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Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

No.5 of #52Stories: Wolfenstein: The New Order

13 February 2017
Posted in: 52 stories, Gaming, Tech | No Comments

Wolfenstein: The New OrderWhen it comes to gaming, it’s always been the story for me, right from the time of Myst and Riven almost 20 years ago. For the most part, give me a story and I’ll be hooked. Of course, the puzzle/discovery content is pretty important too, as is rolling about from cover to cover, sneaking up on or around the bad guys, and sometimes just taking a massive gun and shooting everything in sight.

52 Stories 2017There’s a lot of shooting everything in sight in Wolfenstein: The New Order (hereafter W:TNO), plus a decent amount of sneaking about if you so wish, but the overarching attraction of the game for me has been the premise its storyline is based on: What if the Nazis won World War II? Indeed, most of the action takes place in a 1960s world where the Nazis have been in power for a decade and a half, and things look very different. Hand in hand with the relentless pursuit of their master race propaganda, the Nazis have also had breakthrough technological advancements, including space travel. Famous cityscapes have changed in a way that you can identify them and yet see that something has gone wrong, very wrong. They also have at their disposal a variety of super-weapons. This means that during the gameplay you get to be chased down by gun-wielding robots the size of tanks, near-indestructible ubersoldaten and mechanical dogs that are anything but cuddly. Retro-scifi, someone called it. Hits the nail on its head.

Our beloved hero B.J. Blazcowicz returns as the main protagonist and the game’s only playable character. Back in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which was the last game in the series I played, I seem to recall Blazcowicz as a bit of a brainless bullet-happy twit, but in W:TNO, we see a more fleshed-out character. Of course, he still a Nazi-killing machine, but he gets a few quips in, definitely gets to travel, including a trip to the moon, and also a couple of sex scenes.

The story begins in 1946, in the domain of General Wilhelm Strasse (also known as Deathshead). In the prologue, Blazcowicz and two of his colleagues are captured. During their escape attempt a decision has to be made as to which of the colleagues have to be saved, based on which the storyline splits (albeit only in terms of cutscenes). However, the survivors come to grief, and a serious head injury puts Blazcowicz in a coma from which he wakes up 14 years later, in 1960, when the world has changed. The game really gets under way from the time he escapes from the asylum—one of the things that reminds you that this is after all a story is that despite having spent the last decade and a half in a vegetative state, Blazcowicz remains a ripped, deadly, bullet-spewing machine, having lost none of his skills and reflexes—and joins up a flagging Resistance to attempt to take down the Nazis.

The gameplay mostly consists of disposing of various Nazi enemies, both human and robotic. But it isn’t all about breaking down doors and shooting everything in sight. As almost all reviewers and gamers have appreciated, W:TNO’s strength is its writing, not just the story, but the characters and dialogues as well. You fight your way through an asylum, explore underwater tunnels in a U-boat, sneak through a lunar colony (yes, you actually get to walk on the moon), inflitrate and escape a labour camp, sneak into a prison and more. There is not much of a learning curve to the gameplay—the usual FPS mechanics of figuring out how to move, hide, switch between weapons, reload, take cover, sneak, sprint and so on. There is a much-praised lean mechanism while shooting, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to work for me.

One thing I particularly love is that stealth is a major possibility in large parts of the game. It doesn’t seem possible to go an entire level only on stealth, but you can do quite a bit of damage, especially the ability to take out the “commanders” so they can’t call for reinforcements, thus reducing the amount of bloodshed you have to cause. The game’s perk system lets you unlock rewards depending on your play style, which is quite clever. The ability to change difficulty settings mid-level is also rather useful. I usually play on the “normal” setting to get the best of both the story and the challenge. W:TNO’s default “normal” is the third of its five difficulty settings, called “Bring ’em on”, and while it’s not terribly difficult, I have little patience, and have been known to turn it down to “Don’t hurt me” in order to either advance to a part of the story I’m much looking forward to or to get past a particularly tricky section I’m stuck in. Overall, the game runs really smoothly, with no lengthy waits between cutscenes and gameplay—in fact, the transitions seem almost seamless.

Oh, and I am delighted that this is a singleplayer-only game. No idiotic community messages to distract from your gaming pleasure (are you listening, Hitman?).

I still have two more chapters to go before I finish Wolfenstein: The New Order, but I know this is going down in my list of favourites. I mean, how many games let you sneak into a lunar space shuttle and walk on the moon?

Replay value? Definitely.

~PD

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Cakes and candles: The 2017 version

24 January 2017
Posted in: Gaming, Scratchpad, Web design, Writeside, Writing | No Comments

Birthday

Here we go again, time to get excited about turning yet another year older. I’ll be honest: my favourite part about birthdays is cake (chocolate) and presents (many), not necessarily in that order. But because I don’t want to appear shallow, it helps to also make it about reflecting on the year gone by and think about what to expect in the next 365 days.

Here’s what I’d hoped to fill 2016 with:

  1. Implement the new design for Writeside.net. (It got a bit complicated. Long story.)
  2. Finish writing a book. (DONE, DONE and DONE! Yep, got two coming out this year, one an MG novel and the other a collaborative effort with another author. The US edition of Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean is also out this year.)
  3. Stay healthier than I managed in 2015. (Oops, that one might have come undone a bit.)
  4. Travel somewhere fun. (Done. Spent two weeks in the UK)
  5. Work on the workshops.(Done! Devika Rangachari and I started Royal Blue. We did three independent workshops, and have just wrapped up a 15-session creative writing programme in Amity International School, Saket, New Delhi.)
  6. Play more games. (Done! Would have been nice to get a bit more time for gaming, but shouldn’t complain.)

So, all in all, not as bad as it could have been.

But it’s that day again, so time for a brand new list, with new resolutions and aims. Here goes:

  1. Write (and/or finish) a fantasy novel: At the moment I don’t care if it’s one of my unfinished projects or series, or a new standalone novel. I just want to get back into fantasy.
  2. Start running again: Okay, I know realistically there isn’t a chance in hell of this happening if I continue to live in Delhi and if my knees don’t magically regenerate, so let’s downgrade this to “get fit enough so I can theoretically start running again”.
  3. Redo Writeside.net: Not just a new design, but maybe rethink what I’m doing with the site.
  4. Blog regularly: Plan in place.
  5. Keep playing games: My huge gaming backlog is getting huger as I keep buying games but not playing quite so much. But I’m going to do my best.
  6. Try self-publishing: Stay tuned for more on this.
  7. Travel somewhere interesting: As usual.

That’s all folks. Let’s see where we are 365 days from now.

~PD

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No. 1 of #52Stories: Limbo

16 January 2017
Posted in: 52 stories, Gaming, Reviews | No Comments

52 Stories 2017You know that feeling of being in a dream, where the world feels a bit out of focus, where everything is just a little out of reach, and where you have a sense of knowing that you have to go on but no idea why? Well, Limbo is sort of like that. I would go so far as to say that it’s a work of art, one whose its strength lies in its simplicity.

The surreal world of Limbo

Limbo dates back to 2010, developed by the independent Danish studio Playdead (who have since brought out another, very similar game called INSIDE in 2016). It is a puzzle platformer, but nothing like you’ve ever seen before. In Limbo the player controls the protagonist, a little boy who wakes up on the floor of a forest. You don’t have any information about who he is or what he is supposed to do; you can’t even point and click at things. All you have are the arrow and alt keys to make him move, jump and interact with his environment, that is, push and pull.

The gameplay takes place in the aforementioned forest, a vile, menacing space. The forest is full of dark shadows and blurry shapes. As the boy goes deeper into this nebulous, murky world, he confronts untold dangers and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But he must keep going—who knows where and why. This incongruity of a seemingly innocent little boy along among the concealed dangers of this surreal world is what gives Limbo its edge and you, the player, a chill down your spine.

The surreal world of Limbo

The artwork is hauntingly engaging—silhouettes in shades of grey, used beautifully to convey a sense of depth. The cute-creepy little protagonist is but a solid featureless figure with two bright spots as eyes. The foreground in which the action takes place is also in dark silhouette, and lighter greys are used to convey depth and layers, while light streams in to create soft shadows and highlight dust motes, and underline that sense of dreaminess. But the softness of the environment is skin deep, for you don’t need to go too far to find the menace in Limbo. You must steel yourself to watch the little boy fall, and by that I mean die, and die in gruesome ways. There’s no blood, no mourning. He just gets up and tries again.

Death is serious in Limbo. Timing and the environment are all you have to bridge unpassable terrain, to keep going, to defeat the vile creatures that bar your way, and to bypass the deadly traps that will sever your protagonist’s limbs. Yes, the deaths can be grisly—you watch the kid getting snapped in two, decapitated, skwered by the legs of a giant spider; you watch him go limp when he falls into water, you watch his body crumple when he falls from a height. You don’t need graphic imagery to recoil when steel traps squelchily snap the little body into pieces or when all sounds stop as water engulfs the boy and he stops moving.

Gameplay-wise, there’s a fair bit of trial and error to get past certain sections, made a little bit harder because you know that every failure means you have to watch the grim death scene again. And, of course, the puzzles do get harder as you go on. Thanks to the short chapters, there are frequent autosaves, meaning that you don’t always have to redo a really complex bit that you just about managed after many tries.

Since I have yet to get to the end of Limbo, I don’t yet know what the story will unfold. It’s already one of my favourite games of the year and it’s still the first half of January.

~PD

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