Perfect Sense

I was reading Discover magazine and they had a little blurb about how the world was supposed to end in 2012 because of the Mayans, so naturally all of Hollywood celebrated by releasing a fuck-ton of apocalypse movies.  They listed a bunch of the apocalypse stuff that had been released, and I actually really like apocalypse movies, so I looked up some of them.

One of them was Perfect Sense with Ewan McGregor.  The blurb on it talked about how a disease was running rampant around the world, so I was all “Ooh I really liked Contagion!” and I crossed my fingers for a good one.

There are probably going to be spoilers in this review because I don’t really mind if I ruin it for you, so you might want to stop now if you care.

The premise of the movie turned out to be that the disease comes along and starts affecting people’s senses (smell taste touch yadda yadda).  The disease made absolutely no biological sense, even if you’re happy to ignore the entire world being afflicted simultaneously with no method of transmission.  I’m usually pretty lenient for “convenient” plot devices if it manages to advance the story, but… nnngh I dunno about this one.  But hey it’s an interesting thing to explore, right?  So let’s see what they do with it!

Each affliction of the disease has a precursor of an impulsive and uncontrollable emotional episode (also completely unexplained… how does the emotional system tie to the senses?).  So the very first thing that happens is everyone on the Earth starts crying for absolutely no reason, then they all pass out and wake up to discover they can no longer smell anything.  The movie spends… oh my god it felt like three hours… explaining over and over and fucking over how important the sense of smell is and now they can’t do this anymore and now they can’t do this anymore and now this is different for them and look at how difficult it is for people to live without it!!! But everyone in the world has lost it so gosh we better find ways to adapt since it doesn’t look like it’s coming back!
This entire sequence was some artsy bullshit (oh I am infuriating so many movie buffs right now, I bet) with lots of quick clips and a lot of monotone voiceover and it went on and onnn and onnnnnn and onnnnnnn and then it got whinier and whinier and oh my god why is it still going we fucking get it already they can’t smell anything boo fucking hoo let’s move on.  Nothing has even happened in the movie yet except for this and it feels like a fucking clip show with no substance.

At this point I believe I commented “This is the worst apocalypse ever” and my husband said “It’s the emo-pocalypse.”

Finally they shut the fuck up and actually started following Ewan McGregor as he does things!  How novel!  Turns out his character is a chef, so he has an actual reason to be concerned about the loss of smell, and we get to see him compensating for it in his commercial kitchen.  Then they spend a big chunk of time watching him get to know his new girlfriend.  (Still not very apocalypse-y…)

Then everyone has a fit of insatiable hunger, eating literally everything around them, then they all pass out and wake up with no sense of taste.  This does not bode well for the restaurant!  What will he do?!
…but before we can find out. there’s another 30 minutes of monotone voiceover whining about how taste is really important to us too.  And now they can’t do this anymore and now this has been affected and and and…

I really enjoy “show, don’t tell” in storytelling, and I really dislike pointless whining in the midst of a lot of “telling instead of showing”.  That’s all the movie seemed to be up to this point:  5 minutes of something interesting happening and then 40 minutes of whining about it.  They got the point across but then they kept hammering at it and hammering at it until it felt like someone grabbing a dog and grinding their nose into the carpet while yelling “SENSES ARE IMPORTANT DO YOU GET IT???  REALLY IMPORTANT AND YOU TAKE THEM FOR GRANTED DON’T YOU! BAD DOG BAD.”  It COULD have been interesting, but the way it was presented was heavy handed and made me want to retaliate instead of consider.

Fortunately the movie got better at that point.  Things moved faster, things actually fucking happened in the plot instead of a clip show voiceover presentation, and they started doing some neat things with the sound and visuals of the movie.  And they stopped whining about things and focused on how humanity was being resourceful and getting around the deficits left by the disease.

Except, by that point the movie only had a bit left to go.

And then it just sort of ends.

I found it wholly unsatisfying and I feel like it was wasted potential of what could have been an interesting plot, but instead was used as some kind of soap box and vehicle for artsy camera effects.  Unfortunate.

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Uncharted Waters Online

I have a dream.  A dream of a trading-based MMO that doesn’t suck.  I mean, it’s hard enough to get a crafting system that is both meaningful and doesn’t suck, much less a decent economy that allows for players to build their own trade empires. I need a Harvest Moon MMO.  You hear me, Nintendo?  I want to grow crops and sell them at the market and upgrade my fucking barn with the profit I make from undercutting everyone else’s turnips.  And no, not Farmville.

When I went on a hunt for a trading based MMO, the majority of hits on Google were people suggesting playing the Auction House in World of Warcraft.  /facepalm.  The rest of the suggestions that sounded decent were in games that required combat, so really it wasn’t a trading based MMO, it was a combat based MMO with some decent trading (like Pirates of the Burning Sea, with an interesting looking crafting and trade system that is completely overshadowed by the conflict involved in transporting your goods, since the game focuses on sea combat and uses the trading as a means to force you into combat situations.  Ugh).  And then of course there is EVE, but I would also like to be able to jump in and have a hope in hell of getting anywhere without years of investment first, not to mention the sheer griefing potential that I would like to avoid…
So yeah.  Basically, my ideal game does not exist.

But then one of the suggestions I stumbled across was Uncharted Waters Online.  I had never heard of it, so I took a peek.  Apparently it was a moderately successful MMO overseas, and it was just recently bumped over to North America.  So the graphics are dated (originally designed for consoles, I think, so designed for weak hardware too) and some of the translations are a bit wonky.  All in all it didn’t get a whole lot of attention but it was staying afloat, somehow.  It was also free!

I decided to check it out.

Could it be? Have I found the MMO of my dreams?

Triangle

Triangle is hardly a blockbuster movie, but it was apparently quite popular overseas and then went straight to DvD in North America.  I can’t imagine why, but it almost certainly has nothing to do with the actual quality of the movie because it really deserves more than that.  So I feel like I need to give it a plug.  Even the cover does it a disservice in North America.  It’s marketed as a cheesy slasher pic but it’s actually pretty clever, and gives you a few things to think about.

Not many things, mind you.  Don’t get TOO excited or you’ll be disappointed, but trust me, do not judge the movie by its shitty inappropriate cover.

If you are one of those people who couldn’t understand what was going on in Inception, you might want to skip this one.  It does not hold your hand (and thank god for that), and even though I guessed what was going on fairly early, there were still a number of “Aha” moments where it started to fall into place as the ends tied up.  Being unable to keep all those ends in mind as you go might result in one of those movies where you turn it off and then go “what the fuck just happened.”

I still sort of did the “wtf” thing, but it was accompanied by a “that was awesome.”, too.  It came to a satisfying conclusion that left all the right kinds of questions behind.  I’m not even sure how easy it is to find, but if you do spot it, I say give it a try.

Perks of Being a Wallflower

I thought I had read this book, but either I totally forgot all the plot points (entirely plausible), or I had just heard a lot about it and thought I had read it (also entirely plausible).  I feel like I’ve read it and if I think hard enough about it I think “Yeah I remember that part of the book”, but that could just be confirmation bias and flawed memory at work.  I did double check a synopsis and it turns out the movie is a pretty faithful adaptation, which is nice.

I really enjoyed it, actually.  It feels like a young adult novel, which speaks to how well the screenplay captures the book, I guess… which also means there are corny “teen” moments that make you kinda roll your eyes, but at the same times those moments feel pretty authentic.  It almost felt like re-living teenage years, which was uncomfortable… but part of the point is to show how uncomfortable being a teenager is even without a bunch of extra shit to deal with on top of that.

I feel like the movie handled the plot reveals fairly well.  You get a sense of “There is something more going on here” and it wasn’t all in your face with it.  At some points it trips itself up with that too, though.  Charlie mentions his best friend shooting himself and if you haven’t read the book you honestly wonder whether that friend truly existed at some point or if it was some sort of hallucination on Charlie’s part.  And then it never really comes up again in the movie.  The book covers everything, but the movie ran out of space, I guess.  Charlie’s letter writing to “dear friend” are pretty nebulous in the movie too.  What friend?  The one that shot himself?  A figment in his head?  The movie doesn’t really elaborate.  It’s handled well enough that you gloss over it unless you think about it, but the movie sort of prods you to think about things, so… whoops.

So the movie doesn’t really capture the entire book gracefully, but movies are quite frequently better viewed as an accompaniment to a book rather than a replacement for one, so maybe it will serve as an incentive to go back to the source and get all the details.

Dredd

I feel a little guilty writing this “review” since I slept through about half of it (that is not a comment on the movie, I was just really tired).  During the time I was awake I did notice a few things I was going to comment on though.

First:  This movie would be a lot shorter if it ran at normal speed.
There is a drug called “Slow mo” that makes you feel like time is moving at 1% of it’s proper speed, so every time someone takes a hit, the movie slows down and does a bunch of artistic shit to illustrate.  And it goes on and on and onnnn and oooonnnnn.  It was a nice effect, but seriously.  We get it.

Second: I was pretty impressed with the actress who played “Ma”.  Then it turned out to be Lena Headey!  I was somewhat unimpressed with her in the earlier episodes of Game of Thrones, but she’s been kicking it up a notch in the more recent ones, so watching her kick ass here bodes well.  I officially apologize for making fun of her apparent inability to have more than one facial expression in GoT.  Although to be fair, I did miss probably most of her major scenes, so maybe she sucked in those.

Third: Somehow I recognized Karl Urban while only being able to see about 1/7th of his face, even though I couldn’t actually remember his name until the credits.  I’m not sure he had a chance to do much “acting” in this movie though.  Dredd says everything in a hoarse monotone (“I am Batman”) and with the helmet and armor on it could have been a stunt man for 99% of the movie for all we know.

Fourth: The plot is kind of dumb.  I mean, we’re not expecting high storytelling here… bullets fly, shit explodes, and everyone is happy.  But the whole “these guys are dealing drugs and we will do everything in our power to stop them!” spiel feels really shallow nowadays.  Maybe that’s the point – the world went to complete shit but the cops are too busy hunting down junkies to do anything useful – but it just didn’t click for me.  Meh.

If you’re looking for action and gunfights though, shit certainly does explode, and the marriage to super slow camera effects means you get to watch bullets rip through cheeks at about one frame every 20 minutes, so you won’t miss a thing.

I will also add my husband really seemed to enjoy it, so it’s too bad I couldn’t stay awake!

Banana Bread Beer

bananabeerBANANA BEER!!!  Must try.

This is “Wells Banana Bread Beer – Beer brewed with bananas.”

You will never guess what it tastes like.  Go on, guess.

It totally has overtones of banana in it!  I know!

Seriously though, it’s pretty good, assuming you like bananas.  My husband claimed he couldn’t really taste them but something must be wrong with him, because they’re pretty clear to me.  The rest of the beer is pretty average though, so without the gimmick it’s nothing special. I’m not entirely certain I like the hops flavour mingling with banana, either.  I don’t think I would drink more than one or two of them, but it’s a fun thing to try.

10,000,000

I am terrible at match-3 style games.  So, naturally, I love them and buy them every chance I get.  10,000,000 started out as a phone game, so you can give it a shot there if you’d prefer being able to play in spurts during travelling downtime (or in the bathroom, whatever).  It recently came out on Steam and is even having a premier sale, and it looked like the kind of thing I enjoy, so I picked it up for 3 dollars.  The ultimate goal of the game is to score 10,000,000 points in a single run, but it’s going to take quite a while to get there.

It is a match 3 game, but they didn’t go for the standard types of matching like in Bejeweled or Puzzle Quest or Tetris Attack.  In 10,000,000 you pick up and slide an entire row (it wraps across the screen so tiles that slide off the left reappear on the right), which almost makes the matching backwards from the patterns you may be used to.  I’ve played this style in other games and always preferred the Bejeweled style, so that’s a bit unfortunate, but once my brain rearranges itself to look for the proper patterns I should get on a roll.  I doubt I will ever be very good at this game, because my brain just doesn’t wrap itself around the dimensions very well, but I can see how a true chess master can plan their moves in advance and think “okay if I slide this to the left it will match up these tiles here, AND set up this tile over on the right side of the screen so that I can slide that other row and match those for my next move, and then…”  I will never be that person, unfortunately.

2013-01-15_00001It should be immediately apparent that you do not play the game for the graphics.  It has a “retro” style, I suppose, complete with MIDI music (which I immediately turned off -.-) and old school sound effects that sound like they could be ripped straight out of Mario Bros.

You slide the rows around and try to match (at least) three in a row (not diagonally, of course).  Match wood, you collect some wood.  Match stone, you collect some stone.  Match a treasure chest (or maybe it’s a backpack…) and you get either gold or an item to use later.

As your little dude runs through the dungeon, he comes up against obstacles.  Match swords and staves to beat the crap out of monsters, and match keys to open chests and locked doors.  Match shields for an armor barrier against the monster attacks.

This is where complaints number 1 and 2 come in.  1: The game isn’t terribly informative.  It had a “tutorial” where it explained some of the matching, and it has tips on the end of run screen, but for the most part I had to figure out a lot of the items myself.  I wasn’t actually sure what the red tiles were until I got the ability to upgrade my staff and put it together.  2: If you match a sword or key while you are not next to a monster or chest (even if you are currently running toward one), they poof harmlessly.  You don’t store any of this stuff for later, it has to be used in the right time and place to be effective.  That is not always an option, and to make it worse, if you match them too early you’ve used those tiles and they’re not available when you trip on a monster later.

But as with all match 3 games, quick matches are the best policy, even if they don’t technically help you at the moment.  To help fill the gaps you have some items, like a skeleton key that will instantly open locks, or an axe which takes a chunk off a monster, a map which converts some tiles to other tiles, or food which will give you a bit of extra time.  The screen is always moving so you have to keep matching and moving past obstacles so you don’t get squished on the side.  Finishing the run will net you a bonus, but failing only means you go back home and get ready to start again.

2013-01-15_00002At the end of your run you get your score and you see how you did on the optional objectives.  Completing an objective gives you a big bonus, but failing them doesn’t really harm you.

The game has a bit of a grind element to it, in that your resources are persistent.  The objective is to reach 10,000,000 points in a single run, but actually DOING that will not only require you to be good at the game, but also your little dude has to be reasonably strong.  He becomes stronger as you collect resources and upgrade his equipment and teach him new skills.

2013-01-15_00003After every run, you go back home.  There are several shops there where you can purchase skills or equipment upgrades.  Equipment lets you do things like hit harder, move faster, delay monsters or hurt them when they hit you.  Skills do things like collect more resources or activate random procs to hurt monsters.  Everything is geared toward helping you complete the dungeon quicker and with a higher score, but to buy the abilities you have to first level appropriately to be eligible to unlock and repair the shop, then once it’s unlocked, you have to upgrade them all to continue to get upgrades from them.  That’s where the wood and stone you’ve been collecting comes in.

The final shop is an alchemist which is almost a challenge mode shop.  Each potion gives you a beneficial effect, but at the cost of something else.  So you can boost your score, but at the cost of monsters and chests being harder to clear… are you good enough to make the trade worth it?  There are also things like getting tons of resources, but no experience, which is good if you’re pushing for a certain upgrade and want to stock up quickly.

I really enjoy this sort of persistent system in games.  I don’t know why more games don’t try to include it.  It adds so much to the longevity of the game.  Yes, the upgrades are kind of grindy and ultimately it’s a bit pointless since the game doesn’t really change as you get more powerful, but god dammit I only need 100 more gold to buy the next type of material!  …Just one more run and then I’ll quit.  Oh wait that run didn’t last very long, just one more, then I’ll totally quit for the night.

Guild Wars 2 vs The Secret World

I hadn’t really planned to do much reviewing of MMO games because, for one, you’ve probably heard enough about them that I won’t be adding anything new, and for two, if you haven’t heard about them you probably aren’t going to play it anyway.  MMOs are not usually the sort of game you just pick up and try… but in this case there might be an exception.  And it’s a two for one review so it might be a nice long juicy one.

Also I can refer to them as GW and SW and it won’t be confusing at all!

Here there be dragons. And zombies.

Gemini Rue

Gemini Rue is a classic adventure game, complete with pixel graphics.  It’s so nostalgic that, even though I was aware it was fairly recent, I actually went and checked the publishing date, and was surprised to discover it said 2011.

I love adventure games.  I grew up on them.  All the horrible adventure logic in the world cannot make me not enjoy an adventure game, so this review can probably be considered biased to some degree.  That said, this game really kicked up some nostalgia.  It took me straight back to playing Space Quest on my god damn Tandy computer (I’m so ollllddd…).

Getting it running was practically an exercise in nostalgia, which is perhaps not quite to the game’s credit.  When I first booted it up, it started in default resolution, full screen.  Default resolution is 600×800 which is nostalgia for ALL the wrong reasons.  On a 1920×1080 monitor I think each pixel was the size of Texas.  The options had video settings for gamma and nothing else, so I did some quick googling and discovered you can change the resolution and set windowed mode via an executable in the game’s install folder.  That is so clunky it could only have been designed in the early ’90s.  Oh wait, 2011…
To actually change the resolution, you have to change the rendering mode, rather than change the resolution directly.  I switched it to antialiasing and it looked an awful lot like someone had dumped a vat of vaseline on my monitor, so I went back to nearest neighbor.

I set the options and booted it up again, only to find half the screen was not rendering.  I messed with settings a bit more only to discover that this pretty much happens on first load no matter what, but it’s easily (?) fixed by walking to a new screen and forcing a re-render.  It’s probably worth it to use windowed mode, I guess.

In the process of all this, I had gone through the intro sequence and gotten to the point where I could save a game.  I figured I could just load that game and skip the intro again.  I played for about an hour, then got distracted by something and went to save, and saw that my old save was no longer available to write over.  I figured all my settings fuckery had busted something and oh well.  Except when I came back, it loaded my original missing save – back at the start of the game (it autosaves at every important event, too, but the autosave claimed to be corrupt.  Ugh.).  I essentially lost an hour of progress to that, but since I was able to skip all the “flavour” exploration it only took me maybe 10 minutes to catch back up.  Still a bit disconcerting, but I’m done fucking with settings so we should be good from now on.

Now that I’m done bitching about the setup, we can talk about the actual game!  The story is intriguingly written.  It’s set in the future and bounces between a couple of player controlled characters, including a cop searching for his brother, and an inmate who keeps getting his memory wiped because he tries to escape.  There are plenty of hooks to keep you playing, and just enough left obscured that you want to dig deeper, but you don’t get frustrated.  Good job.  It’s a pretty typical adventure game setup, where you click to wander around a pixellated landscape, and right click to interact with certain designated interactable points.  The old standby of look, touch, talk, and um… kick… are the options on the right click menu.  In typical fashion there are plenty of interactibles in the environment which are just there for flavour and worldbuilding, and the occasional red herring.  Your inventory is accessed from the same menu, so you can take an item and attempt to use it on stuff.  Like your gun!

2013-01-05_00001

Damn.

One of the clues that the game is actually modern is the fact that it is entirely voice acted.  Unfortunately, it is also pretty obvious that the budget “spared no expense” on the voice acting.  The main characters pull it off pretty well, but some of the side characters could take lessons from Shatner in how to read a line.  There are some really obvious pauses where you can just feel them looking down and finding their place in the script.  Then they over-emote to make up for it.  Fortunately the characters you spend the most time with are a bit better at delivery.

The game does have a bit of adventure game logic in that things tend to need to progress in a fairly linear fashion, but unlike many games, it actually tends to make some sense when it fails an action.  There are also multiple solutions to a number of the problems that pop up, which is always nice.  That said, I have noticed a LOT of cases where an action that should be obvious and completable is not actually completable until you attempt it to see that progression is not possible without further action.  Example:  There is a stick stuck in a sliding door.  The stick is visible (such as it is, in its pixellated glory) from the start, but you can’t actually interact with it until you yank on the door and realize it won’t open.  One of the things that really impressed me about the original Myst is that you could solve the game in a few clicks if you knew where to go and how to open things.  Actually solving those things and learning how to open and use them took the entire rest of the game, but once you had solved it once you could be all smug with your friends and go *click click click* “oh what, you couldn’t figure that out???”.  It really added to that sense of “this is a world that exists but I don’t know enough about it so I must explore and learn.”  Adventure logic such as that in Gemini Rue is more along the lines of “I am in this world and I quite possibly am smarter than this character but I have to walk them through it step by step until they figure this shit out.”  It’s just not as engaging…

As the story progresses, you are instructed in how to engage in combat.  Combat.  In a point and click adventure game.  I was pretty terrified, but I found the system kind of interesting.  You can duck behind cover (by hitting left or right, depending which orientation you are at) and from there you cannot fire.  The enemy is going to pop out and unload their clip at you and then duck for safety as well, so you have to time when to shoot at them.  Additionally, if you just pop out and start firing, your bullets will probably go wildly all over the place and not hit the guy, so you can hold your breath and get that perfect headshot.  The headshot system is sort of “golf game” style power meter thing, where the cursor moves around and the optimal time to fire is when it’s in the green.  Of course, you need to make sure the enemy is out of cover when it’s in the green or you’re shooting at nothing, too.  I was pretty interested in this system and ready to talk about how good it was, but then this happened:

2013-01-06_00001

And it happened over and over and over again.  (Also pictured: the screen only half rendering because I have been loading so god damn much.)  Fortunately, there is also an option to change the difficulty of the combat.  I am probably going to be a big pussy and change that, eventually.  I DID finally get the hang of it and got an achievement for a one-shot kill, so that’s something.

I confess to not being very far in this game yet, so I don’t have a lot of commentary on the story.  I have heard nothing but good things about the story though, and what I’ve seen so far makes me excited to dig in and see what happens.  If the gameplay and execution quirks are the worst it has to offer, I think I’m in for a good ride here (although the save bug kind of worries me).  As such, I’m going to go ahead and recommend this now.  If it turns out to suck by the end of the game, I will quietly edit this and destroy all of the evidence.

I suspect it is not going to suck, though.

Chocolate Orange Beer

whistler chocolate orangeThis beer is another one we grabbed over the holidays, so it’s quite a belated entry… but I was reminded of it and its awesomeness and decided to mention it.

Everyone seems to come out with bizarre “holiday” flavours over the holidays (as opposed to other times, I guess…).  Everything from nutcracker ales to cardigan sweater???  I remember last year Whistler came out with a hazelnut one and it was amazing… but when we went back to grab seconds it was gone.  This year there was Chocolate Orange and it was a similar deal.  You get one shot at trying this stuff before the masses overrun the stock, it seems.

I was skeptical because I’m not a huge fan of orange flavours.  I love oranges, and orange juice, but when things are flagged as orange flavoured they usually have a disgusting distinctive “fake orange” taste that I just don’t like.  I hate hate hate orange peel, and I think that’s what they attempt to emulate, so maybe that’s it.  Or when they’re not emulating they’re straight up throwing peel into things, so the “fake” orange flavour is real orange peel, and it’s disgusting.

Confession time:  I do not like Terry’s Chocolate Oranges.  I know this will be horrifying to some, but it’s true.  Why would you ruin good chocolate with orange peel?  Why?  I suppose a lot of people say the same thing about mint, but mint chocolate is amazing so they are simply wrong.  So a beer based on chocolate oranges… I dunno, man.  But it’s Whistler and I seriously don’t think I have tried a single thing they have made that wouldn’t rank at the top of my favourites.

And then I tried it.

I’m not sure what was going on, here, but I did not taste chocolate oranges.  Maybe if you really stretched it, you could claim it was chocolate oranges.  What I tasted was caramel.  I don’t mean the caramel that people talk about when they go all beer tasting snob and noses and finishes and whatever else… I mean straight out of the center of a caramilk bar caramel.  And it was rich and creamy too so it was basically like drinking straight caramel.

It was fucking delicious.

Honestly it was a bit too sweet.  I can’t really handle butterscotch flavours for long because of how sweet they are, and this was stepping right over that line.  I don’t think I could drink too many of them in a row, but that single 650ml bottle was amazing the whole time it lasted.  And now it is gone :(.  Farewell, delicious caramel beer.

Crabbies Spiced Orange Ginger Beer

CrabbiesOrangeGingerBeerAnother one of those “What the hell is that… we should probably try it” impulse grabs at the liquor store.  We only picked up one bottle and I only took two sips, so it’s not exactly an in-depth review (because clearly I put so much thought into these things), but I will say “Not as bad as I expected”.  It tastes pretty much exactly like ginger beer with orange.  So they succeeded on that front.  I don’t think I could drink a whole lot of it but it wasn’t unpleasant, so it has that going for it!  If you like ginger beer you’d probably like it.

Phillips Slipstream Cream Ale

2012_phillipscrea-8-120x179

You know, I’m not actually sure I’ve had anything from Phillips before, besides the Longboat Chocolate Porter which I love.  I went to the beer store expecting to pick up some Whistler brands, but then they were out of them… so I decided to give this one a go!  The top of the box has a little visual slider indicating the flavour, and it was 3/4 of the way over towards malt (but more importantly, far away from hops) so I grabbed it.  Also there is a biker on the front.  That might be important!

First impressions: Definitely malty and very “dark” in exactly the way I like it.  The beer itself is really rich and smooth, and I probably would, in fact, describe it as creamy.  The bottle says it is “as smooth as a pedal stroke”, but clearly these people do not try to ride a bicycle in PG.

Other than that, I’m not seeing anything too special about it.  I don’t think I’ll be searching it out in the future, but it’s not helping that I was in the mood for a crisp refreshing Whistler-style beer.  Sometimes I’m in the mood for a rich malty beer so I might hunt it down again.

Longboat Chocolate Porter

longboat chocolate

Longboat Chocolate Porter from the Phillips brewing company is one of my favourites, so I must give it props.  I have tried so many “chocolate” beers now, and none of them come close to being as chocolatey as this one right here.  I see on the ingredients that cocoa powder is directly listed, which could have something to do with the genuine chocolate hit.  It’s probably not the “best” beer, but it’s oh so chocolatey… and comes in a 750ml bottle to boot!

Then it becomes a toss-up… which do I like more: chocolate beer, or vanilla beer (in the form of Lion’s Winter Ale from Granville Island).  Can’t… decide…

Chocolate Mint Beer

deadfrogmintI picked this up at some point over the holidays, before I had a blog, so this is a belated entry.  My train of thought when seeing this was “Chocolate Mint beer?  … well, I like chocolate beer.  I like chocolate mint.  How bad can it be???  I should try this.”  I really liked the Dead Frog summer pack and they like to try weird flavours (Lemon Pepper beer may sound weird, but on a hot summer day it was our favourite of the pack) so I’ve had decent experiences with the brewery before.  Plus, I rather like their brown ale when it’s not infused with chocolate mint, so it’s got a decent base to work from, right?

When I got to the checkout, the cashier scanned the bottle and then said “…Chocolate Mint????” which solidified my decision to try it.

Of course, then the other cashier looked over and said “Oh, yeah, that’s been there for awhile now.”  It is probably worth noting that there were lots of bottles and no gaps where any bottles had been removed.  Ominous?

So here it is: Dead Frog Beermaster Series Chocolate Mint Brown Ale.  It comes in one of those bigger bottles, although I think it was 650ml rather than the 750ml that the Longboat Chocolate Porter comes in.

The first sip was promising in that it was a bit chocolatey, and then was minty, which could be quite refreshing!  Unfortunately it was then followed by a big hit of hops.  The hops basically washed out any other possibility, which means all you got was a vaguely minty bitter flavour.  My husband tried a sip and said “ugh, it tastes like medicine.”

I’m not a big fan of hops on the best of days, and the beer didn’t have nearly as much malt as I was hoping from a brown ale.  It was very disappointing and it was somewhat unfortunate that I had to drink a whole 650ml of it… would not buy again.

Mine Things

I have been playing a browser game called “Mine Things”.  Maybe I should put “playing” in quotes.  The premise of the game is that we fucked up the Earth, left, then came back in the future and started mining on the ruined Earth (pretty much the same setting as WALL-E, without the search for life).  As a result, you mine things like umbrellas, clothing, weapons, ships, vehicles or, uh… camels.  The setting is basically an excuse to mine things, as opposed to the components to make things.  (Because seriously if we’re from the future, why am I putzing around on a camel I dug out of the ground instead of a god damn space ship.  So yeah, don’t worry about the plot making sense!)

Each player receives a starting mine, which has a little worker robot that digs up items.  It does this very, very, slowly.  It’s measured in buckets per hour, and they are real-time hours.  You get one item maybe every 8 hours or so, but of course there is an RNG element to it.  You can also get more equipment that improves the number of buckets per hour you dig up, which can help a bit.  So you don’t really play Mine Things, you log in once or twice a day and see what’s up.  There’s a linear progression of rarity, with yellow items being pretty common and you’re guaranteed to find one or two a day most likely, but then finding much rarer items is a fraction of a percent of a chance, and could take months or a lot of luck.  There are a number of orange items (the rarest) which are still listed as undiscovered because no one in the game has dug one up yet.

The “goal” of the game is to create melds of items.  The melds are largely nonsensical combinations of things that can be dug up.  This gives a purpose to the non-equippable items, and makes finding the rare items exciting.  The number of melds you have corresponds to your level, and unlocks new professions to try.  Items can be bought or sold automatically to whoever has the highest/lowest bids, so you can try to complete your collection of melds even if you haven’t found the proper whatsits for it yet.  Players set the market, so obviously rarer stuff, or things used in many different melds, tend to have much higher value than say, the toothbrush everyone digs up 80 of despite having completed the one meld it’s used in on probably your first day.  (Fortunately you can also set mines to auto-trash an item if you are never ever ever going to use or sell it.  Fucking toothbrushes…).

Up to this point, the game is basically a mining version of ProgressQuest.  And honestly, I really liked it.  There is something satisfying about logging in to see what your mine has uncovered.  It could be rare! It could be valuable! It could be exciting!  Slow but steady progress and an appeal to the horrible completionist within me.  And at higher levels of melds you can try professions like fisherman, instead of mining, and even some more complicated systems like setting up factories that other players can work in.

Now comes the tricky part.  The starter mine is just one of many kinds of mines.  The mines are spread over a number of different cities within the world.  You, as the player, can pop to any city you want (once you’ve sent a vehicle out and discovered it, anyway.  Discovering a town is literally selecting a question mark from a dropdown list and waiting for the vehicle to arrive, so don’t get too excited about the “exploration”) and buy and sell things.  To actually create a meld out of those items, you need to transport the items back to your home town.  So even if you buy up mines all over the world, you’ll still need to transport the goodies back home.

Which is where the conflict comes in.  One of the professions a higher level player can choose involves pilfering items from vehicles/ships enroute.  The combat system is…….. not great.  The most common defense a player uses is to send out a bunch of empty decoy vehicles to tie up would-be attackers, so that their goods make it through.  Which means the would-be attackers amass an army of vehicles to counter the decoys and dig down to the treasure trove.  Not only does owning that many vehicles take a lot of cash, but at that point they probably have inventory expansions to hold all the vehicles that new players can’t really compete with.  And since it’s an online game, you just have your standard dicks who destroy vehicles and make you lose your goods because they think it’s funny to ruin someone’s day.

I’m really not interested in this sort of conflict.  The game is pointless enough in the first place… getting lucky and finding a super rare item just to have it *yoink*ed is not appealing to me.  (Losing items by taking a risk and failing is one thing… losing items because you have to travel along routes is entirely another.)  I’ve avoided all transport of valuable goods so far because I’ve had enough not-valuable goods stolen to see that it’s common.  Fans of the game will argue that you should set up an alliance with a powerful guard who will travel in front of you and waylay the pirates, but that’s not appealing to me either.  I just want to find treasure and complete collections without combat being mandatory.  I did try the guard professions to see if I could make a dent in the pirate threat, but found that my ship was eluded by much faster ships or the crew was outnumbered sometimes 2 to 1 and didn’t even attempt to fight, despite having a decent stash of weapons.  It suggested to me that I need much better vehicles/weapons to even attempt to compete, much less transport valuable things.  Meanwhile, I’m not making any cash…

Adding to the annoyance is that you must set a specific profession for each kind of travel.  While moving goods by land, I can’t move them by sea, and vice versa.  While hunting pirates on the sea, I can’t move goods anywhere, nor can I do any guarding on land routes.  You can still buy/sell in towns, but nothing is going home to make melds until you set your profession back to the right kind of transport.  It’s clunky and artificially limiting.

And then there are the mines.  The only way to acquire a new mine is to buy it from a player who no longer wants it… or buy it for real money from the game site itself.  Therefore each new mine must enter the game via real cash.  Therefore players who forked out real cash for mines want a healthy gold return on their obsolete and now unwanted mines.  Everyone starts with a starter mine, and even those go for 6000 gold (hint: 6000 gold is still a lot).  To get the most expensive kind of mine in the game will cost you 60,000 gold, or 675 credits.  You get 50 credits for 5 dollars.  The most expensive mine in the game costs 67.5 real dollars to purchase.  You can buy brand new AAA titles for less than that mine in this browser game.  The cheapest mine – the starter mine that everyone starts with – costs 75 credits.  So the cheapest (and most useless, since you already have one) mine costs 7.5 dollars, and it is substantially cheaper than the rest.

If I were really enjoying the game I would probably drop 5 bucks on a new kind of mine, but sixty dollars what.

And then after I dropped cash on the mine, I’d probably be unable to move my valuable goods from it back home without heavily investing in armed forces to protect them.  Ugh, I just… why isn’t there a god damn game where I can collect and trade things and have some sense of progression without an extensive leaning on combat or player vs player conflict?  And no, I don’t mean Animal Crossing.  I want there to be some kind of point to the progression, and I also don’t want the game patronizing me and filling up with cockroaches if I take a break for a couple days.

The game itself is certainly unique and there are some neat ideas in it, especially if you like the social aspects of working with strangers and coordinating things (the player run banking system is especially neat), but I’m not sure that I can recommend it.  If the pirating/griefing appeals to you you’d probably like it, but then that’s probably why the game is filling up with pirates and making it hard for peaceful traders to actually enjoy it.

Back to my search for a decent trading MMO…

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

I think Amnesia has gained enough popularity that I don’t really need to promote it, but it is my favourite game that I am too scared to play, so I feel like I must give it a nod.  Plus, I’ve spent a fair amount of time recommending it to friends, so I have some material already typed up that I can cannibalize for this review.  It really should be something I post around Halloween, but with any luck we’ll have Machine for Pigs by then and I can proceed to be too scared to play THAT, instead.

The guys who made Amnesia made the Penumbra series before it.  They’re a very similar style of game – first person, wander around, solve some adventure-style puzzles, scare the shit out of you.  The failing of the Penumbra games is that they included combat.  I’m relatively certain you aren’t supposed to engage in combat, but it’s an option in the game so people immediately pick up the nearest rock and try to bash a hell hound over the head with it, die horribly, and then say “This game sucks” and quit.  Possibly because they learned from this, Amnesia contains no combat at all.  It has monsters, yes, and those monsters want to fucking eat you, but you have no offensive options against them.  And the game is so much better for it.

I love reading discussion about Amnesia because invariably someone will come along and do the internet tough-guy thing.  “This game isn’t scary I don’t understand why everyone gets so scared by this game it didn’t scare me at all.”  You most certainly can boil the game down into its components and realize that if a zombie catches up to you in a video game, you won’t actually die in real life, so jeeze if you get scared by that you must be some kind of pussy!  Or, you can play a game and lose yourself in the atmosphere.  Because if there is one thing Amnesia does, it is atmosphere.  Amnesia has taught me that I apparently do not scream!  I curse.  So instead of screaming it’s more like “AAH FUCK FUCKOFFYOU#!#@!#%^$^$@!@#!#$%^&#@!@#$” as I run for my life…

The premise of the game is that you wake up in a big abandoned castle with no memory. Shortly thereafter you find a note from yourself telling you that YOU wiped your own memory. And then you find out there are ghosts who are mad at you. The story is suitable levels of fucked up and if you enjoy psychological thriller movies, you should really enjoy trying to unravel what went on. There are also multiple endings.

You wander around in first person and almost everything in the world is interactive, and you have to use objects in your environment to figure out how to advance. This includes things like sliding open drawers and cupboard doors, opening shit, smashing down walls… all with mouse gestures rather than point and clicking. It feels very fluid. Embarrassing note: I got stuck for like 15 minutes because I was clicking on a door and thought it was stuck, when I really needed to slide the mouse to pull it open /facepalm. The physics are fun, although sometimes when you grab objects they go flying around like you’re actually superman and chucked them with superhuman force.

The main hook of the game is that you have a sanity meter of sorts, and it works similar to Eternal Darkness where if your sanity gets low, you start hallucinating shit. Hanging out in the darkness will drain your sanity. You can hide from monsters in the darkness. You can see the dilemma. Looking directly at a monster will also drain sanity. Progressing through the game will restore sanity. At least as far as I’ve played, they’ve balanced this very well to keep the pace moving. If you hang around in an area too long a gust of wind might blow out all the candles, “convincing” you to move forward and get back into the light. Solving the puzzles will restore a big chunk of sanity, so when things get dire you have an option to restore it. Running out of sanity doesn’t actually kill you, it just makes everything fucking terrifying, and you might occasionally drop to the ground and assume the fetal position if you let it get too low.
As a veteran of the Thief games, I spent my time skulking around in the shadows looking at stuff and promptly went insane. I’m doing better now but trying to decide whether to waste a tinderbox on lighting a lantern HERE, or wait to use it up THERE is really gutwrenching sometimes.

This was my experience in the flooded archives which is probably the first really “oh fuck why did I buy this game fuck FUCK” moment of the game, fairly early on. (Oh god this is the beginning, what’s coming later??!?!). This is like 30 to 40 minutes in, when the game is reported to last “about 10 hours, not counting the time you spend cowering in cupboards afraid to look out.”

(Note: I describe a couple areas of the game which counts as a spoiler.  It’s a small area, and available in the demo, but if you want to experience the game in a pristine fashion you may need to quit here)

The flooded archives are, well… flooded. Its about shin deep and restricts your movement speed a bit, and you make big splashy noises walking through it. There are lots of boxes and other furniture debris around. As you progress in, you notice you are not the only thing making splashy noises… and also the other thing making splashy noises has noticed you. You can see the splashes coming toward you, but the creature is invisible.

I freaked out and tried jumping on the boxes but I picked one that was too high to climb on and it whacked me once (getting smacked disorients you for a second which is NOT GOOD AAAHHH), then I managed to climb on top of one. The thing wandered back and forth below the box making splashes, but it couldn’t see or hear me if I wasn’t splashing in the water. This is where I sat on the box going “fffffuuccckkk” for a couple minutes, then looked around and figured out that there was a little box-path that I was obviously intended to escape on. So I did that!

Some of the boxes are too far apart and you hit the water, and it comes for you :(. So you freak out scrambling to get back onto the boxes before it catches up. Then I got all the way to the end of the hall only to find out that the GOD DAMN GATE IS SHUT. The switch, NATURALLY, is at the other end of the hall where I came from. So I had to go back. And then the switch was on a timer so I had to rush back down the hall to get back through it, which meant I fell off a lot of boxes. I got through the gate and it slammed shut, leaving the little splashmark of the monster on the other side. WHEW I’m safe.

Oh, there’s one on this side too. TO THE BOXES, FUCK.

THIS room was disturbing, because it was a wide open room with boxes on this end, and a box and a door on that end, and nothing but water and splashy monster in between. It knows I’m here, and it’s pacing around between me and the door. There’s no way I can make it.

There is stuff on my box. Oh good, dismembered body parts! Argh.

So I grab some unfortunate persons’ torso and chuck it as hard as I can into the far corner of the room. It goes sploosh, and splashymonster runs after it. I grab the severed arm that’s sitting there, just in case! Then I tear off toward the door. Splashymonster comes back for me! But I made it before he got to me. Then he went back to the torso and ATE IT.

Now there is a problem because the wheel to open the door is in water nowhere near my box, so I chucked the arm back toward the splashymonster to distract him some more, then dove in and started turning like my life depended on it. (because it did, I guess).

To turn the wheel you have to grab and then make circles with your mouse. I think I burned a circular pattern in my mousepad I turned that fucker so fast. He was coming back for me but I made it through. It was a short jog to the next area from there. The door is a transition to load a new area so I figured I was safe.

Holy fuck was I wrong. The door opened up into another flooded hallway, and a few steps in I start hearing the ominous splashing behind me. There are no boxes to stand on in here, but there’s plenty of debris to block your path.

I think the next few minutes can count as my cardiovascular exercise for the day. Sprinting through the hallway jumping over busted chairs with SPLOOSH SPLOOSH SPLOOSH and horrible monster like gurgling behind me… and ALL THE MOTHERFUCKING DOORS OPEN INWARD so every single FUCKING door you have to stop at and pull backward. The first door I ran too close to and jammed it on myself and had to reposition to get it open and through, and it caught me and got a hit in while I was doing it which took me to “barely conscious” and my vision went all red and blurry for the rest of the sequence… FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

And then I made it! And the next room was a serene little room with a fountain and bright windows and calming music and I was like “FUCK this game”
 

Then I immediately recommended it to everyone I know.

 

Miasmata

I’ve always been a big fan of the survival genre, and it’s always so disappointing to me when a game decides “survival” means “hack/shoot apart thousands of monsters and scrounge for health potions”.  I was quite intrigued when I saw Miasmata on Steam, but initial reports weren’t very favourable so I waited for a sale.  I really wanted to try it though, so it was awesome when it popped up as a gift on Christmas (yay thank you!).

The basic premise is that you are stranded on an island, and everyone else appears to be dead, possibly of a plague which you also have contracted.  You, fortunately, are a scientist, so you set about exploring the island and trying to synthesize a plague cure from the local plants.  The backstory of the game is revealed through tattered journals in abandoned huts.

Exploration consists of triangulating positions to fill in your map.  The vast majority of the game is this, actually, but fortunately the island is pretty interesting to explore.  There are statues and ruins and stuff so it’s not like “oh good, another rock.”  At least, not all the time.  Triangulation itself is pretty accurate, really.  You need to have two known landmarks (ones marked on your map), and then you figure out where you are standing from cross referencing them.  Once you do that, any landmarks near you become available to be used as reference points.  So if you dash off into the woods, your map will be blank, nothing known will be visible, and you’ll have to navigate by compass.  Oh yeah, and at night time you can’t see shit.  We are talking inky blackness of midnight, here.  Twilight does not seem to exist in this world (or maybe he needs to eat more beta carotene…), nor do full moons. You have a dinky lighter and can make a torch out of branches, but they really won’t help you, so keep an eye on your watch and stick near a known shelter when night comes around.

As you explore the island, you discover you are not exactly alone.  A large, green, horned cat beast is stalking you. And when it spots you, you discover that it also runs much faster than you do…

The game was not terribly well received for a few reasons.

First: It’s optimized like ass.  I reduced the resolution to make it run smoothly because it was not playing nicely.  If your computer already struggles with recent software, you might be unable to actually play it at a decent framerate.  The minimum specs really don’t seem adequate for anything other than sputtering around, and even a powerful machine will probably run into snags.

UPDATE: Since writing this, the game has been patched and I can now run around at full settings and pick flowers with glee.

Second: The gameplay consists almost entirely of wandering around the woods, triangulating positions to uncover the map, and collecting flowers to run back to the lab and analyze.  I, personally, really enjoy this gameplay, and I want more games to implement it.  But I can see how many people will get bored and find it tedious in a hurry.  The stalking cat adds some flavor, but interactions with it are kept fairly rare to ramp up the tension (thankfully!  It would get pretty annoying to have it on your ass every five minutes…) and there’s not a whole lot to do with those encounters except run the fuck away, since there’s no combat.  You have a few tricks to distract it (if you throw a torch at it, it will turn and look and give you a moment to haul ass), and you can use stealth to hide or lose it, but it’s not exactly a big part of the game other than adding to the atmosphere of exploration. (Here’s a big tip, and possibly a bit of a spoiler: The cat is modelled very realistically on real mountain lion behaviour. So if you want to deal with it effectively, go read up on what to do if you encounter a cougar who wants to chew on your skull. It’s actually an impressive feat of programming, I’d say.)  I haven’t uncovered a whole lot of the backstory as of yet, but I’m guessing it doesn’t do much to make up the gameplay gap.  So if you enjoy exploring and picking flowers, oh man do we ever have a game for you!  But if that sounds boring to you, eeehh…

Third: The graphics.  Despite running like ass, it’s not exactly the prettiest game sometimes.  I don’t usually let indie graphics bother me.  I played the shit out of a free game called Stranded II which was literally wandering around on an island and trying to build stuff, and it had some really terribly modelled creatures in it.  Compared to that, Miasmata is fucking beautiful.  I feel like the environments are pretty, and the sunrays at sunrise are wonderful to wander through, but if you glance down at your hands you kind of go “oh.”  Similarly there is a bit of jankiness when trying to pick stuff up off the ground sometimes which might pull you out of it.

But man when you watch a storm roll in over the ocean?  Look at this shit:

It is going to fucking RAIN, guys

It is going to fucking RAIN, guys

The rain itself is maybe not quite as impressive as the build-up to rain… but it messes with your visibility enough that it can make you either think twice about wandering off, or go “oh shit” and scramble for shelter if you’ve already wandered off the edge of your known map.

The game from that point is really what you make of it.  I am really enjoying losing myself in the atmosphere, trying to uncover my map, getting excited when I crest a hill and see some old ruins that look creepy, or finding a new flower I haven’t examined yet.  And then, just when you’re happily collecting some flowers a good 15 minutes from safety, you hear *Thump thump.  Thump thump.* The heartbeat indicates the creature has spotted you and is stalking nearby.

The movement in the game has been criticized too, but opinions are mixed.  The protagonist has a bit of a momentum based movement, so when you get going at a good clip, it takes him a moment to settle down.  So if you’re plowing through the forest and reach the edge of the cliff, letting go of the W key isn’t going to save your ass.  You’re going over, man.  Similarly, when he falls, he falls.  Ass over teakettle, camera flailing wildly, black out at the bottom depending on how hard and far you fell.  Some people have criticized it by saying the protagonist falls a bit too easily on every little dip in the terrain, but he is also dying of a plague! So that didn’t bother me. Falling hard also means whatever is in your hands will be let go and go flying, possibly being destroyed in the process.  I climbed a big ass mountain to reach some flowers and let me tell you, I’ve done a lot of hiking, and picking my way back down that slope felt just like picking my way down some loose scree.  I’d creep forward and the guy would slip a bit and pick up speed as he skidded, so I’d mash S with my heart in my throat, terrified of tumbling down and losing my hard won petals.

And then when I got to the bottom and was all “Whew, now I can book it back to the lab!”, I heard *thump thump.  thump thump.*

“Oh fuck, the cat.  If it attacks me I’ll have to climb that god damn mountain to get these flowers again!  Okay, the tent isn’t far in that direction so I’m just going to dash for it.”

So I started dashing, and THERE IT WAS.  Apparently I chose exactly the wrong direction to dash in…

A panicked about-face later (with the guy lurching and skidding all over, trying to turn at high speed… it’s really quite effective once you’re used to it) I dashed in the opposite direction.  The creature roared behind me and the heart beat sped up.  Up ahead, a tent I hadn’t uncovered yet!  Yes!  Safety!

*whack* it hit me from behind and he tumbled, ears ringing.  I didn’t drop the flowers!  KEEP DASHING GOD DAMMIT.

When you go uphill he slows down to make the climb too, so climbing the last slope to the tent was fairly intense.  But once inside the creature loses interest and wanders off, and I was able to take some medicine to calm the fever that being mauled by a giant horned green cat had made worse, then sleep until morning.

I found the above exchange very exciting, and I am looking forward to synthesizing medicine to make me stronger, and allow me to do things like swim and access more areas of the island.  If you find it appealing to get lost on an island that decidedly does not want you to pick its flowers, then you should definitely check this game out.  If exploration is boring to you, move along.

Dungeons

Have you played Dungeon Keeper?  If you haven’t you should probably go straight to gog.com and remedy that.  But if you have, you are almost undoubtedly one of the millions of people waiting for a decent remake that doesn’t crash constantly on modern systems.

As an aside, I don’t know what it is about classic remakes… why do they always have to fuck with the winning formula of a great game when they remake it?  The only thing wrong with the original X-Com (aside from the buggy difficulty level which ended up becoming canon…) was that it was 8000 years old and summarily the interface was ass.  How many years did it take us to get a decent X-Com remake where they didn’t fuck with the formula and make it shitty?  Too many.  But anyway, Dungeons was announced and it has a pretty clear Dungeon Keeper influence, so everyone got excited.  And then it came out and it got really shitty reviews, so I didn’t buy it.

Then came a Steam sale where both the original Dungeons and its sequel/expansion Dark Lord were on sale for cheap, and I said to myself “Well it probably got bad reviews because it’s not Dungeon Keeper, but it looks interesting so it might still be good despite that!” and bought it.

Two things:

1. It is not Dungeon Keeper.

2. There is a reason beyond that for getting bad reviews :(

It’s still fairly unique but the flaws are pretty glaring, and it’s just bad design all around.

Even though they are substantially different the influence from DK is pretty obvious, and in an attempt to point out why the game is flawed I’m going to have to keep comparing the two.

The games are similar in that you are a dark lord who is running a dungeon, primarily through sending imps to dig out rooms and construct various doodads that do various stuff.  In DK, you do this as an omnipotent being who points and clicks and lets his/her dudes do all the dirty work.  In Dungeons, your lord is a physical being within the dungeon.

The inclusion of an actual player character as the lord is mistake number one.  In DK, you rely on your minions to carry out your wishes.  In Dungeons, you end up doing most of that shit yourself.  And even worse, you have to walk your happy ass over there to do it.  What is the point of being the overlord of a dungeon if you have to work??!?!

But it’s worse than that, actually.  In DK, the goal of the game was actually similar to tower defense.  You build rooms, adventurers come to loot and plunder and destroy, and you protect your dungeon heart by building and unlocking and levelling various minions in an arms race.  You build your dungeon in a certain way and certain creatures want to live in it and defend it for you.  The more adventurers you defend against, the more powerful your dungeon got, and the more powerful your dungeon got, the more interested the not-shitty adventurers became in trying to destroy it.  Eventually it is revealed just how bad your micromanagement skills are, and the adventurers destroy the dungeon heart.  Okay fine, so I sucked at Dungeon Keeper but I still had fun playing it.

In Dungeons, you ALMOST have the same goal.  You tell imps to dig out rooms and then place whatsits within those rooms, and you have a dungeon heart which you must defend.  The difference is that instead of trying to attract new kinds of monsters to come and live there, you are trying to attract new kinds of adventurers to come and explore.  Some adventurers want to loot gold, so you place gold piles.  Some want to find musty old books, so you build a library.  Some want to disarm traps and feel badass.  Some want to fight stuff, so you place monsters.  Some want to fight stuff, but they’ve got a fancy new sword and they want to get really big critical hits, so you need monsters who are squishy.  Some want to try their new armor, so you need monsters that hit really hard.  The ultimate goal is to satisfy the adventurers, and then just as they are pleased with themselves and turn to leave, you bash them over the head, haul them to a cage and suck out their soul so you can use the soul power to buy more doodads for your dungeon.

This is far worse than DK for a number of reasons.

One: It’s counter-intuitive.  You can’t place super powerful monsters near the adventurer spawns because A – they might not be the kind of monster that will satisfy the adventurer, and B – if the monster kills them before they’re ready to leave, you get nothing.  The adventurer has to be totally satisfied before they can be harvested.

Two: Because you can’t rely on your monsters to do it for you with a fine enough level of control, pretty much each and every harvest has to be done manually by your dungeon lord avatar.  You have to run your ass all the way over there and beat up the adventurer before they get back out.  Oh and while you’re running over there, you’ll probably run past eight other adventurers who all go “Look!  A dungeon lord!” and drop everything they’re doing to come attack you, which means they were likely not completely satisfied and full of soul energy, which means if you attack them back you are wasting a bunch of time and energy.  So you can run away and hope they lose interest and go back to becoming happy and full of harvestable energy, or you can kill them like the evil dungeon lord you are and just completely waste them.  It’s not good.  It’s not well designed, and it just feels cludgy and badly thought out.

And even if you DO get everything clicking smoothly, that’s about it.  You running from place to place harvesting adventurers is pretty much the whole game.  At least in DK you could look forward to your minions levelling up or try to build more desirable rooms.  The gameplay in Dungeons just feels shallow and repetitive.

And while it is sort of original, all of its good parts are borrowed from DK, and all of the originality is what makes it bad.  So I’m afraid I can’t even really recommend it for the novelty factor.  Unfortunate.

Anna

Anna is a “survival horror” game where you attempt to discover what is going on in a creepy abandoned sawmill.  The basic background of the story – and believe me, if you didn’t look for it you might miss it because it’s in a PDF in the game folder – is that you are a professor who is troubled by nightmares and fainting spells.  After passing out and being put on medical leave, the discovery of some old pictures leads you to this sawmill, where you attempt to figure out what is going on.

I bought this game for 3 dollars while drunk on New Year’s.  The extremely short review is: It is worth 3 dollars, but I’m not sure it’s worth 10.  I enjoyed it but it only took me 2 hours to get all three endings.  It will take you longer if you don’t cheat your ass off through the “puzzles”, but the sense of reward you get from that really isn’t going to be worth it.  Trust me.

Here’s the bad news:  The game essentially emulates old nostalgic point and click adventure games, complete with fuzzy “adventure game logic”.  Not only that, but it suffers very much from pixel hunt syndrome… in 3D.  I attempted to play it “legit” for the first couple of sections, only looking at a walkthrough when I was stumped, but it quickly devolved to the point where there would be no way to figure things out without painstakingly going through your inventory and clicking everything onto everything else.  Now, I have done that for games before!  But the inventory system is clunky and slow and I just didn’t have the patience for it.  I played an old game called Scratches which had some pretty bad adventure game logic, with the worst of it probably being when I had to use the phone X number of times and check a certain location X number of times between calls before the plot would advance.  I didn’t come across anything quite that obtuse in Anna but it was pretty close.  There were two turning points – one was when I had to use the ritual knife to start an event.  First you have to do something to “activate” the knife for rituals, and then you click it on the thing.  Except I did that and it didn’t work so I wandered around for a bit trying to figure out what to do with this damn knife, until I looked it up and it turned out I had clicked two pixels to the right of where I actually needed to click.  The second turning point was during the leaves puzzle, which seemed super obvious until you had to place a leaf on the picture indicating death, and they pretty much all look like they’re displaying death.  Trial and error revealed that the one that properly displayed death didn’t really look anything like death at all.  The walkthrough explained why it was supposed to depict death, as opposed to, say, the one with corpses and gravestones, and it made a bit of sense, but it annoyed me.  At that point I stopped wasting my time trying to figure things out on my own, and I feel better for it, because some of the later ones… yeah.

Adding to the annoyance of the puzzles and interface, is the completely superfluous items.  You start with a cell phone and a diary, neither of which can be used.  The cell phone, as far as I know, never becomes a factor in anything aside from making you scroll around it to get to the other shit in your inventory.  The jotter is just there for ~~immersion~~ as far as I can tell, because it corresponds to the PDF file in the game directory.  Except nothing really points you to that… I discovered it later while trying to figure out what the jotter was actually doing in the game.  It could have been implemented much better.  Then, there are a numerous points in the game where you can pick stuff up out of a pile.  You can pick ALL of them up, if you want to.  But you only need one.  Ever.  And then you have the rest of them in your inventory going “ha ha you used the crappy interaction dialogs and picked us up for no reason, loser”.  I think extraneous items get cleared when you move to a new area, but still.  I picked up some rocks outside (the description said “useful for scaring small animals” so I totally decided I should defend myself against the rabid squirrels I was undoubtedly going to encounter) but there was literally no use for them.  You can’t even pick them back up from your inventory to try to use them on things, it simply says you can’t do that.  Yet they sit there in the inventory.  I suppose it’s some sort of red herring to make you feel like there is more depth than there is… but really it just makes the player resent the poor planning.

Once you get past all of that, the game is entertaining.  I put “survival horror” in quotes because you quickly realize there isn’t much survival involved.  It’s not like Amnesia where there are things that are going to fuck you up and you are completely defenseless against them, so you spend the whole game cowering in a cupboard while slowly going insane.  There is no danger in Anna, but somehow the atmosphere of the game still gets to you.  I even had a genuine scare at one point, where I solved a puzzle and smugly turned around and went “AGHCK”. (And if you have played the game, it is probably NOT the one you are thinking of.  For that one, I obliviously stared at the opposite wall/other objects for the whole event and then turned around while it was fading away, then said “Hunh.  Well, that probably would have been really creepy.”) I felt silly afterward, but it shows that the game was effective in what it was attempting to do.  There are some super creepy moments too, like the mask on the chair.  It was such a simple effect but I really enjoyed it.  Each of the “supernatural events” were fun to stumble across and really added to the atmosphere.  I kind of want to go back and just try to trigger the events to experience them.

The story… well, I would play the game for the atmosphere rather than the story.  Let’s leave it at that.  There are three endings, each with a bit of a different perspective of the events.  Essentially the endings correspond to how deeply the protagonist goes down the rabbit hole.  You can bail out of the game fairly early if you do things “right”, and the ending is essentially just “Hey I’m not dead!  Well this place is creepy, I’m out of here” and you really learn nothing about the story.  But you also didn’t die so is it a “good” ending or not!?  In contrast, the most extensive ending includes a whole extra area of the game (complete with shitty illogical puzzles…) with a lot more dialogue and story reveals, as the professor gets his memory back.  I searched for some discussion about the endings, but it looks like the game simply wasn’t that popular.  There’s not a whole lot to discuss, I suppose, but they are ambiguous enough that something interesting might have come of them.

I don’t feel like I wasted 3 dollars OR 2 hours, which is more than I can say of some games I have bought, so if you can look past the flaws I feel that Anna has enough interesting elements to make it worth a look.  Wait for a sale, though…