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    Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition (PS4)    by   jp       (Jun 13th, 2018 at 19:06:50)

    Finished it! (with a little help)

    So, I did a "non-perfect" (because I missed a few augs) playthrough of the game and it's definitely MORE interesting than I thought (as a game, the whole violent videogames controversy is a separate issue).

    I'm not that familiar with FMV games, but in comparison with Dragon's Lair, I think this game has some interesing design innovations (they might not be innovations because, like I said, I'm not that familiar with FMV games). So..here goes:

    a. Yes, you have to react appropriately (press button for trap deployment) at the right time - BUT, you have to be at the (or watching) a specific location in order to do so. It's super easy to miss things that happen while you're watching the wrong camera.

    b. The new version is a lot easier because you can see a small version of each camera that "comes to life" when it's actually playing video. The original just had static images.

    c. Since there are often multiple things happening at the same time, this is a game in which you're figuring out the "correct" watching order - what to watch when in order to succeed. So, to figure it all out you really need multiple playthroughs which is not something I'd say of Dragon's Lair.

    d. I screwed up once near the end and it didn't "game over", rather it re-started a bit of time earlier. I'm not sure if it's a formal "check-point" (if I had messed up later, would I have restarted at the same moment) or if it's a "rewind X minutes on the clock". But still, I was surprised when it happened.

    e. Because of the randomized code changes, you have to pay attention to the video (well, the audio, case the video might be the same).

    f. The code changes are NOT all instant - rather, after a color code change you might have to wait (execute a few traps with the wrong color) before switching to the new color. I'm not sure why this was the case and I wonder if I missed something (e.g. they announce in video "hey, now it's changed").

    g. There's a few moments where you get the cue to trap BUT it's wrong (you have to wait a few seconds for a 2nd cue). I messed up the first one (pressed trap immediately) and was surprised by this. They video makes sense, but I'm not sure the "trick" is a good one other than the fact that I enjoyed the surprise and quickly figured out what I had to do.

    h. There are multiple endings and playthroughs (which I didn't do) that are interesting. With more time I'd probably pursue them just to see what happens.

    i. At least in this edition, the game is really framed as a movie/tv show -> highlights the cast and most significant crew in a credits sequence that, I'm guessing would have been rare for the time. From the video bonuses, it seems like the creators weren't seeing it (in the original concept) as a game and more as a movie that's enhanced (the whole project started as a way to use a hardware addon to a VCR rather than a console videogame - BUT it was conceived as a sort of trojan horse into the game industry)

    j. Perhaps my favorite thing is that there is a nice tension between wanting to "watch the movie parts" and the gameplay - activating traps at the right moment. In order to play well (without foresight) you have to literally ignore all the social stuff (people being social, interacting, etc.) and just focus on spotting "bad actors". So, like actually running security? In a way it's sort of like blind surveillance - I have to ignore what I'm spying on because that part is noise... weird?

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    Prison Architect (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 7th, 2018 at 18:23:26)

    This one student of mine has been bugging me to play Prison Architect for two years. "Did you play Prison Architect yet? Did you play Prison Architect yet? Aw man, you gotta play Prison Architect!" He also bugged me to play GTA V, so I guess he likes games about criminals.

    I didn't know until I booted it that Introversion made the game. I really liked Darwinia back in the day, and DEFCON was interesting. This made me more excited to play Prison Architect. Sims / god games / city builder type games are not usually my thing, even though I sometimes think one will look really cool (Crusader Kings II and Kerbal Space Program are both awaiting their unboxing in my Steam library).

    My initial impression...wait, back up. I spent an hour playing in sandbox mode on accident before I realized that the campaign was an extended tutorial. Why? Because when I ran the game, it just...started in sandbox mode. No title sequence or anything. Just a plot of land with trucks delivering some workers and supplies, a letter from the CEO giving me basic tips, and a couple basic goals. I thought, "Wow, drops you right in!" But no, this is not the tutorial. In my first hour, I was so lost. I couldn't figure out how power generators worked. My piping was all tangled. I didn't know how to assign a function to a building. Hell, I didn't even properly know how to build buildings. The difference between building a foundation and just laying concrete and putting walls around the perimeter was unknown to me then. That meant I couldn't build a holding cell, and the prisoners, they just kept coming! By the time I went to start over, I had about 35 prisoners roaming around near the road, all hungry and dissatisfied with my prison management skills.

    I don't remember exactly how it happened, but I think I clicked "help" shortly after starting over, and it opened a wiki that said at the top, "STOP! Don't read this until you play the tutorial in the campaign." Who knew the campaign was a tutorial? Why doesn't the game say that? Why doesn't it start you there? The campaign is broken up into 5 chapters, and it does indeed teach you, beginning with the very basics in chapter 1 (like how to designate a building), moving through dealing with riots, rehabilitating prisoners, assigning prisoners to work, assigning guards to patrol, and tons more. It does this through a really well told narrative, where each chapter is connected despite each one taking place at different prisons. It begins with you building an execution chamber and holding cell for a man sentenced to death for a double homicide. The next chapter sheds light on who he killed. And so it chains prisoners and events together.

    Despite all the things I enjoyed about Prison Architect (I looked at a clock and it was like 4 hours later), the campaign has some seriously annoying bugs. Here are a few I wrote down in my frustration:

    --Objective: Build a common room and place 8 chairs for a meeting space. Problem: There was already a common room, but I had built another one earlier. With 8 chairs. But this objective wouldn't tick off. Solution: I looked up why I was stuck and the internet said you have to just put the chairs in the original common room (even though it tells you to build a common room). So it doesn't recognize the second common room with 8 chairs and you cannot proceed.

    --Objective: Use riot guards to stop a prison riot! Problem: Riot guards get stuck going through doorways and killed one by one by prisoners with batons. No more riot guards come and I cannot figure out how to proceed. Solution: Restart the mission. This time the riot guards move a little more smoothly through doors, and the NPC correctly hits his cue and gives me reinforcements and moves the story forward.

    --Objective: Put out the fire. Problem: The fire is out and it won't tick off the objectives list. Solution: Call in a fire truck and move firemen to where the fire was even though they extinguished it 30 minutes ago.

    --Objective: Build phones in all the yards. Problem: I only see one yard, and I built phones in it. It's telling me I'm 50% done, so there must be another yard, but I don't see one. Solution: There was another yard that was not labeled, and I built a building on top of it. The game didn't overwrite the yard and replace it with the new building. If I want to place payphones in the second yard, I have to demolish my buildings one by one to find out where the yard was. Why not just let me put phones in the one remaining yard?

    --Objective: Oversee 20 family visitations. Problem: I have built a visitation center, but no one is visiting (by the end, I had built five lonely visitation centers). Solution: There is a specific spot you have to build the visitation center. You probably built over it with another building. You have no way of knowing. I guess this one isn't technically a bug, it's just not giving the player necessary information. Same as before. Demolish buildings and build visitation centers until you figure out where the mandatory spot for it was.

    I was planning to play in sandbox mode after the campaign, but the last campaign level is pretty much sandbox mode, and I have no real desire to build and manage a prison anymore. Oh , and also, the game does grapple a little with nature vs nurture and prison as deterrence vs rehabilitation. It comes down on the side of rehabilitation, and I think the game does a really good job of using procedural rhetoric to explore what it is like to be a prisoner or run a prison, including putting the player in the position to contemplate issues of the criminal justice system both while playing and once they are done playing. Good job Introversion!

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    The Novelist (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 6th, 2018 at 13:29:18)

    The Novelist is a game about a novelist. And his wife and son. It's a simple narrative set inside a house. You play as a muse (or ghost, or spirit) in the house. You see, The Novelist begins, as so many stories about writers do, with the family coming to the house for the summer so the novelist can conquer writer's block and finish his book. The Shining and Alan Wake this is not. The only horrors are the incessant demands on your time and attention of your wife, son, editor, friends, and extended family.

    The game is broken up into three months, and you play three significant days within each month. On these days, the family experiences conflict, and it is up to you, the muse, to float around the house reading letters, diaries, magazines, looking at pictures, and exploring the characters' memories, in order to find out what each character wants. In your snooping, you can walk or you can travel between light sources by "possessing" them. This is important because the game has a stealth mechanic where if family members see you, they will become suspicious. Linger too long, and they'll become spooked and you can't choose their daily resolution or compromise. At the end of each long day of snooping, you decide how the novelist should proceed and whisper in his ear at night how to manage the conflict (because he's the only one who can make final decisions in the family--burn the patriarchy!).

    Of course, you can't give everyone what they want. Only one person gets what they want! Then you can choose a second person to compromise, and the third is left unhappy. Unfortunately these options are pretty predictable and repetitive. The novelist struggling with writers block generally wants to spent his time writing. The wife, struggling with her husband and their marriage, generally wants intimacy or support. The son, who is probably 6 or so and has a learning disability and trouble making friends, always wants the novelist to play with him or take him somewhere. No matter which decision you make each day, one person is happy, one person's outcome is something like, "She was disappointed (they're always disappointed) that Dan didn't quit working promptly at 7:00 and spend the next four hours cuddling on the couch with her, but she was happy that he quit at 8:00 instead of 9:00 and only drank 1 bourbon instead of 4," and the third person is invariably upset.

    I don't think there are many endings for the game. At the end of mine, the novelist was offered a university position, even though, as far as I could tell, he only has a BA and has published 1 book aside from the one he's writing in the game. They also refer to his position as both assistant professor and associate professor, and claim that "the sabbatical program is very attractive," which means the writers don't know how professorships work. To take the job, the family had to move, so the wife is disappointed that she can't work for an art non-profit. Despite the novelist crushing her career goals, the game says a few sentences later that the couple lived in a honeymoon marriage madly in love for the rest of their lives. Aw. The son, who I only gave what he wanted one time, grew up to be an isolated teen doing mediocre in school, and worked odd jobs in his 20s with few friends. Hey, it's not my fault! How does one summer mess a kid up so much?

    I wouldn't bother with this. It's slow, borderline tedious, with no payoff. It would take 20 minutes to read this story instead of 2 hours and 20 minutes to play it, and you wouldn't lose anything because you don't see characters interact anyway. There's no humor and it's too serious and overdramatic. I didn't like the wife much, and I really disliked the kid. If this is what having a family is like, I don't want one, seriously. I did connect a little to the novelist, but I guess that's because I write and have experienced a lot of the pressures he is under, including struggling with time management and scheduling, and he is a teacher now. I do wonder if he'll ever get a sequel though.

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    Little Inferno (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 5th, 2018 at 21:20:41)

    As the game approached its climax, I had begun feeling like I was wasting my time. Burning consumer goods from mail-order catalogs in a fireplace and trying to piece together 99 combos was making me a little crazy. "What the fuck are three items that will give me a MANLY COMBO??" "This stupid combo needs something cold, but there are FOUR COLD ITEMS! AAAH!" The game started throwing nuggets of significance my way a little earlier, but once the climax hit and the game fundamentally shifted, I understood.

    Little Inferno is basically Plato's allegory of the cave. The game is played facing a fireplace (Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace). You order consumer goods from mail-order catalogs and burn them. When you burn items, you get more money than you paid for them in the first place, and you can also get tokens that speed up how quickly items are shipped to you (Amazon membership?). It's extremely repetitive action, but I got really into trying to figure out the combos. The animations and sounds from burning toys are amusing too. I also realized how irritated I got when something too a long time to ship. Just like in real life. You carry on letter correspondence with your next-door neighbor, who laments that there is a wall separating you. You write and mail some things back and forth, but then she goes and burns her house down. Accident with the fireplace?

    I won't spoil the rest, but suffice it to say she starts putting ideas in your head, ideas that make you think you might be real. The gameplay then changes and the player gets a lot to think about. Our entertainment can lure us into comfort or serve as an escape, making it easy to ignore the wider world, our responsibilities, other people and events. Often we are lonely, isolated, and we don’t exist in the world, but digitally or in our fictions. We see the shadows and flames and call it reality, choosing not to turn our heads away from the screen and take advantage of the experiences in the big (scary) world.

    It's not just the screen that provides warmth and draws us near, but the chill of an increasingly isolating, bureaucratic, rationalist world pushing us toward what can comfort us. Sometimes it repels us, and other times it lulls us. In Little Inferno, everyone has to burn things in their personal fireplaces because it's been getting colder and colder, constantly snowing. The receptionist at Tomorrow Corporation embodies this rationalization, and the conversations your character has with adults are absurd in part because of the scripts the adults follow in their jobs. You are a customer, nothing more.

    The game tells us to go outside. There’s a whole world of experiences for us to go get. We can have meaningful relationships with other people who are “through the wall." I find a very anti-consumerist message here too. Burn your things. They are keeping you from new experiences. But, as the game keeps telling you, once you leave the cave, you can never look back. We're changed by experience, by responsibilities, by transitions in life. Another reading of this is that it's talking about transition between childhood/adolescence and adulthood. When the early stages end, we have to go out into the world. But as I said above, it's not easy. It can be cold, not warm and cozy like your hearth. You’ll have to pay. People won’t always help you. But that’s okay because you'll grow through your experiences. I'm sure there's more commentary here I haven't thought about much, such as how we play games, but I'll be thinking about this one for a while.

    Excellent game. The end is worth the journey of burning stuff.

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    Inside (PS4)    by   jp       (Jun 5th, 2018 at 19:08:13)

    Finished this last night and...oh, wow, that ending took a real turn to the bizarre!

    The kid you've been controlling all along finally makes their way into a large tank - with a bunch of scientists watching - and you start to unplug this weird bulbous fleshy mass that's floating from a bunch of mind-control devices. Suddenly, you're sucked in!

    ...and you're now in control of this large bulbous fleshy mass that has multiple arms and legs sticking out of it.

    It was weird!

    You manage to escape from the giant tank, you wreck a lot of stuff along the way and the onlookers are generally in fear. So, your goal now is to escape from the facility - which you do eventually - by solving more puzzles, breaking stuff AND, in an interesting turn - getting help from some of the people that work in the facility! Up until now, any other human was either going to kill you immediately OR was a "drone/zombie" that was mindless and that you could ignore (or control). But now, when you're the weirdest crazy thing - some people help you escape?!

    The game ends when you escape the facility, roll down a hillside and come to rest in a patch of grass. The sun is shining.

    It was weird.

    (I also then completed the "secret" ending - where you enter an old unused vault - walk a bunch underground and then unplug some stuff - that, if memory serves, is color-coded like the mind-control devices)

    Weirdness aside, controlling the blob was a real joy - it sort of flows over things and also strains and grunts to get "tall". It can't jump or use stuff, but can grab on to things. It was a nice change of pace both in terms of verbs (what you do) but, more importantly in terms of game feel. Huh.

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