Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Heroes of Neverwinter

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Heroes of Neverwinter is decent. It’s a minimal implementation of the 4th Edition D&D rules, but at least the system is recognizable, and there’s some strategy to the gameplay and choices to make when gaining levels that should help the game remain enjoyable.

I also recognize that this game is fresh and new, and a lot could be added to it. The ability to take the Total Defense action came to mind for several rounds where my Fighter couldn’t do much. Maybe they could implement an ‘Advanced’ mode for experienced D&D players, because I’m really itching to play something with a true 4E ruleset.

I just hope it doesn’t go totally mercenary. Currently, the game – at least at low levels – seems to have a decent balance of being playable with free equipment while tempting you with bigger and better items. I really appreciate the ability to purchase unlimited Energy, too, removing one of the big Facebookizations of the game. Just made up that word. I’m really hoping they continue adding more ways to remove the social features. I would happily give them $50 for infinite Energy, a moderate increase in gold or reduction in gold prices, a few random consumable items each day, and a promise that I’ll get minor new content for free, and major new expansions for a moderate one-time cost.

Just sell me a D&D Gold Box game for 4E. I want to pay you for it. You’ve almost made it. Go all the way.


The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment


The Shallows


Reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows was an interesting experience, if only because the book does an excellent job of arguing why it shouldn’t exist.

Carr has a simple message. I’ve rephrased it here in 80 words.

“The brain adapts and changes in response to new media. Clocks, books, and calculators changed the way we think, and now the internet is changing us again. This change is good and bad; we become much better at quickly gathering information and multitasking, but we become less able to deep-read long articles or novels, and rely more on the computer rather than learning problem-solving skills. This is okay, but we should at least be aware of what we’re giving up.”

Books are more than 80 words, however, and The Shallows stretches on for 250 pages, reiterating this message and exploring it from different angles. It discusses how savvy internet-users flit quickly between webpages and content, scanning for salient words and points then moving on to the next bit of content. After reading The Shallows, that approach definitely seems more appealing. I don’t feel that I learned much more from spending days reading this 250 page book than I would have learned from spending five minutes reading and contemplating a 250 word article.

Categories: Books, Reviews

Reality is Broken

March 10, 2011 Leave a comment

I recently read Jane McGonigal’s new book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

From a game design perspective, the first half of the book really resounded with me. Reality is pretty lame. The progression is unclear, the rewards are disconnected from the actions, and there’s no confirmation that we’ve mastered skills or learned anything. Modern reality sucks, and 20-somethings like myself are discovering that the logical, rewarding, immediate world of games we grew up with has nothing to do with the world of business. However, we’re also the generation that’s poised to make a change and do something about it.

However, after that, McGonigal began to lose me. I don’t think she makes a good argument for how to make reality more like games. She acknowledges that in the modern age, we’re inundated with different requests and demands to belong. Join my Facebook game. Like my band. Sign up for my community. Simply sorting through the static and finding what we want to belong to is a chore.

But when she gets to all her best examples of games that make reality better, they’re all standalone experiences, games that you have to go out of your way to sign up for, understand the rules, get involved in the community, and make an effort to participate. The way to make reality better is not to offer people even more choices and 100+ hour commitments that demand their time. Her games seem to make an impact on the people who get involved with them, but her numbers indicate that she’s getting a few thousand players for each game – pretty impressive, but far from the widespread social change that I think her early ideas are arguing for.

I know from her talks at GDC that she doesn’t like the gamification movement, but I think they present one critical difference from her suggestions: they’re all about making games out of things you were doing anyway. We’re only in the infancy of gamification, but I think they’re taking McGonigal’s advice better than she is: take reality, learn from games, and make reality better.

Nintendo 3DS and other 3D

March 9, 2011 Leave a comment

While at GDC, I had some time to try out the Nintendo 3DS, in both movie and game modes.

I’m not really impressed. The 3D top screen is kind of cool, but it’s cool in the same way a 3D lenticular bookmark is cool – it’s interesting to look at it and say “it’s cool that we can do that,” but it’s not something you’re going to be staring at, slack-jawed, for hours. In the same way, the 3D screen is cute, but not mindblowing. It has an illusion of depth, yes, and it doesn’t require glasses. Perhaps the most impressive part of the technology is that it was brought to market so quickly; it feels like 3D screens should be a feature on the next handheld generation, not this one.

Maybe it feels that way for a good reason, because the 3DS just doesn’t work. The 3D effect is limited by the edges of the small screen, and the transition from simulated 3D to real depth and real objects is painful. The 3D itself is poor – I did a demo of Kid Icarus Uprising, and the 3D feels like a bunch of flattened sheets of paper stacked on top of each other, a totally weak 3D effect. If you move or tilt the 3DS at all, the image slips out of 3D focus, and it’s like an ice spike to the visual processing centers of your brain.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m not a 3D hater. I’m actually a huge advocate, and I saw some other interesting 3D tech at the show.

At the Crysis 2 booth, they were showing off the game on huge flat-screen TVs, and players only had to wear Real3D glasses – unpowered, cheap glasses, like you get at the movies. I have no idea how this worked – I thought Real3D relied on having two projectors putting out oppositely-polarized light. It’s possible that these TVs were double-resolution and that each LED was calibrated to give out a certain polarity…which would be pretty badass.

The 3D effect was okay. The same as the 3DS, really – multiple flattened sheets on a scene, instead of real depth.

What really blew me away was doing a Fable III demo on a computer monitor, using an Nvidia card and powered stereoscopic 3D glasses. When I got the depth set right, it was like looking at action figures running around a diorama. Every character had a real sense of weight and existence. I could sense details in space, such as how the character’s sword came out towards the camera, and even that the cuffs on their jacket were distinct from the sleeves. This is what 3D is supposed to be; it created a real sense of weight and depth, and made these characters more believable as real entities running around a real world, rather than characters on a screen.

In conclusion: buy a 3DS if you want, but don’t buy it for the 3D gimmick. The wonder will wear off in 15 minutes. My recommendation is to wait a few more months; 3D technology just keeps getting better and better, and maybe soon we’ll have the killer app that proves that the future is three-dimensional.

Playstation 3 Reviews

February 26, 2011 1 comment

More people in my circle of friends are getting PS3s, and it’s really exciting. It’s great to log on and see what people are playing, and potentially jump right in and start playing with them. There’s definitely a network effect to consoles, now that they’re all online, and a certain critical mass of friends where your focus can switch from single-player to multiplayer experiences. I think we’re approaching that point!

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to do some reviews of PS3 games and accessories, to help my friends (and anyone else reading) to make good choices about what to buy. Is the Move worth it? Do you need the official headset? Stay tuned!

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