#Gor – Update and Sketches

Since it has been so long since the last update, have some sketches of art.

We are a bit behind due to my illness and a couple of other factors, but I’m working hard to try and make sure the slippage doesn’t go too far.

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#PS4 Review: The Order 1886

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Introduction

As I may have mentiond before when reviewing games within the genre, I am a big fan of steampunk. I’m a purist though. The steampunk that I like is of the more ‘hard SF’ or ‘alternative history’ style. The Difference Engine rather than Arcanum. In many respects The Order does tick the right boxes, but hopefully I’m not spoilering anything by revealing that it also includes supernatural elements – which I admit that I’m biased against.

The Order has been subject to some controversy, mostly centred around its playing time and its cinematic styling and prevalence of quicktime events and cutscenes.

I have no particular dog in the fight around cinematic styling (it certainly helped elevate Alien Isolation), I primarily care about whether the game and story are good. I can forgive a lot and I enjoyed Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair back in the day. I expect more these days, but have nothing necessarily against cinematic frame rate, film grain or qt events.

When it comes to play time, I do think there’s an issue to answer. My metric for time well spent and value for money is cinema. Locally you can expect to see a two hour film for around £8. I would hope to get at least eight hours from a shooting game (more from an RPG or similar). That means I would look to expect about twelve hours of joy for a cover price of £50, including replay value.

I finished The Order, without rushing, in about 7 hours. That’s about £30 worth of entertainment, sold for nearly twice that.

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Story

Here be spoilers.

You are a knight of the order, a tradition carried on since King Arthur’s day and a band of near-immortal knights empowered by the ‘black water’, drunk from the holy grail. You play Sir Galahad (Grayson) a stoic and principled member of the order who progresses through the story from absolute loyalty to questioning everything he’s been taught to believe and has upheld for centuries.

Taking the names of the knights (similarly to the conceit in Kingsman) The Order serves the realm and answers to no-one, concentrating on helping protect the realm and humanity in general against threats both natural and supernatural (rebellion, lycanthropes, ‘bedlamites’, vampires and more).

The Order has absolute authority and autonomy, commands police and soldiers, operates out of a palace and has access to the finest technology of the new age of science present in the game. This includes a diverse group of weapons from automatic pistols (based on the Mauser and the C-93) to automatic rifles, pump action shotguns and more exotic weapons like a thermite rifle, electrical arc gun and a recoilless explosive launcher.

You start with a flashback – or flash forward – where you have betrayed The Order and are sentenced to death. Crippled you make your escape with some difficulty and then flash back a considerable amount of time and back to your more regular duties. The Order are essentially a special operations unit and as you deal with bedlamites, lycanthropes and rebels you slowly uncover a conspiracy at the heart of the United India company that reaches into the heart of The Order itself.

Vampires, werewolves, knights of the realm, it’s all rather derivative – even in the language that’s used (lycans…) and owes more than a little to the Underworld film series, which is unfortunate. It would have been a stronger story, I think, without the supernatural elements which – at this point – are worn thin. It’s possible they could have been elevated, tired concepts can still work if handled well or if they’re aware of themselves, but The Order goes at its material in too po-faced and serious a manner for it to really work here.

Too much goes unexplained and while that can work – if you find out as you’re playing – you don’t find out enough to make proper sense of what’s going on in the game.

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Presentation

Graphically The Order is an astounding feat. The people look real enough that there’s no real uncanny valley feeling, even though sometimes there’s a delay in a character moving out of your way or responding to a cue from a button press to push a cart or give someone a leg up.

The sheer level of graphical fidelity is breathtaking, most especially noteworthy is the way that cloth moves and drapes. The design is perfect.

Oddly, this sheer level of graphical accomplishment sometimes works against the game because the sheer level of graphical detail and realism leads you to expect realism to such a degree that the flaws stick out like sore thumbs. The most glaring of these were the fact that you cast no reflection – leading me to erroneously believe that Galahad was a vampire for a while – and that things fail to explode, shatter or move when you run into them or set off an explosion.

The voice acting is superb and brings real emotion into the characters. The characters look like real people – imperfections and all. The musical score is appropriate and well done. Presentation-wise, this is a brilliant game.

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Gameplay

The game breaks down into four separate gameplay styles, one of which isn’t really gameplay.

  • Cut-scenes: Sit and listen to the various characters discussing this/that and the other. It would have added a great deal if you’d been able to choose your character’s input and conversational options during these.
  • Quick Time Events: Some of these occur during combat (stealth attacks, boss fights, melee). Others occur on their own basis during cut-scenes. Some of these are an improvement on normal QTEs as they’re somewhat forgiving. If you mess up it’s often not instant doom, but a setback you can recover from.
  • Cover Shooter: Once the guns are out the game is a cover-shooter, similar in feel to Gears of War, though a bit less bulky/macho. This isn’t bad per se, but the cover spots are obvious and many of the fighting spaces are so tight and constricted you might as well be in melee combat. The different guns are quite fun. The wild disparity in enemy toughness is disconcerting though.
  • Exploration: Occasionally you’ll be free to move around and not be in combat. There’s not much in the way of exploration, you’re primarily on rails the whole time with an obvious way to go. While exploring you can find beautifully rendered objects, read newspapers, locate clues etc but nothing that really has that much impact on the game or that would motivate you to search around when you don’t have to. You will find audio recordings, but since you have to interrupt play to listen to them and they have no real bearing on play there’s little reason to do so.

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Score
Style: 5 (In terms of graphics, style and technical accomplishment the game is close enough to perfect as to warrant a 5).
Substance: 2 (Too short, derivative story, hidden story).
Overall: 3.5 (Solidly above average, but only dragged there by virtual of graphical and technological accomplishment).

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Opinion

The Order is not a bad game. It’s just not a great game. It doesn’t live up to its hype (similarly to how Watchdogs – an otherwise solid game – drew ire thanks to not living up to its hype). It is, however, a laudable and marvellous technological and graphical achievement which will be the new benchmark for console games from now on.

It is too short, ripping the feeling of having gotten value for money completely away and leaving one dissatisfied and even resentful.

With no plans for DLC we can’t even look forward to a more complete experience further down the line.

If the company takes their criticism to heart and addresses it for a sequel, they could well be on to a truly winning formula but it also remains to be seen how much of a success the game will be or whether the negative reviews have stymied any hope of a better sequel.

Personally, I’d love to see a Dishonoured sequel, rendered in this engine and with Dishonoured’s gameplay. That would be marvellous.

Like many things, this would probably make a better tabletop RPG than a computer game, as things stand.

I mean hell. I’d write the sequel for minimum wage, just to see a better story presented this well.

I hope we see this engine licensed and used for better games.

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Review: Alien Isolation

maxresdefaultIntroduction

I’m a fan of the Alien series – by which I primarily mean Alien and Aliens. The rest of the films can take a running jump off a cliff so far as I’m concerned. None of them live up to the promise of those first two. Some of the Dark Horse comics on the other hand, were brilliant and if Aliens Versus Predator had been based on their comic it would have been amazing. Prometheus looked pretty, but was a conceptual nightmare, like someone had given Von Daniken the brown acid and an unlimited budget.

I love the franchise, but I’m a picky motherfucker, is basically what I’m saying.

Also, here be spoilers.

Story

You step into the shoes of Amanda Ripley, Ellen’s canonical daughter who had died by the time we get to Aliens. Amanda has grown up without her mother and without knowing what happened to her. When the Nostromo’s black box is discovered and word gets back to Weyland-Yutani, she goes out on the company vessel the Torrens alongside an oligatory synthetic (Samuels) and a company woman (Taylor) to the remote station Sevastopol, owned by the lesser rival corporation, Seegson.

Upon arrival it becomes obvious that things have gone horribly wrong with Sevastopol. Nobody appears to be in charge, there’s no communications and to get to the station involves a spacewalk that goes wrong and leaves the trio scattered across the station.

As Ellen you have to survive the panicked populace, the rogue synthetics (lower tech than WT ones), the smashed up and breaking down station and… the alien.

Though things continue to get worse and it turns out it’s not just the one alien, but a whole nest (though the canonicity of aliens becoming queens or reproducing without queens – at least to start with – seems to be in question).

Eventually you escape – though that’s a questionable interpretation of events – and space is left for a sequel, though I think the story works better as a stand-alone.

Presentation

In many respects the presentation of this game is perfect. It’s a retro-future very much in the style of the films Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986). This is played out in effects like green screen monitors, flickering strip lights, bulky monitors and computers that look more like Apple IIs or terminals. The save icon is even a video cassette.

This might be confusing and strange to younger gamers, but it definitely puts you in the world of the two best films and the whole design approach echoes aspects of those films (primarily Alien) and maintains the style throughout the game. The only drawback to this consistency is that many of the levels blur together through similarity and it can be hard to get a sense of being on a ship rather than the station.

Alien infested sections definitely have their own feel, as does the space jockey wreck, the planet surface and the exterior of the station, so it’s definitely not for lack of talent that other aspects feel a bit samey.

The sound score, similarly, echoes the films very faithfully and cranks up the tension of Goldsmith’s original score (Alien) to create terror by association. The only problem with it is that sometimes it cranks up the tension for no readily discernible reason, the musical equivalent of a cheap jump-scare.

The one area that really, really, really lets the game down in its presentation (beyond the minor gripes that there’s a lot of walking around doing nothing, which builds tension but gets old) is the alien.

You would really, really hope that the alien would be well done. Graphically it looks fine, but the motion capture animation for the alien is just too human looking. When it’s stalking you, you can’t help but be disappointed as it wanders around like a child who’s made stilts out of a couple of treacle tins. It only really becomes scary when it’s in pursuit of you and since it’s so key to the story and much of the play, it really lets the game down.

This is an area in which games can be better than films and better than the source material. Having the alien clamber on walls and ceiling as well as the floor, having it move in a less human manner would have massively improved the game. As it stands the blank-faced androids are scarier than the alien, and that’s just wrong.

Gameplay

The game plays like an FPS, though it’s really more of a stealth/survival game. Frustratingly you can’t jump, though you can crouch, crawl and hide under tables and inside ducts. The lack of a jump/scramble – save in particular spots – is hugely frustrating, especially whe being unable to hop up a couple of feet out of a gutter can be a matter of life and death.

Combat isn’t a huge focus, though you will find yourself struggling with other survivors and androids – but not aliens, which you can’t kill or hurt. You’re not a warrior, so you’ll find yourself lining up shots carefully and still missing. You’ll also find yourself bashing in people’s brains with a wrench a lot.

Androids are tough and if you get into a wrench-fight with one they’ll often catch your swing and end up throwing you back or into a wall. This does definitely bring home the strength and toughness of even the inferior Seegson androids, but it’s really, really repetitive and could have done with a bit more variety, or being a little less flawless at catching and deflecting your attacks.

Score
Style: 4.5 (only really let down by the alien).
Substance: 3 (A lot of plot information is hidden away on terminals, a lot of time in the game is lost crawling down corridors, stretching play out to snapping point).
Overall: 3.75

Opinion

The way people had been going on about this game I’d expected it to cause spontaneous orgasms and to spew kittens out of the screen. Even so, I wasn’t that sure that I’d like it and only got it because it was at reduced cost in the PS4 store. If I’d paid full price, I think I’d have been a little disappointed.

It’s not that this isn’t a good game, it just doesn’t really live up to the hype around it. I think, perhaps, given that Colonial Marines was such a disappointment to everyone, people were hugely pleased to get this game and for it not to suck.

#PS4 – Review: Ironclad Tactics

it1Introduction

Ironclad Tactics is a computer-based card game set in a relatively low-key steampunk world, around an alternative US Civil War. The game has been out a while, even though the PS4 version which is the one I’m reviewing only came out recently, so I won’t go to huge lengths to avoid spoilers in this review – so head’s up.

The PS4 version comes with the main campaign, along with the bundled expansion battles ‘The Rise of Dmitry’ and ‘Blood and Ironclads’, representing pretty good value for money (it took me about 8 hours to burn through the main campaign and to dip into Blood and Ironclads. I have not played more than that, but I think that gives me enough grounding to review the game).

light_chassisGameplay

To play the game you build a deck of 20 cards from those you’ve unlocked while playing. Those include soldiers, ironclad steam robots, weapons and modifiers for them as well as tactics and options for everything else. Cards start out basic but you can unlock more and more as you go on, from several factions including native Americans, bandits/mercenaries, experimental technology and the weapons of your enemies.

These cards get fed, at random, into a queue of cards at the bottom of your screen, while you gain points with which to buy them, turn by turn (turns are timed, so you have to think fast a well as tactically). When you have enough points you can deploy a card and each turn cards advance and fight.

It plays like a hybrid of ‘Plants Versus Zombies’ and Tower Defence, with several lanes down the screen where you need to block enemies getting to your end of the screen while getting your own troops to the other side of the screen. The key is to deploy at the right times, in the right numbers and to leverage options on different levels to get more points for deploying more troops. Different levels have different terrain (that may block ironclads and give cover to troops, let you fire mortars, or earn more points each turn).

There’s enough variety and slow introduction of new elements and tactics to keep the gameplay engaging an involving throughout the storyline and into the secondary campaigns, though the novelty does start to wear off as the variety is tapped out (mostly after the main campaign).

sharpshooterStory

In the main campaign you take the part of engineers working for The Union who helped develop the ironclad technology. When it’s revealed that the Confederate forces are also using ironclads they enter the fray to even the odds and soon find out there’s some sort of greater conspiracy going on.

You play them as they travel from coast to coast, battling confederate forces, mercenaries and unusual, experimental ironclads and airships to get to the bottom of the mystery and to bring the war to a close.

As stories go it’s fairly predictable – even the twist – but it’s perfectly serviceable as a hook upon which to hang some battling robots.

grapeshot_cannonPresentation

The story is presented in some hyper-stylised comic-strip ‘cutscenes’ (press to reveal the next panel) which are reminiscent of European children’s comics in many ways, especially ones like Asterix or Tintin. They’re also similar in many ways to Valiant Hearts – an interesting, but depressing – WWI puzzle game.

In this sort of game the graphics aren’t that important, but the cartoonish and exaggerated style is somewhat at odds with the relatively low key and relatively serious and grounded approach to the steampunk setting and technology.

Still, all things considered the style is neat and fun, the information accessible on the cards and the story presented in a fun and interesting way.

Score
Style: 3 (A little more flare or animated cutscenes would have taken this over the top).
Substance: 4 (The tactics are surprisingly deep and the wide variety of cards and interactions makes for lots of ‘aha’ moments).
Overall: 3.5 (Good value for £11.99 – 20% discount if you have the PS+ membership).

zebulons_catOpinion

Steampunk games – and media in general – tends to go horrendously over the top far too often. RPGs like Victorian throw in everything – including the kitchen sink – to become Victorian Shadowrun, many games hurl in magic, werewolves, vampires and just about anything else you can think of with zero restraint.

I’m much more of a fan of ‘hard’ steampunk, having been a fan of genre since The Difference Engine. There’s a paucity of decent steampunk media that take this harder, alternative history approach. Ironclad Tactics isn’t quite ‘hard science’ since the ironclads ability to think and operate is never explained and ‘Belgian anthracite’ turns out to be a radioactive ore.

Still, in a sea of over-the-top ‘slap some cogs on it’ steampunk with no clarity of vision, Ironclad Tactics is admirably restrained.

It would also make the basis of an excellent actual, physical card game or skirmish wargame. Might have to look into the latter as a ‘fan thing’.

#RPG Badgerpod Nerdcast: ‘Edgy’ Game Design

I don’t actually see myself as ‘edgy’ (that’s a joke, made by trolls and goons, at my expense), but it should be a fun chat. Send ‘em questions and things if you want. I’ll do my best to answer as honestly and coherently as I can for 2am.

 

#SJWRPG – Class: Social Justice Barbarian

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Signature social justice barbarian

Social Justice Barbarians are all about the rrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaage.

Full of snark and nastiness, if they weren’t Social Justice Barbarians they’d just find someone else to bully and pick on. Luckily for them they’ve happened upon the one arena in which it’s socially acceptable to be a total arsehole to people with impunity.

Level 1: +2 Proficiency, Shitfit, Trigger 1, Unarmoured Defence.
Level 2: +2, Shut the Fuck Up.
Level 3: +2, Spittle Attack
Level 4: +2, Ability Score Improvement
Level 5: +3, Extra Attack, Trigger 2.
Level 6: +3, Reason Immunity.
Level 7: +3, Bully.
Level 8: +3, Ability Score Improvement.
Level 9: +4, Sonic Scream.
Level 10: +4, Trigger 3.
Level 11: +4, Unstoppable Shitfit
Level 12: +4, Ability Score Improvement.
Level 13: +5, Super Bully.
Level 14: +5, Trigger 4.
Level 15: +5, Self Righteous Fury.
Level 16: +5, Ability Score Improvement.
Level 17: +6, Ultra Bully.
Level 18: +6, Mighty Stupid.
Level 19: +6, Ability Score Improvement.
Level 20: +6, Trigger 5, Laughing Stock

Class Features

Hit Dice 1d12+Constitution Modifier per level (12+Con modifier at first level).

Proficiencies: Light and medium armour, shields, blockbots.
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons, keyboards, YouTube, Twitter, blogging.
Tools: Yes, yes they are.
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution.
Skills: Choose two from Animal Handling, Blogging, Athletics, Intimidation, Perception, Survival, Twitter and Vlogging.

Special Abilities

Bully: Anyone lower level, or lower Challenge Rating than your level, you get +1 to hit and +1 damage against. Super Bully increases this to +2, Ultra Bully to +3.

Laughing Stock: Years of losing your temper online have made you a laughing stock, but also given you a thick skin. +4 Con and all damage you take from any source is reduced by one.

Mighty Stupid: Any magic attacks or attempts to use social skills on you fail so long as your Strength is higher than their Intelligence.

Reason Immunity: You cannot be affected be mind-altering magic or effects.

Self Righteous Fury: Your Shitfit now lasts as long as you want it to and while shitfitting you don’t get knocked out until you die.

Shitfit: When triggered (see trigger) you enter a mindless rage. This gives you a bonus of +1 to hit and do damage at level 1, +2 a level 5, +3 at level 10, +4 at level 15 and +5 at level 20. Shitfits last 3 turns.

Shut the Fuck Up: Once per encounter you can bellow at an enemy, making them unable to speak or cast verbal magic.

Spittle Attack: A breath weapon with a 2m cone, you spray anyone in the area with spittle, doing 1d4 damage for every five levels – or part thereof – that you have. Anyone caught in the blast can make a Dexterity saving throw to take half damage. The DC is equal to 8+Proficiency Bonus + Strength Bonus. Usable once per combat encounter.

Sonic Scream: A breath weapon blast with a 10m radius around you, this deafeningly shouted obscenity does 1d6 damage for every four levels – or part thereof – that you have Anyone caught in the blast can make a Constitution saving throw to take half damage. The DC is equal to 8+Proficiency Bonus + Strength Bonus. Usable once per combat encounter.

Trigger: You can only enter a shitfit if you’re triggered. Every few levels you get to choose a new trigger. Triggers might include spiders, thin people, the mention of fruit or being contradicted.

Unarmoured Defence: Works as per normal 5e barbarian ability. This is NOT an excuse for furry bikinis which are bad and wrong.

Unstoppable Shitfit: Your Shitfit now lasts six turns.

#SJWRPG – Traps & Triggers – Character Creation

24f735ff785848948d5b3Traps & Triggers (not to be confused with Tunnels & Trolls) is an RPG based on the system of 5th Edition D&D, but better, because it incorporates Social Justice™ into every single aspect of the game. In order to play you will need a copy of D&D 5th Edition and, more problematically, some friends.

You are a hero of the enlightened and beautiful Bay Queendom. An enlightened and egalitarian land, surrounded by chaotic and evil lands full of monsters, The Chan Fiefdoms. These enemies threaten the glorious Bay Queendom every day.

Character Creation

Step 1: Don’t Choose a race – Race is a social construct and makes no difference to your character. Shortness, pointed ears, beards or immortality are nothing to do with genetics whatsoever.

Step 2: Choose a Class – Classes will be described later.

Step 3: Level – You all start at level 1, though level is explicitly not a measure of a character’s worth. Everyone levels up at the end of a game, no matter how badly they did.

Step 4: Ability Scores – Pick any numbers you like for your abilities, between 3 and 20. You are encouraged, but not forced, to take at least one Ability at a really low score so you can empathise with the differently abled.

Step 5: Describe your Character – Your character can look like anything you want, you can choose any height, weight or anything else you like. You can choose any hair colour at all, blue, aquamarine, navy, anything.

Step 6: Equipment – Start with any and all basic equipment and weapons you want. You also start with a trust fund that gives you 1,000gp at the start of each session.

Step 7: Positive Discrimination – Minority gamers are too rare and must be encouraged to play RPGs, even forced. In order to encourage them to play any player who can identify themselves as a minority receives a +1 (or equivalent) magic item of their choice and an extra 1,000gp each session from their trust fund.