These are in no particular order, but I greatly, greatly enjoyed all of them.
You Must Build a Boat (PC, iOS, Android)
This is a brilliant, addictive game that takes the connect-three mechanic (with RPG-lite elements) to ridiculous heights. The whimsical humor (which is absolutely everywhere) is a huge bonus.
Rebel Galaxy (PC, coming to Xbox One and PS4)
Travis Baldree's first game with Double Damage does not disappoint. It's a space opera with naval-style combat, beautiful graphics, abundant humor, and lots of slide guitar. There's nothing bad about any of those things.
Oh, hell no. Just kidding.
Offworld Trading Company (PC)
This is still in Early Access, but it's already better than any RTS I've played in a long time. There are no troops in this game, just corporations, and the competition is brutal. Even the learning curve is fun.
Thea: The Awakening (PC)
This game came out of nowhere and immediately consumed 60+ hours of my life.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but here's a descriptive blurb from the Steam page: Thea: The Awakening is a turn-based strategic survival game steeped in Slavic myth and monstrosity set after an apocalyptic force known only as The Darkness has engulfed the world. The game combines turn-based strategic gameplay with the tension and grit of a rogue-like, a captivating story you can uncover through a series of in-game events, and a unique combat system based on a complex card battle game.
What's particularly clever--among many things, really--is that there are multiple approaches to combat instead of just straight-ahead battle, which means your optimal party build requires substantial thought and planning.
Just Cause 3 (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
It's great. Yes, it was released prematurely, so it's janky in places, and the leaderboard notifications are stabalicious, but it's still an unbelievable experience. Funny, funny, funny, with warm and likable characters, and the gameplay is so fluid and inventive that you can do almost anything.
Protip: if you haven't already done so, listen to Di Ravello's audio tapes. They're brilliantly written and voiced, and well worth collecting (I'm not generally a collector, either).
Sunless Sea (PC)
This came out way back in February, but if you haven't played it, please do. It's tremendously deep, and the writing is just fantastic. It's a unique, compelling game.
My old friend Gary Gorski let me know that Wolverine Studios has released a new game, and here's the press release: We are very proud and excited to announce the release of the newest game to the Wolverine Studios stable. Brooks Piggott and his team have put together a remarkable game that will engage players in both a solo and online multiplayer setting. Draft Day Sports: Pro Football 2016 puts you in control of your favorite pro football franchise. You make the calls as you build up your dynasty – build your roster through trades, the draft and free agency while you help your players improve with custom training options. Set your strategies each week to lead your team to victory. Enjoy the wealth of current and historical stats and watch the action unfold each week with 2D gameplay or catch the in-game highlights show to see the best plays from the week. A huge array of options lets you have total control of creating your game world and for an even greater challenge join an online league and put your skills to the ultimate test! To find screenshots, the game download file including free game demo and information about the game please visit the DDS: Pro Football 2016 page and to purchase the game please visit our webstore.
He was almost eighty, but could have easily passed for sixty, his face unlined by trouble. Thin, a salty beard, with khakis and a golf shirt. That's my son. D.J. He's thirty-five years old. It's Down's syndrome. He's a good kid. Struggled with depression the last few years. The medication he's taking makes him not himself any more. He hardly ever talks. Just sits inside himself. He loves coming for these little workouts. It's his favorite thing to do. He's not happy that Christmas is on Friday. That's one of his workout days and he hates to miss. He got violent. Started breaking things. He's strong, a strong kid. Took a long time to get in to see a therapist. There aren't many who know how to treat someone with Down's. Waited almost a year. D.J. started wandering off, leaving the house. Had to put locks on the doors so that he couldn't get out.
Depression isn't common with Down's, but it's not unusual. We didn't know. The doctor said a precipitating event usually kicks off depression in a case like this. D.J. idolizes his older brother Pete. Pete came back a few years ago to live with us. He was on probation for DUI. It was his fifth. He spent some time in jail, a bit of time, and when he got out, he came back. D.J. wanted to do everything with Pete, and Pete would talk it up, but he would never do anything. Never did a thing. Pete met a girl from Brazil on Skype, and he was up late at night for months, talking to her. One morning, he was gone. Up and went to Brazil. Didn't tell anyone a thing. Didn't say goodbye to D.J. After that, D.J. started to get angry. Then he got depressed. These workouts are his favorite time. He couldn't do any of the exercises when he started. Now he does all of them pretty well. Is that your boy? Fourteen? He is really something. That boy's going places. Sure was nice talking to you. Happy holidays.
"Oh god, what is this?" Eli 14.4, aimlessly channel surfing, has stumbled onto the Miss Universe Pageant.
"That's like NASCAR," I said. "It's something you only watch for the wrecks."
Watching Miss Universe today is like peering through a telescope into some kind of alien world. I personally find it staggeringly offensive, sort of a beautiful woman zoo, but there's denying the comic entertainment.
We watched the evening gown competition, and there were two wildly entertaining slip-and-slide moments on those massive heels that everyone wears.
It was impossible to sustain interest, though, so we quit watching after a few minutes. In doing so, we missed the real wreck.
In case you missed it, host Steve Harvey announced the wrong winner.
I know. That's impossible. Except it wasn't, and he announced that Miss Colombia had won, when it fact the winner was the woman standing beside her--Miss Phillipines.
The COLECO Chameleon aims to bring these experiences back to the modern age by creating a platform that treats video games as more than just software and eliminates some of the biggest frustrations with modern day gaming: Durable, long-lasting physical cartridges. As long as you have the cartridge, you have the game! High-quality boxes, instruction manuals, and other supplemental materials that make each title a collector's item worthy of a space on your shelf. No lengthy system updates: just plug in your cartridge and start playing!
I'm in. 100%.
Had some unfortunate computer drama that lasted until a few minutes ago. Had the "can't wake up from hibernation error 0xc0000411" and couldn't get the system to recognize my keyboard.
Wound up having to try a different keyboard, finally got back into Windows, ran all kinds of hard drive checks, etc. Hard drive seems fine. Now the keyboard that wouldn't work is fine again as well. Big pain in the ass.
This is the second greatest holiday album ever made: Lost Winter's Dream, which you can listen to by hitting the link. It was made by teenagers, incredibly, and Musiquarium author Chris Hornbostel wrote about it here.
I thought I'd already written about this, but I can't find it in the archives, so here we go (again).
Longtime readers of DQ will remember that Eli 14.4 has a big foot.
Feet, actually (size 14), but in this case, I mean a big kicking foot.
During the Thanksgiving break, we went to his high school football to kick and throw around an Aerobie.
He hadn't kicked in at least six months. Too much going on, what with hockey and magic and all the other things he's interested in. We both enjoy kicking the ball around, though, and there was one particularly nice day during Thanksgiving break.
This kick was from about 25 yards. Just watch that ball fly (sorry about the wind noise--I had the mic turned all the way up):
In the "how is this even possible?" category, two people were running around the track. One of them walked over and said, "Who are you?"
Eli told him.
The kid said he played on the football team.
"Oh, you do?" I said. "What position?"
"Kicker," he said. "But I'm a senior. He should try out for the team. We don't have anyone else who can kick it nearly that far."
"I'm a hockey player," Eli said. "I just do this for fun." Then he moved the ball back for a 40-yard kick and drilled it.
Eventually, he made one from 42 that would have been good from 45, but the family record (48 yards, when I was in high school) held. Barely.
Just Cause 3 has really, really grown on me, 20+ hours in and it's entirely fun.
The forced leaderboard notifications are still a very bad piece of design. Very bad. Get past that, though, and all that delightful destruction seems downright whimsical at times.
High camp, and high fun.
However, there's one feature I'd pay to see (even though very few other people would, probably).
What I want to see is a simple strategy layer on top of the game that can influence territorial control. A bit of ebb and flow.
Maybe if Rico doesn't visit a city for a certain number of days, the rebel control of a city starts to erode. Factions emerge.
So you're not just ceaselessly marching toward control of more territories (even though that's a ton of fun). There's a back and forth, like a real revolution.
One other possibility. What if Rico goes to liberate a city and the rebels themselves rebel against him?
The strategic layer could be very simple. A certain number of action points depending on the number of provinces you control. Simple actions: negotiate, infiltrate, other words ending in "-ate".
An example: an infiltration of an enemy province is successful. Because of that, the spy is successful in destroying all satellite communications infrastructure just as Rico arrives.
In other news, flying with the wingsuit is amazing. Just amazing.
I've also had some spectacular deaths while I learned how to use the tether (which you use when you're dropping perilously close to the ground to give you more velocity). Examples:
--high speed, into a tree trunk.
--very high speed, right into the ground.
--high speed, into a city building.
--very high speed, directly into the side of a mountain.
I am famously an entirely awful loader of the dishwasher.
That is, according to Dishwasher Einstein, otherwise known as DQ Reader My Wife, who could load an entire military jeep inside a dishwasher and have room left over.
We have a family tradition at Thanksgiving. Gloria does all the work, and then, after we eat, I load the dishwasher very poorly with some of the hundreds of cooking bowls, plates, cups, and silverware.
I do what seems like a fair job, and then she goes back in and loads twice as much stuff.
I did that this Thanksgiving, which was on Wednesday due to a hockey tournament which I still haven't written about.
"Okay, I think it's loaded," I said, stepping away to admire my handiwork.
"Oh my God," Gloria said, immediately stepping in, her hands moving at the speed of a billionth degree black belt. "You are incompetent," she said, laughing.
"I prefer to think of it as 'artisanal' incompetence," I said.
I was looking at a programming book on Amazon yesterday, and I noticed this review: Just what I needed.
So I went to look at another book on the same topic, and saw this review: Just what I needed.
I thought that maybe this fellow was auto-generating reviews for cash--or something else that I don't understand. So I clicked to see the rest of his reviews.
Instead of finding a bot, I learned quite a lot about the life of an interesting man.
Here's what I learned from his Amazon reviews (all 122):
--he owns a drone
--he works on motorcycles
--he's an atheist
--he "loves" crepes
--he enjoys Torani syrup
--he has a gun safe
--he programs in Visual Basic/Visual Studio
--he owns an Aston Martin
--he works on motorcycles
--he has a "ditch kit" (related to being a survivalist, I believe)
Sir, I find you both intriguing and terrifying, and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
I know someone who worked in the sports gaming industry back in the glory days (NFL 2K3 era). He's also someone who explains things very clearly.
I told him that I was having an odd thing happen with GS--that while there were users in Steam with 300+ hours played, that the game just didn't seem to be sticky with most people. I was confident in the core game, though, so I couldn't quite understand where I was losing people.
He said he would play the game and let me know where he thought people were dropping off.
I've had people ask me to do favors like this, and I always do, but it works in one of two ways, usually. If the content is excellent, it's easy to read/play/review, and I usually do it fairly quickly.
If it's not good, though, as soon as I realize that, I'll usually stop. Then it becomes a chore, and I have to fight myself to pick it up again and fulfill what I promised.
So when I didn't hear from him for a month, I figured he was having the latter experience.
I did hear from him, though, and his feedback was excellent and very clear, as always. Here's a sample: •The game loads out of the intro sequence into a blank menu, there's no breadcrumb trail of a glowing button or a modal suggesting where to go next. •Since you don't really know what to do or where to go next, the Help menu seems like a good option. It's friendly, you need help, after all, right? Except the Help menu is an information dump, most of it presented in an opaque manner -- because, I believe, you're supposed to play through the Tutorial before reading the Help menu, so it presupposes a certain amount of knowledge. •After being fairly confused by the Help menu, I eventually start up a League, as that's about the only option you have •The League menu is kind of confusing. It wants me to Edit a team? I don't know what a Team is considering this is a solitaire game or why I would want to edit it. I guess I'll just pick one. •Hmm, I guess I should just play a game. Whoa hey now, I'm playing an Exhibition? So this is where the Tutorial is.
He concluded that most people never made it through the tutorial to actually start a league, and the comments I included here (plus others) were very convincing.
This was hugely surprising to me, because I spent a long, long time thinking about the tutorial and how to make it flow as well as possible.
Here's what I thought:
--when the user first boots up the game, the "continue league" button is greyed out. So the user can only go to Help, Options, or New League. That made sense to me, but the problem is that if the user doesn't understand why they should select New League, the rest of the logic falls apart.
--selecting and editing teams in a league is a standard sports game process, but to everyone else, it would be entirely new. I've played sports games for so long that it didn't even cross my mind.
--I wanted the tutorial to not be overly long, but to be thorough. So I explained basic gameplay, but had context-sensitive pop-ups for other topics (like onside kicks). The tutorial should take 5-10 minutes to play through, and I thought that was fine, but we're in a different era now, where people just don't want to spend time learning a game.
His suggestion was that I front-end load the tutorial experience, and add an option to play an Exhibition game outside the league structure.
There are some complications in this (particularly, moving the Exhibition game outside the league structure to the opening menu, but it's all doable.
Here's the important takeaway for a small developer, though. I had 15-20 people testing the game, which is why the game launched with almost no bugs. I should have had a separate group, though, testing the tutorial, and those people should never have played the game before. You can't expect people to test the "new player experience" when they're not new players anymore.
Same goes for me. I spent so much time trying to perfect that tutorial, but the one thing I didn't do effectively was ask a dozen people or so to test it blind and write down notes about what they understand and what they didn't, as well as when they just lost interest entirely.
What's it going to look like now for a new user? After the cut scene, they'll see a screen explaining offense, then they'll see a screen explaining defense. It's basically going to say "Here's how you play--just follow the numbers" and there will be about five little text boxes on each screen. The explanations will be pared down to the absolute, bare minimum.
--on both offense and defense, the user picks a play.
--on offense, playing cards increases the gain. On defense, it "rewinds" the gain back toward zero.
--the rules for card play (alternate color, within one rank)
--the Big Play button (deal card/trigger event).
Really, that's all a user needs, in addition to the context-sensitive pop-ups.
This will take a week or so to put together, but then I'm going to have new players test it and see what kind of response I get.
Lots of interesting news all at once, so let's have a look.
You Must Build A Boat (iOS, Android, Kindle), which is one of my favorite games of 2015 (top three, actually) is receiving a content upgrade that has already gone live. It includes daily challenges as well as a few welcome tweaks (for example, if you finish the game once, you don't have to go through the tutorial again if you restart the game).
YMBAB is an outstanding game. and you should play it if you haven't done so already.
Here's a new game that just got announced: Ride the Rails: Where the Water Tastes Like Wine (thanks, RPS). Here's a game description: a bleak American folk tale about traveling, sharing stories, and surviving manifest destiny.
Just take my money.
There's a trailer at the link, and it looks stylish and distinctive. Coming next year.
Sony announced some interesting game at their something or other event a few days (seriously, there are so many "events" that they begin to lose individual meaning and sort of mass into a pudding-like consistency).
First, there's this: Ni no Kuni II Announced For PS4. Here's the blurb: ...Level-5 announced Ni no Kuni II, a sequel to the lovely cartoon role-playing game they developed in coordination with the talented animators at Studio Ghibli.
There's a trailer at the link, and you seriously need to go watch it. It's spectacular. And if you don't know anything about Studio Ghibli, it might be the greatest animation studio in the world: Wikipedia.
Sony also announced an incredibly silly game that looks like all kinds of fun: 100-Foot Robot Golf. I'm sure I will be buying that as soon as it's released.
Finally, this game deserves a mention: 1,000 Heads Among the Trees. It's not released yet, but the game description includes this: Discover an exquisite corpse-style narrative...
Now, two notes on games I've written about before.
I beat Thea: the Awakening's main plot after 60+ hours. That's not how long a single game takes, but I kept restarting and optimizing what I was doing (which is one of the irresistible attractions of the game). This is an outstanding piece of work, entirely addictive, and I can tell from the Steam numbers that they're getting some traction.
Here's the most important single thing to remember about Thea: people are important. Attracting new villagers, and protecting existing villagers/expeditioners, is far, far more important than other games, where individual people are treated like spreadsheet assets. Treat people as disposable in Thea and you will lose, lose, lose.
I've spent a bit more time with Just Cause 3, and other than the eternally infuriating local leaderboards (which are incredibly intrusive and can't be turned off), the game is every bit as much fun as expected. And yes, you can steal a plane, fly up and up, jump out, activate the wingsuit, and roar toward the ground.
I've had a long and happy relationship with Chrome.
I had Chrome on my desktop, my Surface Pro 3, and my phone.
I'm still quite happy with Chrome on my desktop, but I'm turning away from using it on my SP3 and my phone.
On the Surface Pro 3, I'm having the dreaded "resolving host" problem. In case you've never heard of this, when you try to go to a website, you'll get a "resolving host" message, and after waiting for far too long, it will be followed by a "website not available" message.
This is a very, very odd problem, because no one understands why it starts, and the number of fixes you can try seems to be unlimited. Believe me, I've tried all of them (including uninstalling and reinstalling Chrome). Sometimes, it seems to be resolved for a short period of time, then it returns.
Based on the number of people complaining, this is generally a Chrome problem. Other browsers to not appear to be similarly afflicted. So it would be easy to switch to Firefox on my SP3, but I really don't want to, so I limp along.
On the phone, though, I've ditched Chrome entirely.
Google has embraced ad partners like Ad Choices and Taboola and a bunch of other crap that I don't want on my phone. I don't want to scroll throw two small paragraphs of text in a story, then see four gigantic ads ("You Won't Believe What She Does Next!", etc.).
I understand that the Internet primarily exists now (sadly) to serve up advertisements, but I'm going to mitigate that where I can.
So I installed Firefox with Adblock, and even though Adblock does whitelist some advertisers, at least I'm not getting the overwhelming, experience destroying of seeing every ad.
This is definitely a "get off my lawn, kids" moment, because Eli 14.4 doesn't seem to notice ads at all. It's amazing what he can tune out because he has nothing less cluttered to compare it with.
I was walking down the steps of the YMCA today after my swim.
Below me on the steps was a tiny, tiny person, just now able to walk. His mom was holding his hand, and every time he descended a step, he would start laughing.
He was bright and shiny and new.
I slowed down so that I could watch them until he reached the bottom. When he did, he looked up and smiled at me.
I smiled back.
When I finally looked away, I saw a woman slowly walking toward me. She was slightly stooped over, walking with a metal cane. Her face was a piece of dried fruit, dark and full of deep wrinkles. She smiled at me.
I smiled back.
In that moment, I was overwhelmed by the arc of her life. To be a tiny person walking down stairs with her mother, as she surely did, so full of possibilities. To live through an arc of seventy or eighty years, every day full of thousands of individual moments, all part of her. To come to terms, as everyone must, with her diminishing capacity as she reached the later stages of her life.
There is a kind of magnificence in life, even if we can't reach it all.
I've only played for about an hour, because I'm fiddling with control settings and a few other things.
--this is, hands down, the best-looking game I've ever played. Utterly spectacular.
--I'm having zero performance problems, but be warned that plenty of other people are having issues ranging from long load times to extremely poor graphics performance. AMD GPUs seem to be having significant issues.
--the cut scenes are tremendously clever and a significant upgrade over JC2.
--the wingsuit and enhanced grappling hook (which can connect objects to each other) are brilliant.
--the gameplay is very speed focused, so learning control combinations and when to do different moves is extremely important. The more fluid you are, the more fun the game becomes.
This is a spaghetti western--campy, but on purpose, and ridiculously frantic and fun.
My only issue right now is that there is one "feature" that is driving me crazy, and I can't seem to turn it off. In the Steam version, the game is constantly showing me "personal best" information versus my Steam friends in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Global leaderboards can be turned off, but I haven't been able to turn off the local leaderboards, and I shouldn't have to start Steam in offline mode to be able to do that--it should be an in-game setting.
The game looks so spectacular that seeing leaderboard info splashing up constantly is tremendously distracting and really takes me out of the game world. Don't force me out of immersion, Avalanche Studios!