Revenge of the Titans

Revenge of the Titans is great gem of a tower defense game. The upgrade path means you get some flexibility with the possibility that you’ll tech yourself into a corner and not be able to get out. That makes it all the more exciting once you finally figure out how to beat that next level with the handicap you gave yourself. For example, I had a hell of a time beating the last level on Saturn with that flying behemoth that came out! After experimenting and reading through things I realized I did indeed have something in my arsenal that was worth adding in to the mix: the Scanner. It increased the range of my turrets and made that level, and all levels past it, a breeze. To get to that point took me a while though, but I’m glad I went through it as it made the entire game more fulfilling and meaningful for me.

Civilization V – or How I Spent My Day Being Sick And Still Getting Things Done

Civilization games are great, especially if you like thinking far in to the future and planning the logistics of world domination. Most of the articles I’ve written on this have dealt with games that were “completed” in some fashion; this is very much a game  that can’t really be completed. Why note it as complete? In this case it’s more about: winning, using all available mechanics, and generally enjoying things.

I usually win Civ V games through culture, diplomacy or science; very rarely through domination. This time I played random, got English, and was very happy to be on a map with a ton of water and where long range snipping was a valid tactic to take my own continent. In the end, I won through domination, got Augustus Caesar rank, and felt pretty good about the whole thing. Got one round away from using a Giant Death Robot in a legitimate combat situation.

Two of the mechanics that were “missing” from the original release of Civ V were religion and espionage. In many ways I think it helped with the new feeling and tactics of this game to not have those mechanics present at first. The game to make a name for itself with the city state premise, let along the death of the stack of death. With all these changes for long time players not having the complexities of these systems I think it was a good call. This may have led to a slight over tilt towards combat mechanics, however the new faith mechanic and espionage bring things back in to balance. It took a few games for me to figure out that religion was more of a side game, something to actually be used much later in the game rather than early game. Espionage I’ve enjoyed in pretty much every iteration, this was no exception: helped keep me in line with lanes of research I had no desire to spend time on, and furthered my city state goals nicely.

Even with my rig late game turns can take a few minutes. In some games, or in times where all I wanted to do was play games, this was seen as a bad things. Anymore, I see it as a perk! The long wait times actually made it easy to get work done, made for a great timer of focus: five minutes of nothing while the game thought about what should happen. Knowing that I had a short time span to get things before my next move actually helped with some things; it forced me to create more code comments to make sure I knew what I was doing when I’d get back. When not working, knowing that I had some time coming up made it easier to get up and walk around, use the restroom, take care of cats, and all while not feeling like I wasn’t managing time well. I may have been sick, but Civ V helped me relax and still get things done!

Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD – Nostalgia on Wheels

There are a few games that I’ve been willing to play and/or buy on multiple platforms, much less try to be good at it on all of those platforms. Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 are on that very short list. The games after THPS2 aren’t quite as good in my opinion, but still quite good.

The music in both games is almost the soundtrack to young life. From Superman, Jerry Was A Race Car Driver to Guerrilla Radio, When Worlds Collide. Come to think of it the cliché of soundtrack to my youth very much fits. Playing through the HD version and having all that music playing over the Warehouse and The Hangar brought back great memories of sitting on friend’s floor and trying to get that hundred move long combo worked out. A lot of the songs I already greatly enjoyed it, but these games just reinforced it.

THPS2 was the first real port I got my Mac way back when, got a nice controller from MacAlly that went with my largish hands better than most other controllers (aside from the N64 at the time), and my siblings played the crud out of that game. My sister realized she was the grind queen and my brother actually got in to skateboarding from it.

Enough about then, what about now? How does this new version stack up? The music is still there and compiled. The graphics are improved. The items and goals are pretty much in the same spot, too. Wait, how did I get back on nostalgia moments, weren’t we moving forward? Well, that’s the joy of an HD remix of a classic game. Thankfully, the equation of the game is just plain awesome and well worth playing though again.

There’s No More Zombies On My Lawn! Er, wait…

Plants vs Zombies (PvZ) is a very entertaining and relaxing game; sadly I took forever to finish this one thanks to shifting priorities. From a design perspective there is a great mix and variety of game play and decisions. Day to night, lawn to pool, roof to bowling. The pacing, music, and overall fun factor of the game is pretty awesome.

On pacing, the non-traditional levels of random “cards” coming down and limit any sort of fatigue factor to both play styles. The mix of normal levels mixed with special levels, mini games, and side quests keeps the function going and reinforcing that there’s an end in sight. A weird thing to think about but it’s a place where the original Mario Bros. really shines: the world changes at an escalating pace reinforcing the build up to the end.

The one nitpick-y “bad” thing that I felt they did was introduce a completely new mechanic at the end: the roof and “launched” items. Why do I consider this bad? I feel like the end of a game should be the culmination of everything before it; it’s why I think Blizzard games have been so successful, they build to the end. Thankfully they didn’t do it to the same extent that inFamous (the first one) did with it’s level design and quests. That’s not to say that new things shouldn’t be introduced, but they should build and culminate. For the most part PvZ also does this, and if anything it’s like the flip side to the night time. I think it could have been “fixed” a bit by putting the roof in chapter three instead of five and just going back and forth.

Musically the great cohesion puts the game on par with even the most “blockbuster” of title; plus that credits song is just so catchy and intoxicating. Being a musician there are times that I may put too much emphasis on music at times, but this time I think it pays off.

Due to my large list of things to slug out I’m not able to enjoy the replay ability of this one as much as I’d like, but there’s a ton of it! The different puzzle, endless, and zen garden modes give a whole lot to do once the main story is done. If anything I may end up playing it more on my iPad as a mental checkout when I’ve played too much Strategery.

All in all, a great game that I really should have finished sooner than I did.

Bastion: Play through In Review

I completed my play through of Bastion in about 6 hours of playtime that included leaving some idols on, doing a couple proving grounds, and experiencing the awesomeness of “Who Knows Where” a couple times. I will note that this article contains spoilers; you’ve been warned. The soundtrack was amazing, the voice overs hauntingly intriguing, and the emotional impact high.

There’s a good possibly that I place a bit too much importance on music in games; being a musician will do that I guess. The soundtrack to Bastion was so good I was humming it in the shower after my workout this morning. It’s quite sparse in a lot of ways, but that just adds to the feeling of a desolated world trying to put itself back together. The slow building of the orchestration and instrumentation mimic that which is being played, which just adds to the feeling of progression that the games provides. At one point they made some of the sheet music available and given how amazing the songs on the soundtrack are I’ll be using that as the basis for my next round of trombone arrangements. That’s how good the music is in this game.

One of the features that caught me as truly innovative was the narrator; he even mentioned that I was just idling killing terrain, “raging a bit” over what had happened! The realization at the end of who is talking to and in what context is also quite awesome, it even influenced my decisions at the end of the game. The narration the first time I went in to “Who Knows Where” changed a lot of my feeling and attitudes toward Zia as well; it’s the main reason I evacuated at the end instead of just leaving it all to possibly happen again.

Speaking of “Who Knows Where” it was the turning point in the game for me. Going from action adventure game to an immersive game that happened to be an action adventure RPG. From there on out I was fighting for someone, for people, to find out what the truth was. A little while later I encountered Zulf who had sent some people to attack The Bastion; because I was quite tired at that point my poor Squirt died…I didn’t realize how attached I was to the little bugger until the awesome narrator told me he didn’t make it. I was heart broken and pissed that my little friend had died; and felt it was all my fault! From there I woke up a bit more and decided to push through and punish the bastard who had sent people to not only kidnap the girl, but to kill my friend. My rage was only enforced by the music, getting more and more epic with every level and layer added on. Then something happened; Zulf was on the floor, and I didn’t do it.

Seeing the man who was fueling all my rage impacted me in a very odd way; knowing that the people around him were technically Zia’s and had no desire for peace made me feel sorry for Zulf in a way. So I picked him up and slowly trudged to the exit, awash in so many emotions that it was odd to feel a sense of pride, of being the hero not leaving anyone behind. When I got back, and Zia went through all her comments about being together if we just evacuated, and knowing that Squirt wouldn’t be coming back no matter what I did, the choice was obvious: don’t let Squirt die in vain, don’t ditch the girl. And so we evacuated, ending an amazing journey that was more touching than any other game or movie in recent memory.

2013 Gaming Backlog

As any good gamer who spends some money helping out people that are willing to be in the Steam Holiday Sale I have a large backlog of computer, console, and (not related to Steam) board games. For the last couple years I’ve been putting things like playing music, leaving the house, spending time with my wife and cats, and other such things ahead of gaming. What gaming time I did have was going to MMO’s and other competitive games. At this point in time I’m getting less satisfaction from those games types and more from picking up the controller connected to my tower, or booting up my PS3 to see what is free this month, playing those games for a few minutes to make some progress and get on with my day. Before the giant list is created I’d like to talk about what getting through a backlog means for me.

When I go to play a game it’s not always about “beating” the game; more than likely it’s about enjoying the game. Some games I play just for the mechanics (RTS, Rogue-like, some FPS, sports, racing), some for the story (RPGs, action or turn based), some for the unified experience, some for nostalgia, or just to check out what every one else has been talking about. There’s definitely a set of games that can’t really be beaten at all, things like city simulators or online only games. Then there’s some games that are really just about a single gimmick and once you’ve mastered it the game becomes either lifeless or you finally get to enjoy the game and not struggle with the gimmick. All that to prep this statement: this isn’t a list of games I want to beat, just a list I want to enjoy. It’s taken me a long time to get to understand that idea; I’ve spent most of my life in the “must beat everything on the hardest difficulty” camp.

With that out of the way, here’s the list! Many of these games I’ve started but had to abandon half way through (Borderlands, Trine, and the Valve games are the biggest culprits of that). In a future article I’ll talk about MMO and MOBA goals, and in another one I’ll touch on time management to get all of this done, work, go out with my wife, and play bass trombone three days a week!

2013 Backlogged Video Games to Play List in No Real Order: