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August 31st, 2011 by Robbie

Categories: PC, Xbox 360

Long overdue thoughts on a game I played, finished, and 100%-ed long ago. But the reason this game deserves better than my tardy reflection proffers is because it’s so great.

Bastion is a simple isometric action game that doesn’t introduce anything unique. That Bastion doesn’t attempt to set itself apart with gimmicks is what makes it so good. The creators know what gamers enjoy and deliver it cleanly and simply. Let that be a lesson to you other game developers. Don’t muddy the experience with complicated rules.  The game gives you multiple weapons to play with, money to earn, upgrades to spend your money on, difficulty adjustments, arena challenges, and even farming opportunities for you RPG completionists. I don’t want to waste time with specifics, but the design choices were very well thought out.

This will be my first time calling out the music for a game. I can’t describe the genre at all so it’s best you just listen yourself here. And don’t think you have an impression of what the music is like just by listening to a single track. Each song is special and is, I consider, deserving to be mentioned on its own.

The story. Don’t expect a completely mind-blowing story, because those are few and far between. I’m somewhat biased, but it’s hard to find a more creative story-telling mind than my very own Ken Levine. So while Bastion has an interesting story and some really well-done (and cry-worthy) moments near the end, my favorite is how the game delivers story: through a 3rd person narrator called The Narrator. The story unfolds in a way that works well with the general pace the game wants to maintain. It’s not overwhelming and in your face a la MGS4. Instead, bits and pieces come together little by little, which is also just like how the levels themselves are revealed to the player.

They call him The Narrator for a reason: he actually narrates your game. Pick up an item, he discusses it. Fall off a cliff, he jokes about it. You get the feeling that he is both driving you forward and at the same time telling your own personal story to an unnamed audience.  There are even tutorial elements hinted in his narration, but not in a “do this” fashion. It really is a hint, and it makes you feel smart for having picked up on it. The Narrator is rightfully considered a feature of the gameplay. He’s got a sexy voice too.

Bastion is a well-polished gaming experience that also has brilliant little nuggets that are easy to miss but truly rewarding to find. I can’t remember the last time I smiled to myself while playing a game. I finished it twice-over myself by using the New Game+ feature, and the second time was not a chore.  Buy Bastion because some of the guys who created the game are friends and former co-workers. But also buy it because it’s one of the best games I’ve played in a long time.


Dragon Age Deuce

April 13th, 2011 by Robbie

Categories: PC, PS3, Xbox 360

This is a long due review. I had actually finished the game quite some time ago but was too busy to write up my thoughts. In fact, I remain nearly as lazy as before so this will be an assortment of collected thoughts, devoid of any semblance of organization and train of thought.

It’s typically the case I will dislike a game that has somehow ended up finding a following of fanboys/fangirls who swear by it. They will give it perfect 10s and comment about the “amazing graphics” and the “engaging story” and the “beautiful environments”. It is in that regard that Dragon Age 2 is very much an atypical game to me. There are many gamers who dislike the game (often because the developers didn’t do something exactly the way they would have preferred it, no less), but I liked it a lot.  And metacritic mostly agrees with me.

It’s true: the graphics aren’t great, the storyline isn’t particularly engaging, and it’s hard to say the environment is particularly beautiful when it recycles a lot of similar spaces and you spend 80% of the game in one giant town. So what’s to like? The combat. And yes, that is one of the points of contention between me liking the game and others not. I thought it was a positive improvement on Dragon Age 1, which felt a little rubberbandy and slow. You often had to focus a single target for forever before you moved onto the next. DA2 felt more actiony, like WoW, and targets died in a timely manner. You actually felt the impact of your most powerful moves. Very satisfying.  Good or bad, I found myself trying to get through conversations as quickly as possible just so I could fight again, which was not the case with DA1.

One complaint I have for both DA games is that there is typically one boss battle that is impossible to do normally unless you exploit it. I’m specifically referring to kiting the boss, which has generally been considered a viable strategy in many other games with difficult opponents, but I am not a fan. It disengages me from the fantasy of the combat.

The storyline is interesting. At the beginning, you have no idea what the point of your character’s being is. You are referred to as the “Champion of Kirkwall” and yet what that has to do with anything is unclear. Even after you’ve been playing for a few hours, everything you do feels very disconnected. And that is the crux of most of the complaints about story. But if you’re paying attention, you’ll know that the whole game is actually a story being told by someone who likes a little embellishment now and then (a funny moment relating to that pops up later in the game). And when you’re telling a complicated story to someone, you always have to start from the beginning to work your way up to the climax. What’s brilliant is that exact thing happens. All the bits and pieces that seem random all of a sudden come together at the end. And then you’re like “Ohhhhh.. Whoaaaa.”  But up until that point, you don’t really know what your motivation is, hence the lack of engaging storyline.

Graphics I won’t spend time on. I notice when it’s good, but I don’t care when it’s bad.  Dragon Age is not the HD experience you’ll get from such games as Call of Duty or Crysis, but I don’t think it was meant to be.

There are characters you’ll fall in love with.  Both figuratively and literally.  Both in-game and in real life.  At the end of the day, all the issues people complained about were easy to look over because I could just turn back to my Merrill, talk to her, kill demons with her, and everything would be fine.

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Art of Video Games

February 16th, 2011 by Robbie

Categories: Miscellaneous

The Smithsonian museum plans on having a video game art exhibition between March 2012 to September 2012.  You can help vote for what they will feature at this link:

When I was going through, I thought it important to make sure I wasn’t just picking my favorite games.  I needed to pick the games I thought best represented the genre, platform, and era.  Or I needed to celebrate the games whose art was of particular note for that time.  An achievement, if you will.

That said, some of the selection the Smithsonian has available to choose from are pretty awful.  Typing of the Dead?  Seriously?  The experience is ruined further by the fact that you can only select one game per genre.  I’d much rather have Kingdom Hearts 2, Okami, and FFX than let a game called Attack of the Mutant Camels get a spot.


Dead Space 2

February 2nd, 2011 by Robbie

Categories: PC, PS3, Xbox 360

EA’s sequel to a rather successful new IP delivers well.  As I am writing this, I have completed 1.75 playthroughs of Dead Space 2.  At least 2 more are on the way.

A brief explanation for anyone not familiar with the Dead Space series: Over-the-shoulder action survival horror shooter.  Think Resident Evil but with more gore, fewer insta-death moments, and strafing (<3 strafing).  Not to mention award-winning audio.  Possibly what sets it apart most is combat.  In all other games, you aim for the head.  In Dead Space 1/2, you aim for the limbs: legs, arms, phalluses.  Taking off the head actually introduces a fun reaction where the decapitated body berzerks on you.

The most satisfying part of Dead Space 1/2 is the gore.  It’s gratuitous.  The type of gore that makes you to cringe, and yet you can’t look away.  Penny Arcade made fun of it in Dead Space 2, but this behavior is literally encouraged (it pops up as a tutorial).  And nothing beats the different ways you can die.

Dead Space 2 feels a more solid experience than the first.  It extends play-style customization elements just a little bit, to the point where it feels like it makes a difference but isn’t over-bearing.  It adds new weapons, new armor, and new enemies in very strategic ways such that newcomers aren’t overwhelmed, returners aren’t bored, and the overall scope of combat offers more flexibility.  Controls are simplified to allow for a more visceral playthrough (you don’t have to interrupt your action to open your inventory every 30 seconds just to get something done).  It also gives small nods to its predecessor, offering up a guilty bit of sweet nostalgia to loyal fans.  And one of the nicest improvements over the first game was that there was the removal/truncation of particularly tedious activities.  Fabulous.

I still have fond memories of the original Dead Space.  There’s nothing quite like ones first time.  But that phenomenon where after you’ve broken up with your girlfriend/boyfriend from your first serious relationship, you then find someone new who is very similar but different in all the right places?  That’s Dead Space 2.


Working for the industry

January 7th, 2011 by Robbie

Categories: Miscellaneous

In the latest podcast released by my company, I talk about what I look for when screening QA Tester candidates to hire. If you’re interested in a video game industry career or just plain want to hear my voice, have a listen.

Link here

You can listen to the whole podcast, which is great, or skip right to my part (part 3) at about 12:30.