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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Spring Time for Traditional Gamers

Sorry for the lack of posts here, people. With work, physiotherapy (irrelevant story) and family-matters, I’ve barely had time to do anything blog-related for months. I have therefore crammed in as much of my nerdiness from those months here as possible and will pretend that’ll be enough to get any form of forgiveness for my absence.

GothCon 2015

While most people were busy celebrating Easter, I had an object from my bucket list scratched off  – I got to attend my first boardgame convention! I’ve been dying to go to a convention like this for years and now I’m glad to share my experience of what occurred at this year’s GothCon in Sweden.

Before stepping inside, I had to wait for a friend of mine to arrive (can’t play games without another player, of course). Luckily, there was a fight going on for me to observe in the meantime…

Don't ask me who won...

These knights demonstrated their might for people’s amusement.

Then my companion for the day arrived and we stepped inside for some fun. We had to take different entrances into the building to get to certain areas. An example of such an area, was the manga/animé-style games, where we got to try out a card game I’ve never seen before.

The artwork inside looked better, though...

How can you resist a game with the word “ninja” in the title?

Before the game began, the players have to set up the cards to create the game field. From what I recall, there was some shuffling involved to select the ninjas for each players “randomly”, but the image below show how the game field looked like in the end.

I have no idea if we did this right...

After setting up the river cards between each base card, the ninja cards are placed to guard the way to the other side.

Then it was time to get the game started! The first player starts the turn by rolling the three dice. Each dice has a colour that matches the colours of the symbols marked on each ninja and the amount you roll on each dice decides how far you can move a ninja with that colour symbol along with the ninjas below. If the ninjas land on an area where the other player’s ninjas are located, they battle using a rock-paper-scissors kind of system (red = rock, green = scissors and blue = paper) associated with a number that shows how much damage each ninja can deal and take (which comes in handy in case of a draw or if the ninjas meet a boss ninja, which has all 3 colour symbols on the card). When the turn’s over, the second player gets to go through the same process, from rolling the dice to move the ninjas to fight whoever’s in the space they’ve ended up on, as well. Once a ninja reaches the opposing player’s base, the game is over.

Ninja Taisen gets a 3/5 from me. The gameplay appears to be simple and easy to learn at first glance, but there were still a lot of things in the game that caused for a lot of confusion. To be honest, I’m not even sure if what I’ve written about the game is accurate enough! But it was still intreresting to play and had better artwork than most of the Asian-themed games present at the same area at GothCon.

My companion for the day and I then moved on to find where the new games were being demonstrated and advertized. We ended up getting stuck at a booth that belonged to the game company Myling Games for a very good reason. Apart from the many goodies and items they were selling at their huge table, they were also demonstrating a game that we were lucky enough to test – Privateers! (yes, the exclamation mark is included in the name).

Good thing we didn't have to set anything up ourselves...

The prototype of Myling Games’ upcoming game, Privateers!.

Since the game was already set up when we arrived at the booth, my friend and I got started right away, with the guidance of a game leader. From what I could understand, there were 3 phases for the players to follow:

The Player Phase: This is where the players do their things, like move their ships, fight battles, etc.
The Enemy Phase: This is when the non-playable characters in the game do their stuff.
The Influence Phase: This part was handled by our game leader, so we didn’t get to learn much about this, but it seemed like a part where the scoring was handled after both players and non-playable characters have done their parts.

So there my friend and I were, rolling dices, moving ship pawns and reading cards for over an hour. We had almost no idea what we were doing and most of the time was spent on checking the rulebook, but you could still tell a lot of effort, heart and soul had been put into making this game. The historical accuracy about pirates had been mostly nailed, a lot of weird stuff had been added for comical effect and the game designer has clearly made sure the game is as gender neutral as possible by adding male and female sides to certain character cards. In all, this is a very fun game to play, but there was still a lot of work to be done on it at the time, since it was still in beta…

This demo version of Privateers! gets a 3/5. Some of the cards were fun to read and there wasn’t a moment in the game where you didn’t feel like you weren’t in a 17th-18th century piratey world, even if the weird stuff may not always belong to that world (the sense of humour and the subtleness makes up for that, though). Since the game was still very incomplete and complicated to learn at the time, half of our game time was spent on digging through the rulebook and talking to the game designer for clarification, which took a lot of the fun away. Luckily, Myling Games asked my friend and I for our inputs and advice and promised to take them under consideration for when the game recieves another update. Thankfully, they kept their promise and the rulebook (which you can find as a PDF-file here) has been updated a lot since then. I’ve also been told not long ago that this game has a fundraising campain going on at, if anyone wants to help them get the game produced as soon as possible, so I can test the game again and give it a proper rating.

Time really flies by fast at these conventions! We spent so much time at Myling Games’ booth, we missed out on almost everything else at the convention, like the game auction and a tournament for a Star Wars miniature game. But we did get to try out one more game before we left.

Malifaux is a miniature game, where a group of gremlins and a mad scientist and his undead goons (at least those were the figurines we got to play with), each with specific statistics to pay attention to, are battling it out on a Western-style battlefield. By using a regular deck of cards (except for the jack, queen and king), my companion and I tried to knock each others’  figurines out so often, we nearly forgot the aim of the game, which was to take over the sign figurines which have been placed around the board, if I remember correctly…

Malifaux, all set-up and ready to play!

Malifaux, all set-up and ready to play!

The rules of the game may have been too complicated to remember, but the game still gets a 4/5 from me. Once you get the hang of the rules and all the stats for each character, the gameplay becomes a breeze, if not too simple. Luckily, simplicity doesn’t have to be a bad thing…

In all, GothCon gets 3/5. I really wish the day could have lasted a little longer. My companion and I got stuck on so many awesome stuff, we missed more than half of what was going on during GothCon this year. I have to admit, they didn’t advertize much about the stuff that was going on (or I completely missed it), but the stuff we got to experience was enough to keep us occupied for hours and lose our way. I also wish the convention wasn’t so spread out, because it’s quite easy to lose your way when you have to leave the building and enter it from another entrance to reach a specific section of the convention…

Retrospelsmässan 2015

Those who were young gamers between the 70’s and 90’s know the charm of the old games they grew up playing and don’t hesitate to share the joy with their young, just like young gamers today know how famous old titles are today due to the cult status they hold  now and to the sequels to the most popular ones among them are still popping out to the retail market every now and then. Since most of those old gems are getting harder and harder to come by today, it’s a good thing they have conventions for those. In Sweden, that convention was called Retrospelsmässan (translates to “Retro Game Convention”).

If you think no one cares for old games anymore, think again. The line to the convention was so long, it covered an entire block! Thousands of people of all ages stood in line to access the convention, both in and out of costume.

Don't let that mask scare you!

Can you see the cosplayer in this photograph?

This wasn’t even half the line, just half of the line that formed behind me! People had come from pretty much everywhere to attend this convention.

I wonder how he could fit through the doors...

I never saw Pac-Man, but his car was here.

To prevent people from getting bored, other cosplayers had been hired to entertain the crowd in line. Strange, considering how much effort some of the visiting cosplayers had put in their costumes…

Poor Kirby seems to be out of shape...

Yup, even Kirby made a short appearance!

But eventually, we made it inside the building, where the real fun began right after we paid the entrance fee. The first thing my companion and I discovered, was the kids’ corner. Here, they had set up art stations, game consoles and small arcade machines for them to play with.

The kids seems fascinated by the old NES consoles and the table version of Pac-Man.

The kids seems fascinated by the Nintendo consoles and the table version of Pac-Man.

Lots of templates were available for those who liked to create fanart using beads.

Lots of templates were available for those who liked to create their own art using beads – or you could by finished artwork at the shop about a metre away…

In the speakers, event commentators could be heard for a little while. It didn’t take long for them to be spotted either, since their tables were not only close to the children’s corner, but also close to the information desk. When they were done talking, their voices got replaced with some well-known music from various games, like Superfrog and Batman for Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

These gentlemen were chatting away loudly as the first part of the convention was in full swing.

These gentlemen were chatting away loudly as the first part of the convention was in full swing.

I wonder if there was another purpose for the information desk...

Got any questions about the event? Get in line and hope they have the answers you need.

The place may have been small, but the booths were many and everyone of them had something for sale or on display. If it wasn’t a modded game console from the 80’s or 90’s or an antique computer in mint condition, the sellers had something tailored done to show off.

Their customers got ripped-off big by their broken merchandise.

One of several booths, who sold modded game consoles and other used stuff.

Imagine one console to rule them all...

Some modding companies had both modded game consoles AND game consoles that they make themselves!

And sold quickly, by the look of it.

Even old computers, like Commodore VIC-20, were available for purchace!

Already have the desired device? Don’t worry, the games for them were being sold there too!

Mostly for Nintendo's consoles, no doubt...

Cartridges… game cartridges everywhere!

I hope the games still work...

You can really tell the games were played a lot in the past by the quality of the packaging.

They bring memories back, don't they?

Even these old gems for Nintendo’s consoles were being sold off to whoever grabbed them first!

Hardware and software in all their glory, but there were of course more stuff than that for sale! Fan merchandice and spare parts could be found pretty much everywhere, both the real deal and knock-offs.

Or perhaps you're into something else?

Any sign of your favorite?

Batteries not included.

Parts available for all your assembly-required needs.

At least this one wasn't opened.

Old figurines and toys of characters from various comics, cartoons and games, like M. Bison here, could be found in their original packaging.

But what kind of game convention would this be without something to play and observe? An arcade and exibit area had been set up in a dark corner.

Too bad we couldn't play with it.

A lego computer for humans.

She liked it so much, I didn't have the heart to tell her that I wanted to play too.

An arcade version of Tetris.

MAME... can it get more awesome?

A portable game console – retro style!

At least we didn't have to pay to play!

A retro game convention without a pinball game? Blasphemy!

This part of the room needs more light...

This NES was one of the few consoles set up and ready to play, with a few game cartridges to choose from.

And what about the cosplayers? Apart from the few I saw while standing in line outside to get in, several more could be found inside, both hired ones and visiting ones. Most of them vanished as quickly as they appeared, while others popped up a little too much. There was also a corner, where a photographer had set up a camera for visiting cosplayers to have their pictures taken in front of a green screen.

The predator didn't say much, though...

A predator had a chat with Captain Haddock and his friend.

Judging by his perkiness, I take it his weapons got confiscated earlier.

Deadpool goofed around a little here and there.

I don't know who's blood's on his fan, but I hope it's not Mega Man's...

Air Man appeared to be looking for something or someone (Mega Man, maybe?).

And last, but not least, a game tournament was in full swing when we arrived and a couple more started later on. Several games were being played on a large screen at the end on the convention hall.

This game was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

A lot of spectators were watching during the Zelda tournament.

This convention got the fine grade of 4/5. It took hours in the rain to get inside, the convention hall was small and my friend got stiffed on a broken Wii, but it was worth it once we were inside! Not only was this like taking a trip back in time, I was able to find the things I’ve been looking for in the past and bought them for a price that would make a cashier facepalm if they were brand new! I was also impressed by all the different kind of people that was there and that the place wasn’t just crowded by old-time gamers. This generation’s gamers were there too, no matter what their reasons for coming was, and they looked like they were having fun too. I just wish the cafeteria served warm food a little longer, because I ended up starving about 1 hour before closing time…

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Farewell, Maxis…

Just like Disney did to LucasArts, Electronic Arts shut down Maxis, the creators of several games that had a name with “Sim” in it (SimAnt, SimEarth, Sim City and The Sims, to name a few) and Spore and Darkspore. Electronic Arts has told people that they will continue with The Sims and Sim City franchises (like they could ever afford not to continue those), but Maxis’ offices in Emeryville had their offices shut a couple of weeks ago.

Rest in peace, Maxis, and thanks for the entertainment.

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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.

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.

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…

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Bitter-Sweet Vengeance Against Piracy

Piracy is a sensitive subject, depending on who you talk to. To game development companies, it’s stealing. To consumers, it’s a way to get hold of a sometimes over-priced game for free. The fact that I’m mentioning the subject on this blog is a big risk, but what kind of multimedia blogger would I be if I was too wimpy to bring it up? Besides, the story I read about a few days ago is way too good to leave unmentioned!

When the game development company Greenheart Games released their game Game Dev Tycoon, a simulation game where you build and run your own game development company, they decided to make an experiment. When they released the game for people to buy, they also released a cracked version of the game for the “economically challenged” to download illegally. Some would probably see something like this as a nice jesture, but like almost everything else in life, there’s a catch. This cracked version had a specific detail that made it different from the buyable version – a “bug” that made the player go bankrupt because of piracy. For more information about this, you can read Patrick Klug’s blog-entry for the entire story.

Personally, I found this whole thing to be hillarious. Sure, artists should get paid for their work and some games can be too expensive to buy, but what a scheme! It wouldn’t surprise me if other companies thought of doing something like this too (it would explain a lot, actually), but the honesty and openess of the brothers at Greenheart Games about the subject is very refreshing. On top of that, the theme of the game alone made this whole thing even sweeter! I can’t think of a better way for a game development company to teach illegal-downloading gamers a lesson than to let them taste their own medicine, even though it might not have been the intention in the first place. Sure, all gamers can’t buy stuff online for various reasons and $8 can be a lot of money to someone, so this can be seen as a cheap trick.

As someone who knows game development, I understand the hard work that the developers put into making the game and their need for the payment they deserve for it. As a gamer, I’m a bit concerned over the invasion of privacy, but also happy about being the kind of person who always go for the buyable versions for newly-released games. As the person I am, I’m laughing at this whole thing!

After reading their blog-entry, Greenheart Games has most certainly gained my respect. If I had the money, I’d get myself Game Dev Tycoon right away just for laughs, but I’ll settle for downloading the free demo if I ever get the time to try it. I may not be the kind who can afford anything, but I do believe that the Klug brothers deserve a reward for this one. After all, the ones who downloaded the cracked version didn’t really suffer any major consequenses. They just ended up losing the game the same way real game developers lose their jobs – they go bankrupt. Game over.