2010 December

2010 December
Well I acquired them all legally, you can be sure of that ...

“Red keycard? Shit, where am I supposed to find that? I haven’t shot anything in at least 30 seconds and my ctrl finger is getting itchy … bugger it: i-d-k-f-a and I’m on my way!”

I’d reckon anyone old enough to recognise that internal monologue had the exact same discussion with themselves at some point. Something dawned on me recently that made me think about it again: the relationship between games and cheating has changed a hell of a lot since I first started playing.

Once upon a time it seemed pretty much every game had cheats built into it – all you had to do was find the right keystroke combination, probably from the cheats and codes pages of your favourite gaming magazine.

The thing that really made me start thinking about this was the recent blowup over Starcraft II players being banned from the game for life for using hacks and trainers in the game’s single-player campaign mode and Blizzard’s threats of legal action against some of the people responsible for developing them.

I’ll get back to that later but in the meantime, what’s changed? At what point did we decide that, actually, we don’t like cheats any more?

The math based Risk: Fractions was scrapped due to lack of interest

Not since Arthur Percival surrendered his 138,708 strong army of Allied soldiers to a Japanese force numbering approximately 30,000 has such poor military nouse been exposed on such a large scale … until now. Risk: Factions is based upon the classic Parker Brothers board game, Risk. The basic concept of the game is simple world military domination, while smack-talking the crap out your opponents and attempting to rob them of any feeling of self-worth.

Games need a minimum of two players, with a maximum of five, but you can set each game up with a mixture of human and AI opponents. Each player takes one of five factions: Humans, Cats, Robots, Zombies or Yetis. In the traditional game you play a board based on a map of the world, cut up into territories and regions rather than the countries. The gameplay is turn-based, with each player taking turns attempting to attack the surrounding occupied territories to build up their own empire. At the beginning of each turn you receive extra soldiers based upon the number of countries and continents you control. A traditional match ends when one player takes complete control, or (unfortunately more commonly) when the last remaining human player disconnects in defeat.

Tetris art courtesy of Naolito.com

This week’s Australian new release list is brought to you by the public’s fascination with magic falling blocks. To this day scientists are still unable to explain the why but the what has been abundantly clear for decades: put a human being in front of a screen with falling blocks on it and they’ll be mesmerised by that shit.

Secret diplomatic cables* received by Armchair Diplomat this week reveal that several countries are even looking to harness the effect for military purposes. “We’re probably about two or three years away from being able to drop a giant projector screen into a warzone and stop the enemy in their tracks by showing footage of falling blocks,” said one general who we can’t name because we value our bollocks in their current locations. “The sticking point has been trying to immunise our own troops against the effects – it’s no good reducing your enemy to a bunch of drooling halfwits if your own troops are left in a similar state.”

Early attempts at developing an immunisation have been deemed failures. While they were successful in rendering immunity to the falling block mesmerisation effect, word got out that the trial group also stopped seeing the “funny” side of Two and a Half Men and since then no soldier has been willing to take the drug.

If you’re not mesmerised by falling blocks yourself, you might want to try one of the following games that are due in stores this week:

  • World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (December 7, PC)
  • Bejeweled 3 (December 8, PC)
  • Game Party In Motion (December 8, 360)
  • Cabela Big Game Hunter (December 10, Wii)
  • Def Jam Rapstar (December 10, 360 / PS3 / Wii)
  • Goldeneye: 007 (December 10, Wii)
  • Hide and Secret Trilogy (December 10, PC)
  • Nickelodeon Fit (December 10, Wii)
  • Pac Man World 3 (December 10, DS)
  • PDC World Championship Darts (December 10, 360 / PS3 / Wii)
* Resemblance to actual cables written by an actual government may vary
Sprinting for your life hasn''t been this colourful in a long time

Reimagining a myth is a classic launch pad for entertainment. The evolution of story, characters and themes nurtures these myths, keeping them alive in a world that can have the memory span of a goldfish. Sometimes it goes well (the God of War franchise and Dan Simmon’s Illuim books being fine examples) and sometimes it goes quite badly (Clash of the Titans or The Bible … not so much). Thankfully Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a member of the former group. It’s not the first modern retelling of the myth of Monkey – you may remember the old TV show and might have seen the recent terrible movie adaptation starring Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef. These kitschy retellings thankfully were followed up by Damon Albarn’s Opera last year.

Ninja Theory’s game leaves out some of the recognisable markers of the original story, but is thankfully no less enjoyable for it. There’s no Dragon-disguised-as-Horse, no demons, no overall journey to become a great immortal sage or collect scrolls. Monkey certainly can’t multiply himself or change into anything (except maybe from angry man who wants to kill Trip to an angry man who might be in love with Trip), but we do have the Cloud, the headband, the staff. We still have Pigsy and his lecherous ways, and we still have a story that ends in Enlightenment.

As the story goes, the nature of Monkey was … irrepressible. In this version (written by Alex Garland) Monkey is a large, agile, brutish man, plucked by Slavers from the wasteland of post-apocalyptic North America and held in a an egg-shaped containment unit on a flying transport. He watches an attractive and early 90’s fashion-inspired young woman escape, and then the ship begins to explode. Nice timing, really. Monkey escapes, just barely, in what is a rather nicely done spin on the Tutorial level, and crashes to Earth on the outside of the girl’s escape pod. He wakes up to find that the girl he followed has now slapped a Slaver control headband on him.

The colourful cast of Poker Night at the Inventory

All of us here at Armchair Diplomat have spent some time playing poker, at varying levels of seriousness. While the others have all moved on to other, more interesting hobbies I still play regularly and Matt decided that meant I should be the one to review Poker Night at the Inventory. Keeping in mind it’s a casual game I’ll do my best not to get all VPIP balanced ranges on y’all… here goes!

The premise of Poker Night at the Inventory is simple. The Inventory is a club, it’s poker night and you’re there to play. Your opponents are Max (from Sam and Max), Strong Bad (of Homestar Runner fame), the Heavy Weapons Guy (from Team Fortress 2) and Tycho (from the Penny Arcade series).

Each game has a $10,000 buy in and the winner takes all. You never run out of money so you can play as many times as you like. The game keeps track of how far up or down you are and each game shouldn’t take much more than 30 minutes to play. Forget about all that though because, as we’ll discuss in a little bit, this isn’t really a poker game. It’s actually a vehicle for getting the abovementioned characters together to engage in some witty banter.

Your opponents never stop talking. Sometimes it’s prompted by the game and sometimes they just talk among themselves but they’re always jawing away. Max is the deranged bunny rabbit we’ve come to know and love over the years, Strong Bad is Strong Bad-y, Mr Weapons delivers a good deadpan Arnie-esque line and Tycho’s dry nerdy wit balances things out nicely. You don’t have to be a fan of their respective franchises to enjoy it but there are some in-jokes there for those in the know as well. It’s reasonably clever too, and if for some reason the cards interrupt someone’s story they’ll wait until the distraction is over and then resume their story. They’re not just responding to what’s happening on the table.

I wonder if the crown would like to hold hands for a while?

The strongest memory I have from the entire Fable series is way back at it’s beginnings. My hero is old. Very old. Deeply wrinkled skin and baggy eyes stare out of a face framed with grey hair and a golden halo. He stares down at a woman who appears to be around half his age … his mother.

In a title packed with innovative features, it was this moment that defined the game for me, and remained with me all the way through the sequel. A prime example of a brilliant concept that’s execution was fundamentally flawed.

Which is the stigma that surrounds the series as a whole, if we’re honest, due in no small part to the over-enthusiastic promises of lead designer Peter Molyneux. After long ago promising not to discuss ideas that he can’t demonstrate, he’s actually said some rather interesting things in the lead up to Fable 3‘s release, but the one that caught my interest the most was the fact that Fable 3 would probably upset a great deal of gamers, most likely because the game has been redesigned to be less of an RPG and more of an action-adventure.

Now although that seems like a very strange thing to admit pre-release, and even though I’m generally a fan of RPGs, I took this admission as a promising sign. I figured Lionhead finally was sitting down to fundamentally rethink Fable and enhance what worked while fixing what didn’t.

But I guess I figured wrong.