Flights of The Electribird

Through Games, Events and Multimedia


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A Private View of Privateers!

When I was at GothCon this year, I got to test a demo version of a pirate-themed game called Privateers! by Myling Games. Now that the game is on the verge of being completed and ready for production, Myling Games allowed me to come over and put the game to the test once again. Good thing too, because I’m curious about how many changes they made to the game since last time I tried it. As a bonus, I also got to help to set the game up this time and, to add to the fun, Tina Engström, the creator of Privateers! and head of Myling Games, joined in and decided we try out the advanced rules for the game. But for this review, I’m just going to focus on what I experienced and learned from this test and hope I got most of the facts correctly…

First of all, every player selects a captain. There are several character sheets to choose from (12 in total) and each of them have special abilities for the player to take advantage of whenever possible. Even the gender of the captains can be chosen by flipping the sheet over to play as the opposite sex (sorry, no hermaphrodites or other genders than male or female, but I did spot a transvestite).

Do not mock with the vodou priestess!

I chose a female character as my captain, a vodou priestess. Why? BECAUSE I CAN!

Each player also get 12 glory coins (unless their character sheets say otherwise) to start with. After that, it was time to decide who’s going to be the first player and which of the 4 nations, Great Britain (red), France (blue), The Dutch Republic (green) or Spain (yellow), the players want to belong to. For this test, we all decided to side with the British, while the Dutch and the Spanish joined in to make it difficult for us to win. The French? Pardon, mes amis, they didn’t get to play with us this time. The reason might have to do with the influence board. This controls the game-controlled nations and the scoring of the game. I couldn’t see much of it, because I sat at the other side of the table, but the fewer nations you have in play, the faster it becomes to finish the game and we didn’t have all day. Another reason could be the specialty of each nation (France has some unusual allies and adds some odd dynamics to the gameplay, Spain has slow, but large and heavily-armed ships, The Dutch Republic have light ships and good crewmembers and Great Britain have many warships and refuse to surrender). Then it was time to place the board, which consists of 12 map tiles in the beginning. Each player gets to place one after another in turns (player 1 begins) and must place their game piece on the first tile they place.

The first few map tiles have been placed.

The first few map tiles have been placed.

After that, we placed some markers on the map. Some areas, where a anchor symbol is located, were turned into nation-owned colonies after we placed some circular markers with the nation’s colours. If the colour matches the player’s nation, they could sail to the colony to trade goods or find new crew members. If not, they can attack it to conquer it. Then we have what Tina called Tortuga, which had its own marker to place on the map. Much like the original place is known for, Tortuga is the pirate-friendly place on the board, where all players can trade their stuff for more stuff or people to hire.

Here's the full map with the colonies - and we weren't done yet!

Here’s the full map with the colonies – and we weren’t done yet by a longshot!

There were also some enemy ship markers to be placed on the ocean areas on the map, white ones (merchant ships), black ones (non-player pirate ships) and ship markers with the colours representing the non-player nations we were playing against (yellow for Spain and green for The Dutch Republic). Then we have the treasure chests. 3 of these markers were used this time and placed on some of the several palm tree symbols on the map. Each treasure marker on the board matched another set of treasure markers, where the minimum of 1 card is placed beneath face down. This brings us to the next part of the game set up, the cards. Privateers! have several kinds of cards to be shuffled and set up. The other players did this faster than I could blink and most of those cards were placed a bit too far for me to see, but I can tell you that each nation had secret cards to be chosen randomly with their faces down and that each player, starting with player 1, receives 2 asset cards (special items or status upgrades for the captain) and 2 crew cards (the muscle required if the enemy boards the ship) each after they had to use their glory coins to purchase a ship card (the status of the ship).

This is what I had left after purchasing a ship. You can also see a corner of the map, where some enemy ships, some Spanish colonies and a buried treasure have been placed.

This is what I had left after purchasing a ship card. You can also see a corner of the map, where some enemy ships, some Spanish colonies and a buried treasure have been placed, and the first player marker to the right.

After setting up, which took less time than it took me to write upto this point, it was time to get started! Since all of the players belonged to the same nation, the game became a co-op game, making it us against the game itself. Yes, even the game itself can win, leaving the players to walk the plank, but we had no intention of letting it do that without a fight!

Each turn was based in 3 phases:

1. Player Phase

Here, the playable nations get to move their ships, fight or sneak past the enemy ships in their path, enter and island to trade, purchase or hire crew at a friendly colony, dig up a treasure, raid an enemy colony (I never got the chance to do that, though) or stay where they are and draw an event card. How many steps each player could take with their pieces depended on the sails of the ship and there has to be enough of them to get to the destination required on the same turn. Since all players were part of the same nation, it didn’t really matter who moved first, otherwise the playable nation with the Player 1-marker would have begun.

Are the ships too heavily-armed for you? No worries! The player can choose to sneak past them if they’re in the way. To do this, the player must roll the amount of dice that their stats have in cunning. Rolling a 5 or a 6 is considered a successful dice roll, if nothing else is stated, otherwise the player must either retreat if possible or fight the enemy ship.

When it’s time for battle, no matter how many players and non-playable enemies involved, a battle card is drawn each round. This describes the situation that’s going on during the attack and what the enemy will do during the fight. The battle round is settled using dice and if the battle card doesn’t state otherwise, the players involved must aim for a target on the enemy ships (sails, crew, hull or cannons) and fire their cannons using the amount of dice as their ships have cannons. If nothing says otherwise, a 5 or a 6 counts as a hit. The battles can end in several ways. Either the ships are destroyed by the cannons (players earn glory coins for this), or the ship’s boarded and whatever’s onboard gets collected by the players after the enemy crew has been defeated – if they win. If the player’s ship sinks instead, that person loses both ship card and loot cards and have their game piece sent to the nearest friendly colony. That’s why it’s a good thing that retreating is possible, if nothing says otherwise, because without a ship to use to gather an income, the shipless captain won’t be able to do more than move around the island or travel to another one by merchant ship.

Even the nations get to enjoy the spoils of war. The markers of the losing party after the battles ends up on the trophy spot belonging to the winning nation on the influence board. Even other markers, like treasure chests or hidden areas can end up here, depending on which nation dug them up or excavated them.

2. Enemy Phase

After all the players have done theirs, it’s time for the non-playable nations and other enemies to do their moves. To do this, the first player draws an influence card, which contain instructions of the events that take place and the movements of the enemy ships. These phases went by so quickly, I can’t remember much about them, but I did get to observe when the enemy ships were moved around and added to the map. Some were even stacked on top of each other, making them go from single ships to armadas, others ended up battling it out between themselves. This process went by really quickly for me, but the status of each ship appeared to be what decided which ship ended up destroyed or not. If a nation caused the destruction, the ship markers of the defeated ships ended up on that nation’s trophy spot on the influence board.

3. Influence Phase

This phase settles the score of what went on during the previous phases. The trophies are counted, the score markers on the influence board are moved and once again, I’m sitting at the wrong end of the table to see much of what’s going on and it was a bit tricky to keep up with what the other players were doing. But if the scores of a nation reaches zero, they lose and are removed from the game. The nation that maxes the score, wins the entire game.

I don’t know how well you can see it on the photos I took (I have to learn to bring a proper camera to these events instead of using my cellphone in the future), but the artwork of the game is amazing! There were still many cards that were lacking proper artwork (the game is still in beta after all), but most of the blanks and place holders had been replaced by Tina’s own artwork since GothCon. How she does it without a steady hand is a miracle, because she told me she had EDS (stands for Ehler-Danlos Syndrome, which means she suffers from hypermobility in her joints and is in constant pain everywhere), which prevents her from holding her hands steady at times. That’s why it’s so astonishing that she did the image on my character sheet so well (yup, no photography here, just epic drawing skills on Photoshop), because some artists can’t even do art that good by hand!

My grade for the version of Privateers! that Myling Games brought to GothCon was 3/5 (not bad for a hard-to-understand demo, in my opinion). Today, my grade of the game is 4/5. There were still parts of the game that seemed to fly past me, due to the high pace (which is common when everyone in the room except you has played the game a countless amount of times) and if the creators of the game hadn’t been present, there would have been some digging thorugh the rulebook, which would have wasted some fun time. But unlike the version I got to try out at GothCon, this version was playable and MUCH easier to understand. Another plus worth mentioning, is that they kept the things that made this game special, like how the cards were fun to read and that if you don’t count some odd details that’s been added for fun and mystique, the game was very true to the beliefs, historical facts and myths and other things related to the pirate era. In all, I had fun playing and didn’t care that the player’s team (the British nation, in this case) got keelhauled good by one of the game-controlled teams (the Dutch nation).

I look forward to see this game in the stores one day. Who knows, maybe I’ll get my own copy and write a third review to give the full game top grade. But for that to happen, Myling Games need support for the game through Kickstarter to be able to get enough funding to get the game produced and ready for shipment. If you wish to give them a donation, big or small, click here. I’ve done my part to prevent this awesome game from walking the plank. Will you?


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An Idiot’s Way Through Deponia

A while ago, I bought a game called Deponia by Daedalic Entertainment. I didn’t think much of it at the time due to mountains of work to do, so it had to lay around somewhere in my nest and become forgotten. Then, when an opportunity got me a chance to get the sequels, Chaos on Deponia and Goodbye Deponia, for a fair price, I thought it was time to test them all and share my view of them here.

1. Deponia

Rufus has lived in Kuvaq, a village on the garbage planet named Deponia, for a long time and is sick of it. He has tried to find a way out of Deponia for a while and get to a place in the sky called Elysium, but every attempt to get there has ended up in disaster. This hasn’t stopped the stubborn Rufus from trying, trying and trying again. During his last attempt, he spots an Elysian girl named Goal, who ends up in trouble with some soldiers on an Organon cruizer. In an attempt to save her, Rufus causes Goal to fall off the cruizer and land on Deponia, where she’s discovered by the locals in Kuvaq in a comatose state. Rufus, who’s developed a crush on Goal, has to put his plans to get out of Deponia aside to help the beautiful girl to recover before the other citizens of Kuvaq decide who’s going to take her home until she recovers…

In this cartooned point-and-click adventure game, the player gets to follow Rufus and use the mouse to click on objects and people to interact with them (right-click to look at them and left-click to talk to, use or take them). Objects that have been picked up can be spotted in the inventory, which can be found by scrolling on the mouse-wheel or clicking on the handle in the upper-right corner of the screen. From here, you can also load and save the game, if you don’t feel like pressing the Escape-button on the keyboard to get to the menu. Another useful button to mention, is the Space-button, since it helps the player see what can be clicked on in each location Rufus is in. The game also consists of some mini-games for the players to solve. Most of them consist of easy puzzles, that can be solved in minutes, but some of them can be skipped if the player just wants to get on with the story.

Looking for a challenge? If you take a look in the settings menu after finishing the game the first time, you’ll be able to click on a sqare next to a funny-looking guy there. This activates the “Droggeljug” mode, which replaces all the dialogues in the game with the word “Droggeljug!”. Feel free to try and finish the game in this mode, I dare you!

This game gets a solid 2/5. The graphics are fun and there are a few funny moments to chuckle at, but there was a lot of things in this game that could get on your nerves. The most annoying thing was Rufus. I’ve played with a lot of annoying game characters in my life, but Rufus is definitely the worst one of the year. He’s ill-tempered, disgusting, rude, self-absorbed, childish and ignorant! It wasn’t easy to have this idiot along for the entire game and most of his solutions and actions will make any sane person cringe, but the game would be too normal if he was someone likeable. Not to mention, most of the other characters in the game aren’t that much better (most of them a quite selfish), so Rufus kind of belongs in that world anyway. Apart from that, it wasn’t easy to figure out what to do at times, especially if you didn’t pay attention well enough, so a lot of guesswork was involved to figure out what to do. But this is still a humorous game (even though it could have been made funnier) and the story is interesting, so I guess it’s worth playing once. The “Droggeljug!” mode? Whoever had the idea of adding that one owes me a refund, because chances are I’ll get violent if I have to endure that torture ever again…

2. Chaos on Deponia

Shortly after Goal leaves with Cletus in a cable shuttle for Elysium, Rufus goes back to his regular scheming to get to Elysium as well. Once again, his plan fails. Instead of reaching Elysium, Rufus crashes into the shuttle and comes face to face with Cletus once again before accidentaly sending Goal back down to crashland on Deponia. When Rufus finds her at Doc’s place, Doc tells Rufus that he needs to get him new cartridges to repair the damage Goal’s crash did to her memory implant and sends him on yet another adventure…

The graphics and the game mechanics in this game are the same as in the first game, but the puzzle mini-games are much more subtle here. You can still skip some of them, but most of them have been integrated so well into the story and the surroundings, you can barely tell they’re mini-games at all. Even a conversation can be a mini-game and chances are you won’t notice it until the option to skip it comes up!

Another thing worth mentioning, is the empty jigsaw puzzle that can be found in the bonus section of the game. There appears to be 12 pieces scattered in the scenes throughout the game for the player to click to collect. Not only are these incredibly hard to spot (the Space-button will not help you here), but it’s worth mentioning that they look more like tiny pieces of paper with weird symbols on them. To avoid spoiling the surprise for collecting them all, I’ll just mention that the resulting image of the jigsaw puzzle is not for the prudest set of eyes…

This sequel gets a 3/5. There are more and better jokes here, the storyline’s more interesting and there’s no need for as much guesswork as in the prequel. Still, this is still a hard game to complete if you don’t know what to do, so some guessing is still required, and it would be nice if I didn’t have to fiddle with the game settings to get somewhere (although Daedalic Entertainment does get a bonus for being clever enough to add that here and for being nice enough to let the player restore the altered settings without entering the settings menu again). I also had to look extra carefully for the paper pieces in each scene, which isn’t easy to do when you play the game on a device with a small screen. As for Rufus… he’s a bit easier to put up with now that he seems to have matured a bit and chances are it’s because I’ve gotten a little more used to him after putting up with his crap for 2 games, but he’s still a childish, selfish, stubborn moron with no respect for people’s differences… but I guess that’s supposed to be part of the charm. It certainly made the few scenes of physical comedy, stupidity and embarrasment worth laughing at…

3. Goodbye Deponia

After getting Goal back after what happened in the previous game, Rufus, Goal, Doc and Bozo are riding by Bozo’s cutter towards the Sea of Shards – or at least that was the plan. Rufus, who still can’t wait to get to Elysium, changed coarse of the cutter and managed to get it onto a monorail track towards the Upper Ascention Station in Porta Fisco, where the last ride to Elysium is located. This, along with the fact that he tried to fish using the cutter’s crane at the same time, leads to the cutter being torn apart and the gang walking towards a hotel below the monorail track, where they get a room for Doc to set up a lab to prepare for Goal’s surgery, and it doesn’t take long before Cletus checks in there as well in his search for Goal…

The graphics and game mechanics are basically the same as in the prequels of this game. The only big difference comes when you’ve played through half the game. That’s when the player gets to switch between 3 characters by clicking on their avatars at the bottom of the screen. Once one of these characters manages to reach any of the others, the player can also transfer stuff between those two characters, no matter where they are located, by clicking on an object from the inventory and dragging it to the avatar of the character to move it to.

Just like in the previous sequel, there are hidden stuff to be found in the scenes. This time, the player can look for platypus eggs for the handbook in the bonus section in the main menu. There are 15 eggs in total to be found, each from a different kind of platypus – and yes, they are very difficult to spot with a small screen…

Ugh, the torture… 1/5 is all this game gets from me and don’t you dare tell me that’s too harsh! The way Daedalic Entertainment has incorporated the 3-character-gameplay into the story works, the “cameos” were a fun touch and this game has some challenging puzzles that aren’t too impossible to solve (like before, you can still skip the mini-games, if you don’t like them). But when it comes to the story and the characters, fun and continuity has been thrown out the window. Some details in the story doesn’t make sense in this sequel when compared to things that were mentioned in the previous games and Rufus is back to being the obnoxious moron he was in the first game (if not worse), which makes his stupidity and personality hard to endure again. Look, don’t get me wrong here, I get that this is supposed to be a humoristic game, but when it comes to serious subjects, like human trafficking and child abuse, you need more than several truckloads of humour to take some of the pressure off the nerves. This game, however, didn’t even have enough humour to fill a bucket – and I mean that for the ENTIRE game – so when Rufus is selling a girl for 5 bucks or risking children’s lives to get into a bar, I expect to be compensated with enough humour to make me roll on the floor laughing after having to do something that awful! Sure, Rufus cutting in front of the children to pet the “animals” in the creeper’s shack was a step in the right direction (he had it coming, believe me), but that wasn’t enough. Then we have the girl. What about her? Why was it okay for Rufus to do that to her? These were only a few of the bad things you had to do to get anywhere in this game and there wasn’t enough humour to add a positive spin on any of it, making you feel sick for playing the game at all.


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Happy Birthday, Super Mario Bros!

30 years ago today, Nintendo’s most famous game character started working as a plumber and went on a quest to find a kidnapped princess. To celebrate this, Nintendo is making a huge deal out of the recently-released Super Mario Maker for WiiU. Since I don’t have access to a WiiU or Super Mario Maker yet, I can’t test the game or put a grade on it for the time being, but judging by the developer video that’s been released on YouTube recently, it looks promising (and maybe a bit tricky).

Watch the video below!


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Wonder Project’s Robotic Childcare

Sorry for the lack of updates again. I’m planning to do some major changes to this blog, giving it a fresher look and add some stuff that’s been missing for some time. When that’s done, you’ll know when I’ll tell you (or you can just wait for the updates to “magically” happen).

To make up for lost time, I thought I’d review a game someone else wanted me to try. The more I learned about it, the more I knew I had to try the whole series. These games were not easy to get hold of, so I hope you’ll enjoy my reviews of some of Enix’s works of art, Wonder Project J for SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) and Wonder Project J2 for Nintendo 64.

Wonder Project J
Dr. Geppetto Lamarck is a scientist, who’s just finished building his greatest invention, Gijin 4649. Before Geppetto got a chance to activate this human-boy-looking robot, he gets arrested for high treason, leaving Gijin 4649 in the hands of the interface-robot named Tinker and an a person from another world…

If you haven’t figured this out by now, the person from the other world is the player. With Tinker as your cursor, it’s up to you to teach Gijin 4649 how to be as human-like as possible. After naming him (you can choose any name you want, but I kept the pre-set name, Pino, and will call him that from now on), it’s time to activate Pino and get started.

To teach Pino things, he has to interact with things in his environment. Some objects can be found in the player’s inventory and must be dragged out by Tinker into the environment for Pino to use them. Pino will most likely interact with the items on his own sometimes, but it’s much faster to tell him to interact with something using Tinker. After that, the player can make Tinker praise him, scold him or make her hit Pino in the head with a mallet to help him memorize or forget the way he interacted with the object. Just keep in mind that scolding or hitting will make Pino mad at you and trust you less than before and you need his trust level to be high enough to get him to listen to you or you’re going to be forced to bribe him with some pudding.

Apart from trust, there are some other status levels to keep an eye on. By interacting with objects, Pino can increase and decrease these stats to fit the player’s needs. Do you need Pino to get more arm power? Tell him to use a dumbell. Do you need Pinos intelligence to increase? Teach him to read with a grammar book to make both his imagination and reasoning levels increase. Some things in the game require some stats to be at the minimum or maximum of a certain number to get somewhere, so there are cases when Pino will have to get better at something and then be forced to get worse at it to get somewhere else. Just make sure to praise him when he does something right, scold him when he does something wrong or hit him when he does something really wrong (the last one looks optional to me, but it is effective if you don’t mind losing most of Pino’s trust). It’s also a good thing to keep in mind that Pino can only memorize how to use each object a certain way at the time, so if you taught him to, for example, pick a lock, he will stop bowing before the door while saying “Open Sesame”, if you taught him that earlier.

By raising Pino in different ways and using certain objects on him at the right time, you’ll also help him survive in areas where he can break down easily, costing the player money and 3 days for repairs. There are maze-like areas, where Pino can find stuff and fight monsters, if you’ve taught him how to use a weapon. Once he’s there, saving the game won’t be an option anymore, so you need to keep an eye on his energy and health levels while he’s there. Luckily, since you’re able to access the inventory with Tinker, you can stock up on stuff for Pino to eat in the mazes, but there are areas where that won’t be an option, like in the fight scenes, where Pino can fight people if you taught him how to use a sword (he’ll refuse if his kindness level is too high and his agression level is too low). To do this, his HP (Health Points) need to be really high if he’s going to make it out of there alive. There are several objects to use to get Pino’s HP to increase before the fights, but they can be a bit expensive and won’t do much if Pino’s unhappy.

The game doesn’t just stop at the very end. If the player is patient enough to wait until after the credits have rolled by, Dr. Geppetto will challenge you to play the game again, only this time from Act 2. You’ll also recieve a score for the least amount of days used per act. The higher score you get, the more likely it will be for you to be awarded with the secret ending of the game.

A game this difficult to play can’t get a higher score than 2/5 out of me, unfortunately. To move a cursor around with D-pad buttons or stick controls in general is a time-consuming business and Tinker is definitely no exception, because it can take forever for her to aim at what you want her to pick up from the inventory or at whatever it is you want Pino to interact with. Since Pino has the attention span of a 5-year-old boy, he’s not going to wait forever for the player to tell him what to do and start doing stuff on his own accord if you don’t stop him. As for Pino, he’s a bit of a pain to babysit, because it doesn’t take very much to make him lose his trust for you, making the game very hard very fast at the very beginning. But the story of the game is beautiful, the concept of being a babysitter to a robot is brilliant and some of the ways that Pino interact with stuff can be quite funny to watch. This game would definitely recieve a higher score if you could control Pino during the fight scenes, because I’m pretty sure that the player can beat the fighters faster than Pino does by himself…

Wonder Project J2
Years after the secret ending of the prequel, Dr. Geppetto Lamarck has finished building his next robot, Gijin 5984 (named Josette). But before he can teach her everything, Geppetto tells Josette that she needs to leave home, making her cry. But when Geppetto gets a heart-attack, he tells her to pay attention to her new caretaker, a person from another world. When he dies, Josette has no other choice but to pack her stuff and leave to another island with the interface-robot named Bird.

Once again, the player is the person from the other world and this time you’ll have to raise Josette (yes, you can change her name in this game too, but I refused) using Bird as the cursor. Just like the player had to do with Pino, you need to teach Josette stuff by letting her interact with things and people in the environment and then praise or scold her to make her remember or forget a certain behavior. But this game still differs a bit from its prequel. Unlike Pino, Josette is more friendly and talkative towards the player and will learn from the answers she recieves from you. The player is also free from keeping an eye on any other status levels than health and mentality. Instead, there’s a list of 25 goals for Josette to reach. She doesn’t need to reach them all to finish the game, but there is a bonus to recieve for finishing them all.

Remember what I wrote about the fight scenes in Wonder Project J? It’s still the same thing here with those too. But now the maze areas have been updated with 3D-mechanics. By controlling Josette, you can run through (or drive through, if Josette is in a vehicle) those to reach whatever it is that needs to be found. It takes a while for her to master each vehicle once she’s learned how to drive them, but at least the player gets to be in charge a little more by using the controls.

I really want to give this game a higher score than 4/5, but I can’t. Some of the mazes can be a bit hard in this game and just like with Tinker, it’s tricky to control Bird with the D-pad and Josette isn’t always patient enough to wait for your command. But this story is so beautiful and the 3D-mechanical elements in this manga-styled game makes some of the flaws ignorable. But nothing made this game as lovely as much as Josette herself, who is so sweet and innocent, it’s hard to dislike her even a little bit. Enix also gets a major plus for making the player a part of the story so well, because it’s not easy to break the fourth wall without causing a mess.

Enix made plenty of wonderful games in the past, both before and after the merge with Square, but never have I played a game from the 90’s that effected my biological clock like these two did. If I ever get a daughter, I hope she’ll be like Josette and you can bet on that I will personally play Wonder Project J2 again soon. As for Pino, there are plenty of kids like him in my family already and they all require patience to raise, which is something you don’t always get when you play a cursor-controlled game with a D-pad or a stick controller. Just the fact that I’m refering to these characters as kids instead of androids shows how much this game series has affected me and I look forward to the day Square Enix chooses to make another Wonder Project game in the future.


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The Sims 4 – A Fixer-Upper Game

Happy New Year, everyone!

The Sims 4 has been out for some time now and I have yet to read that many good things about it from those who’ve played it. It took some time for me to get my copy of the game, due to some misunderstanding with the store I got it from, causing me to order it from another country to get the version of the game that I wanted. Now, after playing the game myself for a while, I can understand why Electronic Arts can’t catch a break with one of their most money-making franchises ever.

Just like the previous Sim-games, the player can create a household of 8 custom-designed people to place into a house (or an empty lot, where you can build your own house) and control them any way the player sees fit. According to EA’s salespitch for The Sims 4, the sims can now be designed like clay figures, by pulling specific areas of their bodies with the mouse, and have more improved personality traits and emotions that changes the game entirely compared to the prequels, which makes them respond to everything around them in a more natural way. For instance, if a sim gets angry, that sim will stay angry, making some new anger-related interactions be available for the player to choose from until the sim changes mood, which can be done in a number of ways, like watching TV, taking a shower or simply waiting it out. There has also been some updates to the way you can build and design both the exterior and interior of their house. The height of the roof can be altered, the patios can be made circular and rooms can be picked up and moved around with the mouse alone, to name a few examples. But if you’re one of those gamers, who want to get started right away, you can always use the in-game gallery to download families and houses that other players have made straight into the lot without exiting the game (Internet required) or go ahead and play with the already-existing households in the game.

Unfortunately, these and other fancy updates came with a large price. To make room for everything on the 2 discs you get when you buy the game at the regular retail stores, lots of features that the hardcore gamer is used to had to be either downgraded or left out completely. The neighbourhoods are no longer open, so you’re once again stuck with loading screens when the sims leave the home lot. There are no special creature in the base game, so you’re stuck playing with nothing but humans. The colour-wheels in the design tools are gone, so you’re stuck with whatever colour options each object and clothing item have available. The features that caused the biggest riots on social media websites all over the world, were pools and the toddler stage of the sims’ growth cycle, which players believe to be too important key features to be without (yes, Maxis left those out too). Their excuse was that it simply wasn’t possible to add them, because the game mechanics couldn’t handle it, if I understood what they had told my sources correctly, just like they couldn’t handle the height differences for the teenagers (they’re the same height as the adults now, which makes them a little harder to differentiate from the older generations at first glance). As a former game design student, I find this to be a sign of laziness and stress due to a very short deadline…

To save the franchise (and their income), Maxis had no choice but to make free patches for the players to download to update the game with some of the things that were missing. So now, thanks to the updates, the players can play with ghosts, pools and 2 missing careers (athlete and business) and more updates should be on the way (can’t remember if they were supposed to be 4 or 5 patches in total, but chances are that Maxis will stop here, because they plan to release an expansion pack soon). This is a very kind and unexpected gesture from any EA-related company, considering that EA has the reputation of being corporately evil (sorry)…

As a collector of The Sims-games, it angers me that I have to give this game a 3/5. The features that’s been added into the game are wonderful and fun to play with, but the things that’s been removed or downgraded ruined gameplay for me on a large scale. If this game was released as The Sims 2 years ago, they could have gotten away with it, but after the previous sequels, this isn’t an upgrade at all, even if the new features improved the gameplay a lot. Those who know about Electronic Arts are used to seeing them as a greedy, money-hungry company (again, sorry) and The Sims 4 hasn’t improved that reputation at all. But by making those free patches, Maxis may have saved some of their dignity and salvaged some respect, but is that enough to get the angriest of their devoted fans back? I’m still remaining a bit doubtful at the moment, but I have noticed that a lot of them has been playing The Sims 4 again before going back to the prequels. That’s a good sign, right? Either way, you can always try to blow off some steam by letting the sims get a cowplant…


Deadly Hard Holidays? Drive the DeLorian to the Future!

The last couple of months has been nothing but hectic for a lot of people, especially considering all the things that had to be dealt with before the December holidays. Things needed to be shopped, presents needed to be wrapped, homes needed to be decorated and all things edible needed to be cooked, baked and prepared. That’s why it’s so important to give yourself some time for relaxation of any kind whenever possible. How you relax is irrelevant, you just need to do it before the stress kills you. Personally, I chose to spent my breaks with some movies and a game.

Elysium
Ever since I heard about the movie, Elysium, I’ve been nothing but curious. How would the world look like if all the rich people left the planet for the rest of us to live on? How would the economy work? Who would get to use and take advantage of all the things they leave behind on Earth, like homes, attractions and businesses? You’d think that it would benefit mankind to get rid of the top dogs of society and leave room for the rest to take over. Middle-class would become over-class, making lower-class become middle-class and so on. Less poverty and more jobs, homes and space on Earth. Instead, Elysium takes up another scenario entirely.

The year is 2154 and the upper-class citizens of Earth are now living their luxurious, carefree lives on the fancy space station, Elysium, which is currently in orbit around the planet. In the meantime, everyone on the planet is living in a dystopian police state, where diseases roam free, crime rate is high and the average lifespan for humans is still up to around 70-100 years at least. That’s why people do everything they can to get to Elysium, even if it’s just for the sake of healing a relative from cancer or restore a decapitated limb, but very few make it into the space station alive. This doesn’t stop Max, an ex-con who’s working at a law enforcement droid factory and ends up getting exposed to radiation. To try to save himself, he accepts an offer to help an illegal group that helps people get to Elysium to extract data from the director of the factory. What he ends up with recieving, is something that could change the hierarchy of Elysium entirely…

If you’re one of those who enjoyed watching the movie District 9, you might like this movie too. You can really tell that Neill Blomkamp, writer and director of both movies, had something to do with Elysium by the feel you get of something going wrong in the story and the long, but not completely time-wasting, wait for something to be fixed or destroyed beyond repair. But there were still some things I couldn’t understand. What does Elysium have to gain from controlling Earth? If they’re already living lives of luxury in a self-sustaining space station without the risk of dying of anything but old age (which appears to be taking them about 80-100 years longer, considering how old one of the characters appears to be), why keep Earth under such tight control? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Well, whether I’ve missed something or not, Elysium gets a fair rating of 3/5. Logically, the movie doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but it’s still fascinating to see a futuristic scenario like this one come to life on the screen. The choice of actors were also a nice pick, even if Sharlto Copley (the guy who plays Kruger) stole the show.

A Good Day to Die Hard (Die Hard 5)
When you’ve seen the first 3 Die Hard-movies, your expectations get pretty high. It was like comedy and action running hand in hand on the beach in realtime in all 3 movies. Then Die Hard 4.0 came out and you began to notice how the comedy had lessened a bit, but it was still acceptable as a good movie. That’s why I was a bit concerned about this 5th movie, but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. It’s Die Hard after all, right?

This time, John McClane has taken some time off to find out how things are going with his son, Jack, who appears to have gotten himself into a big mess involving drugs and the mob in Russia. Once John gets there, he finds out that Jack is actually a CIA-agent with an even bigger mess to deal with, involving transportation of a Russian prisoner and uranium. After accidentally screwing things up for Jack, John helps out to once again save the day and hopefully patch things up with his son.

In the previous Die Hard-movies, there were 3 things you could always count on – loads of action, an acceptable story and just enough comedy to give you something to smile or chuckle at least a couple of times. If that’s what you were hoping for in this Die Hard-movie too, prepare for disappointment. While about 60 % of the movie consisted of some averagely-rated action, the rest of it were basically just some needed lines and plot-points to make the story move forward and a truckload of rubbish. It’s also very disappointing that the scriptwriters didn’t do their homework about Tjernobyl or radiation properly, because some actions and solutions were nowhere near realistic. If there was anything good about this movie, it was Bruce Willis’s return as John McClane…

The thought of giving a Die Hard-movie a 1/5 makes me want to cry. I can’t even begin to tell how poor the quality of this sequel is. Not only did this movie fail by Die Hard-standard, it was too dry and empty to be seen as a good action movie at all. What happened to the comedy? Where was the excitement? How dumb did the moviemakers believe their audience to be? This entire movie was nothing but a bad attempt to bring nostalgia back to the present. Nostalgia is one thing, but a poorly executed project like this is unforgivable.

Back to the Future: The Game
My favorite movie trilogy of all time has always been Back to the Future. When I read that Telltale Games were making a game out of it, I nearly jumped out of joy! It took a long wait, but I found the Wii-version of it eventually and speeded to the console the moment I got a chance to play it.

After the events that occurred in the last movie, Dr. Emmet Brown has been gone for 6 months. Because of this, the bank are reclaiming his house and holding a garage sale to sell his stuff. While Marty is trying to do what he can to stop this from happening, Dr. Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean appears outside the house with Einstein, Dr. Brown’s dog, inside along with a tape recorder and a ladies’ shoe. Dr. Brown has once again gotten himself into trouble in the past and it’s upto Marty McFly to once again travel back in time to save him.

In this point-and-click adventure, the player controls Marty McFly in a story that’s been divided into 5 separate episodes. With the Wii-remote, the player can point in the direction they want Marty to go and click on a button to get him to move towards it. With the nunchuck plugged into the Wii-remote, it gets even easier to more around, because the buttons on the nunchuck make it easier to make Marty move around and run in the area he’s in. Apart from moving around, Marty can also interact with people to talk to them and interact with objects to activate them or pick them up to use someplace else and this is done by clicking on whatever it is that the player want Marty to interact with. There’s also an icon in the corner to click on to get to the stuff Marty is carrying with him. From there, the player can pick an object to either take a closer look at or use in Marty’s current surroundings. To make things even easier, there’s also a hint system in the game that lets the player view current tasks for Marty to do and drop a hint on what needs to be solved. This feature can of course be turned off, if the player desires, just like the player can choose to make speech in the game audio-only or subtitled…

To those who loved the movies, I can tell you right now that you won’t be disappointed. Telltale Games did a good job of getting the nostalgia into the game by adding familiar objects, lines and other minor details that will take the player back in time. Just the voices alone are impressive for a very good reason! Just like in the movies, you can hear Christopher Lloyd do the voice for Dr. Brown, and you can hardly tell that a voice actor named A.J. Locascio is doing the voice for Marty instead of Michael J. Fox, who’s voice was still put to good use. If there’s something that’s going to bug the pickiest of gamers, it’s the graphic-errors in some of the episodes, where some details are missing…

Great Scott, this game should have recieved a higher rating than 4/5, but unfortunately, I can’t look past the graphic-errors in some of the episodes. This is a common error in Telltale Games’ Wii-games and they are as annoying as the graphics style used for the game, which is making the characters look a bit too childish and cubic. This style may have been suited for the Sam & Max games Telltale Games made, but not for Back to the Future. Still, Telltale Games get top grade for all the nostalgia they added into the game without ruining the story! The game felt like Back to the Future all the way from start to finish, without losing touch of what made the fans of the movies love Back to the Future in the first place. There was just one detail in the story that wasn’t well thought of, but mentioning that would be spoiling…

My goodness, those reviews took forever to type! That’s how it goes when you don’t have much time to spare anymore. At least that won’t stop me from updating this blog with more tests and hopefully some news in the near future, no matter which part of space the rich are hiding or what kind of situation a cop has to put himself in to help his kid out.


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3 Lethal Beginnings and a Fun Sequel

When there’s work and no play, you do what you can with the little time you’ve got to spare. Since I missed most of E3, I thought I’d use the time to try to finish a game I’ve never been able to finish before – Maniac Mansion. This pain in the neck of a game has been a challenge for me for many years and now I can finally tell the world that I completed the game!

The game is about a guy named Dave, who’s girlfriend, Sandy, has been kidnapped by the evil Dr. Fred Edison and taken to his mansion. To save Sandy, Dave decides to sneak into the mansion with two of his friends, a very difficult task to pull off when Dr. Fred, his family and other residents are still at home…

Apart from Dave, you also get to control his two friends. Who these friends are depends on what characters you pick before you start the game. Your choice of characters decide how you’re going to finish the game, because each character has something special about them, like music skills, photography skills or technical skills, which you must take advantage of to do specific tasks. The only character you’re stuck with is Dave, who unfortunately is the only character who doesn’t have anything special about him. As for the rest, it doesn’t matter which two friends you want to bring to the rescue party. If you play their parts right, you can save Sandy and win the game.

Like most of the early point-and-click games, Maniac Mansion has a menu of several options at the bottom of the screen, like “Open”, “Push” and “Pick up” to name a few. Since you’re only able to control one character at the time, there’s of course an option to let you switch between them. Each character also has an inventory to store stuff they pick up, which can either be used on something in the environment, used on another item in the inventory or be given to another character if they’re nearby. So far, so simple, right? Here’s the hard part. Unlike most of the point-and-click games LucasArts were famous for, you can make some really annoying mistakes in Maniac Mansion. It could be anything from an object being used the wrong way to your characters dying, making it impossible to finish the game without restoring your last save point or restarting the game. Either way, you’ll be saving the game quite often and hope to everything good and holy that the next task you do won’t make you reload anything.

All in all, I can understand why this game has such a cult-status. For being the very first game LucasArts released, it’s not bad. The little humour you see is worth noticing (especially if you picked Bernard as a character) and the in-game advertising for other LucasArts projects is cleverly placed when spotted. It’s also the first game to use the game engine SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), which has been used for every point-and-click adventure game that LucasArts has released before year 2000, if I’m not mistaken. I do find it annoying to be forced to reload the game every single time I do something wrong, especially when my last save was hours or days ago.

My verdict is therefore 3/5. If I’m going to reload the game constantly, it’s going to be because my characters died, not because I reach a dead-end and can’t go any further in the game without reloading an old save or restart the whole game because I may have forgotten something or used an object the wrong way. Realism is one thing, but there should always be a way to fix a mistake without going back in time. I would also have enjoyed more in-game jokes, because there weren’t so many of them…

While doing some research, I came across another game that I wanted to try. According to what I read about it, the world in this game is the same as the one in Maniac Mansion. This “spin-off” got me curious, so I decided to give it a shot. It’s called Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.

If this truly is a spin-off of Maniac Mansion, it must me several years into the future, when airports tickets can be bought from consoles instead of salespeople and cash has been replaced by “CashCards”. Zak McKracken is an ambitious reporter, who’s sick of writing lousy stories for the magazine he works for. After receiving an assignment about a two-headed squirrel, Zak goes home disappointed and goes to bed before his journey. That’s when he has this really weird dream and after Zak wakes up, he discovers how his dream is related to something much bigger…

Just like Maniac Mansion, the controls consist of a menu at the bottom of the screen with actions to click on before clicking on something else, like “Pick up”, “Turn on”, “Use” or “Read” to name a few, and after playing about a third or a quarter of the game as Zak, you’ll be able to switch between other characters as well. Other than that, you’ll get to travel to different places, both around, above and outside the globe. There are also some tricky puzzles and currency to keep the player’s brain occupied throughout the game. If that’s not hard enough for you, I might be able to mention that, just like in Maniac Mansion, you can make some nasty mistakes that can make you unable to complete the game, like objects used the wrong way or characters dying…

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders deserves the score of 3/5. There’s more humour here than in Maniac Mansion, but my issues with it is the same. The constant restoring of saves and/or restart the game for making silly mistakes can really get on your nerves. The mazes are also a pain in the neck to go through when you don’t know your way around them and if you’re not careful with the currency, the CashCard will be empty in no time. But I still recommend this game for those who’d like a challenge and I do find it to be a shame that LucasArts never made a sequel for it (all sequels for this game are fan-made).

After surviving these two games, I needed to have fun with something simpler. In my cupboard, I have a game that’s been collecting dust for years, because I never got it to work. This year, with a little help from ScummVM, I got it to work just fine. The game’s called Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle.

5 years after the rescue party to Maniac Mansion, the purple tentacle drinks some toxic waste Dr. Fred dumped into the stream outside the mansion. This makes him develop a sharper mind and a pair of arms, which makes him powerful enough to want to take over the world. Because of this, Dr. Fred plans to kill the tentacles before the purple tentacle can put his plan into action. To save them, Bernard must once again sneak his way into the mansion and this time the Edison family are the least of his problems…

Remember that I mentioned a character named Bernard when I reviewed the prequel? He’s back and, believe it or not, he’s the one calling the shots now. Apart from him, the player also get to play two more characters later in the game, but those are not optional. It’s Bernard’s roommates, Hoagie, a relaxed roadie with the love for sandwiches, and Laverne, a mentally-challenged student with the love for dissections. As for the game controls, they’re similar to the prequel, apart from an option or two being removed and replaced for simplicity’s sake. Another change that caught my attention, is the more cartoonish graphics and the fact that you can’t make any mistakes or die in this game, which is a nice change. This does however not make the game that much easier. The tasks in this game are still very hard to figure out and when you think you know what to do, you later end up discovering that you had the wrong idea all along and must find another solution to move forward with the game. Luckily, no matter what you do in Day of the Tentacle, you will be able to finish the game without wasting time with saves and restarts.

It’s a close call, but I still give this game a 5/5. This game has more humour than the sequel and the cartoonish graphics worked very well with the theme of the game. It’s also much more relaxing to play the game without having to worry about saves and restarts all the time, which is a major plus. I do however wish that I knew a bit earlier that I could send stuff between characters by dragging and dropping things to their avatars instead of just having them stand by the Chrom-a-John every time I switch between them…

After playing these games, I still couldn’t help asking myself if LucasArts made more games where you had to save the game constantly, because death and mistakes made it difficult to finish them. My research led to one more game – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If I’ve missed one, feel free to post a comment about it, so I can track it down and test it later.

If you’ve seen the movie with the same name, you already know that the story is about the archaeologist and “tomb raider”, Indiana Jones. When he finds out that his father, Dr. Henry Jones, has gone missing while searching for the Holy Grail, he accepts the mission of taking over where his father left off in hope to find him.

Just like Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has the same old action’s menu at the bottom of the screen that you can click on to interact with stuff in the inventory and the environment, but that’s not the only controls you have available. You’ll also be able to box enemies by using the numeral keys on your keyboard.

The movie and the game do have their differences when it comes to details, but they also complement each other by answering certain questions, like why the game starts with a soaking wet Indiana Jones in the intro. Still, those who saw the movie will still have an edge with some of the puzzles, but some still require intelligence and guesswork and, just to make it even harder, the enemies are hard to whack down and not always unavoidable.

My rating for this game is 3/5. The possibility of dying and making mistakes may be a nice detail for the sake of realism in this game, but the difficulty level is ridiculously high. Sure, some puzzles have more than one solution or can be ignored to finish the game, in case you’ve screwed up the first time, but it’s still hard to be able to get by when violence is the only option left. Just the first few enemies can take you down easily and, even if it is possible to avoid some fights, it’s not an easy thing to pull off.

Well, that’s the end of my “marathon”. As difficult as it was to play most of these games, I can still say that all of these games are fun to play and worth a shot. I also learned a lot of things while testing these games out. Realism in games is like adding cinnamon to hot chocolate. A little cinnamon can make a difference in the flavour, but if you add a quarter of a pinch too much, the hot chocolate will taste terrible. But in this case, I’d still finish my cupful and simply just take a break when my stress-levels hit the roof. Too bad this happens every time it’s a matter of life and death…