Category Archives: Games

Kingdom Hearts 3D Review: A Dream of Something Better

-By Adam

The Kingdom Hearts series is a strange beast. It started as a fanciful fling between Squaresoft and Disney, a pair of very unlikely bedfellows brought together by the fact that they shared an elevator. Over the past dozen years, developer Square Enix has evolved the series into a truly vast thing: increasingly complex, adored by its fans, and alienating to newcomers. The concept was originally very appealing to me, as I tend to enjoy unlikely combinations like this. I found the juxtaposition of cartoon whimsy and melodramatic fantasy to be irresistible, and I’ve played (or at least tried to play) almost all of the games in the series since the beginning. Sadly, as the stories of each successive game built on top of the rest and the universe grew more complex, I began to notice the quirkiness fading away with each iteration, only to be replaced by half-baked game mechanics and a heaping helping of hollow plot twists. I grew tired of watching such a fun concept go to waste.

The latest game, a 3DS spin-off called Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (D.D.D., three “D”, geddit?) was released a couple years ago, and frankly, as a disillusioned former fan, I couldn’t have cared less. I had all but sworn off the series after the previous iteration delivered some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen in a video game (truly a remarkable achievement). However, some friends of mine had seen fit to praise the latest entry, so being the optimist/masochist that I am, I decided to let Sora and friends break my heart just one more time. Perhaps, as Square Enix prepares to unleash the next main entry, Kingdom Hearts III, they would be able to return to their whimsical roots. What I found was, to my shock and bewilderment, equal parts Delightful, Defective, and Depressing (GEDDIT?).

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Tabletop 101: How to Build an Effective and Fun Pathfinder Character

By Mike

Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Pathfinder with a few of my friends via Skype and Roll20. In that time I’ve assembled some observations about how to effectively build a character in Paizo’s answer to Dungeons and Dragons.

One of the challenges of building a character in this game is the sheer number of options that are open. At time of writing the game has more than a dozen character classes, hundreds of feats and character traits that you can add to a character, not to mention dozens of spells per each level — and that’s only the tip of the iceburg. While these options are part of the core appeal of the game, allowing players to create characters very organically and find some way of making any aspect of a character into a tangible aspect of gameplay, they’re also overwhelming to deal with. There’s an infinite variety of ways to build a character, but only a handful of those options are actually worth pursuing.

The key to dealing with this challenge is realizing that Pathfinder, while descended from the same stock as D&D 3rd edition, is not D&D 3rd or 3.5. While of the same spirit as Dungeons and Dragons, it has clearly and distinctly re-defined itself as its own unique game, in that none of the intuitive conventions of 3/3.5 for building a character apply in any remote sense. Once this is understood, the game is INFINITELY more interesting and more workable, and you’ll begin to realize that any concept you can imagine is viable as a character — just not necessarily in the way that you’d think. For instance, multiclassing is, while easier to do than it was in 3e, almost entirely displaced by other options. Races have a stunningly strong influence on the viability of certain character builds, and the difference of allowing Traits and not allowing Traits can mean life or death for certain types of characters.

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Tabletop 101: Sci-fi vs. Fantasy — A Problem of Abstraction

By Mike

I’ve been working on designing a tabletop RPG in my spare time for a little while now, based on an original sci-fi setting I’ve been working on for the past few years. In the time since I’ve started working on this system I’ve found that sci-fi has some odd bumps in the road compared with a fantasy RPG. The main issue at hand is abstraction.

A fantasy RPG is very easy to run and develop, mainly due to the conceit that a fantasy game will typically take place in a setting that, apart from concessions made for magic, is less advanced than our own. The idea behind a tabletop RPG is that if players can think it, they can do it, and 90% of people can most certainly think of most of the possibilities at hand in a medieval setting.

By contrast, sci-fi demands abstraction, owing to far future technologies and complex knowledge bases that players, in all but a few rare cases, can’t be expected to understand. It leads to a lot of knowledge and skill rolls in place of the players actually understanding what their characters are doing or thinking. Someone does an engineering roll — is the ship fixed? Yes/no. Someone does a piloting roll — did they dodge another ship? Yes/no. Someone does a biology roll — can they identify that animal? Yes/no. Making the game feel exciting is a big problem, and it’s easy for all too many things to feel like a coin flip.

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CryEngine 3 vs. UDK/Unity

By MikeCryEngine 3

In March 2011, CryTek released Crysis 2 for Console and PC, touting the CryEngine 3 as the world’s most advanced game engine. Following that and a showcase at GDC, they released the CryEngine 3 Free SDK in order to make a bid at the independent and student game development communities, in hope perhaps of growing their licensing base or being able to compete with Unity3D and UDK.

To date, though, few people have taken them up on it. You never see an indie developer using CryEngine, and there are almost no big game industry licensees for it that I can name that aren’t working on IPs originally developed by CryTek. As such I decided to take a crack at learning it, both to find out how it really stacks up against the other 3D engines in the independent market and to hopefully give it some much-deserved exposure. I’ll go through it in the same way I did Unity and Unreal, then see how it measures up to both at the end.

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Diary of a Hermit: Introduction

-By Adam

Quick question: What’s your favorite game ever?

I ask this question to a lot of people, and most of the time, their answer is a classic game that EVERYONE has played… except me.  Now, I’ve played a lot of games (and I mean a lot of games), and yet I keep running into legendary titles that I just haven’t gotten around to playing.  For instance, there’s this fascinating Nintendo game you may have heard of, called “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”.

Whoa, take it easy, I actually have played that one.  As a matter of fact, I finished it just a few months ago.  What’s that you say?  It came out 14 years ago? And people have been calling it (arguably) the best game ever made?  And it’s already been re-released several times over?  Okay, fine, you have a point.

So, while I’m pretending that you’re here talking to me, let’s make a deal: I’ll come out from under my cozy rock, dig up some classic game fossils, and tell you what it’s like to play your favorite old games for the first time, as a (reclusive) member of modern, civilized society.  Okay, so it’s not really a deal, I’m just telling you what I’m going to do.

Welcome to Diary of a Hermit, my new column about games I should have played already, but haven’t!  In our next episode, I will join Dante the White on a high-octane quest to avenge his pizza in Devil May Cry 3!  See you next time, folks!