Category Archives: Observations

Two Telltale Tales

I’ve been playing through Telltale’s A Wolf Among Us, since the first episode was released last fall. After my great experience with The Walking Dead, I was ready to continue my ride on the Telltale train.

A Wolf Among Us is a gorgeous game with the same, heavily-outlined, cell-shaded art as TWD. But it also has some of its own style, with an atmosphere that looks like a cross between Heavy Rain and Vice City. The story (based on the graphic novels Fables), what I’ve seen of it so far, is good. It’s filled with interesting characters and situations. I love the premise of having fairy tale characters living, in secret, in the real world.

The game is usually referred to as an adventure game but in reality it’s more of an interactive story, with quick time events. Ninety percent of the game requires no interaction at all; it’s mostly watching characters interact with each other. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, as the characters are very watchable and the writing is well done. When you do actually get to play the game, it mostly involves walking through a room and examining things, or making dialogue choices (plus the quick time events whenever you end up fighting someone). Really, the formula is identical to TWD. Heavy on narrative, light on game play.

So I’m left wondering… why did I love The Walking Dead, while my experience so far with A Wolf Among Us is only mediocre?

I think part of the problem is the episodic nature of the games. TWD fit into episodes very well. Though they were all part of the larger story about Lee and Clementine, each episode had a logical endpoint which wrapped up the smaller narrative. Episode 1 was about the characters dealing with the initial zombie outbreak and finding a safe (for now) place to stay. Episode 2 dealt with finding another group of survivors on a farm, etc. Episode 4 was the only one that ended with a real cliff-hanger, something that wasn’t wrapped up within the episode. Wolf, on the other hand, is not so neatly broken up. There are no smaller stories; it’s all about Bigby searching for a serial killer within Fabletown. So when an episode ends, I don’t feel as if I’ve really completed anything, I just feel frustrated that I’ll have to wait another 3 months to get the next part of the story.

Time between episodes is also a big problem. Whereas I didn’t start playing TWD until 4 episodes were already out, I’ve been playing Wolf as it’s released. With TWD I felt like a got a solid 8 hour game, followed by a short wait for the finale, while with Wolf the ratio of game time (episodes take about 90 minutes to finish) to waiting time seems insane. My interest level has gone down with each episode.

There’s also a problem with the characters. The Wolf story and characters aren’t gripping me like they should. This is odd, as the atmosphere and story of Wolf are way more appealing to me than TWD on a surface level. But for some reason it’s not grabbing me. With Lee in TWD I felt very close to his character – decisions he (I) made had an effect on me, and how the rest of the characters saw him was important. With Bigby, I’m just an observer. Whether the other characters respect the tactics he uses to get what he needs doesn’t really matter to me, I just want him to solve the mystery. TWD’s decisions felt like moral decisions. Wolf’s feel somewhat less than – is it really immoral for a wolf to rip out someone’s throat? TWD, for me, was a role-playing game. Wolf is a story, and one I could get through much faster if I just read the graphic novels.

Another aspect that makes Wolf feel more like a story than a game to me is that I’m not finding any of the decisions I make or conversations paths I choose make much of a difference. I know that in TWD the ending was set – your decisions didn’t change what ultimately happened; only who was with you in the end, but regardless of that, the choices felt important. I wanted to make decisions that would make Clem strong, so she would survive (side-note: having a child character so prominently featured in the game who I wanted to save rather than knock off was quite a writing feat). I wanted the other characters in my party to trust me. I wanted to save as many people as possible. In Wolf, I don’t feel any of these things. When the text pops up “Toad will remember that,” I think “so?” he’s going to give me the information I need whether or not I backed him up in the previous chapter. Choosing to visit one location over another makes me think I’m going to miss a small scene, but I don’t think it’s impacting the outcome in any meaningful way.

Even the quick time events aren’t as exciting to me. In TWD I was afraid that being slow meant that I (or someone else) would get eaten by a zombie. Wolf’s combat is much more prolonged and there’s a lot of spamming of the A button, which often doesn’t even feel like it’s doing anything. You also need to fail a number of actions before you face any consequence (i.e. death).

To make a long story short (too late), I’m disappointed. TWD was one of my best gaming experiences last year, I got totally immersed in it, and the end left me choking back sobs for a good 10 minutes. Wolf just isn’t doing it for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I’ll finish the game – hopefully the final chapter will elevate my experience a bit since there will be some closure and no more waiting. Chapter 4 is out next week, so I’ll let you know if it changes my opinion at all.

Have you played both of these games? What do you think?

Footnote: As a life-long inverter of y-axes, I’d really appreciate the ability to do this in future Telltale games. My quick-time responses could be much quicker.

Moebius: Empire Rising

Moebius: Empire Rising is the newest game from Jane Jenson, creator of the classic adventure game series, Gabriel Knight – one of my favourites. The game released on April 15th after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

As I backed this game on Kickstarter, I obviously really wanted to like it. Sadly… I didn’t.

In Moebius, you play Malachi Rector, a brilliant antiques appraiser whose social skills are lacking. Malachi is hired by a mysterious organization to do a mysterious job which takes him all over the world. As you get deeper into the story (minor spoilers alert) you find out what you’re actually doing. The group Malachi is working for believes in a “Moebius pattern” where the lives of people in history are being repeated in the present. They hire Malachi to find key historical figures who could bring about an era of stability and prosperity. Basically. Summarizing the plot to this game in a coherent manner was harder than expected.

The game does have some good things going for it. I did find the game occasionally enjoyable, especially at the beginning. The dialogue was decent, as was most of the voice acting. The background images were pretty and the music was good – very evocative of Gabriel Knight. There were also some unique kinds of puzzles. As your main objective in the game was to relate people to historical figures, one of the main puzzle types was matching up their characteristics. This was both interesting and educational, though once I had done it a couple of times, I figured out that just guessing was often quicker than reading though all the information.

My favourite feature of the game was a button that highlights all objects on the screen that could be interacted with. While using this could be considered easy-mode, I found it incredibly useful. Pixel-hunting for objects is not something I’m interested in doing, and this was totally prevented.

There were a few things that started out as positives, but turned into negatives. Adventure games are often far out there in terms of reality and physics. Adventurers often walk around with shovels, coffee tables and iron statues in their overcoats. Where do they put them? In this game, the protagonist often refused to pick things up until he saw a need for them. At first, I applauded that. Why would you walk around with a can of motor oil? But after a while, it got very frustrating. For example, at one point I needed to get into the VIP tent at a political rally. In order to lift a pass off someone I needed to go back to my apartment to pick up an mp3 player I hadn’t been able to pick up earlier. Once I used that to bribe someone to be a distraction I needed to go back to the apartment again to pick up some scissors. When I successfully stole the pass and had to go back to my office to get some superglue that I also was unable to pick up before. Then back to the rally to get into the tent. That’s a lot of back and forth that could have been avoided. Not picking up every single item in sight makes sense, but as it turns out, that kind of realism in video games is not a great idea. “How irritating” Malachi remarks. Tell me about it.

Items and inventory use wasn’t all bad though. I enjoyed that you were never overloaded with items and there weren’t any nonsensical item combination puzzles. No cat fur mustaches in this game.

Some of the puzzles fell flat. Malachi was able to analyze people to learn more about them. Sounds like a neat idea, but in practice it mostly involved guesswork and the process of eliminating the most ridiculous options.

The most unforgivable part of the game was an excruciating 50+ screen underground maze at the end. There’s only something to do/interact with on maybe 5 of the screens. The rest is just running through dark tunnels. Considering how the rest of the locations in the game (like France, Egypt, New York) have only a handful of screens, dedicating so many to this awful, dismal, repetitive place is almost insulting. Who could have possibly thought this was a good idea?

Moebius runs about 8 hours long. Though there were parts of the game I enjoyed and I’m glad I finished it (other than that awful maze), it was disappointing overall. The story was so-so, the characters were a bit flat and some of the animation work was downright bad. The game lacked the charm and historical detail of Gabriel Knight and really did nothing to advance the dying (dead?) point-and-click adventure genre, or even replicate it at its height.

Hopefully the other game projects I’ve backed (Tesla Effect – May 7!) will deliver more bang for my buck.

Hearthstone and Sportsmanship

I’ve been playing a fair amount of Hearthstone lately. This is the first trading/collectible card game I’ve ever played. It is a game that is played against real people, however, aside from playing your hand, you have very limited interaction. You can’t talk to your opponent directly. There are 6 emotes you can use or you can Squelch (which I just learned means mute) your opponent. You can also concede the match.

Though interaction with your opponent is very limited, the way you play the game can have an immense effect on how they perceive you and how much they enjoy the match. With no direct communication, we often have to guess or assume our opponent’s motivations. Since the emotes are so vague, they can be interpreted in many different ways. When someone thanks you after you play a card are they being friendly or smarmy? When they say good game after completely destroying you do they mean it, or are they rubbing it in? When they keep using threaten are they being a jackass or just trying to RP Garrosh?

I first realized that sportsmanship in Hearthstone was a contentious issue a while ago on Twitter. I had expressed my irritation about how some people have you beat, but then proceed to play every card they can before striking the killing blow. To me, this is a frustrating waste of my time, in addition to being a real dick move. It’s bad enough I’ve lost, but now I have to watch you fluff your minions before making the final move?

Get on with it, motherfucker.

Get on with it, motherfucker.

A number of people shared my sentiment about putting people out of their misery quickly, but I was quite surprised by the number of people who disagreed. Their argument was that people get enjoyment out of the game in different ways. Whereas I like to quickly move on to the next match if it’s clear I’m about to win/lose, some people might find it fun to build up a minion as much as possible and deal 20 damage to win when only 3 damage is needed. If I didn’t want to wait, they argued, I could just concede.

Conceding is something my opinion has changed on over time. At first, I never did it. I’d rather be taken out by someone else than do it myself. Also, there’s always a small chance your opponent will screw up and you can turn things around. I do it more often now though, as my patience wanes.

As I’ve been getting more into Hearthstone and doing some reading to improve my game, I’ve been seeing that there are even more disputed issues when it comes to sportsmanship. This thread on Hearthhead introduced a few issues that I found surprising.

First, there was the idea that some people might prefer their opponent wait one round before finishing them off even if they can clearly win this round. If someone could clearly win the match in this round and they ended their turn without doing so, I would assume: they made a mistake; they’re dumb, or; they’re an overconfident asshole who wants to waste my time. I personally don’t understand how anyone would be appreciative of being “let to play another round” before getting beat.

The biggest area of contention in the thread was how people felt about conceding. Opinions on that run the gamut. Some feel that not letting your opponent make the killing blow by conceding was poor sportsmanship. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some think it’s rude if the person doesn’t concede if they know they’ve lost.

A Twitter discussion about conceding in Hearthstone

 My thoughts on people conceding are somewhere in the middle. If I’m winning and my opponent concedes, I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with them finishing the game. Mostly I just like to win, I don’t care how it happens.

This did get me thinking about my own play habits and how they could be interpreted by others. I consider myself a good sport. Actually that’s a lie. I’m a terribly sore loser, but no one can hear what I’m saying in Hearthstone, so it’s kind of irrelevant. I am very polite to strangers though and when I play I try to make the game a pleasant experience for everyone. However, going through that thread on Hearthhead makes me realize that some of the things I do (or, more likely, don’t do) might be considered rude by others.

May way's not very sportsmanlike...

My way’s not very sportsmanlike…

For one thing, I almost never use emotes. I find them vague and pointless. I just want to play cards, not socialize, so I usually don’t return peoples Greetings or Well Playeds unless I’m in a really good mood. I’m not trying to be a jerk, I just think emotes are an unnecessary part of the game.

Similarly, I’m sure I consider many things irritating or rude when that is not the intention of my opponent. Things that particularly bother me:

  • Drawing the game out unnecessarily (whether they’re winning or losing).
  • Overuse of emotes. You don’t need to use one after every turn.
  • Emoting Well Played when in fact I played a terrible game.
  • Other people winning :P

What do you think makes a Hearthstone player a good or bad sport?

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I generally don’t spend a lot of time thinking about sexism, whether real or imagined, in WoW. Perhaps I’m a bad feminist. I don’t have a problem with characters like Alexstrasza wearing skimpy clothes. I think she looks good. I would likely dress like that if I looked like her (and you know, lived in a fantasy world). I accept that many people find women (or men) with impossible body proportions attractive and often depict them ways that emphasize those assets. I don’t even mind so much that there aren’t as many prominent female characters as there are men in WoW. It’s a video game – I just want to play and have fun, not think too hard about sexual and social politics.

However, last week Vidyala posted a link to some artwork on the offical WoW forums on Twitter. Blizzard has been adding portraits of the faction leaders over the last few months and the most recent image added was of the leader of the Night Elves – Tyrande Whisperwind…in a matter of speaking. As I discussed the picture with some people on Twitter I found myself getting more and more angry about how she was depicted.

Here’s the picture:

Tyrande WhisperwindImage from Blizzard Entertainment (Original can be found here)

What is it about this particular picture that bothers me so much? In a word – everything. There is nothing right about this picture. Everything about it makes me mad. The only thing that could have made it worse is if Tyrande was naked.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

The first problem is that Malfurion is in it. Sure, he’s an important person in the Night Elf world, but he’s not their leader. Tyrande is. The picture is even called “Tyrande Whisperwind”, so why is Malfurion in it? Why does he take up most of the space? None of the other leaders have to share the spotlight in their pictures (except the Dwarves, but that’s a Council). All we can clearly see of Tyrande is one arm, the side of her face, lots of hair and one (large, melon-shaped) boob. The rest of her is obscured by Malfurion.

The second problem is the pose. The pose is wrong both symbolically and anatomically. While every other faction leader portrait shows the leader staring menacingly into the camera or looking intently into the distance, Tyrande is gazing at Malfurion. While every other leader is wielding some kind of weapon, Tyrande is clinging on to her husband. Come on. I know Tyrande is the type of leader who prefers peace when possible but she’s also a fighter. She fought the Burning Legion and in the battle for Mount Hyjal and defended Moonglade from Eranikus, but rather than portray her as a strong leader and fighter, she gets shown in a matronly light, surrounded by flowers, and enveloped in a man’s arms.

Then there’s the anatomy of the pose. As someone with zero artistic talent I feel a little bad about critiquing someone’s art, but really – people don’t bend this way! When I first saw this picture I thought it was a side view of Tyrande so I didn’t immediately see anything wrong with the pose. Then I realised her body was directly facing the audience, with her head cranked around to face Malfurion and her arm bent awkwardly behind her to hold on to Malfurion (though to me it looks like her shoulder is in front of her head/chest, which seems like a recipe for dislocated joints). After seeing what the picture was actually portraying, my first thought was that Malfurion had just broken Tyrande’s neck.  Narci had the much less violent and much more hilarious thought that an evil wizard had cursed Tyrande with back-tits. Either way, she doesn’t look comfortable.

So, while the Orc, Tauren, Troll, Gnome, Dwarf and Worgen leaders are all portrayed as strong, independant and battle-ready, the female leader of the Night Elves is portrayed as a delicate flower, being supported, protected (and twisted into a terribly uncomfotable position) by a man.

Please Blizzard art department, try a little harder next time you create a portrait of one of the few female faction leaders. Maybe you can put some more work into portraying Tyrande in a way that isn’t so diminutive (and offensive) before you start on your fourth picture of Garrosh. I hope Sylvanas turns out better.

Twitter: Destroyer of Blogs?

Yesterday I was reading Keeva’s post on why people blog and why they subscribe to blogs. Throughout the comments I noticed a trend. It seems that rather than looking primarily for guides and class information (though those things are important too) people subscribe to blogs that exhibit personality. People are extremely interested in posts that talk about personal experiences and opinions and generate discussion. That’s why bloggers like Larísa and Tam enjoy such a following.

Looking through my own post history, I’ve written very few of these personal-type posts in the last few months. I’ve been writing a fair bit, but almost all my posts have been healing guides or analysis of logs and add-ons. I’m quite happy with them to tell the truth, but they aren’t exactly bursting with personality. I haven’t even posted a rant since the middle of November.

What has happened in the last few months that could change my blogging habits and turn me into a soulless automaton that spits out post after post filled with dry, instructional information and wowhead links with nary a hint of personal feelings or opinion?

Twitter happened.

After years of mocking Twitter as a fad and its user group as the worst kind of over-sharers with the attention spans of a gnat, I jumped on the bandwagon. I started off slow. I mostly just lurked around and read what other people had to say. Then I discovered that I could use it to promote by blog posts, and started responding to others. Now I’m a full-fledged user with 496 tweets under my belt…497 (my guildmate just said the funniest thing)…498 (my god, do bracers never drop!?).

Something funny happen in a raid? Did a PuG do something unbelievably stupid? Have I read something that made me excited/sad/angry? Why write a whole post about it when I share it on Twitter in 140 characters or less? It’s so much less work!

Last night I had an interesting raid on my priest. I did some silly things, people stood in fires, I had all kinds of pent up frustration by the end of the night. I could have written a post about it. Whether it be a rant, sharing lessons learned or a plea for some advice from readers, it could have been a half-decent post that sparked some discussion. Instead, I tweeted.

I accidentally Life Gripped the tank on Halfus. Hahaha

Riveting stuff right there.

Earlier this week I read a post by another resto druid sharing the opinion that Tree of Life was a poor talent and not worth the cost (1 point!). I was incensed. Here was someone who is apparently a resource for the resto druid community giving awful advice and terrible rationalizations for it. I wanted to write a response post. I should have at least written a scathing comment. Instead, I tweeted.

I cant tell if a post telling people ToL isn’t worth one talent point is trolling or not.

Do I even justify the post by commenting on it?

Amount of discussion generated: zero.

For the last couple weeks I’ve been complaining (on Twitter) that I have nothing to post about. It’s not true, I have a lot of topics I could write about, I have experienced a lot of things in-game that I could share…but instead I tweet.

I clearly need help.

The Fine Print: The argument could be made that my lack of interesting posts is due to the fact that between raiding in two guilds, analyzing logs, analyzing armoury profiles and planning my wedding I just don’t have the time or energy to properly formulate posts with personal thoughts and opinions, but that is poppycock. Haha, I said poppycock.

On Blogging

I recently went through my feed reader to attempt to clean it up and organize it. After going through everything I noticed that there are 78 blogs in my Inactive folder (no posts for 6 weeks or more). Where did everyone go? The 78 isn’t even counting people who have officially closed up shop, just people whose posting has trailed off. There’s sometimes a bit of warning…a post about how busy they’ve been, something to indicate they aren’t happy with the game or changes made to their class, but for the most part people seem to just fall off the face of the earth. Perhaps some of these people will reappear once Cataclysm is released, but many seem to have given up on their blogs altogether.

Meanwhile new blogs are popping up all the time and other bloggers are thriving. Vixsin and Morynne recently reached the 1-year milestone and Vidyala is approaching hers. Even I’ll be at a year in a few weeks.

What is it that keeps people blogging? I suppose the answer is different for everyone. Some people love to write, some people like having a soapbox to stand on, some like sharing information and helping people.

Why do you blog? If you’ve blogged in the past, why did you stop?

Also, I have a plea for bloggers (I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again): Please, please, show your full posts in your rss feed. I can tell you for certain that not doing this will cost you subscribers and visits. Make sure you’re subscribed to your own feed so you can check whether full posts are displaying.

Oversharing

A lot of people have been talking about Blizzard’s new Real ID today. Besides the obvious privacy concerns with sharing your real name with people on your friends list (many of whom you probably don’t know in real life), there are a lot of things about this system that just scream “too much information!” to me. This is not just an issue with Real ID, it’s a trend that’s been picking up more and more steam for years.

I really don’t understand the compulsion people have to share everything with everybody. “Taking the dog for a walk!” announces a Facebook friend (can I call someone I knew in high school who I haven’t talked to in 10 years a friend?). Did I really need to know that?

I have no desire to share my every waking thought with everyone I know, and I certainly have no desire to constantly hear their thoughts. Do people actually find this stuff interesting? How many 140-character updates can you read or write before they just blend together into noise?

Blogs are being integrated with Twitter and Facebook. Lots of bloggers feed their blog posts into their twitter pages, or their twitter updates into their blogs (nothing against the bloggers who do this, I just don’t get it). Even the Disqus comment system I put on my blog a little while ago has an option to share the comments you write on Twitter or Facebook. I really wish I could get rid of that particular feature. My blog is for blogging, talking about WoW and hopefully having interesting discussions about it. If my Facebook friends care about what I say on my blog, they will read it. I don’t want to flood their news feeds with comments about WoW – to which they would probably respond “wtf is tree of life?” anyway.

The Real ID system is just another way to overshare. I don’t need to know when every one of my friends is online and what they are doing. I don’t want to be reachable on all times, across all servers. I would never send out a status message to everyone on my friends list.

Can anyone out there use the word “tweet” in a sentence without feeling like a total asshat? I can’t.

Sorry this post was so curmudgeony.

Now cut your hair and get off my lawn.