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Friday, Dec 19, 2014
The Masterplan is about a heist gone right.

There have been a fair number of heist games released in the past year or so—from the neon-noir chaos of Monaco to the war-in-the-streets battlegrounds of Payday 2 to the grand spectacle of GTA V‘s bank jobs. Then there’s The Masterplan, an Early Access Game currently on Steam. Normally I’d say that it has a lot of competition, but it stands apart by offering a kind of heist those other games purposefully avoid. While all those other games revolve around the moment when a heist goes wrong, The Masterplan is all about a heist gone right.


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Thursday, Dec 18, 2014
Amid the game’s palatial estates and ancient ruins, I found a story that hit much more close to home than I expected. With remarkable subtlety, the world of Dragon Age creates a personalized experience of race.

Warning: This post contains minor spoilers for Dragon Age: Inquisition.


My Inquisitor is a Dalish female with white hair. See, I try, whenever possible, to make game characters unlike myself. I want to roleplay in worlds with a different perspective than my own, and what better opportunity than in the blight-infected lands of Dragon Age: Inquisition? But even amid the game’s palatial estates and ancient ruins, I found a story that hit much more close to home than I expected. With remarkable subtlety, the world of Dragon Age creates a personalized experience of race.


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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014
by Marshall Sandoval
The power of procedurally generated content is being harnessed to make everything from realistic texture maps to entire universes. However, procedural generation is, by no means, a magic bullet.

Given the choice, most people would rather have their own unique adventure than play through the same story with the same twists as everyone else’s tale. Games like Spelunky and Minecraft push the boundaries of what is possible within the emergent systems of a video game. The power of procedurally generated content is being harnessed to make everything from realistic texture maps to entire universes. However, procedural generation is, by no means, a magic bullet. There are extreme challenges in developing and testing systems with nearly endless possible permutations.


The perks of a game with procedural generation are obvious to players, but designers would also prefer to write an algorithm that generates endless player possibility than they would create hundreds of levels by hand. This is often the case for small, indie developers with limited time and resources. Brad Johnson is the developer of tile based dungeon crawler, A Spire to the Gods. He says, “As a solo developer, choosing to make levels procedurally has been a life saver, a mood lifter, and a game enhancer. I don’t have to worry about how to come up with interesting level layouts. If I had a team of developers working on levels, I’d probably flesh out the level editor and make custom levels, but that’s only in an ideal situation with unlimited time and budget.”


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Tuesday, Dec 16, 2014
The first season of Telltale's The Walking Dead earned widespread critical praise, mainstream public appreciation, and a bevy of game of the year awards in 2012. Two years later, The Walking Dead Season Two has received a somewhat more muted reception.

The first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead earned widespread critical praise, mainstream public appreciation, and a bevy of game of the year awards in 2012. Come two years later, the direct follow up, The Walking Dead Season Two, has received, shall we say, a somewhat more muted reception. Between the first and second seasons, there was a change in The Walking Dead. While there are many obvious changes one could point to—a new playable character, a greater focus on action, etc—the particular change I thought had the most impact was the loss of that certain je ne sais quoi that sunk the first season’s talons deep into our collective psyches. Every other obvious change to the series seemed to have some interesting possibilities to it, whereas the “feel” of the game was off in its second season.


There are quite a few possible explanations for this. The writing team behind the episodes changed significantly between the two seasons. There were three writers that worked on Season One, one of which wrote three of the episodes by himself. Season Two had a total of eight writers, who ended up working in pairs for over half the season. It could be that the narrative opportunities for the game shrank with by changing the protagonist into a young character that couldn’t have the social influence of her older predecessor. Maybe it was the shift in structure from the more episodic, single issue storytelling of the first season to episodes more clearly geared towards advancing a single narrative arc over the course of the season. However, I like to pin the fault on something much more basic. The episodes in Season Two were an hour shorter than their counterparts in Season One.


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Friday, Dec 12, 2014
Lifeless Planet uses minimal details to establish a compelling mystery, to subvert our expectations, to create dramatic tension, and to guide exploration.

Lifeless Planet and Stranded approach a similar concept in two very different ways. Whereas Stranded tells us as few details as possible in order to let our imaginations fill in the blanks, Lifeless Planet takes a more conventional approach to its mystery that grows in scope with each new twist. However, despite these very different design philosophies that don’t invite comparison, the two games have very similar beginnings that do invite comparison. I wrote previously about how Stranded is too minimalist for its own good and how it fails to establish mystery, atmosphere, or a desire to explore. Lifeless Planet is Stranded done right, at least for the first hour, before it goes off in another direction. That first hour is similarly minimalist, but uses its minimal details to establish a compelling mystery, to subvert our expectations, to create dramatic tension, and to guide exploration.


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