Playing With My Weiner

Gaming at the mercy of miniature daschunds.

Weiner Review: Geneforge 5 January 16, 2009

Filed under: 3 weiners,Games,Mac,PC,Reviews — Gwyddia @ 11:28 am
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Shape On!

Shape On!

If you are not familiar with the Avernum and Geneforge series of games, you are missing out. Developed for both Mac and PC by Spiderweb Software, these RPGs eschew flashy visuals for deep story and hours and hours of solid gameplay.

 

Theme:

The latest from Spiderweb is Geneforge 5. The core concept of the Geneforge series is based on the existence of people known as Shapers. Shapers can mold matter and magic into semi-intelligent or even intelligent creatures that are subservient to the Shaper. The classic Shaper hierarchy is fine with this, believing that Shapers’ creations are lesser beings and should be treated as such. A growing group of Creations, backed a group of Rebels, disagree, and have been fighting the Shapers for five games now.

Geneforge 5 finds this world on the verge of total disruption. The Rebels are succeeding, and regime change seems imminent. The Shaper Council has begun infighting and choosing sides at will. You are thrown into this as a character with a mysterious past, who might even be a Creation, but who has rare Shaper skills.

The game centers as much around you finding out who and what you are as it does on your role in the greater world. That’s a welcome change, as the last four game in the series have been strong but slight variations on the theme of Empire vs. Rebels. That classic trope is present here, too, but there seem to be many more factions and options for the player to choose from than in previous iterations.

 

A typical town scene from Geneforge 5.

A typical town scene from Geneforge 5.

Art:

Art is not Spiderweb’s bailiwick. Spiderweb is largely the work of one man, Jeff Vogel, and he has made a conscious choice to put his efforts into writing over visuals. As a result these games have passable characters, decent textures, and utterly forgettable items. The advantage is that you can play these on an aged system or the newly-popular Netbooks. The disadvantage is that they look like they were made in 1996 with minor visual tweaks along the way.

 

 

Gameplay:

The heart of any RPG is its battle system.  Fights in Geneforge are classic turn-based fare with a bit of strategy thrown in.  Characters have action points which they can spend to move, fight, or both.  You have to be in range of an attack for it to hit, so figuring out how few points you can spend on movement of each character or Creation and still attack is key.  After that, though, it is very much an RPG-type magic and mundane attack system with the expected status change spells and elemental weaknesses.  

 

The World Map.

The World Map.

When you’re not in battle, movement is accomplished through an overland map system. New areas open up as you move through the map.  Once you’ve cleared an area, you can always move to it from any other cleared area.  This is a real time-saver, and takes away the question of annoying random battles.  You can always see what’s coming in Geneforge 5.

 

 

 

 

Overall:

For people who have played through the Geneforge series, Geneforge 5 is more of the same.  Solid but somewhat tired story, good battle system, excellent writing.  If you are following the Geneforge storyline and want to know more, have at it.  For newcomers to Spiderweb’s particular brand of game, Geneforge 5 is as good an entry point as any.  It assumes no prior knowledge, though prior knowledge will add depth to the proceedings.  In the end, this game sells for $28 and you’ll be hard-pressed to find more RPG entertainment for less money these days.

 

For being a solid RPG, if repetitive for fans of the series, Geneforge 5 gets Three Weiners out of Five.


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Oh Boy, More Sonic Crap December 1, 2008

Filed under: Previews,Games,Kotaku,Wii — Gwyddia @ 7:31 pm
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Continuing their cavalcade of “We Don’t Care If You Like It, We’re Just Going To Put Out A New Game Every Month Instead of Doing What The Fans Want And Doing An Actual Retro Game”, Sonic Team has released new screenshots from the upcoming Wii game Sonic and the Black Knight. You can check those shots out over at Kotaku if you like, I’m not wasting space with them here.

 

In the last few years Sonic has gone to Pseudo-Arabia to make it with a human chick, spun off a gun-toting Shadow, searched deep into his RPG roots, and become a freakin’ werewolf – excuse me, werehog. In fact, he’s done everything but run around really damn fast for 4 hours and collect rings while freeing cute bunnies and saving Chaos Emeralds! For the love of Ceiling Cat and all that is HOLY, Team Sonic, make a damned SONIC game!

 

Thank you. That is all.

 

Review: Chrono Trigger DS November 29, 2008

 

Can we come in?

Can we come in?

In the Year of Our Ceiling Cat Nineteen and Ninety-Five, Square released a little game called Chrono Trigger.  The story is simple – young adventurers save the world – but with a twist – by porting through time.  Due to its epic nature, branching storyline, and multiple endings, Chrono Trigger is widely considered to be one of the best RPGs of all time.

 

 

Wikipedia rightly describes the Chrono Trigger developers as the “dream team” – Hironobu Sakaguchi, Kazuhiko Aoki, Kazuhiko Aoki, and composer Nobuo Uematsu. Yuuji Horii and artist Akira Toriyama.  Masato Kato wrote most of the plot and composer Yasunori Mitsuda scored the game with Uematsu finishing it when Mitsuda became ill.

 

Art:

The art is classic Horii and Toryiama – anime figures, large foreheads, and bright colors.  The DS version includes the well-received anime cutscenes from the 2001 North American PlayStation release, now without load times!  Unlike the recent Final Fantasy remakes, however, the art hasn’t been given a total 3-D makeover. Instead, the sprites have been polished up a bit and given more fluid animation, but the original distinctive art style is there.

 

Gameplay:

Lots of screen real estate across two screens.

Lots of screen real estate across two screens.

Like the original, Chrono Trigger DS uses an Active Time battle system, meaning that each character may only act when their timer is up.  Different characters have different physical and magical attacks, including advanced physical attacks called “techs”.  What Chrono Trigger added to the RPG genre was the concept of cooperative techs – combining up to three characters’ techs to create double or triple attacks. Notably, there is no apparent slowdown when using even the flashiest of techs. 

 

The DS version has two play modes – “DS Mode” and “Classic Mode”.  DS mode allows you to use both the touchscreen buttons for controls, and Classic mode is a play setup identical to the original SNES version. There are other features exclusive to each mode, such as a DS Mode option to toggle between ‘Walk’ and ‘Run’.

 

The DS version adds some new dungeons, including the Dimensional Vortex and Lost Sanctum.  The first of these is only available when player’s complete the game, and leads to a new, fourteenth different ending.  The second is another endgame dungeon for folks who love to grind their way up as high as they can.

 

Finally, the DS version offers an unneccessary arena system.  Apparently believing that all JRPGs must have a Monster Hunter element to them, Squeenix makes this feature available the first time you save the game.  When you enter the arena, you get the option of controlling a small malleable creature known as a Smidge.  You can send your Smidge to any of the seven periods of time to train them, and then you can battle other trainers, er, players, via DS wireless.

 

Overall:

Useless arena aside, this is a very faithful translation of a beloved original.  Like Dragon Quest IV, the source material still holds up over a decade later, and the DS developers respected that fact.  As a result, like Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger on DS is an excellent game with everything you remember and nothing substantially screwed up by modernization.  

 

For being an amazing RPG now available in pocket-size, Chrono Trigger DS gets 5 Weiners out of 5.

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Review: Fallout 3 November 11, 2008

fallout3

There is a Fallout fever in my house.  The Weiner Daddy is playing on 360, I’m playing on the PC using both keyboard and mouse and the Microsoft game controller.  We’ve been playing since the game was released on October 28th, and neither of us is anywhere near completing it.  I will also note that neither of us have encountered any of the nasty bugs reported by Kotaku, but these are known issues, so your mileage could vary.

 

Theme:

Welcome to post-apocalyptia, children!  The theme and setting are the same no matter which version you choose. Fallout is set in an alternate history universe full of retro-futuristic kitsch and post-bombing hell. Imagine the American 1950s, only with 22nd century laser and gene-mapping technology.  By the time you are on the scene, the bomb has long since dropped.  It’s 200 years later, you are ready to crawl out of your sealed Vault and see what’s what in the ruins of Washington, DC.  The Capitol Wasteland comprises a HUGE area, and the sidequests alone can take you hours upon hours.  Unlike Bethesda’s Oblivion, however, you can and will want to get back on track with the main quest eventually.

Welcome to the world of yesterday's tomorrow!

Welcome to the world of yesterday

 

Art:

Think bleak.  As befits the setting, the Fallout 3 world is full of brown, grey, and yellow.  Unlike the repetitive trash-strewn levels of Hellgate: London, the environment of Fallout 3 is huge and fairly varied. When does Bethesda reuse something in the game, they are doing it on purpose.  Think all those tract-home shells look alike? That’s the point.  All of that suburban sameness makes it much more powerful the first time you see the ruins of the Washington Monument or the Capitol Building.

 

The character models are straight out of Oblivion, albeit with different clothes. The facial mapping and details are improved from Bethesda’s RPG, but the idea is the same, with the PC having the edge over the 360 in detail.  Enemies vary, from mutated critters to raider gangs to super mutants.  The critters are pretty much all the same, but the raiders and mutants are varied.  If you look closely you can see the attention to detail, as most of the humanoids’ armor is actually pieced together bits of the trash strewn across the Capitol Wasteland.

 

Gameplay:

It is here that the PC and 360 versions diverge.  Fallout 3 is not a shooter and it is not a full-on action RPG, but is something of a chimera of the two.  After fighting with the mouse and keyboard for over 20 hours, it is clear to me that Fallout 3 was designed for a controller.  Even the lowest mouse sensitivity option will swing your view way wide of the enemy in front of you.  Lockpicking is nearly impossible to do without failing a few times, due to the twitchy nature of the PC controls.  My experience was vastly improved when I used a gamepad on my PC.

 

Combat is its own strange bird.  On the shooter side you have the option to take a first-person view and use your weapons as you see fit. On the ARPG side you have the V.A.T.S. system; action points-based pause-and-play combat.  Contrary to popular belief, you can’t really play Fallout 3 entirely as a shooter or entirely in V.A.T.S.  Most of the time you’ll use V.A.T.S., then try and duck and cover while your AP recharges to use it again.  Why?  Because the FPS perspective doesn’t work that well.  The target reticule is small and inaccurate, and there is no lock-on.  This is true in both the PC and 360 versions.  

 

Use V.A.T.S. to shoot the junk off his trunk.

Use V.A.T.S. to shoot the junk off his trunk.

Searching for and picking up items must almost always be done in first person view.  The “target boxes” for small items, such as stimpaks, is ridiculously tiny, and unless you’re nose-to-nose with them, you may not be able to highlight them to grab them.  This is a little better on the 360 version, but here again the PC version suffers from poor mouse control.

 

Overall:

Don’t let the PC control issues dissuade you.  Fallout 3 is a fantastic game.  It is engaging, fun, and deep.  You will care about your character.  You will care about some NPCs and want to kill others. You will make irrevocable choices early on that will truly affect your game path and the game world. Evil is as viable a choice as good, and your experience will differ greatly depending on which path you take.  You can get through the main quest in about 10 hours, yes, but if you do, you’re missing the point.  I didn’t miss it at all, and I’m wondering how I’m going to balance playing more Fallout 3 with the release of Wrath of the Lich King on Thursday.

 

For being an excellent and engaging game with real consequences and deep story branches, I am giving Fallout 3 five weiners out of five.

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Preview: Mother 3 Translation Project October 18, 2008

Are you my mommy?

Are you my mommy?

The Mother series of games is a big deal to RPGers.  Known as the Earthbound series in the United States, these role-playing games are not another thud-and-blunder series, but instead are set in the West, albeit from a Japanese point of view.  Enemies range from aliens to hippies, your weapon is more like to be a Star Tropic-al yo-yo than a sword.  The series started in 1989 with the Japan only release of Mother for the Famicom. The second game in the series was released in the U.S. as EarthBound for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1995.

 

Mother 3 was in development for 12 years before it was released in Japan in April 2006 for the GBA. Ostensibly the most popular title of the series, it is similar to Dragon Quest IV in that it divides the tale up into several chapters. Each chapter features different characters whose stories all tie together in the end. The original game received a 35/40 from Famitsu Magazineand sold 205,914 copies in its first 3 days on sale.

 

Hello, World!

Hello, World!

Earthbound 3 was announced as an N64 title, but was scrapped.  Ever since, fans have been clamoring for an English version.  As of today, they need clamor no more. A group of talented fan programmers known as Starmen.Net have translated and patched the entire game.  After two years of work, the translation patch was finally released today, October 17, 2008. Any fan with the ROM can run the patch and enjoy Mother 3’s humor in English. I intend to do just that this weekend and give a full review on Monday.

 

Review: Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen September 22, 2008

Filed under: 4 weiners,DS,Games,Reviews,Square Enix — Gwyddia @ 7:46 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

I was fairly excited about this release.  I tore the box open this week, ready and willing to relive hours upon hours of my wasted youth.  I squeed with delight as the Dragon Quest theme began playing in all its tinny regal splendor.  And then the game began.

 

Let me say, first and foremost, that I did enjoy playing Dragon Quest IV.  Arte Piazza, the art directors from Dragon Quest VII, took the lead on this remake, and it shows. The refresh on the art is welcome, but not intrusive or overdone.  Akira Toriyama’s monster design is still charming and bright, including the bosses. The sound is a near-perfect translation of the original and still rings true after fifteen years.  The problem is that most of the mechanics are also still the same after fifteen years, and they don’t quite stand the test of time.

 

JRPGs are known for slow-paced combat, and DQ is the grandaddy of them all.  Twelve year-old me had no problem with this, probably because I didn’t know anything else.  DQIV is turn-based, and forces you to go through several menus to choose exactly what everyone wants to do, every time. Unlike the recent re-release of Final Fantasy IV, there is no Auto-Attack option.  This means is that early fights can take forever as you whittle down slime after slime.

OMG, 176 damage!

OMG, 176 damage!

 

Inventory is suboptimal.  When I didn’t know that only being able to hold eight items per person (plus one overflow bag) was an arbitrary difficulty modifier, it didn’t bother me. Today, trying to stock up on Medicinal Herbs that don’t stack and cannot be used except by the player who is holding them is nearly unforgiveable. This is particularly true in the early stages, when those herbs are your lifeline, and its a long way back to the save point.

 

Ah, yes, saving. Another “fun” DQ innovation. In DQ, you save by “confessing” at a church. That’s it. No save points in dungeons, no way to port out and port back in, nothing. This means that if you trudged all the way out to some Light forsaken tower and spent two hours grinding through it just to die on the final boss, you are out of luck. Do it all again. This time with feeling. And mana regeneration? Forget it, until you can obtain items that will do restore your juice. So make those spells last. They’re the only ones you’ve got.

Slime after slime.

Slime after slime.

 

Finally, level grinding. I’m a 4-year WoW player, so level grinding is nothing new to me. That being said, years of playing WoW and Final Fantasy games have conditioned me to expect that if I play through a game normally, entering dungeons and facing bosses in sequence as I meet them, I stand at least a fair chance of prevailing. Not so in DQ. Most of the time, if you try to take on a challenge as soon as you encounter it, you’re going to die. End of story. Expect to wander around aimlessly looking for fights for at least an extra level, better two, beyond the level you are when you first encounter The Next Big Thing. Oh well, at least you make lots of gold, right? Wrong. Forget being able to get the latest and greatest gear available from each new town, at least at first. DQ is stingy with the money, and dungeons drops are rare. Be prepared to wander.

 

I knew all of this going into the game, though. I knew that there were things that were going to bug the heck out of me because I’ve come to expect more from my RPGs since 1992. That’s why I still enjoyed DQIV so much.

 

The storyline is still fairly epic, even by today’s standards. The characters have life, and feeling, and the localization teams have done their best to make each Chapter feel like it takes place in a completely different part of the game world. Even if this does lead to some horribly funny Japanese-to-Russianesque-to-Rusjapenglish in Chapter 2, it gives you the feeling that you are a large world with varied ethnicities and real danger.

 

My favorite Chapter is still 3, the tale of Mara and Nara, the dancer and the fortuneteller.  As a kid, these ladies inspired me even more than warrior princess Alena.  That part hasn’t changed a bit.  Fighting with clubs and daggers is de rigeur, but using fans, claws and cards as weapons is a blast.  Grinding through the merchant quest still sucks, though.

 

The city of Townsville.

The city of Townsville.

I also have to give credit where credit is due.  What little new stuff there is here really works. The DS two-screen approach offers a lot of screen real estate for this game.  This is invaluable in dungeons because it lets you get a better sense of where you are going, and cuts down on the random lost roaming of the original.  The towns look lovely, almost on par with Dragon Quest VII. There is an online Chance Encounter mode that allows you to expand your own town through Nintendo WiFi play.  If you have other nostalgia-starved friends who pick this title up, you’ll enjoy sharing your own little piece of Heaven with them.

 

All in all, I think Arte Piazza did a good job updating this classic for the modern era. I hope this brings a new generation of proto-geeks to DQ, and to the appreciation of substance over style (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy X-2). I’m looking forward to the ports of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride and Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie, the second and third titles in the so-called “Zenithia trilogy”. Most Americans (including me) have never had the chance to play DQV and VI. DQV was released in Japan in July, so hopefully the U.S. release isn’t far behind. Maybe they’ll even evolve out some of the rough parts this time.

 

For being an epic RPG that, despite its many flaws, is still playable and enjoyable fifteen years after its original release, I am giving Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen 4 weiners out of 5.

 

Review: Eldritch Role-Playing System September 9, 2008

Filed under: 4 weiners,Reviews,Tabletop Gaming — Gwyddia @ 1:53 pm
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[Full disclosure: One of the co-authors is a family friend, and he ran us through the Quick Start Rules several months before the book was released.]

 

Your d12 doesn’t have to cry itself to sleep anymore (nods to Rich Burlew of Order of the Stick). The Eldritch Role-Playing system has a place for that sad die, and all of its non-d20 friends.

 

Eldritch is a new fantasy tabletop RPG published by Goodman Games. A classic sword-and-sorcery title, Eldritch comes with a serious pedigree. Eldritch creator Dan Cross is the author of Volume V: Insidiae of the Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds Series, and worked with Gygax on a number of projects.

 

Cross and Eldritch co-author Randall Petras have deisgned a simple, but elegant system. Eldritch is skills-based, with a point buy distribution. The available races will be familiar to anyone who played 1st Edition AD&D, and won’t come as a surprise to anyone gamer who hasn’t. Action and combat use most of your standard bag o’ dice, with players rolling more and higher-sided dice for each level of skill they have in an ability. Each ability can be improved through three levels in sort of a “journeyman, apprentice, master” system, with each level providing an additional, progressively higher die to checks. Any basic ability – running, jumping, standing still – can be attempted “untrained” with the tiny d4. This eliminates the “I want to climb the ladder”,  “You didn’t take ranks in Climb” problem that plagues players with overly-hidebound DMs in other systems.

 

Combat is fairly unique. There is no “automatic” hit. The attacker rolls the number and level of die for her attack (e.g. a d4, d6 and d8 for a Master archer), and then the defender chooses an active defense such as dodge, roll, or standing his ground. An attacker needs to wear down the physical or magical defenses of a defender before dealing damage. These defenses are skill-based and their “pools” can deplete and replenish over time. This makes a great deal more sense than “Oh look, I rolled a 20. Your armor fails.” (Really, how does the entire world of D&D survive all these saving throws against wardrobe malfunction?)

 

There is one central “body of magic” in Eldritch, called Arcanum. Players can specialize to gain Mastery as a priest, psychic, etc. Cantrips require little energy to cast, full spells cost considerably more. The most interesting part of the Eldritch magic mechanic is that players are actively encouraged to create their own spells. There is a functional but limited spell list in the book, but there are also detailed rules on how to branch out into your own personal Arcanum.

 

The Eldritch sourcebook is a quick read. 96 pages, softbound, with five chapters and an appendix. It is clearly written and contains grayscale illustrations where needed. Upon reading the sourcebook, one thing becomes very clear – this is a source book. There are some adventure ideas and a preview of the official campaign setting, but what Cross and Petras have really provided is a framework to Make Your Own Adventure. This is both its greatest strength and its biggest drawback. Experienced DMs and world builders will love the freedom and the new mechanics, but newcomers to tabletop role-playing may find themselves looking for more guidance. I expect this to change once supplemental adventures begin to be released.

 

At only $19.99 (or $12.99 for the PDF version) you can’t go wrong picking this one up and at least running three or four friends through the starter adventure. If nothing else, it is a a wonderfully inexpensive night of creative entertainment.

 

For originality, fun, and a chance to stretch your creative muscles, I am giving the Eldritch Role-Playing System Core Rules Book 4 weiners out of 5.

 

The Eldritch Role-Playing System Core Rules Book is available in hard copy at Amazon, and in PDF at YourGamesNow.com.  The official Eldritch website, including free-to-download Quick Start rules, is EldritchRPG.com.