There are also two new features known as StreetPass and SpotPass. StreetPass lets you know if you pass another 3DS that’s on and allows you to send messages. SpotPass lets you know if you pass a wifi hotspot it can connect to. How cool is that?

And here’s the thing that makes me really excited. There are so many big name games coming out for this thing right off the bat. You’ve got Nintendogs and Cats, Kid Icarus, Super Street Fighter, Lego Star Wars, Star Fox, Resident Evil and the big one: they’re re-releasing The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time.

On to the bad stuff. So, first up, somewhere on the order of 15% of the population get headaches from viewing a 3D screen. I highly¬†recommend¬†trying the system before you buy, just in case. I mean, I tried it out and found out I’m part of that 15%. Sad as it is, you might be too. The other thing to watch out for is that use of a 3D screen like this can cause permanent damage to anyone who hasn’t fully developed yet. Nintendo did include a parental controls menu to disable this feature for younger audiences, but its up to the parents to police it. There’s also a switch on the side to turn the 3D off. This is helpful because even for adults, prolonged exposure to 3D images on a 2D surface can cause some eye strain and eventually enough damage to warrant glasses.

In light of both of the awesome and the terrible, the amazing and the necessary warnings, I have to award the Nintendo 3DS with a 4 out of 5 hearts. They understand the risks of their system and they’re taking steps to ensure that the public knows them as well, which is more than I can say for a lot of the companies producing 3D computer screens. Just make sure you try the system out to be sure you’re not in that 15%.

4/5 Hearts

Pax East 2011

Posted: March 14, 2011 in Uncategorized
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So I’m sitting here in tabletop gaming at PAX East 2011. I hear around that there are more people here than at the largest turnout Pennsic War has ever had. Pennsic, for those of you who aren’t in the know, is a SCA event in Pennsylvania and is so large they get a zip code for the two weeks a year that they’re there. I have tried so many new and different games this weekend. And tried out some new gamer tech. Here’s the run down of what’s here.

Nintendo – Man, apparently these guys need three booths to manage. You’ve got the Pokemon booth with Inflata-chu above it. That one is advertising the new Pokemon TCG online play. Apparently its free. It looked pretty much like any of the other play a trading card game online king of programs. The next booth was for the 3DS. Ok, I tried this little bugger. Neat concept. I’d personally wait for a later iteration. It works as advertised, no need to wear 3D goggles or anything like that. But the same time, the graphics were a little fuzzy. I don’t know if that’s because of my eyes (which I doubt since I have extremely good vision) or if it was the game itself. I also found myself starting to get a headache that felt suspiciously like eyestrain. I hope that they can work those bugs out in a later version. The last Nintendo booth was for the Pokemon Black and White games. Nothing surprising there. Just another Pokemon game.

Star Wars Old Republic – Now that’s what I call advertising. They had a giant booth with a stage and plenty of places to try out the game. They also had a bunch of people wandering around in costume, including Darth Maul, Darth Vader, some clone troopers (or storm troopers…I can’t really tell the difference) and Obi Wan Kenobi. The lines have been too long for me to get a chance to try this one, but man it looked impressive.

Most of the booths were either computer parts or first person shooters. I’m not going to lie, I hate FPS games with a passion. There was one though… Its called Chivalry. I was talking to the dev team for a while and this game sounds amazing. Take the Unreal engine, now use swords and poleaxes and crossbows and things like that. We’re talking a full scale epic simulation of¬†medieval¬†tactics and combat. They’re planning on going into beta this summer. People should make sure they check it out. Its by Torn Banner.

Here are some other¬†hi-lights¬†of the games coming out soon. Bioshock 2 and Portal 2 looked very impressive and promise to please. As does Guild Wars 2. Dragon Nest is a new free to play, micro-transactions style MMO coming to us from NOXON and it looked very very good. Cartoony anime graphics, but the gameplay looked promising. Plus its free, which is always my favorite price. And you’re going to want to sit down for this next one. Duke Nukem Forever. That’s right. Duke Nukem Forever. I’d say it a third time, but he might be like Hastur and I’m not keen on having my ass kicked while he chews gum…and he’s all out of gum. They’re actually demoing the game. That means it has to be real. So…the booth. Oh man…the booth. We’re talking classy. Like, chandeliers classy. There’s also a giant throne. It was impressive. Also making a showing was Firefall, a very impressive looking FPS. I’m not a fan normally, but this one had some stellar graphics and while I didn’t play it, my dad did and he said it was class based and once he figured out the controls, pretty easy to play.

There was another really nice medieval combat game being demoed by Kalypso. Its called The First Templar and its for the Xbox360. Its a two player game, a real two player game. The screen is split so that each player gets half of it. Like, vertical line down the middle split meaning that its perfect for all these widescreen TVs people have. My favorite feature was the ability to switch characters so that you can use both sets of powers during single player play.

And the game I was waiting for: Rockband 3 with Pro keys, Pro guitar and Pro drums. Pro drums is amazing, but I’ve known that for a while. Pro keys, also amazing and it really rewards people who actually know how to play a keyboard. And last but not least, Pro guitar. Ok…I feel like this one has the highest learning curve of the three, which makes some sense. Its probably easier with a lot of practice or with actual guitar experience. So, there are 17*5 different buttons on the Pro guitar. As in, 17 rows of 5 buttons. Plus 5 different strings for the strumming. It is intensely hard, even on easy, when you first pick it up. I was starting to catch on after a while but wow, that was hard.

In non-video game land, I have some definite recommendations. First up, Innovation. This is a civilization building card game. Its very nice, fairly simple and involves a lot of thinking. They were demoing it at Foam Brain and it was amazing. Speaking of Foam Brain, one of the other games that they were selling is fantastic. Its called Zombie Dice. Good luck finding it though, since every single vendor carrying it at PAX ran out before the second day was over.

Those of you interested in table top roleplaying, I have two pieces of news for you. First off, Wizard of the Coast recorded their first ever PERFECT SCORE for the DMs Challenge this year when it was won by Matt Brenner. The adventure was for 8th level characters and the theme was in a dragons lair. For anyone who is interested, I’m pretty sure he said he’s going to try and get it published. The second is that I finally found a roleplaying system that I think can do everything a table top needs to do with none of the being bogged down in rules forever that you get from some universal systems (see also: GURPS) Its called Fudge. I intend to run a game of it and write a review. Hopefully it lives up to its potential.

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As a note, I wrote most of this stuff at the con on sunday, despite the fact that its not being posted until monday morning.

Dungeon Blaster

Posted: March 11, 2011 in 2 Hearts
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I guess the theme for the week is Rogue-Like. Today’s game is Dungeon Blaster which is available on Kongregate. The basic idea of this is that yet again, you’re wandering around in a dungeon with no backstory. In the words of my friend’s little brother, “My parents were killed by Storm Troopers and I can’t remember my last name.” Alright, so I’m wandering around in this dungeon and I have no weapons. Wait, what? I have no weapons? Oh, but I can cast firebolt and frostbolt. Ok, so I’m a badly trained wizard and I’m wandering around in a dungeon. Would you look at that, it’s almost like I have a backstory!

So moving on, the graphics are pretty much mediocre. They look like the standard stuff I get in an engine’s world editor. I’m pretty sure I did a project for school with pretty much the same walls. I’m trying to figure out if they custom modeled the title screen or if that’s a stock font. I like it, either way. The one thing I love is the minimap in the HUD. It dynamically fills itself in as I’m exploring. I’d say without a doubt that this is the best feature of the entire game.

So, then you find these treasure chests. Now, there’s no apparent inventory, except for that chalice that I have 1 of down in the bottom corner there. So, I have no idea what kind of treasure I’m finding or why. The complete lack of any sort of explanation of the game is leaving me mystified. Also, I’m not sure if this is a glitch or not, but periodically I’ll go to open a chest, and I have keys but the chest just won’t open. I don’t know if there are specific keys that I need or I have to kill a certain number of monsters or what. All the keys look the same, and they stack in my inventory, so I really don’t understand.

Alright, this monster thing is going to probably give me nightmares. Its like being attacked by the bastard child of a cyclops and a yellow smiley face, only someone painted it pink, possibly to make it more nightmarish. I’m pretty sure it lives under my bed and tries to eat my feet when they hang over the edge. There’s another monster too, one that killed me repeatedly during my first few plays because I didn’t know it existed. I was too busy running from Mr Smiley over there to notice the SHADOW on the ceiling that was slowly killing me. With the entire screen being dark except for around the player, you’ll never notice the shadows until its too late….or until they’ve killed you a good few times.

The controls are simple, pretty much the standard stuff. WASD to move, 1 and 2 to restore health and mana, space to open doors and chests, mouse to cast spells. There’s experience levels and attributes to make you a better poorly equipped adventurer, but that’s about it.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan. I also don’t know how I feel about their total random use of the pentagram. Its like they went ‘oh man occult symbol!’ and just threw it in. The graphics are pretty much boring, the lighting is too dark, and the whole game feels you’re the worst adventurer ever. I mean, seriously, I don’t even have a dagger. I don’t know why I’m gathering things, or even what I’m gathering. Is there a big bad guy? I don’t know! I have no idea what I’m doing in this dungeon. I love the minimap though. That minimap was amazing. Over all, I award Dungeon Blaster 2 out of 5 hearts. Better luck next time, guys.

If you’d like to play Dungeon Blaster, you can find it here.

Hack Slash Crawl

Posted: March 9, 2011 in 4 Hearts, Uncategorized

Everyone remember Nethack? Good. Well, here’s a game I found seems very similar. Its called Hack Slash Crawl. The basic idea is that you’re a hero-type fellow with a big old sword and armor and you’re running through a dungeon beating up bad guys. While a very simple premise, they did it very well here.

Character creation is very simple and they show you clearly what each choice you make does. You can also unlike titles through playing which add bonuses to your character. I’m a fan of being the Deadly and Devastating. Each race and class grant special things to your character, and all the classes can cast spells since the spells come either from the race or class or from armor and weapons found in the dungeon. They also randomly generate a character for you when you start up so you don’t have to make any choices if you don’t want to.

I ended up playing a Werewolf Fighter this go around. The interface is very nice, very simple. My major complaint about it is that the text display up in the top right seems to be missing letters or something. “YO IT ENEMY OR” is a little difficult to understand. I vaguely recall this not happening in earlier play throughs and I suspect a graphics bug. The isometric graphics are well suited to this game.

Here’s the inventory screen. No, I don’t know what Mana Pearls are for other than achievements. Down the bottom there you can see I have two spells now and if you look up at my paperdoll, you can see which items are granting me those spells. You can also see my level under my titles. I really like this inventory screen, though I have to wonder why they gave me so much room to put stuff in, since I just end up selling almost all of it for Mana Pearls I can’t seem to do anything with.

Hack Slash Crawl is certainly a fun little hack and slash adventure, though the implementation has its faults. There are periodic glitches with the display and the combat text is completely doomed. I have no idea what the Mana Pearls are for. I’ve made it to the 10th level of the dungeon without ever once finding a store. All in all, Hack Slash Crawl shows promise, but plays like its early in the design phase and they haven’t implemented things yet. There’s no story, no quests, no shops, but the combat is very well done. I award Hack Slash Crawl a 4 out of 5 hearts.

4/5 HeartsIf you’re interested in playing Hack Slash Crawl, you can find it here.

Mission US

Posted: March 2, 2011 in 4.5 Hearts
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Here’s another analysis I wrote for class. This one is for an educational game for middle schoolers.

Mission US is a point and click adventure game produced by Thirteen with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities where you take the role of an apprentice boy during the start of the American Revolution.

Learning

     

  • To educate students about the causes of the Revolutionary war
  • To introduce important vocamulary words for studying early American history
  • To provide teachers with a game and worksheets for use in a classroom environment
  •  

Storytelling

The story of Mission US is that of the early American revolution in Boston, as seen through the eyes of Apprentince Printer Nathaniel Wheeler. Through the player’s choices, he decides which side to support and experiences the revolution. The story is a large portion of the learning goals, and supports them very well.

Gameplay

Mission US is a point and click adventure game with a few mini games. The main game play involves moving around the city and having conversations with people through dialogue options. The player chooses whether Nat is a patriot, tory or neutral using this mechanic. This also allows for the collecting of the vocabulary words. While the choices of the player have no effect on the greater story, the revolution, they do impact what sort of participation in the revolution Nat Wheeler has. There are also two minigames that are unlocked through play. The first is Pennywhistle Hero, a Guitar Hero style game where students can play revolutionary era songs on a pennywhistle. The second is Think Fast! which is a vocabulary game where the student fills in the blank in a sentence to prove their understanding of the vocabulary.

User Experience

The interface is very simple to use, being comprised of point and click elements that either give the player information about the colonial lifestyle or further the game through dialogue or actions. During the Pennywhistle Hero minigame, the player uses the keyboard to play the proper notes on the pennywhistle to play patriotic songs.

Technology

Mission US was implemented using Flash. This seems to be the correct solution, since the game is meant to be playable in classrooms and should be able to run on any computer with an internet connection. In their FAQ section, they also have instructions to contact them for another version that can be played without the internet. The only downside is that Mission US does not run properly on a computer with IE6 or older,which many school computers are running.

Assessment

While there don’t appear to be any formal assessments of Mission US, a statistic stuck out during a search. According to thirteen.org, prior to the release of this game studies showed that only ‘17% of eighth graders performed at or above the proficient level in American History.’ This statistic could then be compared to a sample set of students who have played the game to see if the percentage is increased. They could also compare to other methods of learning history such as Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? or the Magic Tree House book series.

Conclusion

With episode 2 scheduled for release in the spring of 2011 and a very avid fanbase of students, teachers and parents, Mission US seems to be a very successful educational game. There is a clamour on their forums for more games like this, more chapters, and most interestingly, for games like this for adults. I think that Thirteen and Electric Funstuff succeeded wildly with this game.

And since I moving this over to here, I should continue along with a score, shouldn’t I? Mission US was certainly fun and engaging, simple to use and had nice graphics. The teaching goals were met very well and I feel like this game is successful. So, I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

4.5 out of 5 zelda heartsIf you’re interested in playing Mission US, its available here.