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    In Other Waters (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 26th, 2022 at 11:41:02)

    Didn't realize this never got an entry. This was a freebie on Amazon and one I'd heard of for its innovative UI. Indeed, and briefly, the UI is quite neat. You play as an AI, awoken in a dive suit by a researcher who is pursuing a colleague/ex-lover into the depths of the ocean on a mysterious alien planet. You navigate, scan things, use tools, and so on by clicking on the UI instead of traditionally controlling a character in the underwater environment. You can see the environment represented on your radar, and move by setting (pre-determined) waypoints. It's quite linear in this fashion. It was really weird not being able to "see" what is being described, what the human in the suit is looking at. A metal door barring the way is just a line on the map. Sea creatures are little moving dots. Points of interest are triangles.

    The story is really what kept me going through the game. It's intriguing for sure. There is mounting dread as you go deeper into the ocean, encounter more mysteries, and eventually something sinister and tragic. It could get a bit boring because it's mostly reading and no action. There is a big focus on building a taxonomy of marine life, taking samples, learning about the alien flora and fauna. Having recently played Subnautica, I didn't really care to do all that again and mostly ignored the "biologist" part. But it's a short game and yeah, like I'd heard, has a neat UI. Do you like to use a novel UI to play a game? Do you like science fiction? Are you a marine biologist? Then this is for you.

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    Gwent: The Witcher Card Game (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 26th, 2022 at 11:28:32)

    Since I've recently retired Legends of Runeterra (LoR), I can't help but compare it to Gwent. They're very different games. I've also been thinking a lot about Hearthstone lately, which I haven't played in years, but did spend a few years playing. (LoR is much more similar to Hearthstone). Here are reasons I'm enjoying Gwent more than LoR:

    1. It's slower, less chaotic. I have more time to think in Gwent. Along with this, there are fewer card mechanics, and the numbers on cards are smaller (e.g., attack power doesn't skyrocket). This is generally good for me in handling so much information!

    2. The relative difference between more and less powerful cards is smaller than in LoR. You're not going to play one card and insta-win. Your opponent is not going to buff a card to unmanageable heights in one round and annihilate you. For these reasons, the game feels more fair and balanced.

    3. Gwent is more tactical and involves planning much farther ahead. This is in part due to its best-of-three structure. Hearthstone just went back and forth player-opponent in each round. LoR went back and forth but added attack and defend phases in each round. Gwent goes back and forth sort of like Hearthstone, but you play three "sets" (idk what to call them) in the game. It's best two-out-of-three. Cards in your hand after each set carry to the next. Between each set, you draw three more cards. This means that if you play all your cards in the first set, you'll only have three cards in the second set. This happens often. But, you can choose to "pass," which is useful if you are clearly ahead or behind. If you're behind, it saves you from wasting more cards in that set. If you're ahead, either your opponent will also pass (realizing that they're behind, or that it's not worth trying to come back from behind to win the set) or they will play cards to win the set, which puts them at a disadvantage later because if they play extra cards to win a set, then you'll have more cards than them in the following set. You can also strategically hold cards through a set. Often, I will try to save more powerful cards for later. Some cards grow in power if you hold them. Or, you may hope to draw better synergies after each set. But it's never guaranteed! Sometimes you hold a card the whole time and realize it would have been much better played in the first set. Other times, it wins you the game. There is also a lot of guessing what your opponent is up to. I've already learned that I can "trick" people into removing a threat that isn't really a threat, or playing a little bit of a strategy, but really moving into a different strategy, and the opponent counters the wrong thing. Overall, I feel I can be cleverer in Gwent!

    4. Gwent is generous with rewards. It's much more free-to-play (although you can of course purchase card packs) and free-to-play players can actually compete in ranked modes. There are also far fewer types of rewards to earn, which simplifies things.

    5. The "single-player" is more interesting than LoR. In LoR, single-player began great, but quickly devolved into playing the same AI decks on the same maps over and over ad infinitum, grinding away. In Gwent, there's no story mode per se, but there are stories. And as this is the Witcher universe and this is CD Projekt Red, the writing is fantastic. As you unlock "reward points," you can choose to progress through various maps with rewards to unlock. This is purely to get you cards and vanity items like avatars or game boards, but the games are online with humans, not against AI! Playing other people is more engaging than playing AI. It makes me wish that the Path of Champions in LoR could have been completed against humans. I have also figured out though that the game, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, is like a standalone single-player RPG of Gwent. It has some tie-ins (achievements, rewards), for playing through Thronebreaker. So, I'm actually stopping Gwent until Thronebreaker next goes on sale on Steam. Then I will play that, and continue Gwent later when I am probably better at it.

    Here are a couple things I'm missing in Gwent:

    1. When your opponent plays a card, you get a few seconds to look at it before it goes on the board or disappears. If it goes on the board, that's fine because you can continue looking. But if it's a spell and disappears, it's confusing because I can't always understand it quickly enough to know what it did! And there is no "previous move" list to refer to, as in LoR and Hearthstone.

    2. I wish there was an auto deck-builder. You get a starting deck for each faction, but otherwise have to build your own. This is fun of course, but I remember when Hearthstone added an auto deck-builder to help quickly try new decks and strategies. It was awesome. You could tweak it later. Since each faction comes with like 8 special abilities (once-per-game powers), it would be neat if Gwent had basic decks for each ability. It was funny, I was trying an ability with Skellige that said something like, "Spend one charge to do one damage to any ally on the board. Once you spend all five charges, summon [some big bear card]." I misread the ability as doing damage to enemies, so the first time I played with the ability, I of course lost because I didn't build my deck around doing damage to myself. I haven't tried to make that one again yet, but instead have been playing a Skellige deck with pirates and ships. I forget exactly what the ability does, but there are some cool synergies.

    Anyway, I've been playing only Skellige to learn the game. They're a fun faction with a few different playstyles. One is heavy use of Bloodthirst, which triggers an action if x number of enemies are damaged. So like Bloodthirst 3: Deal 4 damage to an enemy, means that if 3 enemies are damaged, then that card can deal 4 damage to an enemy. The base Skellige deck uses Bloodthirst a lot, so you've got to constantly be trying to keep enemies damaged (but not necessarily dead!) to maximize your own cards. Then there's the ship-and-pirate one, another that focuses on healing and "alchemy" cards (of which I have few), another (as my failed run in the previous paragraph suggests) that focuses on damaging yourself and going berserk, and others.

    I've barely scratched the surface. Really looking forward to Thronebreaker, probably in the Steam winter sale! Maybe I'll knock out another card game (there are so many...) in the meantime.

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    The Simpsons Game (DS)    by   jp       (Sep 21st, 2022 at 12:45:05)

    Ok, so a little Youtube sleuthing (5 minutes, really) shows that - it seems like the basic storyline and overall structure of the game (DS) is the same as the other console versions. However, those are in 3D (not sidescrolling 2D or kind of isometric 2D) and...look worse? I can't tell if the gameplay is wonky or not - but they did go with 3D looks pretty good! (saw xbox360 footage). It's obviously stylized to look like the show. I'm going to assume that the gameplay is better - mostly because of the additional freedom of movement making the location puzzles seem less linear/obvious, combat seems more open - less just having to take hits will button mashing - and there's more "resources" (e.g. voice, animation, characters etc.) and features. I think the cut-scenes in the 360 version are animated - so it looks like some of the ones in the DS game where recreated in-engine and then exported to the DS? Like, wow.

    I guess picture thought: Should we consider The Simpsons Game (DS) a contemporaneous demake of the 360/ps3 version? Clearly the console version are deeper/richer/have more features and so on - and clearly they're following the same big picture game design in terms of powers, abilities, locations, and also storyline.

    Oh, and yes - Will Wright does appear in the console version!

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    Unexplored 2 (PC)    by   jp       (Sep 21st, 2022 at 12:26:24)

    Here's another game I'm playing thanks/for/due to my critical game design seminar!

    I haven't played ALL that much - in terms of hours. I'm still in my 2nd run - and the 1st included all the tutorial/on-boarding and wasn't that short in terms of playtime because I was reading everything and trying to wrap my head around the game. So, quick thoughts for now:

    (a) I’m really enjoying the fate system – it’s a cool way to solve so many design problems without requiring a lot of development time implementing multiple gameplay sub-systems. This seems like it adds so much RPG flavor in a way that is mechanically fun. At the moment I’m still having a hard time understanding how the system connects to/relates to my character and their attributes – but I think that’s mostly my lack of knowledge more than anything. Oh, the fate system is basically a system where you (representationally) randomly pull a token from a bag - and hope it's green (success) and not red (fail). I think the kinds/numbers of token in the bag when you start is dependent on your attributes and other modifiers. But, there's some wrinkled: There's a spirit points system where you can spend 5 pts to draw again, if you run out you can draw again - but suffer a negative status effect (fatigued?), and some tokens let you draw again for free (there's tokens that add more green tokens to the bag, etc.). So, it's a system that mirrors the usual "check for X" you see in TRPGs, so you can use it to handle picking locks, climbing, etc. all kinds of things - thus super flexible!

    (b) I love the lore/information system that adds things to the map for you to explore/find. It feels really rewarding to just have stuff pop-up on the map even if I don’t plan on getting to it yet. I’m only in my 2nd run (first one was longer than I thought) so I still don’t have a good understanding of how these things will play out over multiple runs (if at all). So, if I clear an area of the sigils – is that area “empty” in future runs? I think there is an effect, but I’m not sure yet and looking forward to exploring that as I play more. The idea is that when you die - you continue as a new character, but it's been a few years and time has passed so stuff updates on the map! There are factions that are possibly fighting each other and stuff like that.

    (c) I’ve been playing on my Steamdeck – and it works really well! Some text is a bit small, but I’m also getting older and that’s an extra challenge. I’m just (positively) surprised by how smooth it seems to run. I haven’t done any specialized tweaking of options or whatnot – so just “vanilla” loading as it were.

    (d) I still don’t understand the overall progression system in the game across runs – I know there’s stuff that gets unlocked and so on, but it’s not that clear to me how the overall narrative is/will progress. With these games my (as a player) worry is that each run will make the overall game harder (because “evil has made more progress in taking over the world”), but that seems untenable in a game like this – too easy for players to get to an overall world-state they can’t get out off – the lead designer is super smart, so has thought of this but I don't know how – so at this point I’m very curious to better understand (as a player) how the meta-progression works. I don’t know yet because I haven’t played enough.

    (e) I invited the designer to talk to class and as he was answering their questions I had an "epiphany" – “Wow, Civ is a roguelike!” which is perhaps an obvious epiphany – but there you go. This was mostly because I sense that Unexplored 2’s “run” is quite long (play time wise) – which makes it “feel” less rogue-like because you don’t have that many iterations on each run? I’m curious how long a “normal” run that ends in success takes for this game – it seems like a long one, but again I don’t really understand at this point what the overall meta-progression is like (e.g. I solve/resolve the first quest I’m sent on, and then die, do I have to do it again?)

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    Legends of Runeterra (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 19th, 2022 at 14:17:30)

    Officially retiring this. I started a long time ago and never really got into it until recently. However, I've discovered it's a massive grind. A fun CCG, but also a massive grind. I've stayed in the single-player area, which involves a map with various regions. Each region has a handful of adventures that are rated at different "star" levels (1-star, 1.5-stars, etc.). Your goal is to unlock and level up the game's champions to tackle harder and harder adventures.

    There are so many champions! I unlocked four (of maybe 20? 30?), leveled one up to level 12 (out of 30), another to 8, another to 5, and had managed to win all the available adventures through 2 stars. I don't know how much time this took. Early runs at 1 or 1.5 stars could take 15-30 minutes. The 2-star runs were taking about 75 minutes. Runs involve a series of battles. You choose your champion and your adventure, and get the champion's premade deck. Cards in the deck have various special items equipped, which boost their abilities, depending on your champion level. So with any given champion, you begin with the same cards, although they are modified for your champion's level. Once in the adventure, you choose nodes along a winding and branching path. Nodes contain battles, item shops, chests, healers, or other types of encounters. There is a lot of strategy and planning. Your battles will be against different NPCs with different decks who have different relics equipped. You can see some of this information ahead of time, and generally can see a node ahead of you, although there's usually not much you can do given the information. You could choose the battle with the relic that seems easier to handle, choose to get healed instead of buy items if you have no gold, etc. So there is a healthy amount of crossing your fingers, although over time I did start to learn the types of decks I was facing.

    Anyway. That sounds so complicated writing it out. And there's so much more. There are TONS of card mechanics to deal with. Even playing as long as I did, sometimes the games would get so complicated with so much shit going on and abilities and equipment stacked, that I would get very lost. In fact, the last game that I did lose was like that, against some magic fairy wizard character who kept summoning these 5/4 (power/health) cards and getting Spellshield (blocks spell effects targeting the card) and Overwhelm (excess damage against an enemy card hits the nexus, which as in League of Legends, is your health pool) on them. Then the adventure mod gave enemies +2 power every time they attacked, so these protected 5/4 cards grew until I couldn't block them anymore. She was also slinging 0- and 1-cost spells around like there was no tomorrow. It was brutal!

    Before this loss, I had been realizing that the single-player mode is just playing these same adventures over and over and over, grinding the 25-some-odd champions, grinding your "legend level" (which is a meta-level that awards bonuses across champions in all adventures), and grinding quests to get cards, shards, and the zillion things you need to unlock characters, level up characters, craft cards, and so on. Plus--oooh, Riot you are so mean!--you constantly get experience for quests and rewards that can only be obtained if you pay real money. It shows you progress on these quests alongside the others so you see how much other stuff you could be getting. There is no end in sight!

    I initially compared this to Hearthstone, but it seems much more complex of a game, which is cool. However, I played Hearthstone from the time it started, so I watched it become more complex as it evolved. I jumped into Legends of Runeterra after it had been around for years. I can't imagine what it would be like to jump into Hearthstone after half a decade. Just thinking about this makes me nervous for the other card games in my backlog, like Gwent or Slay the Spire, that have been around a minute. I did enjoy my time with this, and perhaps I'll load it up again in the future, but the time would be better spent on the backlog!

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    F.E.A.R. (PC)    by   sergey_bond

    No comment, yet.
    most recent entry:   Friday 9 February, 2007
    GAME Log Assignment
    Game of your Choice

    Log Entry #1
    FEAR (First Encounter Assault Recon) is an incredibly interesting and unique game featuring twisted and breathtaking storyline, which makes this game unique. This is a kind of Sci Fi game in which you are a super soldier with incredible psychic powers and fighting army of clone soldiers that are controlled by a psychic leader. The story line of this game is so breathtaking, almost as a movie, that doesn’t allow to you stop playing the game.
    In the game you mission is to find a psychic leader who is was a part of one major company’s project that got out of hand. The project was to create an army that could be controlled by means of physic powers. Every time in the end of every level it seems that you are going to catch that psychic leader but somehow he always gets away, which results in you wanting to keep on playing the game and catching him.
    In turn you as a psychic super soldier that have the ability to slow down the time in the game. This slow down time mode allows you to combat the enemy more efficiently by calculating the your next move and shot, also this mode enables head shots to be performed a lot easier. Yet, there is ability to play the game without utilizing this mode if someone likes fat intense game play. But sometimes for me this mode was essential since the enemies are smart and come in by the waves.
    This game if featuring amazing sound effects that go together with the game that will keep you under the pressure at all times. At times you as a psychic have visions or there are ghosts that pop out in front of you followed by a sound effect, which makes you jump up in the chair. Thus I recommend playing this game with a really good sound system 5.1 turned up pretty high or if you do not have a good sound system using head phones. Also it is better to dim the lights that add to the ambience.

    Game Log Entry #2
    As I started working on my second game log session I could happened to notice that the behaviour of the enemies was very unpredictable. Every time the enemy would use a different strategy for combat. Thus I decided to perform an experiment. I have saved the game at a point before an interaction with an enemy and have played the game a few times from that save point and every single time the enemy counteracted with me in different manner. One time they tried flashing me out with a grenade, the other time they just surprisingly all charged at me and sometimes they waited in cover for me. In this game enemies use real teamwork to combat you, for example one will throw a grenade while the other one will charge and fire at you. Also the enemies are very likely to use the smart warfare such as taking cover and retreating, regrouping and then striking again.
    As well this game utilizes wide varieties of weaponry starting form grenades and grenade launchers not limiting to common machine guns, pistols and my personal favorite nail guns. The fun part about the nail gun is that when you counteract an enemy with it the enemy will end up flying across the room and getting stuck to a wall and dangling from it.
    Overall the game designers had done a great job in making FEAR, it is an incredibly interesting game with the twisted storyline and breathtaking game play. That is why I rate this game one of my personal favorites. If I was on FEAR game design team I wouldn’t change anything the game is fun and unique the way it is.

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