Archive | October 2013

Summary Judgment: The Stanley Parable

            Once upon a time, I thought I had a pretty good idea what video games were.  You’d get a guy on screen, you’d get some bad guys and an end goal, and you’d move a guy to the end goal and try not to make a horrible mess of it along the way.  Simple.  Easy.  Nice.

Boring.

Fortunately in times since then I’ve been proven wrong more times than I’m capable of admitting.  Through entirely story-oriented games like Dear Esther, heavily choice influenced character games like Planescape: Torment or The Witcher, and games like Papers, Please that blew away the boundary between story and gameplay, I’ve started to learn that the secret to understanding the medium is to stop wasting so much time trying to understand the medium. With Galactic Café’s The Stanley Parable, trying to understand the medium is like trying to yank your fingers out of a Chinese finger-trap: self defeating and potentially embarrassing.

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Sorry.

When Stanley came to a set of two open doors, he…

            The Stanley Parable is nothing if not a mirror.  This became extremely evident to me upon playing the demo, which serves as more an introduction to the tone and style of the game than as an actual preview of direct elements from the game itself.  The entire game was set in front of me, with a cheeky narrator sitting up in the heavens with a “Well, go on” expression, gently nudging me to do something, anything, and just see what happens.

The mechanics of the game are extremely simple.  You are Stanley, or at any rate, a player who is playing Stanley.  You move around an office in first person, interacting with objects and selecting pathways.  As you interact with the world, an intelligent sounding British narrator describes your actions and speaks to you about them.  All of them.

I felt like a cat who looked pointedly at his owner while he knocked something off a shelf, curious only about the reaction and the attention, not the action.  The narrator and I, we had a thing going.  He’d tell me to do something, I’d do the opposite, and then he’d get exasperated and I’d laugh.  Eventually I started to get into self-sabotaging layers of this, seeing how long I could follow his narrative before screwing something up on purpose. The game felt like a trolling simulator; how could I ruin this poor guy’s story this time?

But really, the narrator and the player are in this together the entire time.  The game knows you want to hear all of the things the narrator has to say, because he’s delightful and no one knows that better than the developer.  And along the way, both of you get wound up in some of the most mindbending insanity to grace a game, taking things beyond your simple trolling and into a world where you start to wonder just what the developers haven’t thought of.

The End Is Never The End Is Never The End Is….

            All of this spins out into a seemingly endless sea of endings, each one more ludicrous and hysterical than the last.  The game always restarts after you complete an ending (and sometimes before that), so the sense of progress or forward movement towards a goal is rather lost; you never know when The Stanley Parable is done with you.  I still don’t. Sometimes things change in the level, inexplicable small things, and you’re not sure if it changed for the sake of changing or if it’s a new string to pull to unravel yet another of the narrator’s precious tapestries.

The Stanley Parable is a triumphant achievement in developing a rapport between player and game.  There may not be tangible goals or a huge amount of gameplay variance, but the experience is so unique and compelling that it’s hard to fault the game for its choices.  The Stanley Parable is a masterpiece of thought and writing, and a testament to the idea that gameplay can be mental as much as physical.

            The Stanley Parable is available on Steam for $14.99.  There is a free, self contained demo as well, which is recommended before playing the game regardless of whether you intend to purchase the full version or not.

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Titanfall Suits Up On March 11

Electronic Arts and Call of Duty alumni Respawn Entertainment announced today that the highly anticipated shooter/mech fighter hybrid Titanfall will be falling onto store shelves and hard drives all across the US on March 11, 2014 and in Europe on March 14, 2014.   The game’s release date is simultaneous for Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Windows.

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The game will be available in both a standard edition and a $249.99 Collector’s Edition, which includes a light up statue (!), a 190 page artbook, and a poster of the Atlas Titan. Pre-orders for both versions are available, although the Collector’s Edition requires a sizable $100 deposit up front.  The standard edition can be preordered for $59.99 on Origin.

Decision Autopsy: The Walking Dead, Episode One

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                Instead of Retrospection this week, I’m going to be doing something a little different.  Last year, Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead took the world by storm, offering a different spin on the zombie horror genre, one focused more on the fear of making the wrong choice, rather than the fear of danger itself.  A narratively focused, decision-making laden game, The Walking Dead became a pillar of the strengths of the medium in unique storytelling.  Up until now, I haven’t played it.

So what I’m going to do is use the choice breakdown at the end of every episode to write a feature in which I show what choice I made, explain my reasoning behind it, and talk about my regrets and hopes for the choice in the long run.  I’ll do this for each of the five episodes, then in the end, I’ll go back through all of it and discuss how things played out in totality.  Naturally, this is going to be spoilerrific, so if you haven’t played the game, make sure you go and do that before checking out this feature.

So with that being said, let’s get down to it with…

EPISODE ONE

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                I was straightforward with Hershel here because of my experience with men like him in my own life.  Half of my family comes from the South, and I’ve met a lot of older Southern men like Hershel in my life, and if there’s one thing they value, it’s people that don’t bullshit them.

As a result, I didn’t try to pull a fast one on him here and was honest with him about my past.  He might judge me for what I did, but at least he’ll know I’m not a liar, and I think in the long run that’ll get me farther with him than the lie would have.  He strikes me as the kind of person who would’ve seen right through that sort of thing anyway, so I don’t think I had much to gain by trying to be slippery.

This was a fun one because I didn’t really know myself just what it was that Lee had done to wind up in that cop car at the start of the game yet.  I had to trust that I wasn’t digging myself down a hole here, and Telltale was smart to make me have to trust Lee myself at the beginning of the game the same way he was asking Hershel to trust him.  Lee is a complex character, and I’m getting a lot of enjoyment out of trying to balance his own needs and past with the need to stick with Clem and keep her protected, which quickly becomes the game’s major motivation and moral anchor.

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I went with Duck on this one because I was already starting to read something of a father complex onto Lee at this point.  I think Duck was in a more escapable situation than Shawn was, but I overrode that logic with the fact that Duck was a kid.  It’s possible Kenny would have been able to free Duck without my help, or that Shawn would’ve been screwed either way, but I kneejerked here and couldn’t leave a kid helpless.  Shawn bit the dust as a result, which is a shame, because he was a useful guy.

The major downside here is that I pissed off Hershel really quick by not trying to save his son.  All the goodwill I might have gained by being honest with him sort of went out the window here.  I think, though, that Kenny would’ve turned on me if I hadn’t gone for Duck, and it seems like I was going to go with Kenny in his car either way, so getting Kenny firmly on my side this way might be a good thing down the road.  The other negative aspect of this decision is that in the long run, Shawn probably would’ve been more useful to have a live than Duck, since Duck’s just a kid and isn’t really a particularly smart one at that.  Alas, my sentimentality won out in the end, and the kid lives.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t bite me in the ass down the road.

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I sided with Kenny here because we had a rapport building and I didn’t really think Duck had gotten himself bitten from what I’d seen. I think Duck’s mother would have had a much more severe and noticeable reaction if she’d found a bite on her son, and so I trusted her and Kenny not to be lying to me and took Kenny’s side against Larry here.  Larry was also being hugely reactionary and irrational, which I just can’t stand in any context. It bothered me when Hershel did it, and it bothers me with Larry.  People who can’t keep a cool head won’t ever get my backing, so this one was easy.

The downside, of course, is that Larry sure isn’t a fan of me now and there’s a lot of tension amongst our group.  Most people seem to have been pretty okay with the way I handled it, but Larry’s definitely not in my corner and is going to be the first one I throw under the bus after what he did later in the episode.  Kenny is now firmly my bro, and I’m going to try to keep it that way as long as I can afford to because Kenny has a car.  It’s like being high school: make friends with the dude who has a vehicle.

The stats here actually surprised me, but I think that’s probably because most people saved Shawn instead of Duck and I imagine Kenny is far less charitable to you if you didn’t attempt to save Duck.  Since this choice flows from that one, the majority there is probably the same majority here.  Since I saved Duck, though, Kenny seems like a legit bro so I’m glad to have him on my side.

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                I didn’t give Irene the gun, although the game didn’t really give me an accurate way to convey my opinion on the situation at the time.  See, the game tried to frame my refusal to hand her the firearm as some kind of empathy, but what I really wanted to do was axe her myself because guns are loud and zombies come to loud things.  I would’ve liked to have an even more heartless option to just execute her quietly with the fire axe.  Yes, I’m a bastard.

She got the gun anyway and proved me right for not wanting her to get the gun, because the gun was loud and zombies came to the loud thing.  See what I’m getting at here?  Given a choice between Loud Option and Not Loud Option I’m gonna go ahead and go with the latter.  Irene was pretty screwed anyway, so this didn’t really seem like much of an ethical quandary.  Also, I’m really hesitant to give anyone a gun in this game, let alone someone who is both crazy and turning into a zombie.

I don’t really know how much this one is going to come into play down the road.  Maybe Carley would think less of me if I had given it to her, so I guess it’s good that I held off on that one.  Granted, they probably wouldn’t have been a fan of the “kill her myself quietly” option that I wanted to take.  We’ll just remain comfortable in the fact that they don’t know I’m willing to behead any of them the minute they become a threat.

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                I went with Carley here, but this one was a toughie.  Doug’s technical expertise would have been pretty useful at times, I feel, and Carley is kind of useless with technology so if we ever need her to fix something, we’re in trouble.  She’s a good shot, though, which is a skill that I am unwilling to undervalue. A person who is great at shooting things in the head is someone I want on my side in the zombie apocalypse over someone who can reprogram remotes.  Sorry, Doug.

It also seemed like Carley was a more sure bet in the rescue.  Doug was kind of screwed, as he was basically being pulled through a window while Carley was just sort of being loosely held by the leg.  It’s possible on that same note that she didn’t need my help, though, so it could be a double edged choice.  Either way, I went with the brawn over the brains and saved the sharpshooter instead of the smart guy.

To be honest, I also sort of liked Carley more, and although I like to think that didn’t play into the choice much, it was probably more of a factor than I’d like to admit.  Carley is levelheaded and competent, and if we ever wound up in the situation where we needed to repopulate the world, having more diversity of sexes is sort of a good thing.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

So far, I’m pretty confident in my decisions, although I think Telltale made a good case for both points when given the chance.  I really love the way the game is making me come to snap choices in any case, and I’m curious to see just how much my choices in this first episode are going to echo through the other four.  I’m also curious to see if any of the saving choices are not truly binary; I went with the person in less danger both times, and I’m wondering if it’s possible for Duck to live even if you choose to save Shawn, or the same for Carley and Doug.  Stay tuned.

Monday Morning Mid-Laner: XD.GG’s Xmithie

  One of the more understated but nonetheless impressive stories of the Season 3 LCS in North America was the somewhat unnoticed rise of XD.GG (formerly known as Vulcun) through the ranks.  While their debut in the Spring split was largely underwhelming and they spent most of it clawing their way up the bottom four, the Spring regional tournament was where XD.GG demanded the world stand up and take notice.

The dominance that got them 3rd at regionals continued into the Spring split, and XD.GG made it clear that they were just as much the team to be feared as Cloud9 was, managing to be the only team to break even with the NA regional champions during the Summer split.  Despite a struggle to acquire an enormous fanbase on the level of CLG or Solomid, XD.GG nonetheless made it to the World championships alongside C9 and TSM.

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And no team achieves greatness if not on the back of a great jungler.  Of all the junglers in the North American scene, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero seems to be the one who has been sitting up and paying attention the most to what the junglers in Korea have been doing.  Xmithie has quickly come to embody the brutal efficiency of rotation perfection, making XD.GG perhaps the team in North America with the best control over the map in the early game.  Xmithie shows up where he needs to be, makes a play, and then smoothly guides the rest of his team to an objective.

Of course, he’s had plenty of time to build that synergy with some members of the team.  Xmithe and his mid-laner Mancloud have long made up the backbone of the team that would eventually become known as XD.GG through all of its many incarnations: APictureofaGoose, MTW.NA, Monomaniac Ferus, FeaR, Vulcun, and now XD.GG, all of them were formed around the core of Mancloud and Xmithie, and that long history puts them on the level of Team SoloMid when it comes to long term synergy.

All along the way, Xmithie’s champion pool has been evolving.  Of particular note in recent days is his Lee Sin, which one might now call “award winning,” as Xmithie recently won Leaguepedia’s “Best Lee Sin NA” tournament, a 1v1 duelling tournament highlighting mirror matches on Lee Sin amongst top players.  That excellence with Lee Sin speaks to a high level of mechanical competence, as Lee Sin is a very difficult champion to play at a competitive level without a supreme amount of mechanical prowess and positioning skill.

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Unfortunately, XD.GG’s showing at Worlds was disappointing, owing largely due to a lack of ability to close out games despite almost always coming out ahead in the early game.  After taking an impressive victory against Fnatic early on the tournament, they fell by the wayside, failing to make it out of groups.  Despite that, XD.GG showed in their games against Ozone and Fnatic that they’re capable of competing on the world stage with just a little more fine tuning.

And they’ll have an opportunity to do that soon.  XD.GG’s manager Gnomesayin indicated on Reddit that the team isn’t going through any roster changes for Season 4, and with a guaranteed spot in the Spring 2014 LCS, XD.GG (or whatever they come to be named) is poised to show the region and the world why they’re just as much a team to be feared as Cloud9 is.

Image credit goes to Riot Games’s page for Vulcun at http://na.lolesports.com/worlds/teams/vulcun-techbargains.

Feeding Log – 10-15-13

BRONZE I, 44 LP

A positive week, although I think it was a net loss in LP because of the queuedodging I had to do in order to avoid some guaranteed losses.  No amount of LP loss is too great to avoid the psychological torment of a trolling teammate, however.  My winrate on Jarvan isn’t 100% anymore, but still, these were some performances I feel pretty good about.

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GAME 1 – JARVAN IV JUNGLE with QUINN, DIANA, SONA, and JAX vs. LEE SIN, NASUS, VOLIBEAR, FIZZ and JINX

            Jinx is a little bit of a terror, isn’t she?  Our big problem here was Nasus, though; we allowed him to get to the lategame in full form and he became predictably huge and unkillable as a result.  A fed Nasus is a hard thing to overcome in the late game, and we just didn’t have the damage output or the item builds necessary to shut him down once he started becoming an unstoppable split pushing juggernaut.

What I did well: Jarvan hit thing with stick real good!  I had a lot of successful ganks here and I’m starting to feel pretty good about my jungle rotations overall.  I’m getting better at being in the right place at the right time, and I was able to scrounce up some kills for the lanes while getting pretty fed myself along the way.  I’m slowly getting better at easing up on the right clicking and letting the autoattack do its thing more as well.

What I need to improve:  Boy do I need to stop putting myself in situations where I have to fight Lee Sin as Jarvan IV.  My ultimate may as well not even exist against him, as he’ll just zip out of it himself or zip in and kick me of out of it if his teammates get stuck in it.  Fizz is similarly impossible to get ahold of because he’s a slippery little fish and just hops out of the walls every time.

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GAME 2: JARVAN IV JUNGLE with AHRI, LEONA, PANTHEON, and JINX vs. KARTHUS, KAYLE, JAX, EZREAL, and NAMI

            And here I am playing Jarvan against Ezreal.  In this game, though, we were up against the rare and endangered Revive/Teleport Karthus, a strange beast that stalks the mid lanes of Bronze Elo soloqueue.  I admit, I laughed pretty much every single time I saw him alive immediately after he died.   That’s our Karthus! *laughtrack*

Aside from that (and partially because of it) this was something of a stomp.  Without flash, Karthus was an absolute sitting duck for ganks mid lane, and Ahri snowballed incredibly hard against him by straight up 1v1 killing him early on when he lacked a real escape.  No flash means no getting out of Jarvan’s ult, either, and so mid lane was pretty much easy pickings.  Jax also got completely dunked by Pantheon, giving Pantheon the thing Pantheon needs to be good, which is kills.  As a result, Pantheon and Ahri snowballed like crazy and the insane amount of damage they put out was enough to carry the game.

What I did well:  I got a lot of kills by jumping on people, which is always great.  I felt like a bit of an opportunist this game, but I think that was in large part due to the fact that people kept nearly killing their lane opponents as I arrived for the gank.  I ate Karthus a few times mid lane, because when I see a Karthus without Flash, my eyes roll back into my head and turn into great big dollar signs.  Beyond that, my items were good and I had some great ult wombo combo moments with Leona.

What I need to improve: Not going crazy when way ahead.  We actually came somewhat close to throwing this once we were hugely ahead because we all got a little slap happy and started doing some ludicrous stupid crap.  Keeping your head in the game is key in both situations of extreme failure and extreme success.  This time, we all got a little carried away and it could have hurt us worse than it did.  But it didn’t, so I’ll probably just ignore this important life lesson and go for insane tower dives once I’m fed again.

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GAME 3 – SONA SUPPORT with FIZZ, JINX, JAX, and VI vs. AKALI, KASSADIN, JARVAN IV, CAITLYN, and LEONA

            I seem to be running into Jax an awful lot these days.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how we won this, but hey, a win’s a win.  I suppose their assassin heavy comp stopped paying off when Akali and Kassadin didn’t get enough kills to effectively scale well into the late game.  We did a pretty piss-poor job of peeling for Jinx, but she was good enough at positioning to pull off a crazy ace at Baron which secured us the game.   That’s the price you pay for investing heavily in an assassin comp; if you can’t get the carry with your burst, she’s going to blow you up with the sustained damage in the late game.

What I did well: I changed my build a bit and leveled W first after resigning to the fact that Caitlyn was going to out-harass us, and I think it let us have a comfortable laning situation.  Jinx was a duoqueue partner with me, and I had a lot of faith in his ability to outfarm Caitlyn, so we were able to eliminate the kill pressure Leona brought and farm in our side of the lane on our terms.

What I need to improve: I went in at some dumb times with the Flash+Crescendo and screwed up some good initiate opportunities in the process.  I tend to go in too fast when the jungler indicates they’re coming, and I need to look at the minimap and be more deliberate about when I decide to go in.

Watch Dogs Delayed to 2014, Polygon Reports

It looks like Ubisoft’s hackerrific open world stealth game needs a few more months in the oven, as Polygon’s Colin Campbell reports.  The report suggests that further details as to the game’s new release date are forthcoming, but this certainly causes one to wonder what issue could be compelling enough to merit a significant delay on a flagship next-gen title this late in the game.

Update: It looks like the game’s been delayed to “Spring 2014”, along with Ubisoft’s open world racing game The Crew.  The fate of the Watch Dogs PS4 launch day bundle available from certain retailers remains uncertain for the time being.

Back to the Mines: Spelunky Roulette Mixes Saltybet and Spelunky With Amazing Results

For those of us who loved SaltyBet and all the virtual imaginary gambling it entailed, there is a new, equally entertaining alternative available for fans of Spelunky.  Spelunky Death Roulette is a platform for the betting of imaginary money on Twitch streams of Derek Yu’s Spelunky, a high mortality rate platformer/roguelike with a randomly generated set of perpetually deadly levels.

Unlike Saltybet, though, the money here isn’t riding on a winner, but a method of losing: players place imaginary money on guesses as to the likely cause of the unfortunate streaming player’s inevitable demise. It works in no small part due to the highly mercurial nature of mortality in Spelunky, and there’s a fun novelty to rooting for someone to fail, but only in a very specific way.  Check it out at http://spelunkyroulette.sparklinlabs.com/ .

Credit for discovering this gem goes to Rock Paper Shotgun’s Graham Smith at http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/10/15/always-bet-on-spelunky-death-roulette/#more-172557