A batch of AGS totally worth more than the price!

Indie game bundles have been the craze for a short while. There’s been Humble Bundle, Indie Royle, Bundle-In-A-Box and the first AGS bundle last year AGS Bake Sale.

AGS Bake Sale offered a ton of amazing exclusive games built in Chris Jones AGS. Primamrily designed for making point and click games developers have branched out and for that bundle, a shooter and a platformer were designed. Not every game in that bundle was gold, but it gave one some excellent work in Nine Months In and Fragment while the rest were excellent examples of how versatile the engine software actually is and how in many times it all comes down to puzzles, art and story telling… not how the game is made.

Independent publisher Screen 7 out of the UK recently published a brand new AGS bundle titled Summerbatch which features 5 games. Four traditional point n click games with varying art styles and story telling techniques and one very different type of game and a new one to AGS I assume in stealth action ala Metal Gear Solid.

In Barely Floating we are introduced to the best animated/illustrated of the works, with some work that looks way beyond indie, while some of the game mechanics still definitely are hobbled by AGS being capable of what it is capable. Extremely funny with some serious mind buzzer of puzzles invoking old school point n click where one must truly pay attention to dialogue and sentences, it quickly became one of my favorite of the games and it feels like there could be a sequel featuring the protagonist. Or maybe a prequel? It felt a little weird that the only thing we really discover about the lead character is his name while everyone else gets way more fleshed out.

Jailbreak is the stealth game I mentioned above. Of the five games I must admit it was my least favorite. While I really respect and appreciate the work of the developers in trying something totally new and different with AGS, the graphics and gameplay really felt short. Others might actually state this was their favorite game of the bundle and I actually really happy it is in there to add variety to the whole thing. I personally would be happy with the four point n clicks, more than happy, so this game is a bonus.

Patchwork is also impressively in its graphics and feels epic in scope, but is actually the shortest of the games and the only one with a puzzle type that I personally always hate finding. Despite that, it’s writing in top notch and it like Barely Floating and PISS and even Nancy The Happy Whore feel like they could be larger games with prequels and sequels.

Nancy is the most crazy of the games, but I even almost feel like it could’ve gone over the edge. Sure pixelized boobies especially in pixel art aren’t exciting, but they would’ve added some humor and fun. Even without the nudity, despite the Happy Whore title, there’s some very interesting twists and intriguing turns to this adventure which starts small and ends up maybe more epic than PISS even since PISS feels huge and epic from the start simply because of its world.

So now we get to PISS, which has been considered the gem of the batch by some. It is a very impressive sci-fi spiritual adventure fantasy, with some incredible writing and with every character being completely and totally fleshed out. Except for the lead who we get more questions than answers in the end about. If any of the games NEEDS a sequel it’s PISS. The others could have sequels. PISS needs one, the story needs to continue. Be it as a game or a book or a comic.

As a whole, Summerbatch is actually a steal at its “Name Your Price” price. Of course it’s worth at least a minimum $15, especially since it went to charity and the games were developed without budgets from the publisher. The deal started in August and runs till November. That’s a lot of time left, but jump on it sooner than later, there’s going to be some long nights for some players indeed.

RESONANCE: Epic Retro Sci-Fi Mystery Does Much Good (some bad)

The best Science Fiction tends to have dubious characters of gray personalities, a terse semblance of what is truly right and wrong, awkward scientific concepts which aren’t exactly plausible and usually, but not always an ending which makes one think “Well, was it all worth it?”. Mysteries seem to have this is as well and then there’s science fiction mysteries who really play into this such as Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Twelve Monkeys, etc. Although science fiction may be the wrong term, possibly speculative fiction is the better genre use. They seem interchangeable and in many ways lots of these books do too. The characters, plots, etc. are all different, but they all speculate the possibility of worlds with excessive control, characters who want to escape that control, twists that possibly change your entire view of the story and an ending in which you feel satisfied, but not happy, questioning your own moral code and the future of our world as a whole.

All this preamble is leading to a look at the just released speculative fiction point ‘n’ click adventure game epic by Vince Twelve/XII Studios, RESONANCE. A deeply satisfying, yet as it seems with ALL video games, no matter what, slightly flawed production, but none that detract from enjoyment. Yet, designer/writer Vince has stated that he expects to be hear these complaints and he’s already had bug detractors from the demo that has been available for a week, so nothing I say here should be too blaring compared to much more delicate video game players who either expect golden platters or never really explore enough to find some of their statements to be completely untrue.

A perfect example of this is in a review I read earlier today which stated that the four playable characters were shallow, the only one with real depth being Anna. This is very untrue. While Anna’s background is fleshed out through nightmarish maze levels which open up flashbacks, the other characters are more than fully developed with back story, sense of being and more through dialogue trees which are not essential to finishing the game and may only be discovered through full discovery are careful attention. I particularly enjoyed Inspector Bennett’s personal monologue that kind of explains about why he is the way he is.

The mechanics of the game are as important as characters and story and in most ways. RESONANCE hits it out of the ballpark with a few fouls. I absolutely loved using all four characters to figure out different puzzles, the clues and development of the long term and short term memory, the variants in puzzle style and design that kept things interesting and yet never stopped one from being able to continue on. In at least each of the more complicated logic/math/mechanic puzzles there always another solution and in the ones where there wasn’t, it was way less complicated than one thought. I think of one puzzle involving a magnet where I was frustrated forever and then one simple solution and it was really easy. I mean super easy, I just had to think. Actually I asked for help, but I would’ve eventually gotten it and I smacked myself for not realizing it sooner, although one could also blame Vince for not making it as intuitive as possible and I do feel that was an issue. It was actually an issue in various other places in terms of design. A lack of intuitiveness or the system reacting the way one would expect. Having to switch a character because he/she was standing in front of a hotspot another character need to access seemed quite retarded. The short term memory system also had issues in which it could remember items multiple times, wasting slots because of the way the system woke up in certain situations. These were the biggest of the flaws though.

With that out of the way I’ll focus on my personal positives although with still a few negatives for a balanced review. I found all the voice acting to be superb except in some minor spots. It’s like a great movie though where so much money, time and energy has been spent on the main cast that the minor character is played by whoever could show up that day. It reminds me of that scene in Wayne’s World 2 when Wayne goes to the gas station and complains about a very minor role being handled by a “bad actor” and the actor is then replaced by Charlton Heston of all people. Unfortunately here Al Hansen kept his role and we were stuck with the “bad actor”, which more is to say that the performance wasn’t as strong as one would hope on the minor characters when the leads were so fun and quality. Most folks would praise Logan Cunningham, but for me it was Darryl Lathon’s Ray, who in many ways is the most important character, who was awesome. A kind of everyman as the outsider pulled into something that had nothing to do with him, yet becomes as involved and as important as anyone else.

The puzzles be they context based, environmental, logic, visual, etc. were all really well thought out. Even the more complicated ones or the maze like ones, they all seemed to fit. They never once made me go “Oh screw this”. Some may have taken me walking away for a day or two, but THAT is the sign of a well done adventure game. There are no steadfast rules on this though. Some folks love puzzles that are easy and allow a game to be an interactive story as much asd it is a game, while others appreciate games that really force you to think while also balancing story elements. Many of those elements may even become hidden to certain players as they worry more about the next puzzle than asking about every last thing which might extrapolate a line of dialogue that could create further character development. It’s a double edged sword, people complain about everything being fed to them, or people complain that it isn’t fed to them, there seems to be no happy in between. RESONANCE tries it best to find that, but I don’t expect that of any game developer ever. People will see a game the way they want to see it, it doesn’t matter what the game actually is.

As a hard sci-fi near future story with moral gray areas, difficult puzzles, amazing pixel graphics, sensational plotting and writing (that might actually be too gray as a story or movie, but workbrilliantly as an interactive software), concepts that make you think and more, RESONANCE is completely worth your time, attention and money.  I should also mention that unlike most films or books there is one option to see things end up.  There are only a few options available and they are all as gray as the rest of the game and its moral ground, but they definitely add to the entire sensation of the game.  There are also achievements which give the game a bit of replayability not seen in adventure games usually other than to experience the story again.  The alternate endings and achievements are just really nice extra touches that show Vince Twelve has a bit of forward thinking, although equally they may suggest a bit of stretching too thin and trying to do too much as some of the puzzles had shown.  Once again, that double edged sword.

For those weary there is a demo available which gives you a true feel for the production and should either compel you to have to continue on or know if it isn’t your cup of tea.

This review was based on a review copy courtesy of Wadjet Eye Games.  Screenshot courtesy of XII Games/Wadjeteye Games.  Image of Daryl Lathan courtesy of  Genevieve Rafter Keddy of Broadwayworld.com

Walking Dead: The Game, Survival DRAMA! (instead of horror… get it?)

(the following review is dedicated to my friend, “Rhiannon” Miller)

Life is full of choices. Which shirt do I wear? What should I have for lunch? What movie should I go to? Who should I save from the attacking zombies?

That last decision isn’t really easy, it can change your entire life or at least in the case of Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead your entire experience over a five episode monthly season. At first it may seem not completely apparent how much your experience will truly change and in terms of major beats I’m not sure it will or if puzzle solutions will change as much as just dialogue and plot sequences, but it still makes for a fully replayable (sic) adventure. Doubly so because even without the chance to have portions of the story play out with different dialogue choices and segments, Telltale has put together an interactive graphic novel that one could see re-reading, just as one reads The Walking Dead comic again or owns the Walking Dead TV show on DVD to watch it again, good storytelling with quality acting.

For fans of the TV show the service is bit less, but they will get to see Glenn before he went to Atlanta and Shawn and Hershel Greene before Shawn became a Walker. Comic books fans get a minor character who did major things, as Lilly’s life before the apocalypse gets fleshed out. Everyone else we’ve been introduced to are original characters and while some reviews have stated these characters to be one dimensional, I feel that means they went for really super quick playthroughs (sic) to get their reviews out and never really took any time to listen to all the various conversations in which they are, including Doug, who was based completely on an actual real person. Of course none of them are as fleshed out as much as the lead character the player controls in Lee Everett. A character just as engaging, intriguing and with a variable personality even because of player choice. It seems like a small thing right now that you can decide if Lee is totally loyal, valiant, kind and all that jazz or mostly single-minded and only looking out for himself with a truly jerky attitude or something in between.

At many times the feel of the game is much for like a very interactive and controllable graphic novel. While there are actually puzzles which can take some common sense and in other times a good eye and understanding of logic as well as even the occasional very easy what has been known to be called QTE, which essentially translates to mashing a button and then mashing another button just at the right moment. There’s also some very minor targeting situations, but they are handled much more like a point n click adventure as Telltale has handled in the past. To my trained eye there doesn’t seem to be much change to the game design that differs from earlier Telltale Games such as Back To The Future, Sam & Max and Wallace & Gromit, and I’m one of those people who actually found those games to have a perfect balance of being easy to pick up for a complete non-gamer and only too easy for the strictest of puerile game players who want to feel like they’re taking a lawyer’s bar exam while playing a game or just find flaws to find flaws

I love most of all the art style which finds a way to combine what has become now known as Telltale’s signature art style with a very comic book feel with a line style that evokes both Walking Dead’s original artist Tony Moore and current artist Charlie Adlard. The animation does have various glitches that are easy to ignore, but can be jarring. In certain environments if you try to walk to the edge of the screen that isn’t actually passable, I noticed the animation would fall to a crawl. There was some texture parsing and floaters in cinemas that is distracting, but again not so much to ruin the game and make one scream bloody hell. Unless you you’re someone who demands absolute perfection and I mean ABSOLUTE perfection, which means, you’ll never ever be happy or satisfied and you better hope there’s a zombie apocalypse soon and that you become a zombie quick so that your brain becomes one process of eat, eat, eat. Which you know, could be interesting, but since I see myself as someone like Rick Grimes and possibly Lee Everett (who knows, it’s only one episode so far), you’ll end up being smashed to bits by me.

I actually highly recommend The Walking Dead game. It’s available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC/Windows and Mac , so your options to play are very high. You can also choose to try out things with just purchasing one episode for $5 or getting the entire season. On the Telltale site there are even better deals that get you the whole season and other games as well if you’re new to Telltale and want to explore stories such as Back To The Future Part Four or Jurassic Park 1.5.

A look at Da New Guys-Day of the Jackass: A Super Fun Indie Action Title

In the world of pop-culture there are many things I enjoy, but two certain interests developed around the same time. My love point n’ click adventure games and my almost addictive enjoyment of sports entertainment/professional wrestling. Both these interests have evolved over the years even if the actual subjects haven’t. The best of point n click games are still interesting, but not heavy intensive art work with quirky dialogue, cool characters, a wacky plot and interesting puzzles. Wrestling has generally been the same since my childhood, quick paced action with some slow down, colorful larger than life characters, story lines that are a mix of reality and the completely unrealistic.

In the recently released game “Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass”, programmer, artist and designer Chris Burton has found a way to merge the two. Although one would say it’s much more Hulk Hogan’s Rock n Wrestling cartoon as classic adventure game, it still makes for a funny, ridiculous and crazy game.

That isn’t to say it’s without flaws. The art isn’t completely polished (but definitely has charm and is a big advance from the 8bit graphics of the first non-commercial gae), some of the later puzzles fall into the trap of being mini-games, but all together it is worth your time along with the original game which is available for free.

I had the pleasure/privilige to shoot Chris Burton a few questions via e-mail before the game officially came out and I’ve been sitting on his excellent answers for awhile. I can only hope that if my short review didn’t make you have interest, the following with links and various screenshots will.

1.) What was the deal with the bear head in the arena in Da New Guys?

That goofy-looking bear is based on my baby brother’s old teddy, who we used to make all kinds of dumb stories about when we were kids. It’s kind of an in-joke that nobody but us would get, which is why it’s not very prominent, but good old Bear’s present and correct in Day of the Jackass too!

2.) What was the original inspiration for Da New Guys? Was it always wrestling based or did the characters come first?

The characters always come first. Wrestling obviously plays a big part, but I think the heart of any Da New Guys story always has to be about the characters – I don’t think it would work if the story was ever just “they have to win the match so they can become champions”.

That said, the trio came about through playing a “true” wrestling game – Smackdown 2 on the good old PSOne. It had a really great create-a-wrestler mode, and then play with them through auto-generated storylines. I made the three heroes, then the game would make up rivalries for them to get involved in. Brain had a stick-on goofy smile, Simon was always grumpy, and so the characters just grew from there.

3.) Defender looks a lot like Cobra Commander, what’s the story there?

Google tells me that’s from G.I. Joe, so it isn’t intentional – though the comic-book influence definitely is. He’s a bit of a comic-book geek, and has a bit of a “hero complex”, so his costume tries to reflect that. His first appearance had more of a “samurai warrior” vibe, but it got refined and smoothed out over time to make it more original. Also, for as-yet unexplained reasons he wears a helmet to stay anonymous!

4.)I believe I noticed Kurt Angle in the first game in the Gym, is that correct?

It is! All thanks to a lack of texturing ability and easy-access to online images. I loved that Kurt was so over-the-top and in love with himself, but unlike Brain he’s actually a decent wrestler.

5.)Who are some of your favorite wrestlers? Also what are some of your favorite wrestling stories/angles?

I’ve been out of tune with wrestling lately – most of my memories are from the late 90s. Macho Man’s up there at the top – who can’t laugh every time he shouts? I loved any moment William Regal would try to “educate” the fans by showing them proper table manners – wrestling’s known for its stereotyping but I think that’s all part of the fun. The family issues between Vince and Shane McMahon were also great – I think that was the main dramatic angle I was genuinely swept up in. Also: Doink the Clown!

6.)Who/What inspires your brand of comedy? Films/TV/Comedians

I like humour that’s got the right mix of being wacky but also based in reality. In the same way that the game’s art style has caricatured people in a perspective-correct world, I try to push things over-the-top but still have clear “rules” that ground it all (the characters can get hurt, for example). I used to watch a lot of British sitcoms like Only Fools and Horses, which was very character-based and had a simple but charming humour to it. Unfortunately though, my cynicism’s growing and these days I’m more into comedians like Doug Stanhope.

Wallace & Gromit‘s more of a direct influence, I’d say, because of how well they manage to blend action and comedy together. The chase scene in A Close Shave is a perfect example of that: it’s wholly entertaining, and it’s got a very good mix of genuine jokes with geniune thrills.

7.)What are your full aspirations for Da New Guys? You’ve developed an animation and now finally have the second game, is there a next step or did the process of over 9 years betwen games drain that dream?

My ambitions grow with each project, and each one takes more and more effort, so I think any potential “next step” for Da New Guys would really be huge. I’ll never say no to anything else DNG-related, but I think another game would be so ambitious I’d have to really think hard about how to go about it properly. If people respond well to their first sequel, I’d certainly be very enthused to do another one!

8.)In terms of construction, how much of the game is all you(not counting the music) and what did Wadjeteye bring to the table?

Wadjet Eye got involved very late in development, so up until the middle of last year it was all me. That said, I think having Wadjet Eye on board massively improved the game. The story and pacing was final, but in an adventure game it’s the small moments and details that matter, and I got a ton of feedback. Not just from the excellent testers, but Dave and Emily were both very open about what they liked and didn’t like, which really helped me bash the game into shape. There were a couple of moments in the game where, looking back, the puzzles really weren’t so intuitive, and they were great to bounce new ides off of.

Wadjet Eye also gave me a whole bunch of voice actors! The first Da New Guys game was all voiced by myself, and it’s pretty obvious. While there are a lot of new characters in the sequel, there are some returning as well, but Dave was able to get some great replacements who I really wish I was able to get at the time I made the first one.

9.)I noticed in the art gallery that the characters started out as 3D models which you then drew over for Day of The Jackass, what was the thinking process for this decision?

The main reason the game took so long to make was because for a long time it really lacked the polish I wanted it to have, and the low-budget was painfully obvious when it came to animation. I can’t animate 2D at all, so when – after having learnt 3D animation – I discovered a way to animate in 3D space and rotoscope the frames into the game, the answer was obvious. It was a very elaborate and time-consuming job to convert the 3D to 2D, but I think it paid off really well, and let me come up with new puzzles that took advantage of it. Whereas before it was difficult enough to make a character hold their hand out, now I could make them kick, climb ladders, and do whatever I wanted. That freedom really meant I didn’t have to cut a puzzle or be less ambitious in a cutscene, just because I wouldn’t be able to portray it.

I’m really glad you’re enjoying it so far, and thanks for the interest!

I finally finished the game various times since that interview and slowly but surely getting this article up for print since the game became officially available at the end of February/almost beginning of March.  It is currently on sale from Wadgeteye Games and for $10 is worth it for anyone who enjoys funny point n click adventures with full stories and enjoyable characters.  There are arguments that can be made that NO ONE would want to help The Brain and that’s true, but I can think of many popular comedies full of annoying, stupid characters that we enjoy following… Mr. Bean, Peter Griffin, etc. and luckily for most of the game one plays the more enjoyable courageous, interesting guy that you wonder why he even hangs with these guys and the tough, grumpy, gruff guy that makes you wonder why he hangs with these guys.  It’s that awesome triumverite we’ve seen before and done well in an animated indie cartoon adventure.

Law & Order’s Legacy Continues in Interactive Format

I was twelve years old when Law & Order began its long run on NBC. The show didn’t really hit its stride till the late great Jerry Orbach joined the cast in the second season along with S. Epatha Merkeson in my personal opinion and truly didn’t reach excellence till Sam Waterson joined as Jack McCoy. All that can be easily argued, but suffice it to say I’ve been a fan since day one. Criminal Intent was quickly my favorite show because of the awesomeness of D’Onofrio’s Goren and Kathryn Erbe’s Eames, but SVU always held my interest through and might actually top CI as a favorite with Meloni’s Stabler, Hartigay’s Benson and Wong’s Dr. Huang. Through the new shows though I still always loved the original and it’s various pairings. Logan was the original guy, but once teamed with Brisco he just reached levels of awesomeness and anyone who teamed with Lennie was automatically awesome, especially Rey Curtis. The way they wrote Benjamin Bratt’s character out was tragic, but the return to who he was in 2009 was just as tragic and never had any followup.

All this build up brings us to be able to discuss the new Telltale game for iOS and eventually PC, Law & Order: Legacies. Written and developed by Ryan Kaufman with production from Dave Felton, the game attempts to actually create in many a season of Law and Order that could’ve made it to the airwaves, alongside the fantasy of stories never told. It’s definitely a professional approved fan fiction, but it’s a well done one with creativity and an attempt at as much accuracy as possibly allowed by the production’s budget and limits. I found it interesting that Arie Kaplan who worked on the HOUSE M.D. games and is an accomplished journalist worked on Episode 2.

Unlike Telltale’s Back To The Future which featured the talents of original BTTF stars Christopher Lloyd, and Claudia Wells, the Law & Order game were not able to procure talent such as Benjamin Bratt, S. Epatha Merkeson, or Linus Roach among others such as obviously the dearly departed Jerry Orbach. Yet despite this, between quality voice acting and top notch art, the original actors are surely missed, but do not result in causing a distraction. Among the talent are voice over actress Cissy Jones, poet/musician Kid Beyond who has worked for Telltale previously, musician/voice actress Rashida Clendening, and many of the people who have worked with Telltale on other productions. The one voice they were able to retain was Steve Zirnkilton, the Voice of Law & Order, as well as that pretty critical Mike Post composition.

In playing this I had really wanted to replay the Vivendi/Legacy Law & Order games which had the use of the real actors, but as I remembered featured mail it in performances as well as writing and tons of bugs, yet, I wanted to try and do a track record of these type of games, as well as comparing them to Telltale’s CSI games. Yet in terms of style, content and conception, Legacies is its own entity based much more in paying attention to clues and having a good eye, while the previous games were based more in choosing the right random dialogue tree and beating annoying minigames like tile, match and also match and sometimes peck and hunt.

While I’ve only gotten to play the first two episodes, I wanted to reflect on the plot as there was a real attempt here to create something original here. The game in the first episode seems to take place shortly after season 12 and before Season 13. Detective Rey Curtis after a few years since his wife’s passing in 2009 and moving back to NYC is prompted by his daughters to return to the force instead of moping around. He someone gets automatically put back on the 27th Precinct run by Lt. Van Buren where he and Lennie Briscoe partnered. His first case in which he hasn’t been given a partner is a murder which also turns up rape evidence, Detective Benson from the 16th is called up to join the investigation as her partner is “on leave”, which is probably Benson not wanting to accept that Elliot actually quit, that is the only thing that makes sense unless Ryan Kaufman messed up his L&O timelines . That now gives us the Legacy of two major L & O characters becoming temporary partners on a major case, which once the suspect was revealed probably should’ve been turned over to Goren and Eames, but that’s splitting hairs. That case takes a quick left turn during trial and it is up to Michael Cutter and Abby Carmichael to clean up the mess. This must be before Cutter ends up as the new Bureau Chief of ADAs who work on SVU cases. A sidenote in the story reveals a connection between this case and a cold case Briscoe and Curtis worked on years ago.

In chapter two we are sometime between 1995 and 1999, probably closer to 99 based on the statement that the cold case took place 10 years ago from the first episode’s story, although for the time line to work it had to be at least 11-12 years ago, but one can say I’m nitpicking. This is an untold case of Briscoe and Curtis looking into the possible murder of a young father who died steps from his door step. The investigation follows all logical steps and Jack McCoy and Abby Carmichael have to use everything they can to convict in a case that isn’t not exactly as clear cut as one would hope. During the episode we discover a little more information on the Cold Case mentioned in Episode one and that it wasn’t just cold but closed, and that Lennie had been working on it on his own time. I spoil this information here so that fans and potential gameplayers who have yet to try the game out are aware there is an over arching storyline which seems to promise that while each episode is playable on its own, the full purchase will be definitely worth it.

Plot out of the way a very quick discussion of gameplay. So far the game is broken into two sections much like the TV show. We open with an investigation which includes listening to answers, hearing stories and a bit of a “find the item” type of minigame which actually has some thought put into it and allows for some cool looking backgrounds. The questions section will ask at certain points if you believe someone or feel you’ve caught them in a lie or that information provided was accurate and if you answer that correctly, a multiple choice will ask you the why of the answer. These mulptiple choices can be tricky as they can be worded incorrectly. Getting an answer wrong won’t end your game, but it may lead to a different result when it comes to the trial. Once all investigations are done, you go into court room mode. Here when interviewing a witness on the stand it is much like the interview investigations, but the twist comes in the properly placing objections and doubt when the defense is up at bat. There is also a closing arguments segment where you must properly choose what subjects to bring up. There are chances of losing, winning by jury or even offering a plea bargain which allows multiple gameplays just to see those scenes play out.

While I have not yet played the just released episode 3 which introduces Detective Logan to the story as returning to the force after quitting Major Case, trying out the real world and deciding he had to be a homicide detective, I definitely look forward to it and seeing where else the game and story go. Maybe with four episodes to go we might even get appearances from Lupo or Munch. Since this game was supposed to originally be a Law & Order: L.A. game there’s a chance will get a cameo from Connie Rubierosa who has decided that California just wasn’t doing it for her. Either way Telltale has shown that they can handle telling original stories, with gameplay that should be acceptable for all levels of gameplayers from the beginners to the veterans and a plotline that should be satisfying to all levels of fans of Law & Order as well.

FAVORITE CONSOLE GAMES of 2011

Back to the Future-The Game: With Bob Gale along as a supervisor, Mike Stemmle and Andy Hartzell, a fourth Back to the Future movie was realized. One just needs to completely ignore most of Back to the Future: The cartoon to enjoy it. It’s a very easy game, making it much more an interactive story than an adventure game, but that seems to be what TellTale is going for these days based on Law & Order: Legacies which is really well done, but very easy. What makes BTTF: The Game so special of course is Christopher Lloyd. His inclusion on voicing Doc takes this from a fun detour into a real project worthy of favorite.

Catherine: This Japanese Tetris like game has a lot going for it. While the majority of the gameplay is simply a hardcore variation on Tetris, Bejeweld, etc. it has an overlapping story with adventure game elements holding it together. Combined with absolutely stunning anime sequences produced by Studio 4°C (who incidentally did the anime sequences for one of my favorite games of all time Rogue Galaxy) and soundtrack of classical tunes remixed by Shoji Meguro, it is an amazing entry into video gaming and a game changer of what is capable in terms of basic being innovated.

Fight Night Champion: I have gotten to play the Champion mode of this game (by choice), but as a compelling original boxing tale with awesome combat controls it was one of the best experiences I have had with a video game. As a movie with interactive elements its actually on top as that, with a great script from Oscar nominated Will Rokos, good voice acting including video game veteran and popular actress Elisha Dushko, really quality realistic animation and the fact that’s its based in boxing really gives it an edge and I can see myself coming back to it even in years to come.

Infamous 2: Between Uncharted 3, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Skyrim it seems like the second chapter of Sucker Punch’s two games in one super hero saga has been forgotten. In the second game we get an even more realized and cooler world in a New Orleans-esque town. Cooler enemies with the zombie vampire like swamp creature horde and a more intriguing story with continuations of the first game but giving us now two protagonists, two sides to choose from and your special sidekick. Infamous 2 was everything Infamous was and more. Throwing in the ability to create your own levels or play user created levels, a first for a third person action adventure game on a console where the developer actually approved and helps distribute the mods, it was a gem among the horde.

L.A. Noire: The story in L.A. Noire and the acting is top notch, as is the clue gathering, the conversations. It’s a great conceptual answer to an interactive version of a 1940’s cop film with as much accuracy as allowed, with some intriguing twists of inaccuracy, because really… a fully realized game would probably be boring. The characters are fully realized, not just by the performances that the technology developed for the game allows, but by the actual writing itself. Alongside Quantic Dream’s David Cage, I see former Team Bondi’s Brendan McNamara one of those videogame writer/director’s who will create very few, but very powerful, interesting, critically popular games full of strong script, concept and final product. L.A. Noire was the Heavy Rain of 2011 and more people got to play it, since Heavy Rain was a PS3 exclusive and still is.

Yakuza 4: The latest iteration of the Yakuza series before they went “Kill Zombies” in the next game lost some of its flavor by telling four different stories from four different characters instead of just focusing on The Dragon, but it gained another flavor and various techniques of intrigue. Four characters means four fighting styles, four different personalities and four different side missions. Some of them are huge side missions which I have to believe you can work on when you beat the whole thing, because I have not got that far yet. This is a huge epic game with more options of things to even more so than Yakuza 3. Training fighters, bowling tournaments, parkour challenges, fishing, more food to learn about, more drinks to discover, fishing, bating cages with better technique, and just so much more, more, more.

BONUS iOS

Jetpack Joyride: Hardcore addicting and adorable, the most recent Barry Steakfries game which is probably a prequel has no ending, you just keep playing, then you die and you try again. I don’t think there’s an end at least. Maybe there’s a way you can reach the super end if you unlock everything and spend extra money to get coins… I don’t know. I do know it’s super addictive and really fun. It’s currently still free so if you an iPhone or iPad I’d go grab it.

Where’s My Water?: Disney Mobile’s first original game and the game that actually beat out Angry Birds for top selling iTunes App Store game may be considered a cheap choice especially with my console favorite choices, but in terms of iOS games compared to video games, sales do generally mean quality and proof of concept. Some of my favortie games of all time in all history were definitely not the best selling, or even critically best, but they are my favorites. Swampy is adorable, he’s so adorable he’s getting an original web series in a couple days.

Console Games scheduled for 2012 that catch my attention

Be aware that I like puzzle games, adventure games and third person action adventure games with platforming.

I Am Alive: An Ubisoft productiion, the trailer shows an awesome combination of platforming, third person action, puzzles, first person shooting and more. Currently scheduled for XBLA and PSN. The game looks a bit big for digital release, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Hitman-Absolution: After watching a nail biting gameplay sequence on the official website showing awesome stealth, timing and shooting mechanics I am totally sold on the first ever PS3 Hitman.

Devil May Cry: As developer Ninja Theory will not be doing a sequel to Enslaved, seeing their work continued in some fashion in a fascinating looking game is what I’ll settle for. I have no connection to the DMC games, so a reboot is right up my alley.

Papo & Yo : Another digital only, this time PSN only, has amazing art and gameplay with seems puzzles meet third person adventure.

Tomb Raider: No gameplay has shown up for the reboot, but I trust in the company to create another excellent game full of everything I like.

Max Payne 3: I’ve been a fan since day 1, got Payne on XBox and PC and Payne 2 on PC. Got to see what they’re doing with Payne 3 at New York Comic Con and I was sold.

The Last of Us: Sure no gameplay yet, but it’s Naughty Dog and it has a great cast. Also from what I understand one of the main guys who worked on Enslaved spearheaded this.

A.M.Y.: Sure it’s ANOTHER zombie survival horror game, but it’s a PSN title and it’s made by the man who gave us Flashback all those years ago.

Inversion: Third person shooter with physics tricks and gameplay? Yes please and thank you.

Neverdead: Ever since the first gameplay of this I was on board. You’re body can fall apart and then you find it and as you gather a body part you can keep fighting and you can just keep getting your arm or leg ripped off and just grab it again but shoot with the other arm? Plus the story trailer was hilarious!

Lollipop Chainsaw: Hot chick, super awesome graphics, extreme violence, 3rd person action and Suda51? Ok!

Journey: thatgamecompany has not disappointed. Cloud, flOw and Flower were three very different but amazing games and I look forward to seeing what they’re latest which has had a much longer development time can bring.

Testament of Sherlock Holmes: Frogwares has been doing Sherlock games for the PC for a long time now, with interesting and original stories in the Holmes tradition including having him go against Jack the Ripper and Arsène Lupin. This will be the fifth game in the series and the first to be designed with PS3 and XBox in mind. They upgraded their gengine from scratch and look to have retained/returned to their more popular third person camera with first person probably now being the optional camera view. I’ve actually gotten to enjoy these games and feel they have a good handle on the character. While all renditions of Holmes have their incencretities, these are some of the funnest next to the BBC modern show and the Guy Ritchie films.

Silent Hill-Downpour: Traditionally the Silent Hill games have caused me frustration more than anything, but the latest version is from a brand new developer and is just using the premise of the Silent Hill ghost town to tell another survival horror action adventure. With IDW editor and Silent Hill comics writer Tom Waltz on story duties and music from Dan Licht.

Binary Domain: An action shooter from the producer of the Yakuza games and the producer of Vanquish? There seems to be some innovative squad based actions as well, yet still all in single player third person mode… so basically like elements from the Mass Effect games, but with a different fundamental. The videos for this look awesome.

Keeping an eye on Wadjeteye

I first discovered the writing and programing talent of Dave Gilbert through the AGS website and specifically the first games he tackled based on the Reality-On-The-Norm universe and then his first AGS game, the uncomplicated as it existed, but still essentially continued (by Blackwell) Bestowers of Eternity. I was happy to see him continue on as a writer with the AGS award winning Two of A Kind and his first major project The Shivah. This game was eventually expanded into a commercial game which allowed him to begin his independent studio Wadjeteye Games which has not only become home to his excellent and inspired Blackwell series, but as a publisher/distributor for games written by.

The latest game from Wadjeteye was The Blackwell Deception, a very well crafted chapter full of interesting dialogue, clever puzzles and exciting plot enhancement and direction which delivered on all fronts for fans of adventure games. While the pixel bit graphics are obviously a desired taste, a true adventure game fan and a person who appreciates great writing as well as the painstaking effort to create recognizable quality pixelart will absolutely love it.

At this years New York Comic Con I had the pleasure to sit down with Dave on a relaxing Sunday after much chaos and have a passionate and exciting 25 minute conversation about his history getting into programming and developing as such.

I found it quite interesting that prior to AGS and Reality-On-The-Norm he had minimal background in programming and had not been published professionally as a writer. It was 10 years ago after going to school for broadcasting and being laid off from a job at CNN, that over a weekend after the Twin Towers/September 11th situation happened he discovered AGS and the RON games and decided he could do this, as the software was fairly easy for one with some basic programming skill and RON already had an established shared universe and graphic assets.

Following that came the aforementioned Bestowers of Eternity, followed by a collaborative project Two Of A Kind, which won lots of merit and awards. Dave laments that the two other people he worked with no longer seem to be involved in the gaming world.

I asked Dave a lot about the writing process behind the entire Blackwell saga, curious to how much he had locked down in terms of where the story is going. He told me that he knows exactly his ending, but it isn’t exactly fully structured out with notes like a set screenplay or novel, there’s no “bible”… just what sits in his head, except some major structures are “written” down, like Joey’s origin. Which I find quite fascinating, cause that’s a lot to keep jumbled up there, but at the same time it allows him to work more freely and let random ideas pop in or change his focus on the sage as it exists. He had done a job where he was paid to defraud a phony psychic and he knew that at some point he wanted to use that as the plot for a game and he worked around that for a Blackwell game, building from the basic plot. The puzzles and writing come first, followed by dialogue and restructuring before the actual coding.

We proceeded talking about puzzle solutions, how people will solve them, how they get decided upon, it was really fascinating, and showed me how passionate Dave is about game creation and adventure games.

One of the final things we spoke of was Dave’s one professional game developed outside of Wadjeteye. Approached by games company Playfirst for a casual adventure game and after several pitches an Emerald City/OZ game was approved. Emerald City Confidential is one of the favorite games in my echelon of ownership. We discussed the conceptions of creating an OZ story and the rights behind creating something in public domain.

I suggested that Dave consider writing his games out as a book as well, we shall see where that goes but in the meantime, grab yourself all the Blackwell games, as well as Gemini Rue, the first published game by another developer from Wadjeteye and do yourself a favor and hunt down other games as well. The AGS scene is awesome and while Dave is one of the tops and deserves the attention, broaden yourself, it’s worth it.

Games That Tell Tales

As TellTale Games truly expands their line of excellent produced games in the end of 2011 and beginning in 2012 with magic based on the Jurassic Park movie franchise, and two very popular the Comic books in Image Comics The Walking Dead created by Robert Kirkman and the Vertigo fantasy series FABLES created by Bill Willingham, I thought it best to look at Telltale’s game history as a whole as well as quickly review their three last distributions in Back to The Future-The Game, Puzzle Agent and the second chapters of Hector-Badge of Courage.

I’d previously reviewed the first chapter of Hector on PCS, but I’ve yet to throw praise their way for everything else and they’re highly deserving it. So, away we go, with the history of the company as I understand it without all that legal and technical mumbo jumbo and with applauding their efforts and criticizing a bit (because it’s video games and one still must criticize video games) along the way.

Telltale was founded by former Lucasarts team members Dan Connors and Kevin Bruner. Both have had an extensive hand both creatively, administrative and technologically in bringing to life some of LucasArts most popular franchises such as Sam & Max and Grim Fandango, along with some Star Wars titles as well. Along the way they’ve been able to bring in some really awesome people to the team including Mike Stemmle, who was co-lead on Sam & Max as well as Escape from Monkey Island, Andy Hartzell, an award winning independent comics cartoonist and most notably Dave Grossman, co-creator of Monkey Island, Pajama Sam, and Moop & Dreadly with Ron “Grumpy Gamer” Gilbert (who now works at the other base of operations for awesome games Doublefine with Tim Schaefer, who worked alongside Stemmle, Connors and Brunner back when) was brought in as head designer. Along with incredible artists, producers and more, this assembled team has allowed Telltale to be one of the only successful adventure game companies in the United States today. Most of the adventure game companies with success are based in England, the Netherlands and Germany. Thankfully though Telltale exists and helps bring franchises you’d think were primed for a game, but also difficult to envision to life.

The first series they tackled was Jeff Smith’s BONE. Visually and intellectually, as well as voice acting, this production was awesome, but it definitely suffered serious flaws in their action and mini-games sequences. Despite this, it is a great shame that they only got to do Out From Boneville and The Great Cowrace. I’d love to see them return to the series at some point and maybe try and create a side adventure instead of the adaptations done here. Maybe an untold Grandma Rose story would be best suited.

TellTale was given the CSI franchise to develop for publisher Ubisoft, but these games never really seemed to fall into line with where Telltale’s style and bread&butter landed. It wasn’t long into Telltale’s existence as a company though that the opportunity to “come out like gangbusters” presented itself. While the exact reasoning behind how Sam & Max ended up at Telltale has many stories suffice it to say they got their hands on the Freelance Police, along with their creator Steve Purcell along for the ride for brand new adventures not tied to the LucasArts design. That gave us “Save The World” which was followed by “Beyond Time & Space” and eventually “The Devil’s Playhouse”. All three games used very interesting and intriguing uses of puzzle design and twists in the adventure gameplay to deliver games that were quite awesome, even if they somehow never have yet to reach the epic-ness that was “On The Road”. This was not for lack of trying. It could be because of the SCUMM system, maybe it’s because of nostalgia on my part. I enjoyed all the Sam & Max games from Telltale but there were decisions made in gameplay style which caused problems.

These same issues would plague their very thought out and high quality “Tales of Monkey Island” series. This game did have the excellence of Ron Gilbert working alongside Grossman and Stemmle to come to fruition though. What hurt this game, much like in the Sam & Max game was that each episode was not exactly standalone. They were treated much more like chapters in a book and some episodes were weaker than others, in terms of length, puzzles and more. If played in one sitting, this could be ignored, but if played the way they were originally designed it was very noticeable. In the long run though, it truly proved that Telltale was on to the magic. (Although it should be noted Ron Gilbert did come in for one chapter of this series, helping with design and writing, helping stir the pot that Stemmle and Grossman started.)

During this time they had also worked with Aardman Animations on their “Wallace & Gromit” franchise. Now I never saw how that could be a video game, but they figured it out. Even more amazingly they found how to turn the Strong Bad flash cartoons in to fascinating and funny games. I was never a fan of Strong Bad and I am still not, but my god, they seriously figured out how to make me in the least like those Strongbad games. It’s a testament to the talent of the Telltale team.

In 2010, Telltale became more than just a developer of their own products, but the housing platform for smaller games which would come out on their own, but with Telltale backing them had much more chance at being seen by a public desiring adventure games on all levels. They called it the Pilot program and the first title was Nelson Tethers, Puzzle Agent. Designed by cartoonist Graham Annabelle, who had been working in some capacity at Telltale since 2005 as they published his webcomic DUNK, it was an an example that Telltale didn’t just make good games, but they really could find excellent ones. I actually had problems with Puzzle Agent, both the original and the sequel in the puzzles. Some of them just went beyond my style of thinking. That’s not on me though, the game is called Puzzle Agent and that meant all kinds of puzzles, logic, math, visual, and when it comes to two of those I tend to have some issues, especially super complicated mazes. The game has both super easy and then slider puzzle types and I am not good at slider puzzles. Never hand me a Rubik’s cube, my way of solving it is to crack it open and re-glue it together when solved.

Back to the Future: The Game was announced in June of 2010, alongside with the upcoming Jurassic Park, as part of a licensing deal with Universal. Fan interest was high straight from the start and only got higher when the game was announced as “the fourth chapter” in BTTF and that Christopher Lloyd would be voicing Doc Brown. From the first chapter I was immediately sold. While my computer wasn’t completely up to snuff to handle the graphics completely I could tell the writing, acting and gameplay were everything I’d been wanting from Telltale and that the franchise only helped this. I think with this series the company really found their swing. Maybe it was knowing that there would be even more discerning eyes on it to accomplish their goals. Yet, yes, the episodic formula caused this to also suffer from some episodes being weaker than others and the game can truly only be appreciated best if played in succession. It truly was one of the strongest efforts from Telltale and gives amazing hope to their Jurassic Park game, not to mention The Walking Dead and Fables.

The most recent Telltale game to “ship” were chapters 2 & 3 of the Straandlooper developed HECTOR-Badge of Carnage. These both continued the excellence of the first two chapters and truly compel you complete the entirely funny, well thought out and constructed point & click game. The way this project finished gives me not only hope to see what if anything Straandlooper produces next, but what the pilot program may offer. While it’s obvious Telltale’s efforts for the next year will be in the three previously mentioned franchises and hopefully a second Back to the Future game, I hope they understand what they can really do here for gaming as a whole. Especially being one of the only, if not the only developer who is not an independent creator to produce games like this with distribution on almost every available platform one can think of.

There was a TellTale panel scheduled for New York Comic Con 2011, but based on research I could conduct it has been postponed for rescheduling or possibly all out cancelled.  This is a shame as I was excited at the prospect of possibly meeting Stemmle, Grossman, et. al… but alas.  I shall just continue to enjoy their products.

An Assassin and an Adventurer walk into a bar

Since I’ve started writing about video games, I thought I’d link to a few videos and discuss two of the games I am looking forward to most as 2011 comes to a close and discuss their history in some detail as well.

The first is Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. This will the fourth game in the series and the third game that is part of a story arc. In the game you play a young man named Desmond who is placed in a machine and can live out the memories of your ancestors. In the first game you met Altair, a Master Assassin from the Byzantine era of the Middle East, you travel around Syria, Jerusalem and more assassinating key figures in the Holy Wars, only to discover it was all a ploy of your mentor seeking power for himself in an item of much power, you defeat him, but what happens next in Altair’s legend remains unknown. In the second game you met Ezio, a young man learning the ways of becoming an Assassin during the Renaissance period of Italy. You face The Borgia, defeating The Pope and his sons through the second game and then a third called Brotherhood in which you start training Assassins yourself. You also become good friends with folks such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Copernicus and Machiavelli (so the game is really based on real history). In Revelations, you return to Ezio in his old age, in which Ezio is now seeking to find out what happened to Altair, before the first game and after. At the same time, Desmond is trapped in a special black world because of stuff that happened in Brotherhood. So you play as all three trying to piece together all the answers.

The first video just will show you how amazing the story telling, acting and animation is, especially in the upcoming game along with a commentary track from the developers.

Oh and the Game developers have so much love for the game and the series they even made a Live Action film called LINEAGE which is about Ezio’s father, who was also an Assassin.

They also put together an animated film called Ascendance.

And another animated film is coming out called EMBERS.

Oh and there have also been two books and a comic book, and these were not adaptations, but stories that take place in between the game or in the same world of the game, but in a different section!

Oh I forgot to mention that Desmond also has friends and partners in the games, helping him in the machine. There’s the hot blonde, voiced by Kirsten Bell (Veronica Mars, Heroes, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), the cute brunette tech girl and the British researcher.

Another game I am super excited about is UNCHARTED 3.  Uncharted are the adventures of Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter/former thief who believes he is the ancestor of Francis Drake. Following clues from ancient legends he finds the home of amazing treasures once thought real, but forever lost. In the first game he followed clues from Francis Drake to find the fabled El Dorado. In the second game, once again following clues from a diary by Francis Drake, Nathan goes in search of Shamballah. In the third game he will follow the lead of T.E. Lawrence in search of Iram of the Pillars. In the third game incluence will also be taken from the classic film “Lawrence of Arabia”. Drake has had various partners. His main one is Sully, an older dude who is really tough played classic character actor Richard McGonagle, Elena, a journalist played the lovely Emily Rose, Chloe a tough as nails Brit played by Farscape’s Claudia Black and Harry played Magician and Comedy actor Steve Valentine. The games have also featured Rene Auberjonois and Simon Templeman, the third game has very popular British actress Rosalind Ayres as the bad guy.
Nolan North plays Nathan Drake and he’s so good, he also plays Desmond in Assassin’s Creed and the voices are similiar but quite different, not a distraction as in going “Wait, he sounds just like Nathan Drake”.

Nolan is much more suited to play Nathan though, which you can see is this live action commercial for the third game starring Nolan North, it is very funny, Nolan is fantastic, sort of like David Boreanaz, Bruce Campbell and Nathan Fillion having a love child:
http://blog.us.playstation.com/2011/08/25/uncharted-3-drakes-deception-collectors-edition-unboxed/

The game has also had a Motion Comic prequel.

It also has a comic coming soon and a novel telling a story not in the games by Christopher Golden.

Video games when you really analyze them like this have come a long long long way. I know most of know this, but how frequently do you sit down and think about it?