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Digging in to Steamworld — March 3, 2017

Digging in to Steamworld

I picked up Steamworld Dig for the 3DS a few years ago, but only every put about 20 minutes in to it, not nearly long enough to give it a real shot. I thought the aesthetic was nice, but the gameplay didn’t suck me in right away. Steamworld Heist seemed really interesting, but I didn’t give it a shot until I found a collection of both games for the PS4 a few weeks ago. Heist pulled me in right away, but I decided to give Dig another shot before I got too far in, and totally fell in love.

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The gameplay of Steamworld Dig is pretty basic… You play as a robot who’s inherited a mine, and start digging. A pick axe lets you break through basic blocks, and as you go deeper you find gems you can sell to buy upgrades, as well as new abilities for moving through your tunnels and digging through tougher blocks of dirt. The gameplay has been compared to the Metroid and Castelvania games, but what makes it unique is that the paths you end up retreading are your own tunnels, so each person who plays through will end up with a little bit of a different world.

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The exploration is really what makes the game… I ended up zenning out on just digging down further and further in to the world. The basic loop of this game is enter the mine, dig until you run out of light, then go back to the surface to sell what you collected. The ability to set up teleporters to let you jump back and forth between the surface easily makes this really enjoyable, and means you don’t ever feel forced to retread, but I had so much fun building up my fortune that I ended up staying on one level for quite a while anyway. This game does a great job of scratching that collector itch a lot of gamers have, but also motivates you to push further… I don’t want to spoil things, but let’s just say that there are surprises buried in the dirt that make digging worthwhile!

The only real disappointment I had was when I realized I was at the end of the game at about 5 hours in… and then as soon as I finished I found out that Steamworld Dig 2 just got announced, so I’m super pumped. If you’ve never tried any of these games, I really think they are worthwhile. I’m excited to go play Heist now, and am looking forward to Dig 2!

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My tribute to the Steamworld games, available on Teepublic as shirts, phone cases, and more!

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Punch All of the Demons in the Face: Thoughts on the first hour of Doom — February 20, 2017

Punch All of the Demons in the Face: Thoughts on the first hour of Doom

Doom is one of the founding franchises in video game history, but never one I’ve spent much time with. The first entry in this bloody, first person-shooter series came out in 1993, when I was way too young for game like that, and while I picked up the 2004 release, Doom 3, it was mostly because a used copy of the steel book case came in at the GameStop I worked at… I don’t think I ever actually played it. I think I must have played one of the games at some point, because I recognize some of the iconic imagery from the series (mainly the look of the demons and the uniform of the unnamed Space Marine protagonist), but I might just have just absorbed that from gaming magazines and forums. In any case, the hour or so I spent with the 2016 release, simply called Doom, is the only chunk of time I can remember spending with the series, and it was fantastic!

It seems like a lot of games I’ve played recently invest heavily in two things that slow things down from the moment you press start: tutorials and the story so far. Doom manages to hit both of these points in about a minute flat, and in an active way. The game opens with your character chained to an operating table of some sort as demons creep towards you. In a first person cinematic you bust through the chains, and then the game hands control to you to start with the slaughtering immediately! After a few moments, I stood standing in a small pile of demonic corpses, looking through a window at the armored Space Marine suit from the previous games. As I moved towards it, a hologram kicked in showing that, apparently, the operating table I started on used to be some sort of coffin, with a bunch of scientists kneeling in prayer around it. I’m not sure if this connects to the prior games at all, but near as I can tell this series puts you in the role of Space Jesus and tasks you with slaughtering demons. On Mars, for some reason.

There’s a few more tunnels in this space lab to clear out before you get to the sun-drenched, red surface, but both the interior and exterior environments are beautiful. It might be because I’ve been playing a lot of games designed for the last generation of consoles lately, but everything in Doom looks amazing. The environments are super detailed, the enemy’s move fluidly (and quickly), and the lighting adds to the ambience. Inside, it’s just dark and gloomy enough to let enemies surprise you, while outside the sun let’s you look spot the demons you are about to rush through from way off.

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I’m not sure if it’s an industry standard, or just a phrase I’m stealing from Polygon, but the “loop” is the most basic repeating element of gameplay in a game, and in Doom the loop is fantastic. It essentially goes like this: Open door, shoot demon, punch demon in the face, shoot demon, punch demon in the face, shoot demon, punch demon in the face… until eventually you come across another door, and then you start at the top. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what is happening narratively in this game, because every time a voiceover started to explain what was happening and where I should go next, I tuned them out to start looking for that next door. The game gave me three guns in the first 2 missions I played, but the shotgun (complete with exploding shells power up) was by far the most satisfying. Punching is really where this game excelled, though, with a mechanic where a demon who has been “stunned” (i.e., non-lethally riddled with bullets) gets highlighted, and becomes susceptible to a melee “Glory Kill”. Glory Kills are like punching-plus, with animations showing skulls being crushed, legs being broken, arms being ripped off, etc., and the game ensures you hit these as often as possible by showing you with health every time you execute one.

From what I’ve heard this game is a bit of a departure from the recent entries in the series, and I think the simple, reboot title of the name tells you everything you need to know. This is a game made to recreate early first person shooters, where we didn’t care about stealth or story, favoring instead big guns, fast pace, and blood. Doom won’t win awards for it’s story, but it’s graphic and game play are both beautiful, and the hour I spent with it was planed and simply fun.

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I was shouting “Doooom!” pretty much the whole time I played this game. Shirts and more available over at Teepublic
Thoughts on “The Wind Rises”: No magic, but nonetheless magical — February 18, 2017

Thoughts on “The Wind Rises”: No magic, but nonetheless magical

A few weeks back I introduced my wife to her first Hayao Miyazaki movie, Spirited Away, after I realized I had never seen his latest and last film, The Wind Rises. I snagged that 2013 flick from the local library, and last night we sat down to watch it and I was… surprised.

I went in to this movie knowing nothing but the cover art, and the movie started exactly how I expected… beautiful music plays over scenic imagery, a small child climbs on to a roof, gets in aircraft that might be a living create, and cruises across the countryside. He waves to everyone below him before dark shadows come out of the clouds, and belching bombs start falling around him from a massive flying fortress… You know, all the typical Miyazaki stuff.

And then the boy wakes up, and it turns out that this is actually a historical drama and biopic about Jiro Horikoshi a Japanese aircraft designer, who worked for Mitsubishi between WWI and WWII. I spent about the first half of the movie waiting for a wizard to show up, or to find out that Jiro’s friend Hiro was using cursed rivets, or for anything magical, mystical, or strange to happen; but aside from some dream sequences where Jiro speaks with Count Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer, the movie is grounded firmly in the real world.

The movie jumps from Jiro’s childhood

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“A5M Rises”, inspired by the movie, is up now in my Teepublic shop

to a train ride that gets interrupted by the Great Kantō Earthquake (where he meets his future wife, Naoko), then continues to jump forward years at a time, up to the designing of the Mitsubishi A5M and, simultaneously, his realization that his wife has passed away. The transitions from one period to the next were jarring at first, with little to no explanation of how much time has passed, but the calm music made those transitions ultimately feel dream-like and peaceful, instead of obnoxious.

 

It wasn’t about magic, but thanks to the beautiful imagery, captivating music, and the sleepy, almost dream like way the story moves from one part of Jiro’s life to the next, The Wind Rises is just as magical as any other of Miyazaki’s works.

Every Game Should Have a Hammer – Initial Impressions of Red Faction: Armageddon — February 10, 2017

Every Game Should Have a Hammer – Initial Impressions of Red Faction: Armageddon

I’m not sure I actually completed the demo for Red Faction I got from the Official PlayStation Magazine back in the early 2000s, because I quickly realized I could blow holes through walls and nothing else seemed important. I think I picked up both of the PlayStation 2 Red Faction games at some point, but most of my memories of them are from playing with the destructible environments in that demo. My next real memory of the series is a customer at Gamestop telling me the developers for the then upcoming Xbox 360 game and third entry in the series, Red Faction: Guerilla (2009), had to go to an architectural engineering class to learn about rebar placement, because the physics engine was so good that the buildings they had designed kept collapsing under their own weight. Looking back, I’m not sure the in-game rebar was actually very functional, but the idea of a playground that allowed for such realistic destruction pulled me way in, and I ended up loving that game. Even though I sunk a ton of time in to it, I somehow completely missed it’s sequel, Red Faction: Armaggedon (2011). I picked it up for $5 this week, and based on a quick play though of the introduction it seems like it’ll be just as fun.

Armaggedon starts off with a cutscene telling you about the history of Mars, freedom vs oppression, and yada yada yada. “Look,” I told the game, “I liked Guerilla and the earlier games, but I didn’t come here for your story of revolution, I came to bust stuff up with a big hammer!” It turns out the game was listening, and said “Here’s a big hammer.”

The first thing you do after calibrating your controller is take that hammer, and use it to break through a wall. Over the next few minutes you get a few more tools, like an assault rifle (which should be completely ignored in favor of using the hammer to break through people’s faces), a rocket launcher like laser cannon something or other (which effectively emulates using the hammer over a great distance), and the ability to repair the things you’ve smashed with the hammer (so that you can smash them with the hammer all over again).

You guys… I really like the hammer.

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I like it so much, I made a design for it! Available at tiny.cc/troytlepower
Outside of the destructible environments, the gameplay through the introduction was pretty typical. The bald, brooding bad-ass you play as (I think he’s related to all of the other main characters in the series, but who cares?) can take tons of bullets, while enemies are mostly squishy. The environments are relatively gray, and the game does everything it can to make sure you know exactly where to go next… It’s really just another shooter, except for that it’s way more fun to run through the level smashing all the generic buildings and baddies with a hammer than it is to use a gun. Outside of one out of reach building you’ve got to take down, I think it’d probably be possible to play the whole intro without firing a single bullet, and that’s really how you’d get the most unique experience from it.

After the introduction level, the game jumps forward a few years to the main character in an underground market, where he blah blah blah. I really can’t stress how much I don’t care about the story or characters in this series. It all feels like cardboard cutouts set up on the surface of Mars, just to try to motivate me to move from one totally destructible, rebar filled building to the next, but I don’t need it. Really, the only motivation that I need to keep playing this game is my trusty hammer, and plenty of stuff to smash.

Go watch The Nice Guys — February 5, 2017

Go watch The Nice Guys

I remember chuckling at the trailer for The Nice Guys, a raunchy, 70s detective movie from Shane Black, back before it came out, but I completely forgot about it until looking at a list of 2016 releases a few weeks ago. I picked it from the local library, and I’m so glad this movie didn’t end up slipping completely under my radar.

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Available on my Teepublic store on shirts, mugs, and more!

This is a scene from pretty early on in the movie, so it doesn’t spoil anything too major. If this doesn’t have you cracking up… you should still go watch the movie anyway!