Joined 10/23/2012

7 Posts

Well, I thought it was an eternal joke, much like Duke Nukem Forever never coming out. Proven wrong yet again, GoG.com has announced through Rock Paper Shotgun and a teaser on their website that System Shock 2 will get a full "digital collector's edition" release. This means a full soundtrack, design docs, an Interview with Ken Levine, among other goodies.

Being one of my Top 5 PC games of all times, I really have to advertise this whole deal. System Shock 2 is a bit like Bioshock, but with much more of a PC slant. This means stats you must level up, an inventory system, and intense exploration of each level. Not only a shooter, but more of a space survival horror game, you must fight your way through mutated crew members, rogue robots, and even greater horrors.

If this sounds complicated, don't worry. The entire game is mouselook controlled with a UI overlay that can be removed or retrieved at the touch of a button. All of the stats are under the hood and mostly serve as barriers to using more advanced weapons. All you need to worry about is surviving. I have mentioned this game repeatedly as a touchstone for good pacing, appropriate use of horror themes, and balanced gameplay. If you enjoy PC games at all, I sincerely urge you to complete this one.

Well, since I haven't been able to play much for www.backlogkiller.com I thought I would just write something short and sweet about Ultima Underworld here. Ultima Underworld is one of the most original and revolutionary PC titles to come out in the early 90's and really set the stage for many modern titles. First designed as a complete dungeon diving simulation and later combined with the Ultima universe, Ultima Underworld puts you in the role of the Avatar who is now wrongly accused of kidnapping. Forced to prove your innocence, you are thrown into the Stygian Abyss to rescue the duke's daughter.

Beginning with nothing more than the clothes on your back, you are forced to face monsters, traps, and dark corridors using your wits and any other equipment you come across. Unlike most of its contemporaries, Ultima Underworld features fully 3-D environments (floors above floors) and texture mapped surfaces. Unlike Doom and Wolfenstein, the UU engine also allows you to look up, down, and even fly given the correct circumstances. The engine was a technological wonder when it came out and was a direct influence for other more famous titles such as System Shock and, by direct lineage, Bioshock.

Even though I am only three levels deep in my play through, it was immediately apparent that Ultima Underworld is one of the most important games of the early 90's. Combining true role playing choices in conversations, challenging immersive game play, and the pure joy of exploring, Ultima Underworld is MUST play if you are at all interested in influential titles from the past. Even though it is a little rough around the edges, it serves as a great statement of the power and creativity a small group of programmers can muster. I, personally, find its systems and mechanics more satisfying than many regaled games that have come out recently.

I just wanted to take a minute to promote the Take This Project (www.takethisproject.tumblr.com) which is an organization of writers, programmers, and gamers in the gaming industry who are suffering from depression or other mental illnesses to raise awareness. Having dealt with anxiety and depression myself (heck, I based my blog on it), I recommend anyone who is interested to check out the material for the website and follow the group on Facebook and Twitter (@takethisproject). I am very supportive of people who provide an understanding and encouraging community to show those who may not be afraid to seek help that they are not alone. I try not to bore others or bring up "Oh! My depression!", but the Take This Project portrays a very confident and positive image for sufferers. Many experiences also resemble my own and do a good job explaining how I felt. (See Sean Sand's piece "Depression Was a Prison")

Take a look and support them as much as you can. Hopefully it can help some people out who need it.

Having just completed Braid for my blog (www.backlogkiller.com), I thought I would transfer some of my comments over here to Cheerful Ghost. If you haven’t finished the game and don’t want to have anything ruined, I guess you should skip this post. Although, there’s really not that much to ruin since the entire game is mechanics and puzzle driven.

Braid, the brainchild of the (in)famous indie game designer Jonathan Blow, is a puzzle platformer that uses time manipulation as its primary mechanic in addition to the standard running and jumping. By pressing a single button, the player can reverse time to avert death, manipulate entities in the world, and experiment with different solutions. Although this sounds simple, the introduction of new elements such as monsters or objects immune to time control complicates things greatly. Using time reversal and properties unique to each world, the player must control the main character (Tim) to collect puzzle pieces and rescue the enigmatic princess that was lost in the past.

Throughout the game, the player is fed small bits of story through strange blocks of text that hint at the identity of the Princess Tim is looking for. This enhances the somber mood of the levels and adds enormous gravity to the metaphor the mechanics of time manipulation work to build. The concept of going back to correct your mistakes and take another path through life is universal and lies in everyone. As a way to represent the desire to recapture a lost love, career, or youth, Braid is very effective and quite touching in my opinion. Unfortunately, the game squanders this chance by making a baffling narrative choice I cannot even begin to understand.

Spoilers Below:

The ‘Princess’ in Braid is actually the secret of nuclear weapons. Tim is a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project that brought about the age of nuclear bombs and the cold war. Even though the metaphor of time makes sense in terms of the desire to put that genie back in the bottle, it is absolutely ridiculous (in my opinion) when slapped on the game. What could have been a poignant and relatable concept is blown out of the water by the torpedo of grandiosity. I don’t understand why this was done other than to say ‘video games can be important’. Importance can take all shapes and sizes. I cannot relate to developing of a weapon of mass destruction, but I sure as heck can relate to wanting to recapture something I’ve lost in my own life.

It is easy to see why Jonathan Blow is such a controversial designer. The brilliant game design makes me very hopeful for his new project, The Witness, but it also worries me about what direction it will take. Many great stories have dealt with personal conflicts that give them an even greater impact which may have helped Braid. Despite this, I enjoyed the game and was only mildly let down by the ending since it was such a pleasure to play.

Read my full thoughts here: http://www.backlogkiller.com/2012/11/36-braid-game-myth-legend.html

Twelve short months ago, I began playing Planescape: Torment in an effort to motivate my writing and completion of stockpiled games on my Backlog Killer blog. (www.backlogkiller.com) I chose it as my first game because friends, Watch Out for Fireballs, were playing it for one of their episodes and I wanted a little support for finishing such a long game. Even though I had finished it when I was in high school, I wanted to complete it again to see if anything about the game had changed for me. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Planescape: Torment is an isometric RPG using the Infinity Engine of Baldur's Gate fame. It is based on the Dungeons and Dragons Planescape universe in which an infinite amount of dimensions or "planes" intersect at one focal point: the city of Sigil where the game takes place. You play as the Nameless One, a scarred and weathered fellow who wakes up in a mortuary with no memory of the past. Sound like standard video game fare? Here's something else to add into the mix: you cannot die.

I mean this in the most literal sense. Every time The Nameless One dies in combat or for any other reason, he awakens in the mortuary to continue his quest to discover the past. Along the way, you meet many other colorful characters who each have their own back stories and motivations for following you. These include a half-demon thief, a fallen angel, an ancient warrior, and (my favorite) a floating, wise-cracking skull named Morte. Working together, you must work backward to piece together your past and uncover the true nature of your soul so that you can rest in peace forever.

What makes Torment so different from almost every other RPG is its dedication to TRUE role playing via dialogue and moral choices. This isn't a Dragon's Age choice of good, evil, or neutral. Torment lets you choose everything from promising to do good to the most evil option, in my opinion, lying about doing good to get what you want. The game lets you choose exactly what character you want to play with no systemic repercussions about your choices. If you can live with what you've done... that's another matter altogether.

I wholeheartedly recommend Torment, but be warned: it is a LONG game. It will probably take at least thirty hours to finish, and that's only if you try to find some of the extra content. If you see all there is to see, I would set aside 50 to 60 hours. The game remains one of my favorite PC gaming experiences and I hope to return to it periodically to revisit its intense and touching story.

Find out: "What can change the nature of a man?"

I have written my thoughts and experiences with Planescape: Torment on my blog, The Backlog Killer. (http://www.backlogkiller.com/2012/01/2-planescape-torment.html)

You can purchase the game for the low price of $9.99 on Good Old Games. (http://www.gog.com/gamecard/planescape_torment)

I've been thinking about playing STALKER: Call of Pripyat as my chosen game after Ultima 4 for my blog. The original game, Shadows of Chernobyl, was one of the most atmospheric and enjoyable open world games I've played. I normally hate 'open world' setups, but taking place in a fictional Ukranian countryside surrounding the Chernobyl power plant is one of the most compelling setting I've ever tooled around in. The game has a gritty, almost roguelike feel, with instant death coming the second you lower your defenses.

Not only is the release of Call of Pripyat the most refined and balanced version yet, but also one of the most moddable games on the market. Even though it is not as open as other games like Skyrim, the fan base of the STALKER series is so dedicated they have introduced everything from small weight tweaks to complete environmental overhauls. Some players are STILL playing the game since its release and discovering new things.

The emphasis on loneliness and quick and dirty urban combat appeals to me the most. Instead of carefully scripted events, packs of mercenaries, monsters, and bandits wander the entire area looking for the same things you are: supplies, valuable artifacts, and shelter from constant radiation storms. One of the coolest things to ever happen was a result of these systems.

After fighting a mid-range engagement with a small group of bandits, a public radio transmission announced an imminent radiation storm. Both myself and the bandits immediately stopped shooting and high-tailed it toward the closest shelter: an empty factory complex. After running in the door, the entire battlefield had changed. We were no longer hiding behind trees fighting half a kilometer away, we were now packed into a factory floor with abandoned equipment. While the storm raged outside, I tried to stalk and corner the bandits to take them out individually before they could get the drop on me. The entire event felt like a scripted event that would be a major action piece of a level in another game, but this sort of thing happens all the time.

I highly suggest anyone play this game or the original. It is one of the most interesting and compelling shooters I have played in the last decade of gaming.

I have been playing Ultima 4 for my blog at www.backlogkiller.com and was shocked to see no entry for the PC version here! It is a free game that is available on GoG for free and set a new standard for RPGs that continues to this day. By getting rid of traditional story and encouraging the player to win by simply being a good person was a brave experiment and deserves all the praise it gets. Despite being 25 years old, it holds up and I am enjoying every minute of it. (Aside from the time spent flying the hot air balloon.)