Showing posts with label RPG. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RPG. Show all posts

This Week in Geekdom

Oh geez, how in the name of Zod is this month rocketing along at this pace? As you guys can probably guess, work has, once again, been absconding away with just about all of my free time as of late. Fortunately there was a enough of a break in the proverbial clouds this past weekend to take in a showing of Civil War, but it seems that such nerdery will likely continue to be of the guerrilla variety for the majority of this year. We'll get into the nitty-gritty of that in a future post but, for now, let's get down to the Week in Geekdom!


On nothing less than Star Wars day Respawn Entertainment, makers of Titanfall, announced that they are in the midst of working on a (as yet untitled) third-person ARPG set in a galaxy far, far away.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare isn't even approaching mass release yet and already gamers are seething at Activision's forthcoming offering.

Escapist would have us believe that these are the 8 most influential RPGs of all time. Do you agree?

While we're in a listicle frame of mind, these are 7 recent turn-based titles that are worth giving a go.

Fallout 4 now has Oculus Rift support.


It's a technology at the heart of the vast majority of science fiction, but here's why we won't ever see faster-than-light travel in reality.

Say you're a miniaturized superhero. Could you, say, safely travel on a human-launched projectile while in your insectile state? (Warning: link contains Civil War spoilers)

Think you can program in a quantum environment? IBM has just the place for you to try your hand.

Another day, another revving of the Large Hadron Collider, another potential discovery of a new particle.

Feats of Geekdom/General Awesomess

Meet the Finnish 10-year-old who discovered a colossal bug in Instagram.

All Nippon Airways put together this very detailed and highly appropriate tribute for Star Wars Day:

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!

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Round Up: Gen Con 2015

And just like that Gen Con 2015 is over. Seriously? It's already over? <> Sigh. Well, one of the good things about being back is that I can share all of the awesome that went down during the Best Four Days in Gaming. In keeping with all of our other convention round-ups, I'll present the convention news alphabetically by publisher, then give overarching impressions of the convention itself (and a little update on Steampunk Hawkgirl). For more pictures of all the goodness, check out our social pages, particularly our Instagram.

Fantasy Flight (FFG)

Perennial powerhouse Fantasy Flight occupied their customary spot right in front of the main doors of the dealer hall and their merchandise booth seemed to be permanently ringed by an endless parade of eager gamers. That commercial success, among other things, was confirmed during the annual In-Flight Review. After the powerhouse lineup of new games presented during last year's con, it was unsurprising that much of the 2015-2016 FFG pipeline consists largely of expansions and enhancements to their existing titles.

The publisher's two best-selling games, Armada and Imperial Assault (with the former actually outselling the latter in this calendar year), will both be getting new miniatures. Imperial Assault will also be bolstered by the addition of not one, but two expansion sets. The first such add-on, Twin Shadows, will focus largely on the fringe elements of the Star Wars universe, specifically bounty hunters and elements that were heavily featured in the Edge of the Empire RPG. Twin Shadows is set to be released sometime in September. The second expansion will be the very robust Return to Hoth, which will feature not only new miniatures and missions, but new mechanics for the core gameplay. Return to Hoth is forecasted to be available for purchase sometime during the fourth quarter of this year.

The insanely popular X-Wing will also get more miniatures and a few expansions. Wave 7 of these forthcoming miniatures will include an imperial raider (made with direct input from LucasFilm) and an imperial assault carrier from the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. Rebels will feature heavily in Wave 8, which will include a Mist Hunter and a Ghost.

One of the most highly sought-after games of the year, Forbidden Stars, remains completely sold out and is expected to be on back-order for much of the rest of 2015 as more copies are printed and distributed. More than a few con-goers were disappointed that FFG was not even offering demos of the Warhammer 40K-based title during Gen Con.

While we're in a Warhammer state of mind, FFG offered a bit more exposition on Warhammer Quest: the Card Game. The still-in-development title is said to be a challenging (potentially cooperative) campaign-based card game.

Descent will be getting an expansion, titled the Mists of Bilehall, late this year. Three new lieutenant packs are also in line to be released for the game in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Mission: Red Planet, a resource-management title inherited from Asmodee, has been updated and will be re-released under the FFG banner. You can pre-order copies of the game here. Interestingly enough, aside from a few high-level remarks concerning distribution at the incept of the In-Flight Review, this was the only explicit mention of FFG's blockbuster merger with Asmodee.

Fantasy Flight's single most-requested reprint, Runebound, is going to go beyond the printhouse and get a brand new incarnation. Aside from the title and a few core mechanics, this iteration of Runebound will bear no other resemblance to other games that have borne the same name. FFG has painstakingly re-imagined the title and is slated to bring it to market in time for the holiday season.

Speaking of releasing in time for a holiday, the third edition of the classic Fury of Dracula will hopefully be hitting the market just before Halloween.

The Lovecraftian Eldridge Horror will get a new expansion: Strange Remnants. The add-on was designed to effectively gameify the use of the expansions without the game itself taking up the entirety of your gaming table. The title will be available for purchase during the third quarter of 2015.
  • Fantasy Flight reiterated that its offerings in the Euro-style marketplace, such as Tigris and Samurai, will remain niche and not comprise a sizable portion of their pipeline. 
  • The second edition of the A Game of Thrones: The Card Game was the single most successful Gen Con release ever in the history of Fantasy Flight. 
  • Star Wars the RPG: Force and Destiny is now out and in its final form. There will be no omnibus offered to combine the three rulebooks.
  • Finally, the publisher did confirm that games based upon the Star Wars: Episode VII are already in development, but could provide no details as to what these would be.
Flying Frog Productions

One of the most sought-after demos of Gen Con 2014, Shadows of Brimstone, continued to be a powerful draw for Flying Frog. The publisher garnered additional attention via an intricately painted 3D board depicting the worldscape of the expansion Swamps of Death.


Some of the most sought-after badge swag at the con came from the demo table for Nefarious: the Mad Scientist Game. This fast-paced card game pits the sinister machinations of the world's most dastardly villains against one another. Players seek to out-invent, out-scheme, and out-maneuver one another as they attempt to take over the world. Nefarious can accommodate 2-6 gamers and is designated as being appropriate for ages 13 and up.

Wizards of the Coast (WotC)

The 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons continued to reign over much of the convention. WotC allowed gamers to partake in the first scripted adventures associated with the Rage of Demons Adventurers League season that will be available at your friendly local game store beginning this September.

Wizards also enjoyed a very strong showing at the annual ENnie awards, taking home the gold for Best Aid/Accessory, Best Cover Art (for Rise of Tiamat), Best Interior Art, Best Electronic Book, Best Family Game, Best Free Product, Best Game, Best Monster/Adversary, Best Production Values, Best Rules, Best Supplement, Best Publisher, and Product of the Year.

Independent Developers

As in previous years, the vast majority of my Gen Con trip was spent with small and independent game developers. Also akin to other years, those developers put forth some truly innovative and impressive offerings. The following titles definitely succeeded not not only providing a memorable playing experience, but lingered long after the dealer hall had closed.

Aetherium (Anvil 8 Games) - This was my very first demo of the con and it set the bar pretty darned high. Take many of the core mechanics from Imperial Assault, add in several fun tactical twists, and set it all in a phenomenally well-imagined cyberpunk universe. It was one of the most satisfying and fine-tuned miniatures games that I've had the pleasure to play. Do yourself a favor and check out the website.

Campaign Trail (Cosmic Wombat Games) - This clever game runs players through, as the name suggests, the run-up to a presidential election. Careful resource management will allow you to level up from basic grassroots campaigning to call upon a mighty war chest that will bring you to the Oval Office. The title can be played head-to-head or co-op with teammates taking on the role of Vice Presidential hopeful. This game will be the subject of its own Kickstarter beginning on September 14th.

Tesla vs Edison (Artana Games) - The end product of one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of the year, Tesla vs Edison generated quite a bit of convention buzz despite being tucked away towards the back of the dealer hall. As the name suggests, Tesla vs Edison allows players to shape the course of electricity development in the United States via the invention of new technologies and ruthless business practices. It's marketed as a 'medium-level' strategy game, which is a pretty spot-on descriptor, and will appeal most to fans of euros and those gamers who can't get enough Power Grid. Fair warning, if you're a person who doesn't like stock market or bidding mechanics in your games, this title probably isn't for you. That being said, Tesla vs Edison does an admirable job with its theme and, if you're into its mechanics, is absolutely worth a try.

Zephyr (Portal Dragon) - This competitive tabletop game continually surprised throughout the course of the demo. Set in a beautifully crafted steampunk universe, Zephyr was as satisfying to play as it was on the eyes.  Players captain, outfit, and equip their own airship in the hope of successfully resolving the missions set before them. Zephyr is a wholly modular experience that can appeal to both board game novices and seasoned veterans alike. The game is set to be featured in its own Kickstarter during the fourth quarter of this year.

Overarching Thoughts on Gen Con 2015

The Indianapolis Convention Center definitely seemed more crowded this year, and that sensation was validated when Gen Con released attendance figures. 61,423 unique con-goers graced the halls, a 8.49% increase over 2014's turnout. While that increase is markedly smaller than what we've seen in previous year-over-year periods, the fact that we're now dealing with over sixty thousand con-goers was palpable. It'll be very interesting to see what future years will look like given that the infrastructure in and around the ICC is already highly strained.

As for costume news, our steampunk take on the Justice League was very well received. It was the first time many of my friends had ever cosplayed and they all really seemed to enjoy the experience. Seeing them having so much fun gave me all sorts of happy feels. Maybe we'll make this whole group cosplay a regular thing for Gen Con. We costume up pretty nicely, don't you think?

I'll go into all the details about the individual components of Steampunk Hawkgirl via updates on the tutorial posts. On the whole, not gonna lie, it was simultaneously the most rewarding and most frustrating costume I've ever done. A lot of things went wrong at the last possible minute, resulting in a handful of components going unused. Similarly, a few of the functions of the costume weren't behaving as they were supposed to on Cosplay Saturday, so they were effectively shelved. That being said, the final product didn't turn out too badly.

Until next year Gen Con!
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Want to Play: a MegaGame

File this one under things I Desperately Wanted to Finish and Post a Week Ago. It’s come up a couple of times in the past few entries, so you guys might be aware that for the past few months I’ve been dealing with a decidedly un-fun set of health issues. I won’t bore you guys with the details, but symptoms and path to recovery have done a number on me, so the otherwise ordinary task of drafting up a post ends up taking far longer than it used to.

But no medical malady was about to keep me from participating in my very first Megagame.  
Wait, I think I’ve heard of those. Aren’t Megagames kind of like model UN?

Sort of. One thing is for sure: the name is especially apt. Take one part model UN, one part LARP, and one part board game on steroids. Blend in the company of 30-50 new friends over the course of six or so hours and you end up with a Megagame.

That sounds amazing, if maybe a little intense. What’s it like to play?

Short answer: awesome, if also delightfully exhausting.

The longer answer could probably do with a little setting of the proverbial stage. Megagames are the brainchild of a group of British friends who have been coming up with the large scale playable scenarios since the early 80s. Scenarios, which comprise both the fundamental rules and the core narrative of the game, can vary significantly in terms of the subject matter covered and the roles made available to individual players.

Whether the thematic narrative involves clashing Celtic tribes or scheming Renaissance era Italian barons the basic mechanics remain largely the same. Players are assigned a role, each with specific abilities and functions, and are usually tasked with leveraging those to the benefit of whatever team or faction they are placed in. Some players are given access to and control of one or more colossal board game-ish setups, which usually represent combat and/or tactical interactions with the forces of other factions. A combination of interactions in those giant board games and skillful roleplaying will yield a winner, though winning seems to be less a concern than just performing well and producing memorable experiences.

Image Credit
Our theme was ‘Watch the Skies’, a scenario in which teams of five or six players would represent current nations in the lead up to and fallout from humanity’s first point of contact with extraterrestrials. Each ‘country’ had a leader, a vice-presidential type role, a science officer, a military commander, a representative to the UN, and a utility role. Players could also be placed with the invading/visiting aliens or take on the role of a member of the media attempting to report on the historic events as they unfolded.

If you guessed that last one was the role that I got to play, you’d be correct. While it wasn’t too much of a stretch to play a fact-hungry blogger, taking control of the Global Technology Journal gave me a unique vantage to see just how a Megagame worked while still being an active participant. The rules for the media were surprisingly robust and added an interesting dynamic to the game as a whole. Not only did the media players have to try to keep up with, and provide accurate citations for, the sometimes chaotic happenings around us, but we had to do so before any of our media brethren could land the scoop themselves. Balancing the need for timeliness with the accuracy (while simultaneously trying to curry favor with the individual countries) was definitely challenging and made the game go by in a flash. There were precious few moments of downtime and, in all honesty, there was enough content within the media role that it could easily have been split between two people.
Aliens have landed!
The other players seemed like they had similarly engaging tasks. Both the science and military officers spent the majority of the day perched over their respective game boards. The board gaming aspect seemed like some of the tactical turn-based combat from XCOM (for the military players) and the tech tree progression you might see in the Civilization games. You can see variants of these in action in this Shut Up & Sit Down video. Officers controlled individual units with unique abilities and had to respond to various challenges and confrontations, which themselves varied from round-to-round.

Wait, back up a second. What’s this about rounds?

The game itself is played in up to five or six rounds, exactly how many of these depends on how quickly the players progress through their given objectives or how much of the narrative they uncover. For sovereign nations, each round requires the management and deployment of a finite number of resources (team members being one such resource, but financial capital being the most significant factor). Representatives must be sent to the UN where, as you might guess, all formal diplomacy takes place. Scientists and military officers are deployed to their respective game boards to carry out agreed upon plans and the almighty budgets must be balanced. Money becomes especially precious in the later rounds, which allowed for several underhanded and interesting mechanics *cough cough* bribery *cough*. Where once well-cited stories were tough to come by there was a sudden deluge of state secrets at our media disposal…for a price. 

Our particular game moved along at a slower pace; we reached only the end of round four. Despite this, those four rounds packed in a lot of action. Aliens landed, other unspeakable horrors were conjured, alliances were forged and shattered, backs were stabbed, and various Earthly entities were abducted into extraterrestrial custody. Our gamemasters (or game weavers as they’re termed in a Megagame) revealed the ‘winners’ along with a breakdown of what was actually going on, including various storylines that we didn’t have a chance to play out.

There were a few bumps during the course of play, but that was to be expected given that this was the first full Megagame run through for our game weavers, and these were generally minor (e.g. a few roles needed additional clarification). The layout of the space where our game took place also presented a few challenges, but those certainly didn’t detract from the overall experience.

LARPers, former debate teamers, model UN veterans, or just fans of human psychology/team dynamics/problem solving will enjoy Megagames. You’ll definitely have the chance to untangle some thorny situations, so make sure that diplomacy skill is maxed out (and maybe deception too, if you’ve got the build points). Snacks and the caffeine source of your liking will also come in handy, especially after hour 3 or so. It’s definitely a unique gaming experience that’s worth sampling.

To find a game near you, check out the Megagames United home site, the Megagames United twitter account, or the Megagames Reddit thread.
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PAX East 2015 Round Up

Wait, PAX was a week ago? How is that possible? I’m going to go ahead and blame daylight savings. Losing an hour of sleep is guaranteed to make almost anyone a little disoriented. Diurnal editing aside, another PAX is in the books and we have all the highlights for you. 

PAX ran up against quite a few obstacles this past weekend, the fact that said weekend was an hour shorter than most being one of them (mercifully, snow was not one of these). The fact that the first day of the con coincided with the last day of the Game Developer’s Conference was very much another. While no companies overtly (or publicly) elected to have a presence at GDC versus PAX, West Coast versus East, there were distinctly fewer publishers/ developers in the main dealer hall than we’ve seen in previous years. This may also have been a symptom of another sort of convention fatigue, as the inaugural PAX South wrapped up only five weeks earlier. If it turns out that the latter issue kept game makers away, then next year may provide some relief as PAX East 2016 is slated for late April (the 22nd-24th according to the MCCA). Consequently, the main concourse of PAX was primarily populated with hardware names. 

At several points during the convention we asked ourselves if, “Is Studio XYZ not here or did we just not see them?” In most cases, the answer was that the studio in question had no dealer hall presence. Riot Games, who have been scaling back their convention presence in general, tried to atone for their absence by hosting a lounge for individuals cosplaying as characters from League of Legends while many other devs/publishers used the Firaxis technique and hosted one or more panels. Related aside: it'll be interesting to see what Riot does in the next few years with regards to con attendance. We honestly wouldn't be surprised if they tried to create a RiotCon.

The main dealer hall may have been light on AAA studios, but that was arguably a boon to the many unaffiliated developers that occupied the Indie Megabooth. Given the lack of big-name competition and PAX exclusive headlines, the Indie Megabooth did a lot of the heavy lifting so to speak. In keeping with our other convention round-ups, we’ll summarize those impressive indie titles along with the offerings from the bigger studios below, then follow those synopses up with our impressions of PAX as a whole.

Blizzard Entertainment – Blizzard clearly enjoyed being one of the few truly big-name studios on the floor and garnered a quantity of foot traffic rivaled only by the Twitch booth (as the latter broadcast LoL matches during the con). With two highly anticipated titles floating in the beta-verse, it was not hard to discern what all the fuss was about, even if Blizzard saved all the big announcements for its own convention. The publisher announced that its MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, will be getting another character in the form of Sylvanas, who seems to be rogue-ish and DPS-y, as well as another playable map: Tomb of the Spider Queen. Blizzard's other forthcoming MOBA, the arena combat first-person shooter Overwatch, will also be getting new characters: the gunslinging McCree and the tanky Zarya. Neither title has a definite release date, but Heroes of the Storm is said to be available later this year while Overwatch is supposed to hit the market in 2016.  

Denneton Games - Denneton found itself unable to continue its practice of hiding in plain sight during the course of the con, as too many gamers crowded around their booth in order to catch a glimpse of the fully finished Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. That title went live on March 10th and is now available for purchase on Steam. 

Disruptor Beam - We had high hopes for this local studio. They had an engaging booth smack-dab in the middle of the main dealer hall and they had two games themed on two incredibly enduring franchises: Star Trek and Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, neither of their titles, Star Trek Timelines and Game of Thrones: Ascent seemed like they were at all ready for a playable alpha, nonetheless a live demo for tens of thousands of gamers. We queued to try out each game, but every attempt was thwarted by either network issues (in the case of Game of Thrones) or massive fatal bugs (as was the case with Timelines). It was at this booth that we learned an iPad does, in fact, have a blue screen of death. Hopefully Disruptor can shore up these issues, but neither game was particularly compelling even without the problems.

Image Credit: Dreadbit
Dreadbit - It was complete happenstance that we found Dreadbit in the Indie Megabooth, but we were very glad that we did. This British studio may be small of stature, but their game, Ironcast, was deceptively broad and deep. The title bills itself as match three meets FTL and it certainly has elements of both of these things, but is also so much more. Players are transported to an alternate history that boasts both visually stunning steampunk imagery and mechs. You are the pilot of your mech and engage in a series of duels with rival pilots. Combat takes place via a modified match-three type interface, with the player and the AI alternating interactions with said interface akin to Demiurge's Marvel Puzzle Quest. Instead of swapping tiles to make chains of three or more like colors, you must look at the board and try to draw the longest possible chain of any given color. As in Puzzle Quest, the colors aggregate and enable specific abilities. Success on the field of battle allows players to make repairs or equip their mech with more advanced gear. It's a wholly addicting title and a welcome addition to the genre. Ironcast will be available on Steam on March 26th.

Drinkbox Studios - Two PAXes ago the name on everyone's lips was Guacamelee and Drinkbox was looking to follow-up their debut success with the introduction of their new title, Severed. The first-person light RPG puts gamers in the body of the protagonist, a woman who has lost an arm and potentially her family to fantastical monsters. Players journey through the game's lush and stunning environments in an attempt to learn what brought the protagonist to her present state and battle many, many monsters along the way. While the premise is certainly interesting and the art direction/soundtrack were incredibly rich, we're wary of Severed's touch-based controls and the fact that it's going to be a PS Vita exclusive (at least for the near-term). Drinkbox has Severed slated for release during the summer of this year.  

Gearbox Software - The story for Gearbox was all about Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel. The title will be getting some new DLC on March 24th with the release of Claptastic Voyage. As the name indicates, this new chapter centers on Claptrap with the entirety of the game taking place in his mind and from his vantage. Gearbox also confirmed that the Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2 will be the final add-on for the season pass of Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel. Claptastic Voyage and the Upgrade Pack will be sold as a bundle (for $10 USD) or, for you pass-holders, will be included with the purchase of a season pass ($30 USD).

Robot Entertainment -  One of the single longest lines in the Indie Megabooth was populated with gamers itching to demo Orcs Must Die Unchained, Robot's upcoming foray into the world of MOBAs. The game is coming up on the beginning of its closed beta, which is scheduled to go down on March 24th. There's still time to try and get a slot in said beta, which you can do by registering here.

Up North Indies - Some of our favorite moments from the convention came from this collective of 15 Canadian developers. Aside from producing impressive games, Up North ran their booths very efficiently and were true to the stereotype of being incredibly all-around nice. It was tough to even narrow down our top choices from these guys, but the titles below were what rose above their peers.

Dark Nexus Arena (Whitebox Interactive) - In  a sea of new MOBAs, it was a tall order to try and make your offering to the genre stand out, but Whitebox managed to do so with some clever mechanics and the benefit of getting Warhammer 40K licensing from Games Workshop. Dark Nexus lives up to its name, presenting two teams of five players each with a dank and unforgiving field of combat. While the overarching experience is similar to that of most MOBAs, we were drawn to the requirement for a high level of precision in combat and the point-based conditions for victory (specifically the ability to deny your opponents points by executing your own downed team members). You'll be able to dispense justice in the name of the Emperor beginning in the third quarter of this year. The game will be free to play and you can sign up for early access here.

Jotun (Thunder Lotus Games) - This was, hands down, our absolute favorite game of PAX. This 2D action-explorer is set in the bleak, ice-laden landscape of purgatory. You play as Thora, a viking maiden who has died an inglorious death and now must prove herself worthy of entrance into the hallowed halls of Valhalla. Aside from clean and simple, but challenging mechanics, the game boasts a soaring musical score and some of the most beautiful art direction we've seen in years. The entire thing, start to finish, is 100% hand-drawn animation, which still astounds me even just typing that out. Jotun is coming to Steam in September of this year and is definitely not to be missed.

Viking Squad (Slick Entertainment) - Vikings were one of the bigger themes of this year's PAX and if it brings us things like Jotun and Viking Squad we'll be totally ok with that. This 2D side-scrolling team brawler will have you recalling all the best parts of Castle Crashers while introducing innovative, RPG-like elements to that time-honored formula. Though there's no formal release date associated with Viking Squad, the game will be available on Steam (for both PC and iOS) and PS4. Bonus kudos to Slick for attending GDC, then hustling out to PAX East!

Given that PAX East is only in its fifth year (and its fourth year at the BCEC), it’s to be expected that we’ll see some organizational changes with each iteration until PAX staff feels satisfied with how everything works. This year’s alterations to the overall layout of the con resulted in an odd sort of overall experience. That’s not to imply that odd = bad, just that some of the some of the layout raised questions, like "Why is the PC freeplay area inside the tabletop freeplay area?" While some facets raised eyebrows, other decisions, like that which resulted in food stations being located throughout the con instead of shunting everything off to one far end, seemed to work out pretty well.

Other things that seemed to make out pretty well were board/tabletop games. Despite the weird layout of the board gaming portion of the hall, it seemed as though most developers and publishers garnered a lot of attention. Aside from a considerable presence in the main hall, board games comprised a large percentage of the panels offered during the con (which included ours!).

It'll be interesting to see how PAX East continues to develop, particularly as other conventions do the same in parallel. While it was great to see all the indies get a chance to shine, it may be tough from a business sustainability standpoint to not have many AAA studios present.

From a personal standpoint, this PAX was entirely different experience than any other convention I've attended. Between preparing for, then participating in, the panel and trying to demo as many games as possible it was all media-mode all the time. Though I'd refurbished my Red costume from last year, I ended up deciding to play games and meet developers instead of cosplaying. It was exhausting, but so very awesome.

Until next year PAX. See you in 2016!
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GiR by GIR: Dead State

While some folks may claim pop culture has reached Peak Zombie, I feel it’s difficult to find a better genre to hang an isometric, story-focused survival game on. Dead State is brought to you by the fine folks at DoubleBear Productions. As an early adopter of Dead State through its Kickstarter (which posted some pretty nice numbers: 10,096 backers, $332,635 pledged of a $150,000 goal), I’ve been able to follow along with the game's steady development to the moment of its somewhat surprising full release last week. Maybe I should start over though because, while survival is your goal, Dead State really is more of an RPG than anything else.
After building your protagonist via a fairly typical character creator screen, the game deposits you in a fortified Texas school after a plane crash. As you begin to explore dialogue trees with various NPCs around this initial shelter, you discover that, low and behold, the Zombie apocalypse has struck. The player’s job is to help manage the other survivors, maintain and upgrade the shelter, and, ultimately, survive. That last point is achieved either by escaping Texas or establishing a community strong enough to endure.

The graphics and audio are not exactly pretty, but that’s honestly not what the game is trying to sell you on. If you want AAA production values with quality voice acting, lens flares, and fancy cut scenes, go check out Far Cry 4. If you want over 10,000 lines of branching dialogue with fully fleshed-out NPCs like Fallout 2, shelter and resource management like classic X-COM (1994), old school turn-based combat on a square grid like Jagged Alliance 2, Dead State might be your new favorite thing.

Dead State does a great job easing you into the mechanics that will eventually allow you to thrive or die. Your first mission is a simple supply run to a hardware store to get construction materials to fix the fence around your shelter. While you’re at it, finding some food probably wouldn’t hurt either, as Food is the ticking clock that will doom you all. Every day, no matter what you do, Food is being consumed at a frustratingly rapid rate (frustrating because rationing, while possible, isn't particularly straightforward or simple to implement).

The pressure the Food resource puts on the player is most acute when weighing the benefits of saving lives and adding survivors to the shelter versus leaving them out in the cold. Being no stranger to the genre, I tried to implement a strict policy that anyone we let into the shelter had to fill a role or otherwise provide some sort of expertise to be worth the drain on our already meager reserves. This had some unexpected consequences when I found an ex U.S. Marine but who refused to return to the shelter unless we also admitted a 13-year-old asthmatic with no survival skills to speak of and a confused elderly woman who didn’t speak English. If I hadn’t just lost a key member of my team on a recent supply run I probably would have said 'forget it'. In the end I relented and all three come back with us, but boy did I regret it. Current residents of the shelter flipped out upon learning that I hadn’t consulted them before bringing home three more hungry mouths to feed and no fuel for our generator. Let me be clear about the legitimacy of their concern: death is for real in Dead State. There are no revives, medicine is extremely difficult to come by, and building an actual infirmary takes a staggering amount of resources when you could be building a well for fresh water or a greenhouse for a renewable safe food source with those same materials.
Forgive me; I am both getting side-tracked and ahead of myself. Aside from interacting and talking to NPCs with the main character, everything in Dead State centers around a white board where you assign fellow survivors Jobs. These jobs can consist of everything from “Repair Shelter Fence” to “Scavenging Party” to “Cheer People Up.” Tasks like building shelter upgrades or repairing fences will tell you how many hours it’ll take to finish with this number being adjusted based on the number of people you assign to it and the skills of those involved. Some Jobs have limits on how many people can be assigned to it, while others do not. Some Jobs have skill level requirements, while others do not.  Dead State does a good job of letting you approach things how you want. Would I rather put a skilled mechanic to work building a watch tower for 4 hours, or assign two unskilled workers to the tower and have the mechanic fix a truck I found so I can range further out for supplies? Or even assign only 1 unskilled worker to the tower and have it take twice as long? You can certainly get bogged down in optimization, but I found that, in most cases, taking the time to get the most out of my survivors was well worth it in the long run. 
The most flexible, and arguably the most vital job on the board, is “Scavenging Party. You may assign up to four survivors to form a team which you can then send out to explore on the World Map (this covers a large part of Texas). When you travel around you start on foot but, as you continue to range, you will eventually get, and need, horses and cars. The complications there being that horses require precious food and cars use fuel you might otherwise want for a generator to provide power for various shelter upgrades. Traveling on the World Map uses up the one resource you can never replenish: time, which is tracked by a digital watch display. Let’s just say not being able to get back to the shelter by nightfall is bad and leave it at that. I don’t want to say spending the night in the open isn’t survivable just because I haven’t been able to accomplish it yet, but honestly I’m not sure how. The few times I tried it, even at the later stages of the game, I was swarmed to death by the Dead. As you travel the map there are random encounters with an assortment of bandits, other survivors, zombies, and wildlife that will feel familiar to those veterans of this genre. These encounters, similar to when you reach actual marked locations to explore, bring you back into the isometric grid map. Movement will be real-time until you actually alert someone to your presence or deliberately click to start combat, at which point the game become an Action Point, turn-based affair.
You might notice I said alert a moment ago, which leads to what I felt was a fairly interesting mechanic not too many games can pull off well. In Dead State “Noise” is just one more resource you’ll need to keep an eye on. Whether it’s using a sledgehammer to break down a door, or unloading a shotgun into a zombie’s face, your party members generate noise. The higher the decibel level the more likely you’ll not only alert enemies on the map, but also lure in more zombies from the surrounding areas (which will start to trickle in spawning at the edges of the map zone you happen to be in). If you aren’t careful that trickle can become a flood. Ammo is NOT universal and can end up being pretty scarce for certain weapons. These two elements, along with inventory weight management, nicely encourage players to actually ponder the benefits of melee versus ranged weaponry beyond  your standard picking whichever has the highest damage rating.

Sadly, the living enemies who you’ll encounter may not share your caution and it can be irritating how reckless the enemy AI can be in terms of wasting ammo and their lives. Conversely, I tended to debate the value of the bullets in my gun and peaceful resolution versus the can of food the bandit wants. More often than not, living AI enemies will just charge my entire party, firing madly at me and alerting every zombie in the county to our presence. I mean, why should they care if they run out of ammo or die? They are just a random encounter after all; it’s not like they have any concerns beyond the screen they spawn on. I think I find it especially frustrating because the world is otherwise very well crafted. There ARE bandits who are scripted to talk to you and not just commit suicide by charging you with an empty gun. The issue is the inconsistency in the application of logic and lack of identifying information to tell the player which bandits they can actually speak with, as opposed to those who just want to watch the world burn.  

While I’ve certainly been enjoying my time with Dead State so far, I do feel the need to issue a complaint, though it is a complaint that is certainly not unique to this particular game. Way back at the beginning of this review I noted I was surprised that DoubleBear announced the game was fully released and no longer Early Access. This is because, after playing several iterations of the game: Alpha, Demo, Beta, and Early Access, I honestly can’t tell what qualified the current build for “Full Release.” Many bugs and inconsistencies that I went along with in Early Access are still present.

Now let me be clear; DoubleBear ran an excellent Kickstarter campaign: delivering on every feature they promised, providing monthly updates on progress and constant patches. They have done far better than most Kickstarted games in the press recently, and I do consider the game feature complete. It's just not exactly working as intended in all areas. My hope is, based on the level of communication and dedication DoubleBear displayed through their Kickstarter, they will eventually squash the remaining issues. But it makes me wonder: why not leave it in Early Access to give the polish it deserved and needed? This isn’t AAA; there are no arbitrary deadlines set by demanding overlords and, from where I sit, it seems the hasty removal of the Early Access label hurt Dead State's release more than it helped. I know lots of games have Day 1 patches, even major titles like Dragon Age Inquisition. DoubleBear certainly is not working with the same level of resources as EA and Bioware, but how did this become an industry standard even for Indies?  
Before I go back to boarding up the windows and stockpiling canned goods along with other non-perishables, I want to stress that I DO recommend picking up Dead State. Don’t let my remarks in the paragraph above drive you off from what I feel is a worthwhile game. While most zombie games are about action or horror, ultimately Dead State is a narrative-heavy game that is as much about how pockets of humanity can cope with disasters on a scale they can’t possibly control as it is about killing zombies and making experience bars go up. Dead State is currently available on Steam for $29.99 USD I encourage you brave survivors to go check it out. Good luck, and don't get bitten.
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GiR by GIR: Shadowrun - Dragonfall (Director's Cut)

Welcome back readers! I know the pace of reviews from me has slowed a tad, but frankly that’s just testament to how good the current release schedule has been to us PC Gamers. Between  Wasteland 2, Shadow of Mordor, and so many others I’ve hardly been able to tear myself away from playing to get back to writing. It’s like I’m eating from the best buffet in the world and I really should be telling folks about it so they can enjoy it too, except my mouth is crammed full of so much goodness I can’t speak and the only time I open it is to shove more food in. 
Yet here I am acknowledging that the buffet will still be there by the time I finish bringing you the good word on some of the many dishes there. This time it’s to talk about Shadowrun: Dragonfall the much awaited “Berlin Campaign” and sequel of sorts to the reasonably successful Shadowrun Returns (both titles coming courtesy of Harebrained Schemes). While originally Dragonfall was a form of free DLC for backers of their Kickstarter for the original Shadowrun Returns, the new Director’s Cut turns Dragonfall into a standalone title with tons of new content and improvements.   

To be frank the reason this review isn’t as fresh as say my Mordor review is that the DLC version of Dragonfall was basically corrupted and I couldn’t load past the second mission which obviously put a damper on things. That being said, as an owner of Dragonfall I received the Directors Cut for free and, low and behold, all my previous technical issues were resolved (due to the stand alone nature of the Director's Cut edition is my theory). This was most excellent because I really wanted to experience and hopefully endorse this product to others.
 For those unfamiliar with the world, Shadowrun is a cyberpunk-urban fantasy cross-genre role-playing game. It's set in the years 2050-2070 following a great cataclysm that has brought magic back to the world and said mystical force struggles to coexist with advancing technology. The classic RPG has spawned a few videogame iterations, ranging from cult classic to toxic waste. As someone who has played the pen and paper RPG, I can assure my fellow Runners that Dragonfall (Director's Cut) is the best and most definitive digital version I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Being self-published, Harebrained Schemes kept their Kickstarter goals for the original Shadowrun Returns modest and, for the most part, delivered on their promises of an “authentic” experience but personally I felt the game was a little lackluster. I’m of the opinon that it had been so long since fans had something even remotely resembling the pen and paper version that they were willing to overlook bland combat and twitchy game mechanics. That’s not to say it was bad, but I had wanted and hoped for so much more from the project. Thankfully the Director’s Cut of Dragonfall provided what Returns should have been to begin with.
The improvements really come in the form of conversation tree depth and size and scope of playable areas. Karma (the mechanic for character improvement) also seems to be doled out at more appropriate pace. Where in Returns you could become a master of everything in the form of all guns, decking, and magic Dragonfall seems to actually force you to pick a class/specialty and really focus on it. The main storyline itself is pretty standard Shadowrun fare but the quality of writing is quite good. Along those lines, I was really impressed by how much more fleshed out the rest of the NPCs in your group were this time around. They weren’t just “the decker” or “the adept” filling a role but, rather, they all had their own back stories and motivations, which, in turn, caused me to feel like I'd formed real bonds with some while butting heads with others. Sometimes this manifested in the form of them approaching me with special missions related to their mysterious backgrounds. Other times it resulted in them leaving the group or straight up betraying me mid mission.  
The side quests are another area that really shine, allowing the players to delve into the morally grey zones that help define Shadowrun as the leading RPG in its genre. Without giving too much away in the form of spoilers, the side quests provided by The Lodge really made me question what mattered most to me as a player and what I thought would matter to my character. I know not everyone plays games with that level of immersion but, since I had modeled my first character after one I had used in several pen and paper campaigns, I found myself making choices and exploring paths I otherwise might not have if I had been simply grinding for achievements or the most efficient way to beat the main story.   

I don’t want to end on a down note, but some of the more frustrating aspects from Returns exist in Dragonfall as well. The turn-based tactical and RPG aspects are all still present and you still can’t rotate the screen, forcing an isometric camera-in-the-corner POV. The fact that you can’t rotate the camera leads to situations where you end up running into the open instead of behind a piece of cover one square over because you can’t actually click on the tile you want or, say, NEXT to the enemy you are trying to shoot because the cursor isn’t exactly over your target. The skill trees haven’t been updated at all and, while some changes were made to decking, it’s still not exactly fun. The combat is still AP based and it tends to be stiff and stilted.    
With games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Wasteland 2, and Divinity: Original Sin showing how dynamic and exciting/engaging AP turn-based combat can be with cover and destructible terrain, I wonder why Harebrained didn’t bother to try and liven things up a bit. It’s a perfectly serviceable system, and I guess there’s something to be said for the policy of, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but it’s clearly the weakest element of the game. Dragonfall also ramped up the difficulty as compared to its predecessor by having more enemies in play and somewhat better AI but, frankly,  I found combat to be a chore to endured in order to get to the best parts of the game. What were the best parts? Those would definitely be the various stories and choices I had to make, and conspiracies I would uncover. 
So, basically I can heartily endorse this to current fans of Shadowrun Returns or the pen & paper RPG because, thematically, the game is spot on. The writing is very high caliber and roleplaying aspect is legitimately enjoyable. It’s easily the best videogame adaptation of the franchise that I’ve played to date. Unfortunately for videogame fans who aren’t already fans of Shadowrun it’s a much tougher sell and, while it pains me to say it as a longtime fan of Shadowrun, there are better options out there if you’re just looking for turn-based tactical combat, namely the titles mentioned in the paragraph above. 
Shadowrun Dragonfall Director’s Cut was released on Steam September 18th currently priced $14.99 and has Achievements and Trading cards if that sort of thing matters to you.
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Game "Review": The Lowdown on Orin Rakatha

Hi everyone! Sorry for the hiccup between posts, but, with just about a month left until PAX East, almost every spare moment has been dedicated to costuming (update on that in the very near future!). I say almost every spare moment, because that time not giving over to sewing and painting was spent on the interview at the core of this post.

Orin Rakatha is a novel RPG world carefully crafted by a cadre of deeply devoted gamers over the course of the past 27 years. Now, after literal decades of live action role-playing in the Orin Rakatha universe, the creators of the epic realm aim to take their efforts to the next level by publishing a formal campaign sourcebook. 

The Kickstarter associated with this endeavor can be found here. The premise is fascinating and will appeal to all those gamers with a love of deep characterization. I sent a series of questions to the creative team behind Orin Rakatha. The below are the responses they so graciously provided. 
Check out the pitch page for more images!
The effort to formalize Orin Rakatha into a published sourcebook has clearly been a long time in the making. What prompted you guys to want to take this step?

In our video we quote 'we are getting a bit too old to chase the Trolls' and it's not unlinked that a few of the team mark their half a century this year. So much of what we have done over the years has been saved in different formats, some even before we all had computers, and with the current part of the campaign coming to an end this was a good time to collate all the information. So we thought why not go one step further and make it into something that everyone could benefit from? Furthermore, making the sourcebook would also be something that everyone who had done our LARP adventures since 1986 could have as a keepsake and reminder of what they were part of.

You describe the world of Orin Rakatha as fantasy, but it feels a bit…let’s call it grittier than traditional high fantasy. If you had to apply a genre to this campaign setting, what would you call it?

So there are elves, orcs, wizards, goblins, warriors and priests so it is, in one way, a traditional high fantasy setting, but we do agree that it has a gritty, more real edge to it. Fundamentally, this comes from the way the story was written, so firstly in the more traditional sense the story was written down by the referee organising the LARP events, but what defines Orin Rakatha is the nature of the story development, in that it has been played out and the story developed by hundreds of people both taking part in events and writing and developing the plot as it went along. So as we commute this into the books you'll get the flavour of a number of people’s perspectives on the story. So, in short, it's a high fantasy campaign but with a real edge!

What would claim were your most significant influences during the creation of Orin Rakatha?
If the Kickstarter is successful, we'll see a lot more of this gorgeous artwork.

The team and the players of Heroquest LARP developed as the fantasy genre developed in the UK. Early on it was Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings and it's moved over the years as the fantasy genre has developed and become more accessible to everyone. But the single most significant influence during the creation of Orin Rakatha has been our players; most GM's will know this secret - the players come up with all the best plot ;0)

Building a world that is truly system agnostic is quite a feat. Did you find that challenging? Enjoyable? Both? Also, did you feel the world worked equally well with all systems?

We've been faced with similar challenges over the years to constantly keep the hundreds of adventures we ran interesting and, whilst always adding something new every time, we have managed to adapt everyone’s ideas to fit into the world as a whole. We feel that any games master will be able to fit an interesting and exciting world like ours into their own game(s).  We are, at our core, story tellers, which comes from our LARP heritage, but we are also hard-core gamers and writing from the story aspect then looking back as to how to add the 'mechanic' has been both enjoyable and challenging; the clash between fluff and crunch (and frankly which one different people think is most important) is one that we hope we'll meet evenly. Currently, we are working on Pathfinder and Fate direct compatibility; the former being the one we are most familiar with but the latter, being new to us, has been most enjoyable when we've been considering how to incorporate. We are also currently reviewing a couple of other systems including Savage Worlds. One thing we want to make sure is that the stats and mechanics don't get in the way of the story so we'll be deploying appendices / separate reference charts to ensure they don't get in the way of each other. 

‘Where Worlds Collide’ is the tagline for the project and ostensibly speaks to the respective realms of tabletop and LARPing. Many gamers have a strong preference as to whether they LARP or play on a tabletop. How is it that Orin Rakatha is able to bridge that proverbial gap and appeal to both demographics?

The 'Where Worlds Collide'  tagline covers two aspects of what we are doing; firstly yes it’s a side nod to our LARP / RPG heritage, but mainly it's about the people who populate the world of Orin Rakatha having journeyed there from other worlds or planes of existence. Using D&D as an example, each tower of inhabitants comes from their own prime material plane; this is why it should be easy for a games master to incorporate their world into ours. As an example let’s say your own campaign in whatever system you were currently using was coming to an end and you were looking to move to something new – you could have your party of adventurers release some ancient power artefact or enemy who causes some form of world-ending situation. Your players, along with a mix of survivors, find a method to escape to Orin Rakatha and have to adjust to the new world, its laws, etc. This would give you limitless ideas and adventures the players could go on.  And whilst there are those that only LARP and those that only play Table-top there are a large number in the middle. The Kickstarter is a table-top RPG product and we are definitely targeting that market. Although plenty of LARPers also play around the table, we are getting more and more into that age bracket - it gets your knees in the end all that running through forests ;0)

The characterization seems to be the core strength of Orin Rakatha and a play testing pool of over 1000 participants must have given you all plenty of characters to work with. Did you have any favorite concepts that came out of that process?

All of them and too many to list, as if you miss one we'd be in trouble with them. Many of our mini campaigns affected more than one of the non-player character (NPC) towers and some encompassed the whole world. Adventures lasted from a few hours, to a few days to campaigns lasting several years. At the core of the player character facing aspect of game is the concept of 'Fortunes Keep' or the three towers of the Kern Valley Alliance, which is one of our favourite aspects. I am sure Games Masters in the past, like us, have wrestled with the concept of how to encourage 'team-play' and rationalise 'joining together' between characters of very different alignments and beliefs; just why does the paladin adventure with the rogue, the goodly cleric with the sorcerer of the dark arts; the list goes on. Well, all our players wanted to do this so in the very early days we adopted a triumvirate allegiance between three groups: The White Retreat (those that follow the light), The Valley Tower (those that follow the balance) & Wolfhold (those that follow the dark arts) and we wrote a code of conduct for them in that they would strive to work together on Orin Rakatha for their own 'greater good' (in our previous LARP world most of them had been sworn enemies). This allows a fantastic mix of adventuring party make up without the need for complex overlapping or contradictory reasons as to why they would adventure together (not that there is ever complete harmony!)

You are all very experienced gamers, but can Orin Rakatha appeal to a new player?

Absolutely! We aren't lording loads of experience; we are writing a campaign world that will work just as well for new GM's and players as it will for those that have been around the table top for a couple of decades. At this core is a new world setting that new players might want to start a brand new journey in or experienced players may want to drop in and out of or just use parts of for their existing campaign. 

Is there anything that readers should know about that isn’t on the Kickstarter page? Is there anything that a gamers may be surprised by if they tried to play in Orin Rakatha for the first time?

The laws that govern Orin Rakatha and the way Orin Rakatha works are unique, so yes they will be in for a few suprises because it isn’t like other worlds and this should be fun for new and experienced players alike. Much of how this has happened was to redress some of issues we saw in early LARP's but which translate very well to the table top and, for us, remove some of the 'why doesn't this happen' questions when considering armies, over-ranked monsters and 'player-centric' plots; Orin Rakatha's mechanic provides answers to these. Without giving away too much; the whole land is created and in some way managed by what are called 'mystics'. They provide shelter on the land in towers and control the cleansing mists, which clear the land of the fallen and manage the flora and fauna. To live on Orin Rakatha you must adhere to the laws of the lands. The physical land, and the magic that underpins it, are all linked and the power of the people that walk across it influences what they meet on the land, paths are changed and routes divided to manage the balance. Have you ever wondered why when you are part of a low-level group of adventurers that you don't constantly get over-run by much more powerful monsters? On Orin Rakatha the land manages its resources to ensure that it meets what it considers to be a threat (the players) with its best matched resource - so the wandering monsters and groups of protagonists are directed by the land itself.

Many thanks to Mike and the rest of the team behind Orin Rakatha for participating in this virtual interview. For those of you out there who adore a deep, multi-faceted role-playing experience. This may very well be the ideal campaign world for you. There are 25 days remaining on the Kickstarter, so, if this piques your interest, be sure to pledge soon!
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