A Few Tips for Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition came out last week and I’ve been playing it. A lot. Pretty much every waking moment, except when I feel bad and temporarily relinquish the TV to my boyfriend so he can play NES. To be honest, the game didn’t quite capture me like Dragon Age Origins did at first, and a lot of that had to do with pacing. The thing is, the game is gigantic and very open world so the player dictates the pace. You could zoom through the story relatively quickly, or you could spend 15 hours exploring every inch of the starting area and wondering if perhaps there are more important things for an Inquisitor to do than pick every Elfroot in Ferelden. Dragon Age is full of pet peeves for me, and it did take some work to get past them and let the huge, detailed world and wonderfully written characters suck me in.

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

Here are some things I wish I had known before playing the game that would have made my starting experience much better.

Character Creation

  • Choose your class wisely, especially if you want to be able to experience all of the interactions between your companions. I’m playing as a rogue, which was a bad choice for this. In combat, you pretty much will always need a warrior to draw threat (even if they aren’t a shield tank) and a mage who can cast barriers (basically Power Word: Shield) in your party. There’s no healing in this game, besides limited use potions, so barriers are very important. A rogue you can honestly take or leave, and I’m finding being one myself really limits the possible party comps. I’d love to see the interactions between Sera, who’s quite daft, and Cole, the friendly ghost, but they’re both rogues as well, and having a party where 3 of 4 characters are rogues is very hard to work with.
  • That said, rogues have some super fun abilities like Smoke Bombs and Leaping Shot which lets you backflip out of danger, firing a hail of arrows in your wake.
  • When you play as a rogue or warrior you get 2 sub-class options (archer vs. stabby stab, sword & board vs. 2H), but these don’t lock you into anything, it just decides what weapon you start with.
  • I don’t particularly like the look of the character I created. She looked okay on the creation screen, but in-game I’m less impressed. Play through the intro and don’t be afraid to restart if you want to change appearance. Better to do it 15 minutes in than be like me and wish you had done things differently 40 hours in.

Story and characters

  • Leave the Hinterlands. Really. Do it. I wish I had read this article earlier. I probably spent a good 10 hours exploring, closing rifts, and picking up every herb/ore/item I could find. It got boring. It made me think DA:I was a bad game. Hinterlands has been one of the least engaging areas, as it has so much collection to do and pretty much every quest you get comes from a note on a dead body. If you’re like me, uncompleted objectives on your map are an anathema to you, but The Hinterlands isn’t going anywhere. Complete a few objectives, do the quests that will get you access to mounts, but as soon as the game is starting to feel like a slog, go progress the story forward. It’ll make the game much more enjoyable. Also, you’ll get some side quests that send you back to Hinterlands later.
  • Do the first quest in Val Royeaux before you start exploring The Hinterlands too thoroughly. In my game I found Redcliffe in the Northern Hinterlands before I went to Val Royeaux and it resulted in some very immersion-breaking story gaps. Someone in VR is supposed to send you to Redcliffe, and the game doesn’t recognize or adapt to you doing things in the wrong order.
  • Gather all possible companions early so you can get to know and love them, and have a variety of party comps to choose from. You can miss some of them if you wait too long. Here’s how to find each of the extra companions:
    • Sera – Friend of Red Jenny quest triggered when you go to Val Royeaux.
    • Vivienne – The Imperial Enchanter quest given by a mage in Val Royeaux.
    • Iron Bull – The Captain of the Chargers quest is given to you by a messenger outside the Haven chantry, and sends you to The Storm Coast.
    • Blackwall – The Lone Warden quest, given by Leliana which sends you to the Hinterlands.
    • Dorian – Will be found in Redcliffe when you meet with Fiona if you side with the Mages, or will appear automatically at another time if you side with the Templars.
    • Cole – Will be found in The Fade if you side with the Templars, or will appear automatically at another time if you side with the Mages.
  • These are the main quests, so you can pace out how the story will progress. Story quests will have a recommended level range listed when you see them in the War Room:
    • The Wrath of Heaven
    • The Threat Remains
    • Champions of the Just or In Hushed Whispers
    • In Your Heart Shall Burn
    • From the Ashes
    • Here Lies the Abyss
    • Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts
    • What Pride Had Wrought
    • The Final Piece
  • (Minor story spoiler) You can only do one of Champions of the Just or In Hushed Whispers. Do Champions if you want the Templars to join your cause, or Whispers if you want the mages. You can’t have both.
  • I suggest moving the story forward to From the Ashes fairly soon. It was at this point that the story really became interesting, and I began to care about my character and her cause. If you find yourself feeling unengaged while exploring and doing side-quests, doing the story quests up to this point should fix that.

Inventory and other stuff

  • In your inventory, Valuables are the equivalent to junk in the previous DA games. Not sure why they changed this. Put everything you want to sell in here so they can be sold all at once.
  • Another annoying thing about valuables is that the category is applied not just to actual junk, but also to research items that you should be turning in. So drop by the research table before you start selling en-masse. (Thank to @ArielleEJ for this tip)
  • The inventory system is not great, and you will get a ton of crappy gear drops. If you’re playing on normal (or easy) you don’t have to worry too much about gear, I definitely don’t recommend letting it consume too much of your time if it’s something you don’t enjoy. Junk (or ‘valuable’) all the white/common gear, and just focus on the better stuff. Every couple of hours I go back to my home base, see if anything new is an upgrade for anyone and sell everything else. I generally avoid crafting unless someone has weapons that are vastly inferior to the rest of the party.
  • Upgrades are generally worthwhile, but don’t spend too much time on them. Just slap on whatever will fit on your character’s gear. You can also remove upgrades (but not runes) from gear you will be selling.
  • The one piece of gear that does warrant more attention is Varric’s crossbow, Bianca. He’ll have this weapon all game, so you should buy or craft upgrades for it as you can.
  • Though I’m not into scrutinizing the stats on gear, the appearance of the gear is well worth paying attention to. Bioware did some killer work on armor this time around. Leliana’s armor is perfection, and most of the other character’s armor is also both beautiful and functional looking. It’s truly exciting to be a female rogue who does not have bare legs.
  • Inventory is limited, so I highly recommend taking the 2 Tailoring Inquisition perks when you can, which will give you an extra 30 slots. Especially if you’re like me and pick up everything in sight.
  • I think I’ve given myself a repetitive strain injury by constantly pushing L3 to search for hidden items. Unless you’re desperate to find every herb/ore, give your hand a break. Your companions will say something when there is an important hidden item around.
  • The addition of jumping in the game is nice for those who can’t keep still, but it also brings up a lot of Mako-reminiscent, cliff scaling frustrations. I don’t really have tips to avoid this, just a warning. Though mounts are a bit better at climbing things than you are on foot.

Good luck and happy Inquisiting!

Have any tips for me?

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Review)

It’s 2054. You are Jack Mitchell, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. Your advanced weaponry lets you jump over tall buildings in a double bound, paint enemies with threat grenades, and control remote operated drones. You are the manliest of men. You’re sent to Seoul to battle North Koreans along with your brother in arms, Will Irons. Will is a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. When you first met him you were a little jealous that he had an even better sounding all-American manly man name than you, but you got over it and now you’re best buds. The mission in Korea ends in tragedy and you are honorably discharged from your military duties because of injuries sustained. But your story is not over. The Illusive Man Kevin Spacey can rebuild you. He has the technology. Jonathan Irons is the CEO of Atlus, the most powerful private military force in the world, and there’s no way that can end badly. On your first mission you’re paired up with Gideon, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy…

Snark aside, I actually quite enjoyed the game. The fact that I’d never played any CoD game before likely increased my enjoyment. Advanced Warfare is the 12th Call of Duty game (14th if you count the ones released on handheld/mobile) released since 2003. The fact that increasingly shiny versions of the game are pumped out every single year never inspired a whole lot of confidence, and I’m sure that if I had been a fan of the series all along I’d be getting burnt out on the whole concept by now. But for a first time player, it was a lot of fun.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Kevin Spacey as Jonathon Irons

First of all, it looks absolutely gorgeous on my XBox One. Close-ups of people look almost photo-realistic. There are often dozens of enemies on-screen, along with allies, civilians, and vehicles. The environments look equally great and there is so much variation in the 15 mission campaign that nothing ever feels stale or reused. AW takes you from the high rises and neon lights of Seoul, to icy arctic crevasses, to blue skies and traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Likewise, your combat specialization changes from mission to mission, giving you access to novel abilities so gameplay changes and evolves throughout as well. In some missions you can grapple up to rooftops, or climb walls. In others you can send out a remote-controlled drone to deal with enemies, and block incoming attacks with your exo shield. Some levels require stealth, so you’re given a cloaking ability and mute charges for silent kills. It says a lot that I found the stealth parts of the game very enjoyable, because I’m generally far too impatient for subtlety in action games. Gameplay is fast, fun, and the controls are responsive and smooth.

The highlights of the game are the action setpieces. One of the standouts had me running through traffic, then jumping on the tops of buses as they sped down the highway to get to an enemy vehicle. Another had me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, weaving through abandoned cars, taking out enemies with sonic pulses, and ended with a rather spectacular explosion.

However, the reliance on setpieces also brought about the game’s biggest weakness, as it made many levels feel very much on the rails. There was a definite feeling that I should just be going from point A to point B as fast as possible and, though the game does have collectible Intel that is slightly off the path, exploration was discouraged. I often saw a huge message “You are leaving the mission area” message displayed across my screen, which was jarring considering how clean and HUDless the UI was. Likewise, AI squadmates do everything they can to keep you moving forward quickly, which often involves repeating an order over and over if you don’t carry it out fast enough. “Mitchell, set the charge,” “Mitchell, take him out,” “Mitchell, open the door,” “Mitchell, change your socks.” That got annoying fast. This is where I really felt that CoD was catering to the lowest common denominator. As a player I couldn’t be trusted to pay attention to the mission details at the start and carry out the objectives on my own, or figure anything out myself. The game felt it needed to tell me to run here, duck, put up my shield, open the door, use the grappling hook, shoot, press X to pay respects.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Gideon shooter bro

The story and characters of AW are rather trite but, even as someone who has never played the series before, I knew this is not a game you play for the story. Twists can be seen a mile away. Characters are not memorable. At the beginning of the game I was dismayed that I couldn’t tell any of the characters, including my own, apart because all the white male soldiers (90% of the characters) have the exact same facial hair. Does military regulation enforce permanent 5 o’clock shadow? Eventually I realized that not knowing who anyone was didn’t really detract from the experience and I stopped worrying about it.

There is a dearth of women in the game. I went through a full 1/3 of the campaign before I saw a woman up close and talked to her. A very important scene that fleshed out Mitchell as a character was unfortunately deleted at this point, but here’s how it was supposed to go:

Mitchell tensed up as he saw Ilona. He didn’t know what to do. It had been six years since he’d seen a woman up close and that had been his mother. “Oh my god, a girl. Don’t fuck this up,” he said to himself as she approached. He tried complimenting her boots because had heard that chicks dig that. She looked at him sideways and told him they were standard issue. He made an excuse and ran back to his bunk as fast as he could without betraying his cool exterior. “Stupid, stupid Mitchell” he chastised, slapping himself on the forehead repeatedly. Maybe once he proved his prowess in battle she would learn to love him.
/scene

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare - Ilona, the lone woman soldier

Thankfully, Ilona does become an actual character and is with you for a number of missions but as far as female representation, she’s pretty much it. Considering 15% of military forces are female now, and AW takes place 40 years in the future, I hoped to see more than one woman (especially in Atlus which is presumably not beholden to US policy). Disappointing, but sadly not unexpected. You can play as a female in multiplayer. Apparently, CoD:Ghosts was the first entry in the series that had this option. Ghosts was released in 2013. Is this real life? Of course, since multiplayer is completely first-person, your gender doesn’t matter a whole lot as you can only tell the difference when you get shot and start breathing audibly. But it’s nice the option was added after 10 years.

I did play a few hours of multiplayer, and while I prefer the campaign, it’s quite fun too. I haven’t had a chance to try all the different modes, I mainly stick to team deathmatch or confirmed kill. The mode I really like is Survival. This is a co-op mode with up to 4 players and the goal is to survive waves of bots. There are also some objective based waves thrown in to mix things up a bit. As someone who does not have much experience playing FPSs online against other people, Survival mode offers a bit more leeway and I found it much easier to get into. It’s good practice before jumping into real matches where people who have been playing online CoD for the last 10 years will frag you repeatedly until you give up.

 Rating: 7/10 – Advanced Warfare is not a game you play for the story or to inspire deep thoughts, but it delivers what it promises – a slick, fast-paced, first-person shooter with outstanding setpieces. The amount of hand-holding the game gives starts getting tedious around 2/3 of the way through but the campaign ends at the right time, before this gets too annoying. Overall an enjoyable single-player experience, with good multiplayer content that will stretch out the game time as long as you want it to.

Quality vs. Enjoyment

A lot of video games have received unconditional love from me in the past, even when they are peppered with mechanics and design choices that frustrate or puzzle me. It can sometimes be hard to reconcile. How can a game have so many faults, but still be so enjoyable overall?

Take Mass Effect 3 for example. While in many ways (most notably combat) it improved over the first two games in the series, there were also a number of things that bothered me to no end. I’ve been slowly replaying it and often find myself yelling at the TV over poor design.

  • Side quests that are completely lacking in context. Run through the Citadel, and your quest log fills up with 2 dozen fetch quests. Occasionally you overhear people talking about these quests, but you don’t need to stop or listen to them, the quest just appears as if you’ve accepted it. There’s rarely any information offered in the quest log other than what star system the item can be found in. These kinds of quests are terrible for immersion.
  • Related to the issue above, the quest log in general sucks compared to the first two games. A bare minimum of information is offered.
  • There’s no sense of place. Every location is restricted to small, contained areas. You fast travel everywhere.
  • Speaking of fast travel, the Citadel Rapid Travel terminals are still in the game and you can interact with them, but you can’t actually use them. You need to use the elevators instead. (Why the hell can you interact with them when you can’t use them?!)
  • The entire game is fan service. Except the ending. Ba dum pssh.

Or how about the Twin Peaks-inspired Deadly Premonition? This game is a cult classic which people tend to either love or hate. I just finished this game after starting it more than 2 years ago, because I could only take the game (specifically the combat) in small doses.

  • Poorly designed combat. Tank controls, an awkward control scheme for aiming, not being able to aim and move at the same time, bullet sponge enemies.
  • The worst final boss fight ever. Long range shooting is awful.
  • Everything is so slow. When you examine something or try unsuccessfully to pick up some ammo but can’t because your inventory is full the text appears, one letter at a time, at a glacially slow pace. You can hold down a button to speed it up, but it’s still slow. A lot of the time as you’re smashing buttons trying to make it go faster you accidentally examine the damn thing again.
  • Lack of inventory space, and irritating inventory management.
  • Cliche “serial killer murdering women” story.

Wasteland 2 was just released a few months ago, but is an old-school isometric RPG in pretty much every way. In trying to hold on to the Fallout 1/2 aesthetic and feel, it makes a number of design decisions which just don’t appeal to modern gamer sensibilities.

  • Terrible inventory system.
  • Weapons that jam, effectively wasting a whole turn in combat.
  • Antiquated skill system. Try to pick a lock or brute force a door and you’re shown the % chance you have of doing it successfully. A lot of time is spent repeating these actions when you fail and if you critically fail, the item you’re working on just breaks and you can’t access it anymore.
  • No ability to respec your party’s skills (unless you hack the save file, which I did a lot), meaning if a party member leaves or dies you might be left with no one who can pick up that skill at a high enough level to be useful.
  • Ugly character models. If you want to make your own characters rather than use the pre-made ones, the character portraits are also hideous.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is a game I call one of my favourites of all time, despite it having a host of problems.

  • Bugs! So many bugs. From minor annoyances like graphical clipping, to crashes, to game breaking issues at certain points of the story.
  • Character designs look nice in close-up, but watching your character move in 3rd person view just looks wrong.
  • While the beginning locations of the game are wonderfully detailed and rich, as you get towards the end it seems like the quality drops off.

Then there are point and click adventure games. All of them. Well, maybe that’s unfair. Let’s say 90% of them. Convoluted solutions to simple problems are a mainstay of the genre. Almost every adventure game I’ve played has had that moment (or many of them) where I have no clue what to do and furiously try to combine each item in my inventory with the others, or with the environment. Or painstakingly move the mouse cursor over every pixel, trying to see if I’ve missed an object. Often the solutions to puzzles are things no logical human being would ever think of. Like combining an inflatable duck with a bandaid, a metal clamp, and a rope to retrieve a key from the subway tracks. Or throwing a pie to ward off a  yeti, as opposed to using a weapon or magic. It’s like they were designed to sell hint guides (when those were still a thing).

It might seem like I’m writing this post just to rant. There may be a little truth in that, but overall it’s about how many problematic elements I’m willing and able to overlook in games because the whole is better than the sum of its parts.

Mass Effect 3 saying goodbye to Garrus

Mass Effect 3 may have many frustrating design decisions but I still love it because, well, feelings. I’m attached to Commander Shepard, Garrus, Joker, EDI, and the rest of my crew. I love seeing them interact with each other, I love running into characters from previous games, and watching the story come to an end is both heartbreaking and satisfying. Plus I love being a renegade and punching out anyone I can.

Deadly Premonition talking to Zack

Deadly Premonition is certainly not top quality at a technical level, but it pays homage to one of my favourite shows in an oddly sweet fashion and features so many quirkily lovable characters that it’s hard to resist. What’s the frustration of one 8-minute long quicktime event compared to the strange joy of listening to the hero talk to his other personality about attending punk concerts as a teenager?

Wasteland 2 ET cartridges buried in the desert

Wasteland 2 may have used some stale mechanics, but that doesn’t overshadow the detail and love that went into it. The annoyances didn’t prevent me from spending 50 hours in the game, and enjoying most of them. For every annoying dice roll fail there’s some great little detail that brought a smile to my face, from finding Teddy Ruxpin dolls to the hidden cache of Atari ET cartridges. Choices mattered in the game, and being set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland meant a lot of times where were no right or wrong decisions, just different shades of gray.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines dialogue with Jeanette

VtM:B may have been riddled with bugs on release. It may have once broken my save file right at the end of the game so I couldn’t finish the game. However, it’s also one of the most darkly atmospheric games I’ve played, with a deep backstory drawing from the World of Darkness RPG, and a collection of great characters. Though I’ve only beaten the game once, since the quality does dip a little near the end, I’ve played through the Santa Monica section more times than I can count and playing as a Malkavian makes a great game experience even better. I’m not the only one who loves this game. Ten years after its release, fans are still making and releasing patches to iron out all those bugs.

Quest for Glory 4. Hero in front of the monastery

And adventure games? Well, they may be frustrating and highly illogical, but not enough to stop me from replaying my favourites like Quest for Glory, The Longest Journey, or Gabriel Knight every few years.

So, does a game need to be of “good” quality in order to be enjoyable? Clearly not. I can overlook quite a lot of issues in games and still find the overall product most satisfying. Pull at my heartstrings, give me a great story and atmosphere, unique and interesting characters, or just amazingly fun gameplay and I can overlook a lot of negatives.

Of course it’s not just technical or mechanical issues that can detract from games. Another question I ask myself a lot as I play games is how problematic portrayals of characters – generally female characters – impacts my enjoyment of those games. This will be a topic for another time though. As soon as I finish Saint’s Row: The Third I’m going to have a lot to process and talk about. It’s something to think about.

Travels in the Mushroom World (Part 1)

After replaying Super Mario 3 for the first time in many years recently and finding out my skills had lapsed, I am determined to improve. I will beat this game, without skipping worlds, and hopefully with as few continues as possible. Here is my story.

World 1 – Starting a new game. Alone. It’s starts well. The sky is sunny, the grass is green. I travel through the world with only one death. Grass Land is no match for me.

World 2 – I make the trek through Desert Hill’s vast sandy environments without much incident. The Angry Sun cannot catch me and I’m too quick for the quicksand. I only have only one death in the cold, sunless fortress then breeze through the rest of the world. The dry heat agrees with me. Perhaps things are turning around? My skills are returning.

Super Mario 3 Boss Bass

World 3 – Hubris! The first two worlds have made me overconfident and I have paid dearly. The sea is a harsh mistress and makes her presence acutely felt. But my true enemy is Boss Bass. The extra lives I earned in the first 2 worlds quickly disappear down a fish’s gullet. I am killed no less than 6 times before I’m able to hobble across the finish line of 3-3. The rest of Sea Side treats me better and though I come close, I’m able to avoid seeing a Game Over screen. But for how long? The little confidence I had built has been shaken, and I have few extra lives left.

World 4 – In the Land of Giants everything is large and imposing, but it’s not these giant objects and enemies that pose the biggest threat. Level 4-2 brings back the trauma of 3-3. The water is rising! The fish are close! They’re smaller now, but faster. Cheep Cheeps. They leap out of the water, intent on attacking me with their cold fish lips and razor teeth. They are often successful. I futilely try to kill them with ice blocks, but even when I score a hit, they always come back. There’s a horrifying moment when I mis-time a jump and plunge into the watery depths, into their domain. I thrash about violently, struggling to get back on land. My first leap fails, as does the second. I avoid one by mere inches before I’m finally able to get back up. The level takes its toll and I go into the next with only 2 lives left. I get killed by a Sledge Brother. I fall into a bottomless pit. Game Over.

To be continued…

My History with Kickstarter

Some great games have been funded though Kickstarter – Dragonfall Returns, Wasteland 2, FTL. However, many games that get funded don’t actually get released, draw out the delivery timelines significantly, or under-deliver. I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter who seem hesitant to back new games because they had been burned before. I have yet to be burned (that sound you hear is me knocking on wood, because most of the games haven’t been delivered yet). I thought it would be interesting to take a look at all the games I’ve backed, whether they’ve delivered, and how the whole Kickstarter experience has been. As of right now, I have backed 7 games.

Tex Murphy – Project Fedora

Project Fedora KickstarterDate of backing: May 2012
Estimated delivery date: July/August 2013
Actual delivery date: May 2014

Project Fedora is the game that got me into Kickstarter. I love the Tex Murphy adventure games. Love them. From the first time I saw that big box for Under a Killing Moon in Radio Shack with real, live actors on it when I was 11, I’ve been hooked on this series. After Overseer, it seemed like Tex Murphy would be no more, since the software company was sold to Microsoft and they are evil. Then came this kickstarter. I needed to help make this game happen, and pledged a much larger amount of cash than I have for any game since. The devs estimated a 12-14 months development cycle for the game which would put the estimated release date sometime in summer of 2013. The game, Tesla Effect, was actually released in May of 2014, about 10 months after the estimated delivery date. The lateness didn’t both me too much, since there was a ton of communication from the devs, and backers were given frequent updates and peeks at the game as it was being made. I’ve received 78 project updates.

When it released, I was happy. The game delivered what was promised. The quality was a bit uneven – for the whole first half of the game I had a goofy smile plastered onto my face, while some of the second half was a bit of a slog – but overall it was a game I enjoyed and was happy to have supported. It hit me right in the nostalgia feels and for the most part, it was a good game in its own right as well.

The only negative thing I have to say about this project was that almost 6 months after the game was released, I still don’t have my physical backer rewards. I did get all the digital rewards though, many way before the game was released.

Jane Jenson’s Pinkerton Road

Date of backing: May 2012
Estimated delivery date: March 2013
Actual delivery date: April 2014

After signing up with KS for Project Fedora, I found Jane Jenson‘s project. She made another of my favourite adventure series, Gabriel Knight. So of course I had to back this as well, but for a smaller amount that was just enough to get a copy of of one of the two new games the studio would be making: Moebius or a mystery project (which ended up being a GK1 remake). I received 70 project updates total.

Moebius was released in April 2014, a year after the estimated delivery date, and The GK remake came out in October 2014. I wasn’t too disappointed with getting the game late, but I was disappointed with the game itself. It was not good. The quality of Moebius, and the brief looks I’ve gotten at the completely unnecessary GK remake make it likely I won’t support another Pinkerton Road project (unless they switch to a completely new engine at some point). However, I did get what I paid for in the end.

The Curse of Shadow House

Date of backing: June 2012
Estimated delivery date: October 2012
Actual delivery date: August 2013

Curse of Shadow House is an adventure game for mobile devices. I don’t play a lot of mobile games, but I found this project somehow and was in a generous mood so I decided to help fund it. This was a much smaller project than the other two I had backed and the person running it did a really good job with it. The goal was only $8000, and the total funding was a bit over $9k. Some of the physical rewards offered were quite amazing – art prints, handmade necklaces, and journals. I seriously don’t know how this guy made a game and spent all this time/effort/money on physical rewards and shipping with only $9000. He also sent personal messages to every backer to say thank you. Which was very nice.

I got my iTunes code for the game 9 months after the estimated delivery date. The game is decent, it’s a dark adventure games with lots of puzzles. I’m going to admit that I got stuck at some point and haven’t finished it yet though. Over the course of the project I received 47 backer updates. The only iffy part is that this was billed as a trilogy of games, which backers would get all 3 of, and I haven’t heard much about the next two games.

Hero U – Rogue to Redemption

Date of backing: November 2012
Estimated delivery date: October 2013
Actual delivery date: ??

Hero U is another adventure game (noticing a pattern?), this one by the creators of another favourite series – Quest for Glory. Now we’re getting into the games I’m still waiting on. Throughout the process I’ve been getting regular and very detailed back updates (58 so far). There have been a lot of art samples and a lot of discussion of what is going into the design and story of the game. The game is currently 13 months past the estimated delivery date.

The last update did give some solid numbers though. The developers say they have completed: 100% of the design, 85% of the art, 50% of the programming, and have just started the writing. The new tentative delivery date is summer 2015, so the game is in all likelihood going to be delivered 2 years late. I am a bit disappointed with the time frame of this project. I’m no development expert, but considering the scope of the game, 2.5 years for development and delivery seems a bit long, and I’ve reach the point of impatience.

Kona

Date of backing: September 2014
Estimated delivery date: April 2015
Actual delivery date: ??

Kona is an episodic survival adventure game, from a small studio in Quebec. I really like exploration games when they’re well done, and though the though of exploring in the cold, Canadian winter makes me shiver, I really like the concept for this game. I’ve received 16 backer updates so far. It seems like the devs are dealing with financial stuff at this point, which makes me think the April date for episode 1 is a bit of a pipe dream. It is good that they still seem to be raising money though.

Fallen: A2P Protocol

Date of backing: September 2014
Estimated delivery date: March 2015
Actual delivery date: ??

Fallen is a turn-based tactical RPG that’s a cross between Fallout and XCOM. Again, I feel like having a delivery date only 6 months after the project was funded is quite optimistic, though it looks like they’ve already made a playable build. It looks good, though I’m still skeptical about the date.

Something that does not give me warm, fuzzy feelings is that since the project was successfully funded on September 6th, I’ve only received one backer update, and that was more than a month ago. Lack of communication does set off some warning bells.

The Black Glove

The Black Glove is being made by a number of the devs that worked on Bioshock, and you can really tell that by the art and trailers that have been released.  The game looks amazing, right up my alley – the atmosphere and eeriness of Bioshock without the shooting. However, the game is only 27% funded with 7 days left to go. Unless a miracle happens, this may be the first thing I’ve backed that doesn’t get funded. And that makes me sad, because it looks great.


Seven obviously isn’t a huge sample size, but here are some things I’ve learned about backing games on Kickstarter:

  • Take estimated delivery dates with a grain of salt. Or a whole tablespoon of it. Sometimes the estimated delivery date next to the pledge level is not for the actual delivery of the game, but when to start expecting the other rewards. For example, Project Fedora gave me a date of Dec 2012, but that was for digital rewards. In the FAQ section of the project they said they expected a 12-14 month delivery cycle. So it’s tricky to know what you should be expecting when. But even if the date is for the game itself, count on it being late.
  • I’m starting to get wary of episodic games, or projects that promise multiple games. I’m generally pretty confident that the first game/episode will be delivered, but budgeting time and money for multiple releases is harder to pull off. For these projects I feel like I should only back as much as I’d be willing to pay for one release so if the subsequent ones don’t come out, I’m not losing too much.
  • Communication is key. Check to see how many updates are being posted. Updates do tend to be much more frequent during the funding phase than the development phase, but it can still be an indicator of how successful the project will be. I look for updates that show the devs have a very good idea of where they want to take the game, and have things like art or design documents to show backers, or maybe even builds already in progress.
  • Kickstarter is a lot of fun when you’re heavily invested in a project. I checked the Project Fedora page daily as it was being funded, and poured over each backer update with glee. Though my other experiences have generally been positive, none of them have been as exciting as that first one.

Have you backed many games on Kickstarter? How has your experience been?

Shame

I have a confession to make.

This is hard for me to admit.

I am bad at Super Mario Brothers.

As someone who spent a lot of time playing NES 20 years ago this is a very difficult thing to come to terms with.

I didn’t accept it at first. “I never owned an SNES, so I need a few minutes to get used to Super Mario World.” “I haven’t played Super Mario 3 in 20 years, I’ll remember everything in a couple turns.” “The dog made me run into that koopa.” “It’s because I’m playing Luigi. Mario’s better, I want to play Mario.”

Super Mario World

After I had died a number of times without my skills improving much, I got mad. “Holding down a button to run in a platformer, what terrible, stone-age design” or “Is this it? Get a leaf and fly over every level before you find the secret that lets you skip half the game? That’s dumb,” and “How am I supposed to use this blocky controller, it’s terrible.” Also: “Stop watching me play and laughing at me when I die! This is your fault!”

Super Mario 3 death

Then came the questions and self-reflection. Is this it? Am I bad at video games now? Was I ever good at them? Am I a gamer? Has this entire part of my life been a self-aggrandizing delusion? Can I really continue to write about video games with any kind of authority when I’m so fucking terrible?

Super Mario Brother game over screen

I know the last phase of this is supposed to be acceptance, but no. I won’t accept it. I’m going to keep playing, keep practicing, until I’m awesome again. Or at least not completely shitty. I will kick shells into my enemies. I will jump on the heads of koopalings. I will not get killed by anymore Boomerang doucheBros, or  fall to my death. I will master that awful blocky controller.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

What I’m Playing This Week

I have so many games on the go right now, that I set a goal of finishing games I was already playing rather than starting new ones. I totally failed at this, I keep picking up new games.

Mass Effect 3

I’m still slowly plodding through ME3. I’ve been able to continue to stay a total Renegade (though I refuse to just outright kill General Oraka.) Mass Effect 3 is such a puzzling game to me. Every 10 minutes I rediscover some really dumb design decision that bothers me, but it still manages to be immensely playable and enjoyable. The combat is the best of the series, plus there’s all the back story and nostalgia of running into practically every character you ever met in the previous two games.

Mass Effect 3 Omega DLC

I just started doing some of the DLC content, which I never did the first time around. Right now I’m helping Aria take back Omega. This is the DLC I was least excited about, I’m saving the best (Citadel, hopefully) for last.

Long Live the Queen

In Long Live the Queen you play as the Princess Elodie, who is getting ready to be crowned Queen. But can you keep her alive – safe from assassins, magic, and public revolt – until then? LLTQ is a kind of choose your own adventure with surprisingly complex systems. Every turn Elodie has the choice of leveling up 2 of 42 possible skills (things like Royal Demeanor, Archery, or Foreign Intelligence) in order to prepare her for being queen. Elodie’s mood also affects how quickly she learns, so that needs to be managed as well in order to optimize.

When I started playing this game, I felt like an utter failure. Every time an event happened that tested one of these skills I failed because I had chosen to learn something else. It was a bit off-putting. However, after playing through a couple times I learned that I didn’t have to pass every check, and it was better to level a few skills up a lot rather than try to learn everything. It’s a pretty cool game, and I’ve been having fun trying to discover all the different events and endings. I’m stuck trying to find out what really happened to Elodie’s mother though, I really want to get that achievement.

PT

I have a complex relationship with scary games; I love the idea of them, but I’m quite wimpy and find them difficult to play alone. I’ve been wanting to play PT since it was announced, but never even worked up the guts to install it. Until last weekend. I got together with a few friends (including my mom), and a few bottles of wine and we beat the hell out of the Silent Hill demo. It was very disturbing. I really applaud the makers of the game for how they made travelling down the same hallway over and over again such an engaging experience.

I’ll admit that there were a couple times 3 of us screamed in unison (but not my mom, she’s a rock), but we got through it okay and ended up completing the demo a few times. It’s pretty cool how the experience is always a little different. We almost never saw the ghost, and we never got killed in the time that we played.

Alan Wake

Alan Wake

Continuing with the scary games, I’m also playing Alan Wake. This game is spooky, but not too scary – I have no problem playing it alone. I’m on chapter 4 of 5 and  I’m really enjoying it so far. The game is very cinematic and focuses a lot on story, while still having good gameplay. The atmosphere of the game is enhanced by manuscript pages you find lying around (Wake is an author), which can be downright creepy when they start foreshadowing future events.  The pacing so far is fantastic and makes Alan Wake a very entertaining ride. I do tend to stream when I play this, in case anyone hasn’t played and wants to see it.

Wasteland 2

I told myself I wasn’t ready for another sprawling, text-heavy, 60 hour epic after I finished Divinity: Original Sin, but I jumped right into Wasteland 2 after getting it for my birthday anyway. It’s a lot of fun. I love isometric, turn-based combat. I love post-apocalypse stories. I love good writing, easter eggs, and 80s pop culture references (Teddy Ruxpin!). Wasteland 2 has all of these things in abundance. I’ve only put in about 10 hours so far, but it’s a lot of fun. There are some minor annoyances when it comes to using skills, but I’ve overcome them by playing the game on easy. Usually I don’t like to do this, but I don’t want to get frustrated with invisible dice rolls making me fail too many events or having to min/max every character. Easy mode is preferable, and less time-consuming, than save scumming.

Yes, I did pick out the stupidest looking outfit.

Yes, I did pick out the stupidest looking outfit.

The only major complaint I have about Wasteland 2 is the character models, especially during character creation. Holy shit, they are ugly. Tie a porkchop around their necks so the dog will play with them- ugly. I ended up using all pre-made characters in my initial party because I really didn’t want to look at the terrible custom-made character avatars during my game, and I couldn’t bear to give any of them the name Jasyla.

Zuma’s Revenge

Zuma's Revenge - XBox live arcade

Zuma! I loved the original Zuma, and noticed that there was a sequel on XBox Live Arcade the other day (it came out in 2012, I am obviously oblivious), so I snapped that right up. I bought it on Tuesday and finished the last of the 60 levels 2 nights later. Zuma is my perfect mindless puzzle game. Somehow the developers managed to make the process of shooting coloured balls into other coloured balls fresh with the introduction of boss fights at the end of every level, along with coins you can earn by beating target times and scores to level up spirit animals who will boost your abilities a little bit. This sequel did seem to scroll back the difficulty from the original quite a lot though – the only times I ever “lost” a puzzle was when I was trying for achievements.

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor

More scary games, this one is a psychological survival horror. Even with pixelated graphics this game manages to be quite nerve-wracking because of the setting and the unearthly, hair-raising sound effects. The encounters in Lone Survivor are weird in an almost Lynchian way, so the story has managed to capture my imagination. I’m looking forward to finding out how it all ends, but I don’t think it will be a happy ending.

The Yawhg

The Yawhg

I hadn’t heard of this game until I picked it up as part of a bundle. I really wanted something short to play so I could say I’ve finished something and this fit the bill. The Yawhg is a strange game. It’s kind of like a digital board game or choose your own adventure, but the encounters on each “space” are random, so you don’t always know what you’re going to get. You play between 2-4 characters and the goal, if you can call it that, is to prepare for “the Yawhg” which is going to come and destroy everything. Each character has stats like Mind, Strength and Wealth, which get built up by completing activities. This is an amusing little game that made me laugh out loud a few times as the encounters often entered the realm of the bizarre. Also the soundtrack is tops. I played through a couple times in 40 minutes before deciding I had seen everything. Game complete.


So, what have you been playing this week?