Saturday, October 14, 2017

[Finished] Life is Strange: Before the Storm episode 1: Awake

Game: Life is Strange: Before the Storm episode 1: Awake
Release date: 2017
Platform: PC
Date started:  October 2017
Date finished:  October 2017

As I played it, I enjoyed the first episode quite a bit but upon reflecting on it I realized it's not very good. First problem: they fucked up the continuity. At this point in time Chloe's mom and David should be already married but they're not. Oops. Everyone was recast, not just Chloe. Some of the voices are totally on point, so much that I wondered if it's the original actor doing the voice but being credited as someone else. Rhianna DeVries played Chloe pretty well. Sometimes I was annoyed by the tone of her inner voice but she did nail the most important scenes. Kylie Brown was fine as Rachel but due to all the buildup toward her character in first game, I expected someone a bit more charismatic. It was interesting seeing Chloe interact with familiar faces like Victoria or seeing Nathan get bullied. Out of the new characters I liked D&D nerds Steph and Mikey and laid back security guard Skip.

The main problem is Deck Nine doesn't know how to marry story with gameplay. They have no idea what would they have players do. So they made the ultimate fetch quest game. After Chloe comes back from a concert these are your main objectives for the whole first half of the game:
  1. bring purse to Joyce
  2. bring keys to David
  3. bring wrench to David
  4. take DVD from Steph (only so you can have a conversation, DVD as an item is inconsequential)
  5. bring belt to Rachel
It's not a joke, I swear all of these objectives happen one after the other with only a bit of dialogue in between.

This is how I feel about fetch quests:

The rewind mechanic is gone. Instead they introduced "backtalk challenge" where you try to get your way by defeating people with arguments. These are pretty fun (except the first one with a bouncer that is terribly written) but I don't like the way they were executed. It's nothing new, this has been in the game the whole time. Remember the conversation with Kate on the rooftop or asking Frank to give you his notebook. The only difference is now there is a visual indicator of how well you're doing in the conversation and all it does is break immersion. I don't like how it shows you that the conversation you're about to enter is different from others. I like to think all of them are important depending on the context. 

I was curious how would they tackle puzzles without rewind mechanic. Well, there's only one puzzle in the whole episode and I'm even hesitant to call it that. It's terrible for a couple of reasons:
  1. it's insultingly simple
  2. in the context of the story it doesn't need to be solved but you have to do it in order to progress
  3. you would never solve it that way in real life
Before the Storm is a step away from the original game and step toward Telltale style. Except for the schoolyard, all of the levels in the game got smaller and there's very little room for exploration. Locations like the junkyard or school dorm from the original game weren't big in any sense but there's nothing in Before the Storm that comes close to that size. There's always something blocking your path. Even tho the original had small levels, Dontnod created illusion that all those places are connected. For example: your goal is to get to a drama class. If Dontnod made this game then you'd start in the schoolyard, you'd enter the school, manually walk through hallways while exploring and talking to characters and then you'd enter the class once you find it. Here's how Deck Nine does it: you start in schoolyard then cutscene teleports you right into the class then another cutscene teleports you to next location. It's basically Telltale. 

Although there's not much room for exploration, from time to time you can find something interesting, like this betting note in front of an old mill. I think it might be connected to dog fights briefly mentioned in the first game
You could make an argument that they are focusing on the story and achieving better pacing by cutting the mundane parts but some of the best moments happened outside of the main plot. I loved the D&D minigame they played before the class and that was completely optional. With all the effort devs put into creating it, I just wish they allowed players to roll for themselves instead of rolls being predetermined. This would be very easy to implement and make it 100x better.

The story of episode 1 is about Chloe meeting and bonding with Rachel. Although it feels a little bit rushed, it is believable, especially since they have certain things in common. The game definitely had it's moments. Playing 2 truths 1 lie with Rachel was fun and it was cool to see their relationship develop. There was one heart breaking scene where Chloe ran into something that reminded her of her dad. I liked the story for the most part but I'm not so sure I like the ending.

The soundtrack is nice but there's no track that stood out nor one I'd listen outside of the game. I preordered Deluxe edition so I got a mixtape mode and different costumes as a bonus. I imagined mixtape mode would work like a discman or something that Chloe would carry with her and you could arrange tracks and play them inside the game. Turns out it's just an animation of Chloe lying in bed while listening to tracks from the game that you can re-arrange. You enter mixtape mode through main menu. While it's cool that you can change clothes this time, all bonus outfits look kinda lame so I chose the default one anyway.

I enjoyed playing Before the Storm but I can't overlook it's flaws. The devs were clearly struggling with incorporating gameplay into the story and I hope they will come up with something better for episode two.

My choices (IMAGE SPOILERS!) were pretty much the opposite from everyone else:

I was busy leaving a mark

emotional moments
Rachel/Chloe  relationship
D&D minigame

- struggling to marry storytelling with gameplay
 fetch quests
- less exploration
- continuity errors
- (lack of) puzzles
-  actors couldn't reprise their roles due to voice actor strike


Friday, October 13, 2017

Got SNES Classic Mini

Last year I bought NES Classic. Now I got SNES and it seems like I'm building a collection of cute little Nintendo consoles. N64 next year? NES version had an issue with short controller cable so I'm glad they extended it even added an additional controller for SNES Classic.

Here's the list of all the games on SNES Classic. That's a lot of games added to my backlog :/

Contra III: The Alien Wars
Donkey Kong Country
Final Fantasy III
Kirby Super Star
Kirby’s Dream Course
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Mega Man X
Secret of Mana
Star Fox
Star Fox 2
Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
Super Castlevania IV
Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario World
Super Metroid
Super Punch-Out!!
Yoshi’s Island

Visited GAME ON exhibition in Prague

GAME ON is the biggest exhibition about video game history, ranging from early arcades to modern systems and virtual reality. There are over 150 playable games on various systems. I had a chance to play arcade classics such as Pong, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga and many others. Virtua Fighter 2 was my favorite arcade when I was a kid. It wasn't there but I was happy to find the original Virtua Fighter which I haven't played before. The movement felt a bit floaty but it was still fun and of all games there I spent most time on it.

When I saw the "Puck Man" arcade cabinet I thought it must be some cheap copy of Pac-Man. Turns out this is the original Japanese game created by Toru Iwatani. It was only later renamed to Pac-Man for the American release because of fear of vandalism. They were worried kids might change "P" into an "F", turning it into "Fuck Man". Of course Puck Man aged very well and controlling him with a stick is tight and precise. They also had Ms. Pac-Man cabinet. They play pretty much the same.

Besides games there were some interesting things like Tomb Raider concept art and their BAFTA award in a display case. Or the faithfully recreated board in Rockstar offices from the time when they were working on GTA3 covered in sticky notes and concept art.

For the first time I had a chance to play on consoles like Atari 2600, Dreamcast or the first Xbox. The highlight of the exhibition was playing Steel Battalion with it's famous controller. It's a mech simulation for the original Xbox that came bundled with a huge controller specifically made for the game. It has 2 sticks, around 40 buttons and switches and 3 pedals. All the buttons light up when you get hit in the game. It was a great immersive experience.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Next to play: Life is Strange: Before te Storm

Game: Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Release Date: 2017
Platform: PC

Conditions: Finish all episodes

Going into the original Life is Strange I didn't think it would be the case but it turned out to be one of my favorite games of all time. You can read my review here.

What do I expect?

I'm quite worried about this prequel. First it's not developed by the original studio and second, they replaced the main actress. Ashly Burch couldn't reprise the role of Chloe due to voice acting strike but supposedly she was still somewhat involved in the game and helped write the character. It smells like a Square-Enix cash grab to me because if they really cared about making a good game, they would wait for the strike to end. I'd love to be proven wrong.

Next to play: Starcraft: Brood War

Game: Starcraft: Brood War
Release Date: 1998
Platform: PC

Conditions: Finish the campaign

The Starcraft story continues in the expansion set Brood War. Since I already have it installed and set up I decided to play the original Brood War, not remastered version. After I beat the single player I'm going to buy Remastered and play some multiplayer with new features such as ranked play.

What do I expect? 

I'm already familiar with Brood War multiplayer and new units so I just hope the story will be good.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Starcraft Finished

Game: Starcraft
Release date: 1998
Platform: PC
Date started: 21 September 2015
Date finished: 18 May 2017

Conditions: Beat all 3 campaigns: Terran, Zerg and Protoss 

Me and Starcraft, we go way back. Around the time Starcraft came out I was a kid who loved video games but I didn't own a PC. Even so, I was buying PC gaming magazines, reading about all these games and dreaming about playing them. My favorite local PC gaming magazine "Hacker" published an infamous Starcraft review where it's journalist Damir Rukavina gave a score of "just" 80%, which resulted in an outrage from the readers.

The infamous Starcraft review from Croatian gaming magazine "Hacker"

Along with the review they included a small booklet with strategy tips and unit overview. Since I couldn't play it, I'd draw the scene on a paper and imagine how the battles would play out. I still have one of those notebooks.

This is how I played Starcraft as a kid:

A couple of years later I finally got a computer and bought Starcraft. I remember playing the game with mouse only. Managed to get through the Terran campaign but couldn't beat the Zerg one. That's why I ended up playing mostly custom games vs AI before moving onto other games. Now almost 20 years later and armed with the skill acquired through daily Starcraft 2 ladder grind, I got another crack at it. As I type this, the remastered version is already out but I   chose to play the original and it still looks good to me. I even prefer Starcraft graphics over Starcraft 2 in some ways. There's something about the art style that makes it quite timeless. It also sounds great, especially the terran soundtrack.

The main thing that makes Starcraft so special compared to other RTS games is the diversity of playable races. While other RTS games often don't provide more than re-skinned mirrored units, Blizzard didn't only create original units, it gave every race unique mechanics so choosing to play as different race almost feels like playing a different game. Despite of that they managed to keep the game balanced. It's clear that Blizzard were inspired by Warhammer 40K and popular science fiction films and they weren't hiding it. When you select the dropship, you will hear a line from the movie Aliens for example. 


Terran (aka human) is the most conventional race in Starcraft. These space rednecks are physically weak so they rely on military technology that makes them the most versatile race in the game. Some Terran units can go invisible for a limited time unlike Protoss who have far more advanced permanent cloaking technology. Terran is the only race with buildings that can fly and move to other locations. Marines can't healed (yet) but all mechanical units and buildings can be repaired. The most powerful Terran assets are long range siege tanks, bunkers for defense and huge space ship Battlecruiser for the endgame.


Zerg is a primitive bug-like alien race connected to a hive mind. Unlike other races, Zerg doesn't use technology, all their units are biological. They rely on strength in numbers and when hundreds of fast zerglings swarm the opposing army, it can look like a scene from Starship Troopers. All Zerg units and buildings are organic and heal over time. Creating structures is somewhat limited because they have to be placed on creep, a slimy organic purple substance that flows from the main base and spreads over the floor as Zerg advances on the map. All Zerg units hatch from eggs and come out from main bases. This is different from other races which have dedicated buildings for workers and various army types. Zerg main base Hatchery can be further evolved into Lair and then into Hive which unlocks new units and upgrades. When playing Zerg I love to build a flock of Mutalisks, fast flying units which are great for harassing opponent's economy and production while his army is out of position. Zerg also has Ultralisk, the most powerful melee unit in the game and endlessly annoying Lurker who can burrow into the ground and do damage while being hidden.

Zerg base covered in creep



Protoss is physically strong and technologically advanced alien race that uses wrist blades, photon cannons and invisibility. Sounds familiar? I guess it's safe to say the guys at Blizzard have seen Predator. If quantity over quality is how Zerg fight, Protoss is the exact opposite. Their units are extremely powerful individually and a group of high templars with an ability psionic storm can destroy entire armies on their own. Protoss units and building have shields in addition to health so before the opponent starts damaging unit's health he has to destroy it's shield. Unlike health, shields regenerate over time so even if unit survives with 1HP, it can get full shield back and become a dangerous threat on the battlefield once again. Protoss don't build their units, they warp them in from their homeworld Aiur. Mechanically it works the same but they can only warp them in a range of pylons which power them up. If pylon gets destroyed, nearby buildings lose power. Protoss can build a very powerful air army, led by huge Carrier ships which can store and release a fleet of Interceptors.

Protoss campaign 

Starcraft is a skill based game where good strategy alone won't win you the match. You have to be good at controlling your army and there are so many tricks you can do with certain units to outplay the opponent with superior army but worse army control. The incredibly high skill ceiling is what made Starcraft one of the original esports games, one that is played to this day and with the release of the remastered version, it's here to stay even longer. If I'd rate Starcraft back in the day, I'd easily give it 10/10 but coming back to it after playing Starcraft 2 I have trouble getting around some of it's flaws. You can't rebind control group keys. Unit selection is limited and you can't select your whole army, instead you have to divide it in smaller pieces. Pathfinding is terrible and moving big armies around can be a nightmare. Units get stuck on the terrain or other units. If you want to play custom games vs AI, don't scout and harass his mineral line because the AI will pull entire worker line to chase your scout around and lose the game right there because of lost mining time.

The story of the game is told through mission briefings, ingame dialogue and cinematics that looked incredible when the game came out. It doesn't have a clear closure, instead it sets up the expansion Brood War which I plan to play next. That's also the reason I only played campaign even tho multiplayer is the best part of Starcraft 2. The whole community moved to Brood War so I'll have to get a taste of competitive play there.

+ 3 completely different races with their own unique campaigns 
+ esports aspect
+ great sound design
+ soundtrack
+ multiplayer

- bad AI and pathfinding
- limited unit selection