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An Epic Omegathon Win: It’s in the Banana Bread

We’re standing packed in the first floor of the Paramount Theater. Anticipation is high. One of two players is about to walk away with a trip for two to the Tokoyo Game Show – all expenses paid.

It’s the final day of PAX Prime 2013. I’m watching the watching the final round of the Omegathon with my PAX entourage.

Omegathon is a biannual tournament at PAX. The event started in 2004 and every year 20 contestants are picked from a pool of PAX goers to battle head-to-head in a series of randomly chosen games throughout the weekend. The competition is done elimination style with the final event being on the last day of PAX for the last two contestants to battle it out. And the games are typically always random, but always awesome.

The final game for PAX Prime 2013 was Spy Party. In Spy Party you have a spy and a sniper. The spy is in a party, trying to blend in with other party goers and complete 4 missions in the time allotted. The sniper is outside the party, looking in – trying to identify who is a spy amongst a sea of AI’s. The whole point of this game is to either try to blend in with computers or try to figure out who isn’t a computer.

This game looks insanely hard. Even when you’re the spy, your character is still kind of clunky, making him or her still look amazingly like an AI.

The premise of this challenge is simple. The two Omeganauts, Hummus vs Nantucky will take turns being the spy and the sniper. First to 5 points is the winner. There are four win states and two ways for each player to get a point:

1. SNIPER wins if he correctly guesses the spy
2. SNIPER wins if the time runs out and the spy has not completed his mission
3. SPY wins if he completes his mission in the time allotted without getting spotted
4. SPY wins if the sniper picks the wrong party guest

We look up at the screen in anticipation, watching this final match. Each player battles it out nobly until we reach a pivotal moment. It’s 4 points Nantucky and 3 points Hummas. Nantucky is the spy and if he can either not get shot or complete his mission, he will be the Omegathon winner.

I start to notice something strange though – Nantucky’s screen has a message overlaid “Press A to control your spy”. That’s strange – has that always been up there. A neighbor notices my confusion and leans in “He hasn’t turned on his character yet.” He mumbles. Wait – hasn’t turned on his character yet? What does that even mean?

Turns out if you don’t turn on your character, the character is just controlled by an AI, just like all the other party-goers.

Wait. I stopped. Why isn’t he playing? Then it hit me. This guy has just created an almost fool proof strategy. This is the situation that he has created. His character is the AI right now. It is literally acting equally as suspiciously or non-suspiciously as the other party goers, he is doing nothing to draw himself out of the crowd right now.

It’s a psyche out. 

Now, this plan potentially could fail if the time runs out and Hummas doesn’t choose someone. But if it seemed as if he could afford to burn a point for this semi-high-risk move. Because what he’s banking on is this:

The sniper doesn’t know if the spy has completed his missions or not in time. If time runs out the and the spy has, he loses. So Hummas could either let time run out and hope that the Nantucky has not completed his missions – or take the situation into his own hands by correctly identifying the sniper and choosing him.

But that’s the thing. Nantucky isn’t doing anything to set himself apart. All these AI’s seem to be blending in with other. A lot is riding on this moment…what do you choose?

(It has been pointed out that Hummas’ tell should have been in the Banana Bread. Banana Bread is one of the missions – the spy has to say that phrase out loud to pass the “code word” to another member of the party. Hummas didn’t hear that phrase, thus shouldn’t have shot banking on the fact that the spy didn’t complete his missions. It just goes to show how high the pressure was at this point).

But what he chose was exactly what Nantucky wanted. Hummas in a desperate or falsely convinced move chooses someone in the party, thus giving Nantucky the point and the crown of Omegathon winner. It was subtly and amazingly brilliant and a dramatically poetic end to PAX Prime 2013.

To check out more on Spy Party, just go to their website here. And if you want to read more about this epic win, make sure to check out the Penny Arcade Report about it along with some awesome pictures of the event.

Review: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sticks

brothers02_06

In a market full to the brim (at times overflowing) with games that are carbon copies of games that are carbon copies of games that are carbon copies of games, it is indescribably relieving to play a game that not only breaks the mold, but breaks the mold that molded the original mold. “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” is one of those games. It adopts an entirely new approach to controls and their affect on storytelling, effectively marrying the controller and the controlled. Never before have I felt that the simple press of a button or movement of a control stick could move me to the brink of tears. “Brothers” did just that.

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A Quick Jaunt Into Darkness

The Cave

I sit, staring at the computer screen. My current characters, the Twins stand, staring back with their glowing undead eyes. The next part of the puzzle sitting just to the left of them.

“And the grimmest part of the story has arrived.” the narrator of this tale, “The Cave” coos with maniacal laughter.

As I was playing through, I was trying to pinpoint what it is I like about The Cave. Really like. It’s a puzzle game, which I love. It’s from Double Fine Productions and from the same brains that Monkey Island came from. It’s got a great and interesting story line. Gorgeous artwork.  It’s got (plenty of) dark humor – which all and all is not quite as terrifying as it may sound.

See it can have just silly funny too!

See it can have just silly funny too!

But those reasons aside, I really like this game for some other reason, one I couldn’t fully pinpoint at first. They had my attention and it was something…different. On the surface this is a seemingly innocent puzzle platformer. You get to choose from 7 characters, each with their own story line and reason for visiting “The Cave.” Each has their own reason to get to the end be it fame, glory, money, love – what have you.

Ok, that’s been done before in games.

Sometimes some of the non-essential characters have to die so that you’re able to progress in the game.

Alright, it’s not like I would have been able to get through Uncharted without shooting down some enemies.

But this game is different. That’s when it dawned on me. You’re not shooting down the “enemies”.

As these story lines progress you discover the reason for why these characters are doing what they’re doing, their motives and their actions aren’t exactly noble in any case. More so, this game isn’t really about morality choices. You have to make “bad” choices often to progress. And that’s when it hit me.

This game isn’t really about morality choices. You’re just…bad.

You’re not fighting off villains in this game. You are the villain. Nothing and no one will stop you from achieving your goal. And this time there is no hero to get in your way. Only a Vincent Price-esk narrator “scolding” you yet subtly egging you on with his deep and sinister laugh.

Huge Rocket

I’m sure she has a perfectly good reason for launching that huge rocket

With that they had me. I took my three characters and I descended into the depths of the cave, intrigued enough to find out what happens in a world where seemingly the villain wins. Now, I won’t give away the ending but it’s well worth seeing it through to the end.

The game play is my kind of game. Of the seven characters, you choose three. Each has their own ability that will help you through the game (for example, I first choose the Adventurer who can grapple, the Time Traveler who can beam herself through obstacles, and the Scientist who can hack computers).

You use their skills as you play co-op with yourself to make it through each level of the cave. One thing I would have liked more however, is I would have liked to use my “abilities” more. I found that in most level I maybe used the ability of a character once or twice – being able to solve most puzzles without them.

The twins

You would have me believe that he is holding his sister AND that bucket and still climbing that rope? Hmmmm

Each character gets their own level which is great and keeps the cave interesting as you search through it’s hidden corners and dark secrets. But if you check out this great review by Polygon on the game, they also make an excellent point about that. With seven characters and having to play three at a team means that you’ll be playing a couple of the characters’ levels over again to discover the other stories.

In addition to that where as I’m OK with having to travel back and forth to suss out a puzzle (I’ve been told I’d make an excellent WOW player), if you find that tedious, keep in mind that may be one aspect of the game that’s a little daunting. The advantage is you’re playing three main characters, and if you need something on the other side of the level you’re on, you may be able to toggle to a character that is closer, as opposed to running all the way back.

But for me, when you get that “Ah-Ha” moment of finally figuring out a puzzle, all that drains away. I trudge my characters on with a new found sense of purpose (and a slight dose of fear at what they want to accomplish).

So if you love villains, puzzles, and a good story about the descent into darkness (or even if you were just fans of Monkey Island and want to see what this is all about) make sure to check it out here.

Late to the Party Review: Bulletstorm

bstormI could shoot him in the balls with the fire-shotgun, severing the legs of the jerk behind him. I could thump that chump into the air and grenade-tether him towards that enormous fan. I could slide into the whole crowd, knocking them into the allegiance-shattering toxic plant dust and watch them mutilate each other as I sit idly by, sipping on a cool pop. Bulletstorm, by People Can Fly and Epic Games, presents all these options and a million more in a game that is amongst the most insane, over-the-top, and unforgettable shooters I have ever played. Continue reading

Rogue Legacy or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Death

The most prevalent though that I have while playing Rogue Legacy is “#&$@ you, you #$%&ing @$&#”. I feel that this is a common mantra that spans many new (and veteran) Rogue Legacy players.  It’s a difficult game, make no mistake, but it can be mastered.

RogueLTitle

Rogue Legacy is a roguelike, sides-scrolling, Metroidvania-esque game with Medieval themes. You play as a linage of warriors, all hellbent on conquering a mystical castle which somehow stole your king (father?) or whatever. Let’s be honest, the story isn’t really necessary.

You start with selecting your heir. This will be one of three warriors, each with different traits. These traits can be a myriad of issues, some more helpful than others. Examples of this are the “Dwarfism” trait, which makes your character smaller on screen shortens your weapon range; or the “I.B.S.” trait, which makes your character fart at random.

Upon selecting your next hero you are presented with your legacy’s castle (not to be confused with the bad, evil castle), which functions as a skill tree. Anything you upgrade here (with the currency found while playing) will remain, through death, with your lineage. These upgrades range from new character types to boosted stats. This way when you die, and you will, it (usually) won’t be for nothing as you will have at least a few gold to spend on upgrading your stats or gear.

Such is the majesty of a near-sighted Hokage warrior with Gigantism.

Such is the majesty of a near-sighted Hokage warrior with Gigantism.

Game play itself is a fairly standard affair. You have your basic attacks, as well as a random magic ability (throwing an axe, summoning a wall of flame, etc.), coupled with jumping and various abilities bestowed upon you through the skill tree. Your map maintains a general sense of direction: head to the right for the Forrest, up for the Tower, and down for the Basement. In each of these areas you will find a boss whose defeat will open up a series of locks on the final bosses door. You then proceed to kill everything you come across until you die. Rinse, repeat.

The game plays great; the controls are tight, the soundtrack is excellent, and the gameplay is compelling. That being said, this isn’t a game for everyone. It’s difficulty can be compared to games like Spelunky, La-Mulana, and FTL. The game can chew you up and spit you out. It’s differentiation from those games, however, comes with the ‘crutch’ that the skill tree and items provide. As they state, Rogue Legacy is “Rogue-“Lite. Even a less than skill player will, through time, gain the needed stamina or damage to conquer the game.

Back of Box Quote: “It’s everything I want from a lineage based roguelike sidescrolling Metroidvania hack-n-slash”

The Agony and Ecstasy of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

Chivalry

The only advice I was given before playing Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was, “Don’t use horizontal swings.” Wise words, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

My first match had me playing the role of the Vanguard, the long-hilted weapons specialist: spears, halbierds…you get the picture. I joined the match at the top of a grassy knoll, my comrades in arms sprinting down the hill, weapons raised, snarling their battle cries. I lowered my spear and chased after them to meet the enemy at the riverbed. Arrows whizzed past me as I ducked and dodged, gradually getting a closer view of the mayhem below me.

I spotted my target–a lightly armored (and armed) Man-at-Arms, who had just finished off my teammate–a plate armored knight–in the riverbed. I closed in, hefted my spear, and as I jabbed….was instantly decapitated by a stray flail from behind.

Shocked at the speed of my defeat, I consulted the scoreboard. How could I have missed seeing the second enemy? To my dismay, my executioner was actually a fellow teammate, who had caught my neck, instead of his foe’s, midway through a horizontal swing.

While friendly fire and team kills are common in many competitive multiplayer games, nowhere is it more prevalent than in Chivalry. It’s a common sight to see players dealing 20-50% of their damage to their own teammates. When you’re swinging heavy weapons in a confined space where one hit often spells death, precision just doesn’t factor into the strategy.

It makes the game  frustrating, but it also has a lot to do with what makes it so addictive. You start to celebrate when you manage to dispatch an enemy without gutting a teammate in the process. You get better and more precise over time, but the risk is always there, and that’s the best and most unique thing Chivalry has going for it.

The game looks and often plays a bit like a half life mod. The modes are pretty straightforward, the equipment progression system pretty uninspired, and the visuals pretty has-been. But these shortcomings hardly matter, because it’s way too much fun to swing a broadsword around.

The game’s on sale right now, so go check it out.

Review: Dead Rising 2 – Case Zero

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero is exactly what many have tagged it as: a glorified demo. It has all the trappings of a demo (short play time, limited options, no story to speak of), with one key difference: this demo will set you back 5 bucks (400 MSP). Going into it, I really wasn’t sure if any “demo” would be worth an actual monetary investment. Did purchasing Case Zero pay off for me in the end? Hit the jump to find out!

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PAX Prime 2010 – The Welcome Home Edition

PAX Prime 2010 WsctcAnother year, another Penny Arcade Expo passed. The panels are over and the exhibitors are packed and gone, but the excitement and energy that is PAX are tough to fully process right away. Still lining Seattle’s famous pike street are PAX banners, featuring various statements of nerd humor, such as “why your IT guy is out sick”. But one banner in particular caught my eye, containing a message that why the 72-odd hours of PAX make up the absolute highlight of many gamers’ year (including mine).  “Welcome Home”.

In last year’s PAX, I was fleeting familiar with the sense of community one finds at such an event, but it wasn’t until this year’s convention that I was hit in the face with this fact. As I’ve noted previously, much of my time last year was occupied pursuing swag and spending hours in line for a few minutes playtime of the latest titles. While I certainly spent my fair share of time in the expo hall this year, my experience with PAX 2010 was profoundly different than the last, and one of ultimately more enjoyment. Continue reading

Pre-PAX Thoughts

Less than 17 days until the largest event in the world for gamers begins– right in my backyard. I’ve always felt very fortunate to have such an important event in the gaming community so close to home. When it comes to big events, Seattle feels a little cut off at times, so its events like PAX that make living in the Pacific Northwest just a little more worthwhile.

Seattle Convention Center PAXGiven its occurrence on such a pivotal weekend, Labor Day, last year was the first time I was able to attend PAX. I had an absolute blast, but I still felt like I missed quite a bit of what the convention had to ffer.  For one, I spent most of my time on the exhibition show floor. When I was younger, I used to dream of going to E3 (back when it was closed to the public), so the exhibit hall of PAX was my small way of making up for all those times I missed E3. While I got to play plenty of great upcoming games, I regret not branching out more – the panels, meetups, etc.

This year, I hope to fully make up for last year’s shortcomings . PAX isn’t just about exhibiting the latest and greatest games, its about gathering with 60,000 other gamers, playing a game or two, and making a few friends along the way.