Sunday, April 29, 2012

Three New Straandlooper Projects Revealed


Straandlooper, the developers of Hector: Badge of Carnage, have announced three new game projects, which are in the concept and development phase and will be released in the upcoming years thanks to a Slate Development Loan from Northern Ireland Screen that matches their own funding.

The first of the three games is Thunder in Donford. It is described by designer Dean Burke as "in some ways the spiritual successor to Hector, and in other ways entirely unique, throwing in alternative gameplay to shake things up." The game promises to be "packed with preposterous point-&-click style irreverence. A boisterous, non-stop cross-country ricochet across Britain, slapped together with the meticulous delusions of a paranoid conspiracy theorist lorry driver, Trev Duvay. Part time trucker, full time loner on an unforgettable crazy road trip that will probably scar your fragile mind for life."

The second game is Schrödinger’s Cat. Named after the famous paradoxical thought experiment, it stars a "dark, dimension-jumping feline superhero who’s both dead and alive, unwittingly charged with disentangling the secrets of time, space, the atomic, the astronomical and the infinite. Up against anything from an unruly band of disagreeable leptons to the sinister creeping tendrils of Dark Matter, Schrödinger’s Cat is sure to blow the lid off all the things you never knew about life, the universe and everything." Breaking from the more traditional genre conventions, this game will include some action-adventure elements in a mix of "part puzzler, part platformer, part punch-up".

The last game, The Sirrush Conundrum, will be an "epic puzzler" that takes players into the "hidden worlds of espionage and the dark underside of global business’ relations with governments. Accompany outspoken politico and ‘toff’ dissident James Newton Wellbeloved aka Newt as he runs from a kill order and at the same time has to unravel and foil a labyrinthine and outrageous international plot that leads him into the far reaches of alternative archaeology and – for a lifelong skeptic – a mind blowing immersion in so-called ‘psychic’ techniques."

The games will likely take a while to develop, since the Straandlooper team is small, and as such the games will likely not be developed simultaneously. But, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the games should be released on the PC, Mac, and iOS platforms within the next few years.

Friday, April 27, 2012

CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder Review

CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder was the first of Telltale's most often overlooked series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigations.  It was actually the third in the series (although it was the first by Telltale), which makes 3 in the title a play on words. As with all games based on the CSI: Crime Scene Investigations (which will be referred in this review from this point on, as CSI: Las Vegas), you have to enjoy the show (or similar shows) to enjoy the game.

Although it was a commercial boxed game, this is the first game to use Telltale's now-standard practice of five episodes (cases in this instance) per game (there were six cases in Ubisoft's PlayStation 2 port, although the sixth case was just a renamed version of case 2 in CSI: Hard Evidence). The multiple cases worked well here, as it felt like you were playing five episodes of the show. If they made it all into one long mystery, it would have become old fast.

The biggest drawback of the game to today's audience is it's graphics.  Moreso than any of Telltale's games before it, this game really shows it's age graphically. Texas Telltale Hold'Em and the Bone games still look nice because of the cartoon style they employed. CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder went for a realistic approach with motion captured 3D. Since the game was released in 2005, the technique is no longer as impressive. This means that, while the characters do resemble their characters enough to be recognizable, there's definitely some uncanny valley going on here (in the eyes in particular).

To the benefit of the game, Telltale managed to get most of the original voices to do the voices of the characters here. That really helps to give it the feel of playing five episodes of the show. The voices of the suspects are also well done, and include some Telltale regulars as well.  There are also some drawbacks as far as the voice delivery goes, however.  Some of the characters sound too much like they are "phoning it in" by just reading the script. Although the acting is meant to be dry, as in the show, it shouldn't be completely devoid of emotion. The voice actress of Catherine, in particular, is guilty of this.  In addition, the "way to be thorough" line when you check an area with no evidence available is used way too often. It would have been nice to have some variety in the responses. Another drawback in the audio department, is that there is sometimes a crackle during voiceovers. Also, sometimes the dialog a character says starts before a clip starts, stops, and then starts over again after the clip ends.

The good outweighs the bad, however, as the game really feels like the CSI: Las Vegas show. You are presented as a rookie CSI who has to learn the ropes at the CSI: Las Vegas crime lab.  Unlike most of Telltale's other games, the view is presented in first person mode.  In the Windows version, your movement is limited to the areas which present themselves via clickable hotspots while looking for clues.  In the PlayStation 2 version, your movement around crime scene areas is free.  This actually makes the PS2 version more confusing, as Telltale intended the limited movement to improve ease of use (and it certainly doesn't detract from the game).

As you progress in the game, there are scenes taken from the show of shots of Las Vegas (complete with music from the show) when you move to a new location. All of the Hollywood-style CSI technology from the show is available for you to use in the lab, and the famous in your face shots when evidence is discovered are also present in the game.

The writing is excellent as well. The cases are interesting, as were the personalities of the subjects. The best part of the episode though, was the second case. The case, titled First Person Shooter, was a parody of the cancellation of Sam & Max at LucasArts in favor of high selling Star Wars games. The leads on the project also got into the fun, giving murder suspects in the case slight variations on their names.  It was very surprising to see such tongue-in-cheek humor go into such a serious project, but it was a very welcome surprise.

Although it's not quite the "season arc" of the later CSI games, the final episode does manage to tie itself into two previous cases.  It's nice to have a bit of a continuity in episodic-styled games, as it helps to make the five cases feel like part of a whole product, rather than just a bunch of separate mini-games that happen to share characters.

I still like this game despite it's age, and despite some audio hiccups. It's well written, most of the cast comes back to reprise their roles, and the game successfully uses music from the show, as well as low-key, but well-fitting additional music by Jared Emerson-Johnson of Bay Area Sound. In my opinion, the game is worth playing on either platform it was released on, but take note that although it is nice to be able to have free reign of the camera in the PlayStation 2 version, it does make the interface a bit harder to maneuver. You'll find yourself dragging the cursor around the screen with the left thumbstick more in this version in order to find just the right hotspot that you need to click. The PC version is the recommended version for this reason, but even with quirks of the new engine, the PS2 version is still a solid port.

That said, not everyone will take to this game. The dialog delivery is very dry. The gameplay is slow paced, and it's all about talking to suspects, meticulously searching through each scene looking for clues, testing those clues in the lab, and then repeating. However, all of these things actually fit perfectly within the mold of CSI: Las Vegas. To like this game you have to like the CSI franchise to begin with, or at the very least, if you haven't seen it, enjoy Hollywood's dramatization of crime scene investigation procedure. If you don't like these kind of shows there is no way you're going to like this game.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

A New Day Out for PC, Mac, PSN, and XBLA

Today is the day that The Walking Dead: Episode 1: A New Day comes out for Xbox 360 through the XBLA service.

The game has also been released on the Telltale site for PC and Mac, as Telltale has managed to fix the problem that delayed the release on their site and prompted them to send out Steam codes for Telltale store pre-orders.

It's also already out on PlayStation 3 through PSN.  Telltale sends out word that Australia and New Zealand won't be receiving the game on consoles due to restrictions in Australia on mature rated games.  People in these territories can still buy the game for PC or Mac through Steam or the Telltale Store.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Non-Adventure Review: Telltale Texas Hold'Em

When I first played this game, I didn’t know Poker well, so I was never able to win.  When Poker Night at the Inventory came out, I forced myself to learn Poker and now I can play Telltale Texas Hold’Em well enough to hear a lot of the comments in one play through, and I actually managed to win a few times.  I was actually pleasantly surprised that it’s still fun to play, considering it was Telltale’s first product and it was initially only meant as a test of the Telltale Tool.

The game does have it's shortcomings, mostly due to the fact it was Telltale's first project, and also because of it's age.  First of all, I noticed audio problems.  Some of the lines of speech would crackle at the end of the sentence, and some lines seemed to cut off prematurely.  Although, the latter is barely noticable, and the former doesn’t happen too often.  Also, There isn’t an option in the menu to change your screen resolution.  I personally didn’t mind this, but I know some might, especially with a widescreen monitor as the image stretches to fit the screen.

It also shows it’s age graphically.  The parts of the characters that are supposed to be rounded are somewhat jagged, especially on Harry’s and Boris Krinkle’s bald heads.  I don’t mind this personally, since I’ve never worried about graphics in games.  I’ve always believed in graphic design over graphic pizazz, and the design of the characters in this game is fittingly cartoony and charming. Beside the fact, the “jaggies” are nowhere near as bad, as say something from the late 90’s or early 2000’s like Escape from Monkey Island. However, if you’re the kind that worries about that kind of thing, you can tell it’s an older game (it was released in 2005).

The good parts of this game, however, far outweigh the bad.  The main selling point of this game is that it's really funny.  I read the rules for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised at how hilarious they are.  I’m glad that Telltale put humor into something that would otherwise be tedious.  One sentence in the rules actually made me chuckle out loud.  Another funny thing I noticed was that Poker Night at the Inventory make a reference to it’s spiritual predecessor through Telltale Texas Hold’Ems rules section.

The characters were great.  Boris Krinkle had some great lines.  I also enjoyed Grandma Shakey’s comments about being sadder than when her Nth dead husband died and X (X being everything from something unbelievably small to something catastrophically big).  I also found Harry Weinhead’s fourth wall breaking comment was funny too, as I love jokes like that.  Ted Theodore Dudebrough (you have to love the Bill & Ted reference) was basically a mellow Max (from Sam & Max), with a touch of Strong Bad (from Homestar Runner), which was great.  Like Ted, Max would usually follow your crazy bets even if he had bad cards.  Ted also said some pretty random stuff and he used some pop culture in funny ways.

The music is also wonderful.  It’s an upbeat Jazz score.  Jerry Logas and the Pier 23 Reunion Band did an excellent job with the soundtrack.  The voices are also surprisingly done well, considering this was before Bay Area Sound handled Telltale’s games.

While the facial animation was just average, the animation of the characters themselves was great considering this was Telltale’s first product (and was only originally intended as an internal test project).   Boris Krinkle, especially, had a lot of fun movement in his arms.  And I especially liked one particular animation involving Boris and Ted.  It was a great little piece of animation, and I enjoyed watching it every time.

Despite it’s age (and it’s lack of graphic options), it’s still fun to play, as it seems to play the same as Poker Night at the Inventory.  It’s also still funny, and like Poker Night at the Inventory after it, it will take you many plays before you hear all of the dialog. Telltale Texas Hold'Em is well worth buying if you can get it during a sale when it's around $5US, especially if you haven't yet played Poker Night at the Inventory. Even if you have played Poker Night, you may still find some fun with the game as there are a lot of good jokes here.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

Non-Adventure Reviews

I just replayed Telltale Texas Hold’Em, and I wrote up a review on Telltale's forums.  I originally didn't plan on posting it here, but I discovered that the game's page on this blog still exists from when this blog was called Telltale Fan.  I decided to make a new category for games and reviews, one for games that aren't adventures but are connected to an adventure game.  This game qualifies because it was referenced in In-jokes in Telltale's adventure games (such as Telltale Texas Hold'Em's poker table appearing in Sam & Max Save the World: Situation Comedy).

So, you'll be seeing some non-adventure games and reviews here among the adventure game reviews as I catch up on Telltale's game catalog.

Enter the Story: Frankenstein is Available

Enter the Story, Chris Tolworthy's ambitious project to create games based on world famous literature, continues. This release is the choose your own story version of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's famous novel about a man who uses cadavers to create a monster, who may not be a monster after all. The game is playable online to the halfway point, and is available to purchase in a package deal which includes all the Enter the Story games, including the original 5 offline casual adventure titles made with Adventure Game Studio.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

OUTATIME Review

The final episode of Back to the Future: The Game ties the season together with a visit to multiple time periods and the addition of Michael J. Fox to the voice cast.  It's certainly the most ambitious episode to date, and, for the most part, it does live up to it's potential.

This game starts off in 1931 in Emmett's lab. By this point, 1931 is feeling pretty redundant, but Telltale manages to mix things up a bit as we finally get to see the science fair inside of Hill Valley high school.  The science fair contains some retro-views of the future, including a house with sliding glass walls, and a home with 1930's views of "futuristic" objects, including a nice tongue-in-cheek reference to one of the objects from the 2015 future seen in Back to the Future Part II.

The puzzles in this scene are among the most fun I've had during the entire run of the series.  There's a puzzle in particular involving young Emmett that is kind of an anti-puzzle.  I can't say more without giving anything away, but it was nice to see Telltale thinking out-of-the box on their puzzle design.  The voice acting in this scene also shines, especially the parts where Marty and the older Emmett have to attempt to mock the voices of other characters.  Both Christopher Lloyd and AJ Locascio did a great job here.  They both managed to sound like their characters imitating other characters, which isn't an easy task to accomplish.

The game really gets going after the science fair is over. It's hard to say what happens without giving anything away, but we finally get to see a timeline change happening around Marty and Doc.  As I mentioned before, Telltale managed to get Michael J. Fox to voice a character in the game, and he has a large part in helping Marty and Doc as they attempt to find out why the timeline had changed.  It's great to see Michael J. Fox back in a Back to the Future production, and hearing Michael J Fox and AJ Locascio together really drives home just how good AJ's Marty really is.

There are three time jumps after this, one of which involves a character that was introduced in Back to the Future: The Animated Series.  It's great to see Telltale give a nod of the hat to the show.  It's even better that they managed to handle the character in a way that isn't as over-the-top as the cartoon, and actually feels like he could have fit into the films.  Despite his short appearance in only one scene in this final episode, he's actually one of my favorite characters in the entire game.  If Telltale does another season, it would be great to see more of him, but what we received here was certainly worthwhile.

The best part of the game comes in the final puzzle, which is the best final puzzle in the season.  It's well thought out, the puzzles are entertaining, it incorporates something fans have been asking for, and it feels cinematic enough that it would have easily worked in the films.  The musical score here is also excellent, further giving the scene it's cinematic feel.  I've said it before, but I'll say it again.  The music in this game really shines.  Jared Emerson-Johnson and Bay Area Sound managed to blend the film's score with new music seamlessly throughout the entire season, and this episode was certainly no different.

I do have to point out though, that the bugs that have been present in every episode this season are still here.  I experienced bugs that have plagued previous episodes, such as the bug that causes Marty to be called the wrong name.  The bugs aren't that bad though, but they're noticeable enough to detract you from the story, which is a shame since this episode is really well done otherwise.

OUTATIME is easily the best episode out of the series.  It has plenty of time travel, incorporates things that fans have requested, and the voice and musical score really shines here.  Best of all, Michael J Fox has joined the cast for the finale.  As with every episode in Back to the Future: The Game, unfortunately, the episode is marred a bit by bugs.  The ending is also not for everyone.  It's a bit too cartoony, and it took me a while to warm up to it.  That being said, it's certainly a fitting ending to the season, which has overall been an average gaming experience, but above average in the story, art, and sound departments.  I definitely would not mind a second season.

Update: 12/1/15: Since I wrote this review, a remaster called the 30th Anniversary Edition has been released. The improved textures aren't really that noticeable, however they also managed to get Tom Wilson to reprise his role as Biff.  Having Tom Wilson as Biff really helps to add to the authenticity, so if you want to play the game, it's worth picking up the remaster if possible. If you've already played it, it's not really worth picking up again, unless you're a big Back to the Future fan.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

The Walking Dead: A New Day Out Now

The Walking Dead: Episode 1: A New Day is out now on Steam. It's not out on Telltale's site yet, but it should be out there as well soon. Update: Telltale has encountered a server problem that only affects the version of the game from their online store. They won't have it fixed tonight, so they are mailing Steam keys to everyone who preordered from their site, so that anyone who preordered from Telltale and wishes to play the game can do so through Steam.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jane Jensen's Pinkerton Road Gets a Kickstarter

Jane Jensen's Pinkerton Road: A Year of Adventure is a new kickstarter project by Pinkerton Road, a new company founded by Jane Jensen (creator of the Gabriel Knight series and Gray Matter) and Robert Holmes (composer of the Gabriel Knight series).

The kickstarter is asking for $300,000 and it includes proposals for three games: Gray Matter 2, Moebius, and Anglophile Adventure. Detailed descriptions for each game are available on the project's kickstarter page.

There will be a vote available on April 14 and 15 (half-way through the kickstarter) for pledges at the $16 level and above, in which they can choose which game will be made first.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Enter the Story: Macbeth Is Now Available

Enter the Story, Chris Tolworthy's ambitious project to create games of famous literary works, continues.

The newest story to become a choose your own adventure style game is Macbeth, William Shakespeare's famous play.

There are now five online choose your own adventure style games available and five off-line casual adventure games available in the Enter the Story line. All of the games are available now in a bundle for $15 USD.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Leisure Suit Larry 1 HD Remake on Kickstarter

The Leisure Suit Larry 1 high definition remake is now on kickstarter. The project is officially licensed, and the original team that created Leisure Suit Larry (Al Lowe, Josh Mandel, Sabine Duvall, and Leslie Balfour) has been re-assembled to create the remake. If the remake is successful, they plan on remaking Leisure Suit Larry 1-7 and hint towards making the non-existent Leisure Suit Larry 4: The Case of the Missing Floppies (the missing game was the main plot of Leisure Suit Larry 5, and was used as plot device in Space Quest IV).

They have multiple pledge tiers, and like the Double Fine Adventure include everything from the game, a soundtrack, an art book, and physical versions of the game and soundtrack at higher levels. Also like the Double Fine Adventure, there are even higher levels, which let you be in the game, eat dinner with Al Lowe and Scott Murphy, and more.