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Found 18 results

  1. Most game studios celebrate when they launch a new game. Successfully shipping a new title into the world represents a huge accomplishment. It's a real occasion that calls for a party treat. A party treat like cake! When the XCOM 2 dev team managed to ship their game, they decided to commission a spectacular cake in the shape of the skull alien made famous by the turn-based-strategy title's promotional material. The cake was no lie - at least not in this particular instance. 2K's UK division reminisced about the food art earlier today, sharing images of the cake along with a game-related pun. The cake (and the pun) are pretty impressive. The cake was designed by Michelle Wibowo, a world renowned food artist and confectionery sculptor. The UK-based artist has won several medals in the Culinary Olympics, holds a degree in architecture, and has had her work on display in numerous museums. Wibowo drew upon her architectural background for the XCOM 2 cake, crafting 1500 human skulls out of sugar to adorn the outer surface of the food sculpture. And, yes, the entire creation, including its base, was edible. Michelle Wibowo has also worked on a number of non-gaming related projects which I only bring up because I wanted to include this adorable picture of two corgis eating a dog-friendly cake shaped in the image of a giant corgi.
  2. Most game studios celebrate when they launch a new game. Successfully shipping a new title into the world represents a huge accomplishment. It's a real occasion that calls for a party treat. A party treat like cake! When the XCOM 2 dev team managed to ship their game, they decided to commission a spectacular cake in the shape of the skull alien made famous by the turn-based-strategy title's promotional material. The cake was no lie - at least not in this particular instance. 2K's UK division reminisced about the food art earlier today, sharing images of the cake along with a game-related pun. The cake (and the pun) are pretty impressive. The cake was designed by Michelle Wibowo, a world renowned food artist and confectionery sculptor. The UK-based artist has won several medals in the Culinary Olympics, holds a degree in architecture, and has had her work on display in numerous museums. Wibowo drew upon her architectural background for the XCOM 2 cake, crafting 1500 human skulls out of sugar to adorn the outer surface of the food sculpture. And, yes, the entire creation, including its base, was edible. Michelle Wibowo has also worked on a number of non-gaming related projects which I only bring up because I wanted to include this adorable picture of two corgis eating a dog-friendly cake shaped in the image of a giant corgi. View full article
  3. Yesterday, Ken Levine, the head of Irrational Games, announced that following the release of the final DLC for BioShock Infinite he would be massively down-sizing his studio to focus on smaller, replayable, digital-only games. For those of you interested in Levine's goodbye letter, you can read it over on the Irrational website. For those of you wondering what happened, I'll try to break down the situation. Bear in mind that no one right now knows what went on behind closed doors between Ken Levine and publisher Take-Two Interactive and that some of this analysis will dip into speculative territory. Here are some of the things we do know: Irrational Games was the studio that created BioShock and BioShock Infinite, two of the most widely acclaimed titles of the previous console cycle. About 90% of Irrational will be out of a job when all is said and done, leaving Ken Levine and about fifteen other people with a place in the studio. Ken Levine wants to be a part of a smaller team with more creative freedom and not just be a BioShock IP machine. Finally, 2K now has the rights to the BioShock series. What initially struck me about this announcement wasn't excitement regarding Ken Levine's next project or that we can expect to see more games like BioShock 2. I just couldn't stop thinking about how huge Irrational Games was and how over 100 incredibly talented programmers, artists, writers, and scripters will now be looking for work and contemplating relocating their families because... well, we don't really know why. Taken on a surface level, it could seem like Ken Levine and his creative desire to return to a smaller studio might be the reason so many people are out of work or that Levine saw the writing on the wall and decided to jump ship with his closest development leads. However, I don't think that's the case at all. I don't know Levine, but I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he genuinely cares about his employees. In his farewell message, Levine mentions that he had been planning on striking out as an independent developer. After meeting with publisher Take-Two Interactive the company convinced Levine to stick with them along with the smaller team he desired. I find it likely that Take-Two Interactive saw this as a way of keeping their high-profile industry auteur while also drastically cutting costs. Maybe BioShock Infinite didn't make back quite as much money as the publisher would have liked, given the AAA budget and massive marketing campaigns. Perhaps the commercial failure of other projects like XCOM: Declassified put pressure on Take-Two to save money elsewhere. Whatever the case, Take-Two probably saw this as a win-win business scenario and gave Levine the go ahead to work on his smaller project. Ultimately, the reason these talented game makers and world builders will cease to be a part of Irrational isn't, as I'm sure some fanciful journalists might like to believe, the result of one man's creative callousness or hubris, but rather a cold, mundane business decision. Someone somewhere crunched the numbers and they stacked up against the continued existence of Irrational Games as we know it. This is how the video game industry works these days. Take-Two has every right to make this move. At the same time, business decisions like this that lead to the difficult and often harsh working conditions that plague the people who make the games we enjoy. Irrational's situation is just the most visible symptom of a larger problem. As for Ken Levine and his remaining team, what kind of a game can we expect to see out of them in the next few years? Reading between the lines, Levine wants to make a game that focuses on telling a compelling narrative while also being replayable and digitally distributed. This might seem a bit odd because most games that focus on narrative aren't necessarily the most replayable games. However, if you played BioShock Infinite, you might remember that throughout the game you made a handful of small choices. Admittedly, those choices had little impact on the overall story of Infinite, but what I thought was awesome about those few moments was how well they were woven into the core game. If I were to go out on a limb, I'd say that Levine wants to make a game similar to The Stanley Parable, a game whose narrative changes organically depending on how you play the game and respond to scenarios rather than with onscreen prompts or pauses in the gameplay. To me, that seems to fit with the ideas being highly replayable while also focusing on its narrative. It would also explain why such a long period of design would be required. I would also hazard a guess and say that it might be an FPS, given Levine's history with that genre. It really sucks whenever a studio loses so many great people, especially when it is one of the most talented game developers in the AAA gaming space. My heart and prayers are with those people and their families. As one of my colleagues put it, "Maybe the next great indie developer will rise out of the ashes of Irrational. Good could come out of this yet." What do you guys think about Irrational's ending? Also, here is a link to one of my favorite "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" covers.
  4. Vault Hunters and lovers of swag rejoice! Borderlands 2's contest with $100,000 worth of prizes is now in progress. From now until November 7, players who have purchased the Borderlands 2 Game of the Year edition or who have purchased the DLC can register a SHiFT account. SHiFT will track the participant's in-game stats, automatically entering into the contest upon completing the daily challenges. Each entry increases the likelihood of winning the prizes, and oh, what prizes there are! According to the loot hunt website: In addition to the many weekly sponsored prizes, one lucky loot hunter will win a grand prize of $50,000, and four others will win varying amounts of cash totaling another $50,000 along with other great prizes including: PlayStation Vitas with copies of Borderlands 2 for the PS Vita once it's out Custom Borderlands 2 Turtle Beach headsets An Nvidia Shield PC Streaming set-up with a Tiki PC by Falcon Northwest Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti GFX cards Borderlands 2 Game of the Year Edition Strategy Guides by BradyGames Lifetime supplies to all 2K titles on Steam – past, present, and future To clarify that last bullet point: YOU CAN WIN A LIFETIME OF FREE 2K TITLES. In addition to all of that, each target of the daily challenges will drop loot that can be used to earn community-wide prizes. Finally, significant stat boosts to existing weapons are expected in the near future. For more information or to register your SHiFT account, head over to borderlands2loothunt.com and get shooting.
  5. The expansion, titled XCOM: Enemy Within, drastically expands the roster of enemies and adds a new type of resource that can be used to purchase a wide variety of upgrades to aid against the extraterrestrial threat. New missions, objectives, maps, etc. have also been added, many centered around the acquisition of Meld, a substance that can be used to augment your soldiers into either mechanical monstrosities or mutant warriors greatly enhancing their combat abilities. Meld canisters are always equipped with self-destruct timers meaning that missions will have critical time constraints where players will have to weigh the benefits of acquiring Meld against the risks of potentially placing your soldiers in harms way. Nearly 50 maps have been added as well as additional tweaks to existing maps. XCOM: Enemy Within will release November 12 and retail for $29.99. More XCOM can never be a bad thing, right?
  6. The reboot of XCOM from 2012 was released simultaneously for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. That set up certain expectations for the release of XCOM 2. However, When XCOM 2 released this past February console players were left scratching their heads by the fact that it launched exclusively for PC with no console versions even confirmed to be in the works. Since then, thankfully, console versions of the popular turn-based-strategy game were revealed. Copies of XCOM 2 are now available in stores and as downloadable titles for Xbox One and PS4. Now console players can experience the tense action of leading a ragtag resistance movement against alien occupation that might be up to more than it lets on. Interested in learning more about XCOM 2? We reviewed the PC version back in February - check it out!
  7. The reboot of XCOM from 2012 was released simultaneously for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. That set up certain expectations for the release of XCOM 2. However, When XCOM 2 released this past February console players were left scratching their heads by the fact that it launched exclusively for PC with no console versions even confirmed to be in the works. Since then, thankfully, console versions of the popular turn-based-strategy game were revealed. Copies of XCOM 2 are now available in stores and as downloadable titles for Xbox One and PS4. Now console players can experience the tense action of leading a ragtag resistance movement against alien occupation that might be up to more than it lets on. Interested in learning more about XCOM 2? We reviewed the PC version back in February - check it out! View full article
  8. I had the opportunity to sit down with Firaxis marketing manager Pete Murray to see an overview of what sets Sid Meier’s Civilization VI apart from its predecessors. Behind closed doors, Murray said, “you're going to see what's new with VI. We're going to show you things like un-stacking the cities, how you're going to build districts and wonders off in the city center. You'll see the active research, how the things that you do in the world make your civilization better, but you'll mostly see why Civ is so great.” With that, Murray began the accelerated gameplay presentation narrated by the soothing voice of Sean Bean. There seems to be a greater visual variety across almost every aspect of Civilization VI. One of the first things I noticed was that a new end-of-turn animation displays a neat day-night cycle to symbolize the passage of time. It’s a small change, but is both aesthetically interesting and adds a sense of time to a series that sometimes felt strangely static. Large, visually distinct structures appear within cities as players construct buildings. A lot of detail seems to have gone into the more vibrant, exaggerated aesthetic to visually convey information to players outside of the UI, which I think is a step in the right direction for an information heavy game series like Civilization. It seems that Firaxis will be prioritizing the utilitarian approach to visuals and trimming fat elsewhere, like the animated backgrounds seen in Civilization V’s diplomacy screens. VI appears to feature static, painted backgrounds behind more detailed character models representing the various leaders of past civilizations. In Civilization VI, certain resource improvements, such as rock quarries, can boost research toward specific technologies. “Quarries provide greater access to building materials, increasing our insight and instruction. Our builder’s efforts are not in vain,” says Sean Bean as a quarry is built and gives research credit toward the Masonry technology. One of the biggest changes to the Civilization formula is the ability to construct separate city districts on tiles within your borders. Sean Bean narrates the gameplay introduction of the new city districting mechanic by saying, “Our cities are now free to develop as never before. For the first time, our civilization spreads beyond the heart of our cities, allowing for the creation of new districts each with its own focus and distinct advantages.” For example, religious districts host improvements that increase faith and theater districts improve culture. Wonders also take up tiles within an empire. This means that players will have to be able to defend not just the central city tile, but all of their territory. To that end, military districts seem to be useful as strategic placements – they appear to spawn units when players become engaged in war. Combat appears to work similarly to Civ V, so unit stacking will not be a thing. I think it is safe to say that Firaxis is not a fan of the “giant death ball” strategy of massing an entire civilization’s worth of military might in one tile to steamroll everything in its path. Barbarians, however, are very much still a thing. “For there will always be those who wish to destroy all we have accomplished” says Bean, channeling his inner Boromir, “Barbarian forces continually prey upon our lands. […] To ensure the safety of our borders, we must defeat the enemy at its source.” The demonstration revealed that the time-honored tradition of hunting down and struggling with randomly spawned barbarian camps will continue in Civilization VI. Government policies are now represented by cards and each civilization will be able to make use of four policies at any given time: Military, economic, diplomatic, and a wildcard policy that seems like it could be used for culture or an additional policy from the other three branches. Precious little was shown of how diplomacy will work in the upcoming Civilization title. That’s perhaps one of the biggest gaps in what we know about the game at the moment. Diplomacy has always been one of the most fickle systems in the Civilization series. In a later part of the demo, after Sean Bean solemnly announces that “upon these once untamed grounds, our civilization grows. A new age is upon us and we find ourselves but one part of a larger world. We are no longer alone,” the player’s civilization proceeds to wipe out a neighboring empire, which has always had drastic diplomatic consequences. The demo doesn’t cover any of the diplomatic fallout, however, leaving diplomacy a giant question mark. Civilization VI releases for PC on October 21. There are still many unknowns, but the core systems still appear to be enjoyable and the new district mechanic and a revamped wonder system seem to be exactly the kind of thing that Civilization needs to mix things up on the strategic level. Here is hoping that Firaxis can nail an improved diplomacy system that players can really dig their teeth into while still being comprehensible to a more causal audience. Sid Meier’s Civilization turns 25 years old this year - make it count, Firaxis.
  9. I had the opportunity to sit down with Firaxis marketing manager Pete Murray to see an overview of what sets Sid Meier’s Civilization VI apart from its predecessors. Behind closed doors, Murray said, “you're going to see what's new with VI. We're going to show you things like un-stacking the cities, how you're going to build districts and wonders off in the city center. You'll see the active research, how the things that you do in the world make your civilization better, but you'll mostly see why Civ is so great.” With that, Murray began the accelerated gameplay presentation narrated by the soothing voice of Sean Bean. There seems to be a greater visual variety across almost every aspect of Civilization VI. One of the first things I noticed was that a new end-of-turn animation displays a neat day-night cycle to symbolize the passage of time. It’s a small change, but is both aesthetically interesting and adds a sense of time to a series that sometimes felt strangely static. Large, visually distinct structures appear within cities as players construct buildings. A lot of detail seems to have gone into the more vibrant, exaggerated aesthetic to visually convey information to players outside of the UI, which I think is a step in the right direction for an information heavy game series like Civilization. It seems that Firaxis will be prioritizing the utilitarian approach to visuals and trimming fat elsewhere, like the animated backgrounds seen in Civilization V’s diplomacy screens. VI appears to feature static, painted backgrounds behind more detailed character models representing the various leaders of past civilizations. In Civilization VI, certain resource improvements, such as rock quarries, can boost research toward specific technologies. “Quarries provide greater access to building materials, increasing our insight and instruction. Our builder’s efforts are not in vain,” says Sean Bean as a quarry is built and gives research credit toward the Masonry technology. One of the biggest changes to the Civilization formula is the ability to construct separate city districts on tiles within your borders. Sean Bean narrates the gameplay introduction of the new city districting mechanic by saying, “Our cities are now free to develop as never before. For the first time, our civilization spreads beyond the heart of our cities, allowing for the creation of new districts each with its own focus and distinct advantages.” For example, religious districts host improvements that increase faith and theater districts improve culture. Wonders also take up tiles within an empire. This means that players will have to be able to defend not just the central city tile, but all of their territory. To that end, military districts seem to be useful as strategic placements – they appear to spawn units when players become engaged in war. Combat appears to work similarly to Civ V, so unit stacking will not be a thing. I think it is safe to say that Firaxis is not a fan of the “giant death ball” strategy of massing an entire civilization’s worth of military might in one tile to steamroll everything in its path. Barbarians, however, are very much still a thing. “For there will always be those who wish to destroy all we have accomplished” says Bean, channeling his inner Boromir, “Barbarian forces continually prey upon our lands. […] To ensure the safety of our borders, we must defeat the enemy at its source.” The demonstration revealed that the time-honored tradition of hunting down and struggling with randomly spawned barbarian camps will continue in Civilization VI. Government policies are now represented by cards and each civilization will be able to make use of four policies at any given time: Military, economic, diplomatic, and a wildcard policy that seems like it could be used for culture or an additional policy from the other three branches. Precious little was shown of how diplomacy will work in the upcoming Civilization title. That’s perhaps one of the biggest gaps in what we know about the game at the moment. Diplomacy has always been one of the most fickle systems in the Civilization series. In a later part of the demo, after Sean Bean solemnly announces that “upon these once untamed grounds, our civilization grows. A new age is upon us and we find ourselves but one part of a larger world. We are no longer alone,” the player’s civilization proceeds to wipe out a neighboring empire, which has always had drastic diplomatic consequences. The demo doesn’t cover any of the diplomatic fallout, however, leaving diplomacy a giant question mark. Civilization VI releases for PC on October 21. There are still many unknowns, but the core systems still appear to be enjoyable and the new district mechanic and a revamped wonder system seem to be exactly the kind of thing that Civilization needs to mix things up on the strategic level. Here is hoping that Firaxis can nail an improved diplomacy system that players can really dig their teeth into while still being comprehensible to a more causal audience. Sid Meier’s Civilization turns 25 years old this year - make it count, Firaxis. View full article
  10. When BioShock launched in 2007 for Xbox 360 and PC, it transported players to a world lost to time and some not-so-subtle Randian-inspired madness. Players navigated a city embroiled in self-obsessed insanity brimming with otherworldly powers and twisted human forms. One part horror, one part action, BioShock was one of the first hugely popular mainstream titles that people could point to and say, "This game? It's not only about mature action; it's about mature ideas, too!" Nine years later with a remaster on the horizon, is BioShock one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Super Smash Bros. Melee 'Hank Jankerson's Wild Ride' by LongBoxofChocolate (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03376) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  11. When BioShock launched in 2007 for Xbox 360 and PC, it transported players to a world lost to time and some not-so-subtle Randian-inspired madness. Players navigated a city embroiled in self-obsessed insanity brimming with otherworldly powers and twisted human forms. One part horror, one part action, BioShock was one of the first hugely popular mainstream titles that people could point to and say, "This game? It's not only about mature action; it's about mature ideas, too!" Nine years later with a remaster on the horizon, is BioShock one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Super Smash Bros. Melee 'Hank Jankerson's Wild Ride' by LongBoxofChocolate (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03376) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  12. The latest trailer for XCOM 2 has everything an XCOM fan could want. We are treated to flashbacks of a devious looking Thin Man. The new mobile base, a stolen alien spacecraft that will house the XCOM resistance, is shown in all of its flying glory. We see the sweeping forces of the indoctrinated Advent Coalition alongside enemies both old and new. Improved character animations and customization briefly hold the spotlight. New weapons, armor, and alien technology will have to be used to overcome the overwhelming alien threat. I'm sorry, am I drooling? XCOM 2 releases February 5, 2016 for PC and Mac. While no console versions have been announced, 2K and Firaxis have not discarded the idea of the turn-based strategy title making its way to Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
  13. The latest trailer for XCOM 2 has everything an XCOM fan could want. We are treated to flashbacks of a devious looking Thin Man. The new mobile base, a stolen alien spacecraft that will house the XCOM resistance, is shown in all of its flying glory. We see the sweeping forces of the indoctrinated Advent Coalition alongside enemies both old and new. Improved character animations and customization briefly hold the spotlight. New weapons, armor, and alien technology will have to be used to overcome the overwhelming alien threat. I'm sorry, am I drooling? XCOM 2 releases February 5, 2016 for PC and Mac. While no console versions have been announced, 2K and Firaxis have not discarded the idea of the turn-based strategy title making its way to Xbox One and PlayStation 4. View full article
  14. The Tales from the Borderlands series stands as the most entertaining collection of episodes released by Telltale Games to date. I can’t remember the last time I smiled and laughed during a game as much as The Vault of the Traveler. Through the obscure alchemy known as “fantastic writing,” Tales from the Borderlands elevates itself from simply being funny (a difficult feat by itself) to a place where it conveys genuine pathos. By Episode Five, we’ve grown attached to the characters and we’ve become invested in the stakes. Important figures in both Tales from the Borderlands and the broader Borderlands universe have died in previous episodes, but The Vault of the Traveler ups the body count considerably. While the finale powerfully hits other emotional notes like sadness or anger, it remains fundamentally lighthearted. Some of what lies ahead could be considered spoilers. If you haven’t played any of Tales from the Borderlands yet, do yourself a favor and download the first episode for free. It comes with our recommendation. Tales from the Borderlands Episode Five was reviewed on PC. Telltale Games has been given an almost shocking freedom to change the game world of Borderlands. Previous episodes in the series have made smaller changes, but Episode Five goes all out and completely changes the fabric of the in-game universe. By the time the credits roll, staples of the Borderlands franchise have been left shattered and broken, leaving an exciting and intriguing future in store for upcoming entries in either the Gearbox or Telltale series. We’ve grown so used to game worlds and characters that remain relatively static that something as simple as following a story through and leaving the world different seems novel and progressive. While there have been no announcements regarding future Tales from the Borderlands seasons, the cliffhanger ending of Episode Five practically begs for a follow-up. As the series has progressed it has become clear that Telltale made a conscious decision to incorporate the jokes directly into the story. What might have seemed to be a funny, one-off moment in the first episode becomes a hilarious gag an episode or two later and somehow grows into a huge set piece during the finale. This does two things that are vitally important and really difficult to pull off. First, it cultivates humor and attachment. Sure, it might have been funny the first time Rhys and Vaughn fist bump and call each other “bro,” but seeing that friendship develop and those fist bumps become more and more ridiculously elaborate eventually makes the gesture really meaningful during the more serious moments. We understand that it means something more to the characters in whom we’ve become invested, so we empathize and feel closer to them by proxy when things become solemn. Second, the jokes become ground the serious moments of the story in a happy-go-lucky territory. Sure, the finger-gun segments at Hyperion were smile-inducing in the first episode. Sure, they were hilarious during the infiltration segment. But that particular joke coming back as a large-scale plot device during a tense life-or-death battle? Brilliant. That kind of set-up and pay-off is one of the hallmarks of great writing. Lesser writers often don’t look that far ahead in their stories. The hero just happens to be fluent in Mandarin for reasons that are explained in a bit of throwaway dialogue. The escaped heroine stumbles randomly into the room where the pivotal McGuffin has been hidden. Less talented writing occur when things just happen; where cause and effect don’t seem to exist. Tales from the Borderlands sets everything up from the beginning and propels itself forward with the almighty writers’ rule of “and then.” Beginning with Rhys and Fiona making active decisions to engage in a risky endeavor, every story beat from then on is a series of “and then” moments deriving from those fateful decisions. This leads to an unprecedented, breathless pacing that manages to move assuredly even in the insane world of Pandora. Because of that logical structure, players are able to easily understand the stakes and the various motivations of everyone involved with a minimal amount of effort. The entire finale is one big highlight of the best that Tales from the Borderlands can offer. Rhys finally confronts Handsome Jack. We at last learn the identity of the masked man who kidnapped Fiona and Rhys back in the first episode. The Gortys Project reaches its full potential. Players get a chance to assemble a team of vault hunters to take down the vault guardian. Fiona and Sasha fly into an alien portal and encounter vault dwellers. There are few moments that feel anything less than awesome. One of the few studios that puts a heavy emphasis on writing, Telltale Games will have put out six entire games in the past two years when the final episode of their Game of Thrones series lands next month (seven if you include Minecraft: Story Mode, though that won’t conclude until next year). That kind of output seems insane for such a small studio. Since the release of their first season of The Walking Dead, all of those games have ranged in quality from good to superb. I’d argue that the reason both seasons of The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, and Tales from the Borderlands have been so successful has been because of the commitment Telltale shows to high caliber writing. People don’t play Telltale games because they have fun quick time events or heart racing gameplay mechanics; they do it to experience a well-told story and make meaningful choices. Storytelling carries the entire company. If a smaller studio like Telltale Games can be so successful by emphasizing story above AAA graphics and revamped gameplay mechanics, why can’t other studios learn from their example? Or rather, why are we content with lesser, lazier writing when we know how much better it could be? We should expect from all our games because of what Telltale routinely shows us is possible on a shoestring budget. On that small budget, Telltale delivers swashbuckling space heists, world-shattering disasters, giant robot fights, and gorgeous scenes that play just as well on a mobile phone as on a tricked out PC. Constrained art direction combined with some fantastic composing and licensed music selection by Jared Emerson-Johnson really elevate the presentation above what many have come to expect from Telltale Games, which is no small feat. There are very few criticisms to level against the conclusion of the Tales from the Borderlands series. The largest problem I encountered was the lip syncing running off track once or twice for a few jarring seconds. I also noticed some graphical stuttering, but given the sheer number of effects and moving objects on screen it’s likely that the fault lies with the aging Telltale engine which allows for so much multiplatform flexibility. The only other thing that really stood out to me as being moderately irritating were a few instances of obvious set ups for dramatic turns. Episode Five contains some incredible surprises, but a few of its most meaningful moments are a bit too obviously telegraphed. All told, however, these insignificant nitpicks didn’t really detract from my enjoyment. Conclusion: Tales from the Borderlands begins as one of the best game series Telltale Games has made to date and ends as a serious contender for Game of the Year. Vault of the Traveler is the perfect conclusion for the series. It will tickle your funny bone, pull your heartstrings, and punch you in the gut while keeping plenty of surprises and fake-outs in store to keep things incredibly interesting. I wouldn’t be upset Episode Five was the last we saw of Tales from the Borderlands, but I hope we see more and that we don’t have to wait years for a season two to become a reality. If you value games as vehicles for compelling stories, you owe it to yourself to play Tales from the Borderlands. Tales from the Borderlands Episode Five is available now for PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, and Android. --- Don’t forget to sign up for Extra Life’s Thunderclap to donate a tweet or Facebook post on October 24 to help raise awareness of Extra Life! It’s super easy and will only take you a minute to set up.
  15. The Tales from the Borderlands series stands as the most entertaining collection of episodes released by Telltale Games to date. I can’t remember the last time I smiled and laughed during a game as much as The Vault of the Traveler. Through the obscure alchemy known as “fantastic writing,” Tales from the Borderlands elevates itself from simply being funny (a difficult feat by itself) to a place where it conveys genuine pathos. By Episode Five, we’ve grown attached to the characters and we’ve become invested in the stakes. Important figures in both Tales from the Borderlands and the broader Borderlands universe have died in previous episodes, but The Vault of the Traveler ups the body count considerably. While the finale powerfully hits other emotional notes like sadness or anger, it remains fundamentally lighthearted. Some of what lies ahead could be considered spoilers. If you haven’t played any of Tales from the Borderlands yet, do yourself a favor and download the first episode for free. It comes with our recommendation. Tales from the Borderlands Episode Five was reviewed on PC. Telltale Games has been given an almost shocking freedom to change the game world of Borderlands. Previous episodes in the series have made smaller changes, but Episode Five goes all out and completely changes the fabric of the in-game universe. By the time the credits roll, staples of the Borderlands franchise have been left shattered and broken, leaving an exciting and intriguing future in store for upcoming entries in either the Gearbox or Telltale series. We’ve grown so used to game worlds and characters that remain relatively static that something as simple as following a story through and leaving the world different seems novel and progressive. While there have been no announcements regarding future Tales from the Borderlands seasons, the cliffhanger ending of Episode Five practically begs for a follow-up. As the series has progressed it has become clear that Telltale made a conscious decision to incorporate the jokes directly into the story. What might have seemed to be a funny, one-off moment in the first episode becomes a hilarious gag an episode or two later and somehow grows into a huge set piece during the finale. This does two things that are vitally important and really difficult to pull off. First, it cultivates humor and attachment. Sure, it might have been funny the first time Rhys and Vaughn fist bump and call each other “bro,” but seeing that friendship develop and those fist bumps become more and more ridiculously elaborate eventually makes the gesture really meaningful during the more serious moments. We understand that it means something more to the characters in whom we’ve become invested, so we empathize and feel closer to them by proxy when things become solemn. Second, the jokes become ground the serious moments of the story in a happy-go-lucky territory. Sure, the finger-gun segments at Hyperion were smile-inducing in the first episode. Sure, they were hilarious during the infiltration segment. But that particular joke coming back as a large-scale plot device during a tense life-or-death battle? Brilliant. That kind of set-up and pay-off is one of the hallmarks of great writing. Lesser writers often don’t look that far ahead in their stories. The hero just happens to be fluent in Mandarin for reasons that are explained in a bit of throwaway dialogue. The escaped heroine stumbles randomly into the room where the pivotal McGuffin has been hidden. Less talented writing occur when things just happen; where cause and effect don’t seem to exist. Tales from the Borderlands sets everything up from the beginning and propels itself forward with the almighty writers’ rule of “and then.” Beginning with Rhys and Fiona making active decisions to engage in a risky endeavor, every story beat from then on is a series of “and then” moments deriving from those fateful decisions. This leads to an unprecedented, breathless pacing that manages to move assuredly even in the insane world of Pandora. Because of that logical structure, players are able to easily understand the stakes and the various motivations of everyone involved with a minimal amount of effort. The entire finale is one big highlight of the best that Tales from the Borderlands can offer. Rhys finally confronts Handsome Jack. We at last learn the identity of the masked man who kidnapped Fiona and Rhys back in the first episode. The Gortys Project reaches its full potential. Players get a chance to assemble a team of vault hunters to take down the vault guardian. Fiona and Sasha fly into an alien portal and encounter vault dwellers. There are few moments that feel anything less than awesome. One of the few studios that puts a heavy emphasis on writing, Telltale Games will have put out six entire games in the past two years when the final episode of their Game of Thrones series lands next month (seven if you include Minecraft: Story Mode, though that won’t conclude until next year). That kind of output seems insane for such a small studio. Since the release of their first season of The Walking Dead, all of those games have ranged in quality from good to superb. I’d argue that the reason both seasons of The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, and Tales from the Borderlands have been so successful has been because of the commitment Telltale shows to high caliber writing. People don’t play Telltale games because they have fun quick time events or heart racing gameplay mechanics; they do it to experience a well-told story and make meaningful choices. Storytelling carries the entire company. If a smaller studio like Telltale Games can be so successful by emphasizing story above AAA graphics and revamped gameplay mechanics, why can’t other studios learn from their example? Or rather, why are we content with lesser, lazier writing when we know how much better it could be? We should expect from all our games because of what Telltale routinely shows us is possible on a shoestring budget. On that small budget, Telltale delivers swashbuckling space heists, world-shattering disasters, giant robot fights, and gorgeous scenes that play just as well on a mobile phone as on a tricked out PC. Constrained art direction combined with some fantastic composing and licensed music selection by Jared Emerson-Johnson really elevate the presentation above what many have come to expect from Telltale Games, which is no small feat. There are very few criticisms to level against the conclusion of the Tales from the Borderlands series. The largest problem I encountered was the lip syncing running off track once or twice for a few jarring seconds. I also noticed some graphical stuttering, but given the sheer number of effects and moving objects on screen it’s likely that the fault lies with the aging Telltale engine which allows for so much multiplatform flexibility. The only other thing that really stood out to me as being moderately irritating were a few instances of obvious set ups for dramatic turns. Episode Five contains some incredible surprises, but a few of its most meaningful moments are a bit too obviously telegraphed. All told, however, these insignificant nitpicks didn’t really detract from my enjoyment. Conclusion: Tales from the Borderlands begins as one of the best game series Telltale Games has made to date and ends as a serious contender for Game of the Year. Vault of the Traveler is the perfect conclusion for the series. It will tickle your funny bone, pull your heartstrings, and punch you in the gut while keeping plenty of surprises and fake-outs in store to keep things incredibly interesting. I wouldn’t be upset Episode Five was the last we saw of Tales from the Borderlands, but I hope we see more and that we don’t have to wait years for a season two to become a reality. If you value games as vehicles for compelling stories, you owe it to yourself to play Tales from the Borderlands. Tales from the Borderlands Episode Five is available now for PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, and Android. --- Don’t forget to sign up for Extra Life’s Thunderclap to donate a tweet or Facebook post on October 24 to help raise awareness of Extra Life! It’s super easy and will only take you a minute to set up. View full article
  16. Yesterday, Ken Levine, the head of Irrational Games, announced that following the release of the final DLC for BioShock Infinite he would be massively down-sizing his studio to focus on smaller, replayable, digital-only games. For those of you interested in Levine's goodbye letter, you can read it over on the Irrational website. For those of you wondering what happened, I'll try to break down the situation. Bear in mind that no one right now knows what went on behind closed doors between Ken Levine and publisher Take-Two Interactive and that some of this analysis will dip into speculative territory. Here are some of the things we do know: Irrational Games was the studio that created BioShock and BioShock Infinite, two of the most widely acclaimed titles of the previous console cycle. About 90% of Irrational will be out of a job when all is said and done, leaving Ken Levine and about fifteen other people with a place in the studio. Ken Levine wants to be a part of a smaller team with more creative freedom and not just be a BioShock IP machine. Finally, 2K now has the rights to the BioShock series. What initially struck me about this announcement wasn't excitement regarding Ken Levine's next project or that we can expect to see more games like BioShock 2. I just couldn't stop thinking about how huge Irrational Games was and how over 100 incredibly talented programmers, artists, writers, and scripters will now be looking for work and contemplating relocating their families because... well, we don't really know why. Taken on a surface level, it could seem like Ken Levine and his creative desire to return to a smaller studio might be the reason so many people are out of work or that Levine saw the writing on the wall and decided to jump ship with his closest development leads. However, I don't think that's the case at all. I don't know Levine, but I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he genuinely cares about his employees. In his farewell message, Levine mentions that he had been planning on striking out as an independent developer. After meeting with publisher Take-Two Interactive the company convinced Levine to stick with them along with the smaller team he desired. I find it likely that Take-Two Interactive saw this as a way of keeping their high-profile industry auteur while also drastically cutting costs. Maybe BioShock Infinite didn't make back quite as much money as the publisher would have liked, given the AAA budget and massive marketing campaigns. Perhaps the commercial failure of other projects like XCOM: Declassified put pressure on Take-Two to save money elsewhere. Whatever the case, Take-Two probably saw this as a win-win business scenario and gave Levine the go ahead to work on his smaller project. Ultimately, the reason these talented game makers and world builders will cease to be a part of Irrational isn't, as I'm sure some fanciful journalists might like to believe, the result of one man's creative callousness or hubris, but rather a cold, mundane business decision. Someone somewhere crunched the numbers and they stacked up against the continued existence of Irrational Games as we know it. This is how the video game industry works these days. Take-Two has every right to make this move. At the same time, business decisions like this that lead to the difficult and often harsh working conditions that plague the people who make the games we enjoy. Irrational's situation is just the most visible symptom of a larger problem. As for Ken Levine and his remaining team, what kind of a game can we expect to see out of them in the next few years? Reading between the lines, Levine wants to make a game that focuses on telling a compelling narrative while also being replayable and digitally distributed. This might seem a bit odd because most games that focus on narrative aren't necessarily the most replayable games. However, if you played BioShock Infinite, you might remember that throughout the game you made a handful of small choices. Admittedly, those choices had little impact on the overall story of Infinite, but what I thought was awesome about those few moments was how well they were woven into the core game. If I were to go out on a limb, I'd say that Levine wants to make a game similar to The Stanley Parable, a game whose narrative changes organically depending on how you play the game and respond to scenarios rather than with onscreen prompts or pauses in the gameplay. To me, that seems to fit with the ideas being highly replayable while also focusing on its narrative. It would also explain why such a long period of design would be required. I would also hazard a guess and say that it might be an FPS, given Levine's history with that genre. It really sucks whenever a studio loses so many great people, especially when it is one of the most talented game developers in the AAA gaming space. My heart and prayers are with those people and their families. As one of my colleagues put it, "Maybe the next great indie developer will rise out of the ashes of Irrational. Good could come out of this yet." What do you guys think about Irrational's ending? Also, here is a link to one of my favorite "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" covers. View full article
  17. Vault Hunters and lovers of swag rejoice! Borderlands 2's contest with $100,000 worth of prizes is now in progress. From now until November 7, players who have purchased the Borderlands 2 Game of the Year edition or who have purchased the DLC can register a SHiFT account. SHiFT will track the participant's in-game stats, automatically entering into the contest upon completing the daily challenges. Each entry increases the likelihood of winning the prizes, and oh, what prizes there are! According to the loot hunt website: In addition to the many weekly sponsored prizes, one lucky loot hunter will win a grand prize of $50,000, and four others will win varying amounts of cash totaling another $50,000 along with other great prizes including: PlayStation Vitas with copies of Borderlands 2 for the PS Vita once it's out Custom Borderlands 2 Turtle Beach headsets An Nvidia Shield PC Streaming set-up with a Tiki PC by Falcon Northwest Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti GFX cards Borderlands 2 Game of the Year Edition Strategy Guides by BradyGames Lifetime supplies to all 2K titles on Steam – past, present, and future To clarify that last bullet point: YOU CAN WIN A LIFETIME OF FREE 2K TITLES. In addition to all of that, each target of the daily challenges will drop loot that can be used to earn community-wide prizes. Finally, significant stat boosts to existing weapons are expected in the near future. For more information or to register your SHiFT account, head over to borderlands2loothunt.com and get shooting. View full article
  18. The expansion, titled XCOM: Enemy Within, drastically expands the roster of enemies and adds a new type of resource that can be used to purchase a wide variety of upgrades to aid against the extraterrestrial threat. New missions, objectives, maps, etc. have also been added, many centered around the acquisition of Meld, a substance that can be used to augment your soldiers into either mechanical monstrosities or mutant warriors greatly enhancing their combat abilities. Meld canisters are always equipped with self-destruct timers meaning that missions will have critical time constraints where players will have to weigh the benefits of acquiring Meld against the risks of potentially placing your soldiers in harms way. Nearly 50 maps have been added as well as additional tweaks to existing maps. XCOM: Enemy Within will release November 12 and retail for $29.99. More XCOM can never be a bad thing, right? View full article