Defense Grid Giveaway

I have a couple of free keys to Defense Grid (and DLC) that I'm giving away (I got them through the Kickstarter campaign for DG2). Reply to this or comment if you're interested, I'll look through the next day or so and send them out. Good luck.


Can't Stop Kickstarting

So, I've gotten into Kickstarter lately. It's a very cool way to raise funds from the public for all manner of projects. I was already aware of the service, but Double Fine's recent huge kickstart of Double Fine Adventure prompted me to look more at these. Double Fine already had the resources to put out a good game, but other developers might not be as fortunate. So I wanted to highlight a couple of other promising projects on Kickstarter that also look fun.

1) Party of Sin - This looks like a really cool game. From what I've seen, it seems like a side-scrolling platformer with you taking the role of personifications of the 7 deadly sins. The art style and gameplay both look pretty good. Plus, one of the developers lives in the same city as me (not exactly a game developer hub). Kickstarter link here.

2) Guns of Icarus Online - This is a steam punk themed air combat game. From a FPS perspective, you take different roles in flying machine combat, navigating/steering, fighting, repairing, etc. Looks like it could be a great online experience. Kickstarter link here.

3) Pixel Sand - Honestly, I don't even know what this one is about. By the time I got to this one, I was just fund everything in sight. Since you can pitch in for just $1, that can't hurt, right? Kickstarter link here.

Finally, a friend of mine from college is putting together a baby zombie book using Kickstarter. It's already been funded, but should be pretty great when it comes out (I love the art I've seen so far).


James Harrison, RPG nerd.

I was reading this article about James Harrison (a great read if you're into football) and came across the following quote:

The colleges that pursued him (Ohio State and Michigan State, among many) turned their backs, and even Kent State pulled its scholarship offer when he bombed his ACTs. If his parents hadn’t borrowed money to send him there, he’d probably be driving a semi now and playing beer-league football. He repaid them by not going to class for a year, holed up with the video game Final Fantasy VII; it took Mildred showing up with a moving van to scare some sense into him.

Given my own history with Final Fantasy VII, I can certainly identify with that.


Star Control on Sale

The Star Control series is on sale today at Good Old Games (including a package of 1+2, and a separate 3) for a total of $6. Seems well worth it to me. Star Con 2 is one of my all-time favorite games. The gameplay of Star Con 3 I found to be a worthy successor. I liked the plot as well, although I realize this is a sore spot for a lot of fans of the series because the brilliant folks behind 2 were shut out of the writing for 3. Still, can't beat the price for a classic series....


Notch's Response to ZeniMax Lawsuit: I'll Play You For It

Full story here.  Shortened version: Notch is willing to put this all on a game of Quake 3.  If Bethesda wins, he'll change the name.  If Notch wins, he gets to keep it.  I like the idea, although I also think ZeniMax is really overzealous here in their trademark protection efforts.  As a practicing attorney, though, I would be completely shocked if anything came of this.  I can't imagine a legal department litigious enough to make the claims they've already made here would accept a resolution like this.
Edited again.


What I've Been Playing Lately

I've been focusing mostly on indie games.  I bought the Potato Sack and a couple of other Steam indie packs over the last couple of months, and have been working my way through some of those games.  The quality is obviously a bit more uneven than you'd expect when a game comes from a big studio, but some of the winners here are really excellent and can be found for almost nothing.  Quick reviews below: 
Cogs - This is basically a series of moving block puzzle, where you have to move blocks around in order to connect pipes and gears in order to make a variety of machines function.  It's basically the same thing over and over again, but there are a wide variety of challenges and a couple of different modes (including time and number of moves challenges).  While I generally think moving block puzzles are some of the most annoying parts of adventure games, they really work here.  The game has a style that is really appealing, and the game is really well done.  The music and sounds are perfect for the game, too.  Very relaxing to play after a long day.
AaAaAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity - This is basically a first person game where you jump off buildings in a bizarre, futuristic world, and try to rack up points by doing stunts, tagging buildings, and breaking score plates.  It's entertaining for a little while, but the gameplay is pretty repetitive.  The game has an engaging humor to it, though, and the concept of just plunging straight down is fairly unique.  It would have helped to have a greater variety of achievements.  Right now I think there are only six, and a few are pretty easy to get while two will take dozens of hours to get anywhere near.  Given the impressive number of levels in the game, that would have been an encouragement to keep playing. 
Defense Grid: The Awakening - This may be the big winner of all the games I've been playing lately.  This is a pretty simple tower defense game, but it gives you a wide variety of towers to choose from (as well as levels of upgrades for each), and allows you to shape the path of waves of aliens.  Both of these contribute to a pretty entertaining game.  Each level feels a bit like a puzzle that has to be solved.  There is a lot of content here; quite a few levels, and each level often has multiple challenges and different awards based on performance.  So far I've put in over 40 hours and I'm still playing. 
Jamestown - Well made game, a throwback topdown shooter in the vein of Raptor, Tyrian and 1942.  The game is pretty short (I think there are only five levels, plus some challenges) and the gameplay is a little unorthodox (the Vaunt ability takes some effort to get used to), but the graphics and gameplay are smooth, the soundtrack is good, and the game just feels right.  Also, the story is just a bizarre combination of historical characters in a futuristic world.  As far as I can tell, this is never really explained.  The game may be best played with other players, but it doesn't appear that this is supported over the Internet (which is a pretty big drawback). 
Rush - Much better than the other game from this same developer, Toki Tori.  In this game you must guide blocks from the entrance of the puzzles to the end.  The blocks start out going one direction, and can change direction if they run into walls or if you place tokens on the ground.  The game just works for me.  I had plenty of "a-ha" moments playing this game, and seeing the blocks complete the puzzle can be as satisfying to watch as the cards being taken off the screen after successfully completing a game of Free Cell.
Toki Tori - In my opinion, not nearly as good a puzzler as Rush.  In Toki Tori, you control a chicken trying to solve puzzles in a 2d platform world.  You can use bridges, teleportation, and an ice cannon.  I wasn't able to get into it.  Frankly, it's pretty boring.
Zombie Driver - Made it through the story mode of this game recently.  It's kind of like an old school GTA clone, except with simpler missions and a city filled with zombies.  The graphics are decent, although you view the world from a high enough perspective that it doesn't need to be all that detailed.  The voice acting is terrible, but that may have been intentional to try to spoof a bad zombie movie.  There are several gameplay modes outside of the story mode that may keep you entertained, but I don't expect to get much more than 5 hours of entertainment out of this one.


Surprisingly Positive Customer Service Experience With EA

I have a story to share that, for me at least, blows a hole in EA's reputation for being evil.  I got (and beat) Mass Effect 2 right when it came out, but decided that I would wait until all the DLC had been released to play it through again.  I certainly have some complaints about the direction of the Mass Effect franchise.  Frankly, the story felt like filler in between the epic story in the first one and what has been hinted at as an equally impressive plot in Mass Effect 3.  A number of the RPG elements in the first game have been dumbed down, and the planet scanning can get extremely tedious.  But on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed the game.  Anyway, I intended to purchase all of these packs through the EA online store (as well as some Dragon Age 2 content), but I kept receiving an error.  I waited a day or two, figuring this was a problem on EA's end, but I kept getting the same very generic error message, so I contacted customer support about this.

The first level of support was (predictably) not entirely helpful.  I suggested the problem could be due to the fact that my EA account was registered in the US, but my IP address is being detected as European (and correctly so, because I am in France and will continue to be for the next several months).  The rep concurred that this was likely the problem, and suggested I register an EU account to get this content.  Nervously, I asked whether that content would continue to be available to me when I go back to the US, and I was told the answer was "no".  Obviously, that was not an acceptable solution, so I asked to speak with someone else to try to resolve the issue.  After ten or fifteen minutes of waiting, I was put in touch with someone with more experience.  After reviewing the issue, the new rep commented that this was a fairly unique issue that he hadn't seen before.  That being the case, he offered to simply credit my account with enough BioWare points to get all the content I was looking to buy (for free).  I was naturally taken aback by this offer, but of course this resolved all of my problems.  Within a matter of minutes my account was credited, and I was happily downloading all of the Mass Effect 2 DLC in order to start my second playthrough.

So I guess the moral of the story is that EA isn't totally evil, there are some good folks that work there, and this definitely makes me feel better about continuing to give them money (which I'm sure I will, for the foreseeable future).


Recent Games

I've been working my way through some games lately.  Recently, I finished The Ball.  I can't recommend it very strongly unless you happen to get it at a deep discount on a Steam sale like I did.  Even then, I still can't say for sure it's worth it.  There's nothing wrong with the game per se, it's just not very compelling in any of its aspects.  I have a fuller review up here, and some gameplay footage below.

I also recently got around to plaything through Dead Space 2.  I finished it in a little less than two days, which should suggest that it's definitely worth a playthrough or two (particularly if you played the first one).  I'm sure there have been plenty of reviews on the site already, so I probably won't get around to doing anything as involved as that.  That being said, the single most compelling part of the series is, for me, the story.  I am fascinated by horror in space (one of my all-time favorite movies is Event Horizon), and have watched the Dead Space DVD and read through the graphic novel to get some additional views.  But this game doesn't add much to the canon.  You're still more or less left with the same questions as you were after the first one.  Who created the marker?  What precisely does it do?  How exactly are the Unitologists tied into this?  I was hoping for a little more in the way of explanation, and the game does hint at a couple of things towards the end, but the writers seemed reluctant to really tell you anything new and concrete.  That's my only complaint about the game though.  The gameplay is terrific, I enjoyed the level design and the (limited) puzzles, and the combat is more or less the same (very fun).  They also added in a surprisingly fun multiplayer component, which I think really adds to the value of the game.  I strongly recommend it.
More recently, I started played Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder.  I hadn't heard of it until recently, when it went on deep discount on Impulse (the homeless man's Steam).  It's a Lovecraft-inspired older adventure game.  So far the story is pretty good, but the puzzles can be maddening at times.  I'll probably post a fuller review after I've completed it.