TellTale Games

The Wolf Among Us

In my not so classic installments of not so game reviews on not so new titles (entitled Fashionably Late) I finished my TWAU play through. I think I over praise story based games because they have stories – without as much focus on how well they are written (sometimes). This is because of the story drought I keep getting in my games. With that in mind, I must say I loved it. I loved the setting, I loved the Fable universe (it was my first introduction to it) and I thought it was a very clever and interesting use of fairy tale characters. A few improvements I’d like to see:

Warning: a couple mild spoilers below

  • Consistency on outcome based on choice (Mass effect was good at this). It only happened a couple of times to me but I did a wrong action based on the text and usually it was my mis-interpretation. An example of this is when you are having a drink with the Woodsman and he is sharing what his true intentions were for Red Riding Hood – one of the responses was “Glass him”. I thought that meant “cheers him” and I picked that, looking to make amends with my centuries old nemesis. So, when I smashed him across the face with my glass I realized my mess up. In Mass Effect each choice had clarity around Paragon, Renegade, or neutral which helped clarify some of the text when it was fuzzy. So yes, I want an underlying system to protect me from myself (in Mass eEffect, you could turn off the indicators if you wished). A simple system such as aggressive (red), charming (blue), neutral (white) to further clarify what the choice will lead to can’t hurt.
  • I have a PC X-Box controller and I found the game better in that control scheme. With the advent of tablets, etc. I’d love to see a touchscreen version. I game most of my non-cpu/gpu intensive gaming on my Surface Pro (Civ 5, X-Com, Telltale games) and I couldn’t play it without a mouse or joystick attached (I went for the latter). Would be nice to see in future editions!
  • Sometimes on certain choices you would just stand there and I believe there was supposed to be a facial expression or some sort of emote to show the response (or response to response) and that wasn’t always clear. They could do a better job of that.
  • A longer introduction of things at the beginning would have been helpful – without having any knowledge of the Fables universe I had to tread carefully. I had no clue if I was allowed to be rough (or supposed to be rough) or “one of the good guys”. I felt they did a good job introducing my “past” in that regard but without a nice introduction laying things out a bit more, I was left a little more to my devices than I would have liked to have been (upon further reflection) since it was my first exposure.
  • I am still torn if the Quicktime events actually add or detract from the game. Sometimes they felt cumbersome and crammed in to break up long conversation parts and rarely was it a welcome break from the focus of the game for me. I’d like to see that perhaps be a toggle as well. The frustrating part of it was on many of the events it told you to press a button and no matter how hard I would mash it I couldn’t get it full – so hard that I know it was impossible to do (I was a master at Track and Field!) so why give me that option anyway if you are forcing a fail state? It didn’t create tension, just frustration.

Most of these are quality of life things that I believe would improve the title a bit – but honestly they are pretty personal in preference. I am surprised this came out after The Walking Dead series as it felt like it was less polished, but that could have been the art style or how I was playing it on my Surface instead of gaming computer. Something about it felt less smooth or realistic (which sounds silly on a comic-y style game, I get it.) The epic battle with Bloody Mary when you finally show your true, full form was jaw dropping. The pacing worked well.

It is a pure story game, and is fun to play that way. I still think there is more room for story in our action games (and MMOs) but at least we have a nice departure here from the lobby grind fests that make up a lot of my playtime these days. Looking forward to the next Wolf Among Us season, and they really should drop the season part – the game plays much better all at once. I am fairly surprised that Telltale is the only company making these games – clearly there is a good market for them and I wonder why no one has risen to be a challenger.

The Walking Dead Season Two

Better late than never, my segments of reviewing games long out of the minds of the hip kids who grab them on launch day is now called “Fashionably Late”. I have a laundry list of games to play that are outdated in the  world of instant news and updates – but I’ll play them, and I’ll share things that stick out about them. Rest assured Fashionably Late posts have nothing to do with fashion – a glimpse of my wardrobe would prove that.

I was a huge fan of The Walking Dead, Season One and I watched and waited closely for the second season. I purposely didn’t buy it when it came out because I fundamentally don’t agree with the episode system. It’s a neat novelty and I get why they do it for production value, but really, it is just one game that is released over time. I enjoy playing games on my own time and am fine waiting longer to get my hands on it. Netflix is great for this too where I can fire off back to back to back episodes of all sorts of shows that are a season behind.  I purposely didn’t wait this long but it fell of my radar (somehow) until Izlain mentioned it in a post. Of course it was on sale on Steam (isn’t everything?) so I had to buy.

I crushed the game over the weekend in a few play sessions. It didn’t disappoint. Warning, below this picture are some possible (but mild) spoilers. Read on at your own risk if you haven’t played!

This image captures a lot of the spirit

I love the above picture of Clementine. It captures her growth from the first season through the second in a blood-splattering sort of way. I have a nine year old son so for me I tried to play the game as much as I could as if it was through his eyes – how would he cope? What decisions would he make? This made the experience even more personal for me. I was engaged, I cared for what was happening to the people involved, and the reintroduction of certain old characters was also nice to see.

The Good:

  • Believable Walking Dead world. I am a fan of the tv show, the comics, and season one and this game captures the “world” of the Walking Dead really well.
  • Solid story. Not too twisty and gimmicky while being relatable.
  • Introduction of new and mostly interesting characters.
  • Diversity of characters – different races, backgrounds, accents and style. Reflective of the real world.

Needs Improvement:

  • Too many characters left not enough personal investment in them.
  • If I had a weeks rations for every non-believable interaction from adult to child Clem could survive the apocalypse. (A woman telling Clem that the baby she is pregnant with isn’t her husbands? Sending an 11 year old into a room by herself to “scout” for walkers, while two adults scout the other room? Reaching to Clem to make decisions for the group as the deciding vote? Basically anytime someone starts their story chain with “I can’t believe I am telling a kid this” or ending it with “Clem is right”) There are a lot of examples of reaching decisions that were difficult to believe. Often.
  • False sense of “choice matters”. The characters that are going to die are going to die no matter what you do. (Except one).
  • Most of the exploration that occurs is just filler and pushing time out. There really isn’t much of a game here.

The part I struggle with this game is whether it is a game at all. The QuickTime events aren’t challenging and repeat until you are successful, and always only have one outcome. The walk around and click hotspots that are pre-identified don’t add a lot to the experience and just feel like a time filler. The only choices you make, the verbal responses, don’t impact the end result at all – but it does impact how people treat you (and how, in turn, you feel about them). This is just an observation. The experience is still really solid. I am just torn if the QuickTime really adds to it all in the end, or if there was more focus on expanding the conversations and storylines and skip out on the detracting items if it could be an even more rewarding and enriching experience. Either way, it is a very solid game from start to finish and maybe I will be less Fashionably Late for season three.

I haven’t played The Wolf Among Us yet but am queuing that up. Soon as it goes on sale on steam.

Death, Taxes, Gaming.

“The only guarantees in life are Death and Taxes” is one of those old quotes that stand the test of time. Having been playing a lot of X-Com lately I caught myself doing something that I regretted afterwards which made me think about death in gaming a lot closer – and I realized I didn’t like what I found (with my own behavior). The stage is set.

X-Com is a tactical game where the goal is to defend the Earth from alien invaders. As you play you encounter new aliens and start learning why the invaders are there in the first place. Slowly but surely I have been piecing together the puzzle and while doing so, doing a pretty good job of keeping Earth away from panic. I have lost Mexico as a supporting state of the X-Com program but the rest are pretty safe and secure. (Sorry, Mexico). One of the great parts about X-Com is that the soldiers you use on field missions can improve with experience, and gain ranks and access new skills and strengths. They also die – permanently. All that being said they are generally devoid of any personality and the skill trees are standard – so you can have the exact same soldier where the only difference is name and nationality, plus some stats that influence how they behave in game. My favourite squaddie (short form for squad mate, I’m not sure if that’s standard terminology but that is what I use!) is “Pitbull”. She is an American support specialist. I don’t even know her real name (if squaddies live long enough, they are granted a nickname). Pitbull has saved my other squaddies and often has single handedly changed full outcomes. She is max rank now and never, ever misses a shot. She is amazing. I love seeing her lead missions and is the closest thing I have to a “super soldier”.  She has helped me advance so far in this game. She died yesterday, and I did something I never thought I would.

I reloaded the earliest saved game so I had her again.

This was perplexing to me. Reiterating here – I don’t even know her in game name, she is a “tool” in my toolbox to stop the alien invasion. She has no personality outside of her shared and easily copied skill set. The reason why this perplexes me is I was reminded of death in other mediums and comics, for example, I HATE when people are killed off and they are always brought back. It sours the experience. With that long winded intro I am going to look at a few games where I have experienced death, and some observations (and questions).

Comics

Thalen’s post “On Retcons” popped up on Anook this morning and it reminded me of my own views on death in the comics medium. I hate it. When Superman “died” the first time it was made out to be a HUGE event in the DC universe. I was a Marvel comics guy through and through but I still bought that edition so I had it preserved – a moment in history! It was in 1992 and I thought it was a brave, bold move and that the comic world would be shaken up forever. Think of the stories they could build off of this! The other heroes picking up the slack, how the DC Universe would change without Superman.. wait – what?

The death of death having meaning, you mean.

Superman taught me one thing. Death is temporary. Death lasts exactly three months in the DC Universe. That tainted comic deaths for me forever. Of course, Marvel is equally (if not more) guilty of this – my favorite comic book character is Colossus, from the X-Men. He has always been my favorite since I was a kid. Sure enough, read through his “life” here at the Marvel Wiki and its a disgusting ruin of an amazing base character. Deaths, rebirths, alternate realities, blah blah blah. I’ll never buy another comic. To me, there is nothing wrong if you run out of content and much like Thalen’s article (where Nick Fury was sun-setted quite nicely for his character and then brought back in a poor way) just let the stories end. Harry Potter ended. The world is fine with that. If you tinker too much with your assets they aren’t assets anymore.

Gaming

I have four instances in gaming that stand out to me with gaming and death. The first is the aforementioned X-Com and “Pitbull” eating a Muton sandwich. The second is going a bit further back but very similar – to Blood Bowl, another turn based game that you can improve your characters and I had a whole post based around the antics of my Wardancer. I ended up losing her to randomization eventually – but she had to stay dead because it was a live game vs another human being.

The third instance  is in the Walking Dead – when the protagonist died (we all saw it coming) It clearly felt like a part of the narrative and the introduction of the true protagonist all along (the little girl). It felt satisfying how he died, and how he kept her safe for so long.

The fourth is in Mass Effect 2 – at the ending attack on the Collectors depending on what actions you took your squad mates would live or die. I cheated on this one too (shame on me) because I was emotionally invested in the characters I had spent so long developing with.

Inconsistent behaviors to me considering my comics stance? At the same time since they are different mediums, can I be excused? The Comics rant is pretty consistent with my Walking Dead experience – the narrative. At the end of it all I react to death in games on different motivators and in the above examples of X-Com and Blood Bowl I had ties with my characters through achievement. They weren’t fleshed out or personal but they helped me achieve things in gaming and because of that I wanted to protect them.

In Mass Effect 2 I wanted to protect them because I had developed a relationship with the characters and wanted to preserve that. Like protecting your little brother from harm.

In the Walking Dead I accepted the death as part of the overall narrative and that death actually improved the experience overall. Great story, great sacrifice.

So I ask you – do you go out of your way to save your protagonists or let the dice fall where they may? Is it different depending on game or genre? We all know MMOs care nothing of death or penalties, but what about other games when those deaths are more permanent?

 

Lego Marvel Super Heroes

Part of myself maturing as a gamer is learning to share video game time with my eight year old son – who is also an enthusiast. Of course I try parenting hard (1 hour a day tops gaming time) but sometimes I am my own worst enemy.

A game style/series we have seriously enjoyed and put some great time into together is the Lego series. They just get better and better. We still haven’t finished the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (sitting at 83% completed) and when Telltale launched the Avengers game we jumped (flew, swung, smashed) right in.

All of the series are a fan’s (whatever your flavor) dream. We have played Batman, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, the aforementioned Lord of the Rings… they are all well done. The game play is a delicious mix of living/reliving a story line, puzzle solving, item/character collecting, questing, jumping, shooting/fighting and discovery. Most levels you will have to complete several times (and on free play mode) to collect and discover every nook and cranny.

We have been plugging away at the Lord of The Rings Trilogy well over a year. Its not a daily play by any means, but we keep going back to it. 17% to go – and we both are VERY curious what happens when we “beat” it. Of course, there will be a Hobbit Trilogy Lego (no doubt) after movie three, so I see us playing these series to completion and beyond for at least that long.

Of course, maybe once he hits 10 he’ll stop playing with me and move to Call of Duty 12 or something.

Sweet, Sweet Naivety.

My son LOVES hockey. He is 7. He plays twice a week, been in weekend tournaments, and when he gets off the bus after school stays outside and shoots pucks at the net until we drag him in. It’s nice seeing him enjoy something so much at his age. It’s something that is easy to support. We’ve gone to several local Junior A games and he just went to his first NHL game this weekend. 20,000 cheering in a rink is awe-inspiring when you are young.

He is convinced he is going to make the NHL. Hockey has been something we have really enjoyed together.

At the last game, I realized something. When the jumbo-tron inevitably start running a ‘Make some noise’ segment (like the video above) and faux measures the crowd response until (usually) at some point the decibels increase to such a level that it explodes the screen – that is a common, 3-6x a night occurrence at these events.

I’ve never seen my son yell, scream, and cheer so loud – all the while staring at the jumbo-tron. And when they reached the peak, he was so proud that he was part of making that happen.

He thinks it is real.

It didn’t even cross my mind he would, but why shouldn’t he? I wish I would take more time to try and see the world through his eyes. Unfortunately, like Santa, the Easter Bunny (et al), just another thing on the list of ‘bound for disappointment someday’ that I am not looking forward to explaining.

This year the most powerful game I played, hands down, was TellTale Games the Walking Dead. I was emotionally invested. Sure, some of the quirky puzzles didn’t quite fit, but the game really fit the genre (I have read all the comics, and also watch the show for full disclaimer). About half way through the game, awe inspired, I ruined it for myself. I made a choice and afterwards I was so curious about what would have happened if I made a different choice.

I went to Google.

Regretted it since.

to be polite here. =)>

My first play through of TWD was me cheering at a zombi-fied jumbotron. It was exhilarating – I felt freedom and amazement! What characters! Great Plot! I am having impact on the game and world around me – and – what? Google says what? That my choices really have zero impact on the overall storyline? That no matter what I do, Pam leaves? and I get bit regardless of what choices I make? Santa ISNT REAL?!? Why are you telling me this!?

Yes, it was my own fault – I was already mapping what I was going to try and do on my second playthrough. I didn’t play again, and while there was a certain satisfaction in knowing I did my gut reaction and stuck with it for the entire game, I was sad that all I could really effect was how people thought of and perceived me in game (theirs and my word choices) and that the plot was out of my hands. I could only impact  my personality while getting there – I was getting there regardless.

One of those rare times where I would have rather not known.