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Marcus Stewart

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About Marcus Stewart

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  • Birthday 11/09/1987

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  1. So you want to play Monopoly, huh? Good luck with that. Though a great game, it’s a notoriously tough sell with friends and has only become less appealing over time. Why would we, broke millennials, want to spend hours playing with phoney money when we could laugh our sorrows away with, say, Cards Against Humanity? Is mortgaging Baltic Avenue going to help pay off my student loan? To be fair, Baltic Avenue couldn’t buy a single Community Chest card. I still love Monopoly, however, and am always looking for ways to tric-*ahem*-convince others into slinging properties for a night. I’ve largely failed at this in the past decade or so, but I’ve learned valuable lessons about making it happen–by any means necessary. If you too hope to trade bills with Papa Monopoly (that’s the old dude’s name, right?), follow my patented tips on making Monopoly night a reality. Plan Ahead Trust me when I tell you that no one wants to play Monopoly on a whim. You may as well ask your friends if they feel like climbing Everest in the middle of your get-together. Planning a dedicated Monopoly night in advance eliminates the knee jerk reaction to refuse and it respects everyone’s time. Players can clear their schedule, have time to get excited, and pen farewell letters to their loved ones. God only knows when they’re returning home once the game starts. Assemble a Feast Food can make anything more tolerable. Turn your Monopoly session into a potluck! The sting of losing cash on Richard’s ill-gotten utilities feels less potent with a mouth full of Swedish meatballs. Or, if you want to guarantee future Monopoly nights, supply all of the grub yourself! People will line up to play if they know they’ll get to chow down for free. It’ll hurt your wallet but you’ve got to spend money to make not-money. Choose a Rage-Resistant Play Setting When people joke about board games ending with someone flipping the table they’re talking about Monopoly. I’ve witnessed it first-hand when a three-day long game (yes, really) ended with a “friend” sending the board flying. The floor may seem like the perfect counter to this, but it’s actually more prone to game flippage. Tables might be the meme, but few are bold enough to actually turnover another person’s furniture. Like, are you going to pay for my now three-legged table? If you’ve got one of those fancy kitchen islands, that’s perfect. Your nice granite top is not only a permanent fixture of the building but, as previously mentioned, the surrounding food will help quell any volatile emotions. Put on a Movie About Money and Business This is purely optional and kind of dumb, but some might argue the same about playing Monopoly in 2018. I think having a relevant film play in the background of your session would really up the ambiance. Maybe Wall Street–the first one, please–or something recent like The Big Short. If nothing else, it’ll help take your guests minds off the fact that they’ve sacrificed their entire night to Old Man Monopoly. Volunteer to be the Banker No one wants to be the Banker. Though not a difficult job, being in charge of the money simply means more work. You’re lucky to have gotten this far. Don’t push it by forcing the possibility of fumbling with cash on your friends. Bite the bullet and prepare to spend the night dealing out $500 bills. Just kidding. We all know those orange notes barely get touched. Be Open to “Street” Rules I’m admittedly a hard-nosed traditionalist when it comes to board games. I prefer play a pure, by-the-book game instead of implementing “street” or house rules. You know, the made-up decrees everyone seems to know despite believing only you and your inner circle invented them. These include adding houses without building a monopoly or the popular Free Parking jackpot rule. Sticking to the traditional rules can get in the way of more casual players who just want to throw dice, move the little Scottie dog around, and have a stupid good time. So ease up, Rulemeister, and let everyone have their incorrect fun. Create an Easy-to-Achieve Endgame Winning Monopoly requires one player to bankrupt everyone else on the board. Since that can take roughly an eternity and a half, you may want to consider changing that. A common solution is “first to X-amount of money wins”. Maybe the victor can be the person who completes a certain number of laps around the board. It could even be whoever owns the most property once they’re all bought up. Whatever goal you concoct, just make sure it makes the light at the end of the tunnel brighter than a supernova. Have Fun! At the end of the day isn’t that what Monopoly is about? I mean, historically no, but isn’t that what we like to believe Monopoly is about? This list is all about finding ways to have a grand time with the people you tolerate and perhaps even like. After all, board games have a way of bringing us all together. We should try to preserve their emphasis on fun camaraderie and healthy competition–no matter how inherently frustrating the game may be. If it means awarding $500 bucks and a railroad to pass Go while Blank Check blares in the background, this will all be worth it. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  2. So you want to play Monopoly, huh? Good luck with that. Though a great game, it’s a notoriously tough sell with friends and has only become less appealing over time. Why would we, broke millennials, want to spend hours playing with phoney money when we could laugh our sorrows away with, say, Cards Against Humanity? Is mortgaging Baltic Avenue going to help pay off my student loan? To be fair, Baltic Avenue couldn’t buy a single Community Chest card. I still love Monopoly, however, and am always looking for ways to tric-*ahem*-convince others into slinging properties for a night. I’ve largely failed at this in the past decade or so, but I’ve learned valuable lessons about making it happen–by any means necessary. If you too hope to trade bills with Papa Monopoly (that’s the old dude’s name, right?), follow my patented tips on making Monopoly night a reality. Plan Ahead Trust me when I tell you that no one wants to play Monopoly on a whim. You may as well ask your friends if they feel like climbing Everest in the middle of your get-together. Planning a dedicated Monopoly night in advance eliminates the knee jerk reaction to refuse and it respects everyone’s time. Players can clear their schedule, have time to get excited, and pen farewell letters to their loved ones. God only knows when they’re returning home once the game starts. Assemble a Feast Food can make anything more tolerable. Turn your Monopoly session into a potluck! The sting of losing cash on Richard’s ill-gotten utilities feels less potent with a mouth full of Swedish meatballs. Or, if you want to guarantee future Monopoly nights, supply all of the grub yourself! People will line up to play if they know they’ll get to chow down for free. It’ll hurt your wallet but you’ve got to spend money to make not-money. Choose a Rage-Resistant Play Setting When people joke about board games ending with someone flipping the table they’re talking about Monopoly. I’ve witnessed it first-hand when a three-day long game (yes, really) ended with a “friend” sending the board flying. The floor may seem like the perfect counter to this, but it’s actually more prone to game flippage. Tables might be the meme, but few are bold enough to actually turnover another person’s furniture. Like, are you going to pay for my now three-legged table? If you’ve got one of those fancy kitchen islands, that’s perfect. Your nice granite top is not only a permanent fixture of the building but, as previously mentioned, the surrounding food will help quell any volatile emotions. Put on a Movie About Money and Business This is purely optional and kind of dumb, but some might argue the same about playing Monopoly in 2018. I think having a relevant film play in the background of your session would really up the ambiance. Maybe Wall Street–the first one, please–or something recent like The Big Short. If nothing else, it’ll help take your guests minds off the fact that they’ve sacrificed their entire night to Old Man Monopoly. Volunteer to be the Banker No one wants to be the Banker. Though not a difficult job, being in charge of the money simply means more work. You’re lucky to have gotten this far. Don’t push it by forcing the possibility of fumbling with cash on your friends. Bite the bullet and prepare to spend the night dealing out $500 bills. Just kidding. We all know those orange notes barely get touched. Be Open to “Street” Rules I’m admittedly a hard-nosed traditionalist when it comes to board games. I prefer play a pure, by-the-book game instead of implementing “street” or house rules. You know, the made-up decrees everyone seems to know despite believing only you and your inner circle invented them. These include adding houses without building a monopoly or the popular Free Parking jackpot rule. Sticking to the traditional rules can get in the way of more casual players who just want to throw dice, move the little Scottie dog around, and have a stupid good time. So ease up, Rulemeister, and let everyone have their incorrect fun. Create an Easy-to-Achieve Endgame Winning Monopoly requires one player to bankrupt everyone else on the board. Since that can take roughly an eternity and a half, you may want to consider changing that. A common solution is “first to X-amount of money wins”. Maybe the victor can be the person who completes a certain number of laps around the board. It could even be whoever owns the most property once they’re all bought up. Whatever goal you concoct, just make sure it makes the light at the end of the tunnel brighter than a supernova. Have Fun! At the end of the day isn’t that what Monopoly is about? I mean, historically no, but isn’t that what we like to believe Monopoly is about? This list is all about finding ways to have a grand time with the people you tolerate and perhaps even like. After all, board games have a way of bringing us all together. We should try to preserve their emphasis on fun camaraderie and healthy competition–no matter how inherently frustrating the game may be. If it means awarding $500 bucks and a railroad to pass Go while Blank Check blares in the background, this will all be worth it. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  3. Marcus Stewart

    Feature: Review: State of Mind

    State of Mind presents a vision of 2048 that feels equal parts neat and unsettling. Robots dominate society, acting as household servants and even make up a fully autonomous police force. Citizens have augmented reality implants that display basic information for every person they come into contact with. Virtual reality has evolved into fully immersive worlds that many people prefer to spend their entire lives within. Technology can be wonderful, but should it advance at the expense of our humanity? State of Mind presents meaningful transhumanistic questions, but the delivery leaves much to be desired. Daedalic Entertainment’s narrative adventure has much in common with Life is Strange in terms of its third-person design. The meat of the experience involves exploring compact hub areas and interacting with characters, with additional elements sprinkled on top. These include puzzle-solving, stealth sequences, and even light shooting segments. The plot centers on technophobic journalist Richard Nolan. His life gets flipped on its head when he’s involved in a near-fatal car accident. As he gradually picks up the pieces, he realizes his accident may have been anything but. Worse, his family has also gone missing. In his search for answers he uncovers a conspiracy revolving around a secret virtual world. Despite his reservations with tech, Nolan must cooperate with forces in both realities, including a digital copy of himself, to rescue his family and squash a grander scheme. Nolan’s overwhelming unlikability holds back the story in a big way. Granted, much of this is by design. He’s tangled in an affair despite being married with a kid. His paranoia, both tech-related and personal, causes him to regularly fly off the handle, often irrationally. Nolan’s glaring flaws play into one of the game’s themes: escapism. Many characters turn to the virtual world to escape real world pain or imperfection. Richard has every reason to do the same, but he detests the idea of an artificial existence. That’s fine, but Nolan’s sheer abrasiveness made it nigh impossible to get behind him as a sympathetic character–something State of Mind clearly tries to accomplish. Nolan and the most of the cast suffer from cheesy, wooden performances that often rob serious moments of their emotional weight. A character death, for instance, doesn’t hit nearly as hard because of the rough acting. The story periodically drops players into the shoes of other supporting characters. Some tales land better than others–the story of a robot gaining freewill feels uninspired. However, these scenarios do a solid job of providing backstory and tying together different plot threads. Experiencing the troubled life of Nolan’s mistress Lydia became my favorite tale. She has easily the most fascinating history as well as the most genuine performance. Even though it features player choice, State of Mind tells a largely linear plot. Most choices lead to minor changes in tone, like choosing to respond angrily or passively. The only decision of significance comes at the flat conclusion. Those hoping to see branching paths for everything they do will be disappointed, but I personally didn’t mind the more focused approach. What did bother me was how the hokey, somewhat pretentious writing got in the way of State of Mind’s otherwise intriguing themes of transhumanism. The game sometimes feels like it tries too hard to be profound and can get up its own butt with its philosophy. State of Mind clicks best when those themes simply prop up the relatable human drama; an estranged father attempting to rebuild his family, for example. Other scenes feel outright dumb. In one unintentionally hilarious moment, I met a character infiltrating the virtual world undercover. He reiterated his need for secrecy, then immediately denounced the beliefs of the society he’s supposed to blending in with by making a loud scene in public. Well-worn archetypes (e.g. the messiah with a god complex, the self-righteous hacktivist) could have been stronger if they were written with more subtly. They can be over-the-top to the point being cartoonish and are painfully one-dimensional. In terms of presentation, the sharp, polygonal art direction gives State of Mind a cool style. I especially love the slick camera framing that adds to the cinematic feel. Unfortunately, scenes that abruptly switch to the loading screen and occasionally wonky angles (such as from within a character model) mar the production values. State of Mind’s gameplay can be hit and miss, as well, but I admire its variety. More involved mechanics include using a drone to navigate a maze of ventilation shafts while avoiding rogue bots. Sifting through notes to find correlating intel offers cerebral fun akin to a classic adventure title. An interactive art exhibit allowed me to manipulate music and visual effects for no real purpose but was neat diversion nonetheless. Best of all, only a few mechanics repeat themselves. Recurring activities are simplistic but mostly inoffensive. For example, piecing together jumbled AR scenes like a virtual puzzle. Others, such as a hacking mini-game, feel too easy. Players must position the analog sticks in the right spot but exacts solutions worked repeatedly, sometimes even consecutively. Conclusion State of Mind presents interesting ideas wrapped around solid gameplay and a good look. However, the questionable writing and performances bring everything down. It has some bright spots, but State of Mind ultimately boils down to an ambitious yet average sci-fi thriller. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  4. Marcus Stewart

    Review: State of Mind

    State of Mind presents a vision of 2048 that feels equal parts neat and unsettling. Robots dominate society, acting as household servants and even make up a fully autonomous police force. Citizens have augmented reality implants that display basic information for every person they come into contact with. Virtual reality has evolved into fully immersive worlds that many people prefer to spend their entire lives within. Technology can be wonderful, but should it advance at the expense of our humanity? State of Mind presents meaningful transhumanistic questions, but the delivery leaves much to be desired. Daedalic Entertainment’s narrative adventure has much in common with Life is Strange in terms of its third-person design. The meat of the experience involves exploring compact hub areas and interacting with characters, with additional elements sprinkled on top. These include puzzle-solving, stealth sequences, and even light shooting segments. The plot centers on technophobic journalist Richard Nolan. His life gets flipped on its head when he’s involved in a near-fatal car accident. As he gradually picks up the pieces, he realizes his accident may have been anything but. Worse, his family has also gone missing. In his search for answers he uncovers a conspiracy revolving around a secret virtual world. Despite his reservations with tech, Nolan must cooperate with forces in both realities, including a digital copy of himself, to rescue his family and squash a grander scheme. Nolan’s overwhelming unlikability holds back the story in a big way. Granted, much of this is by design. He’s tangled in an affair despite being married with a kid. His paranoia, both tech-related and personal, causes him to regularly fly off the handle, often irrationally. Nolan’s glaring flaws play into one of the game’s themes: escapism. Many characters turn to the virtual world to escape real world pain or imperfection. Richard has every reason to do the same, but he detests the idea of an artificial existence. That’s fine, but Nolan’s sheer abrasiveness made it nigh impossible to get behind him as a sympathetic character–something State of Mind clearly tries to accomplish. Nolan and the most of the cast suffer from cheesy, wooden performances that often rob serious moments of their emotional weight. A character death, for instance, doesn’t hit nearly as hard because of the rough acting. The story periodically drops players into the shoes of other supporting characters. Some tales land better than others–the story of a robot gaining freewill feels uninspired. However, these scenarios do a solid job of providing backstory and tying together different plot threads. Experiencing the troubled life of Nolan’s mistress Lydia became my favorite tale. She has easily the most fascinating history as well as the most genuine performance. Even though it features player choice, State of Mind tells a largely linear plot. Most choices lead to minor changes in tone, like choosing to respond angrily or passively. The only decision of significance comes at the flat conclusion. Those hoping to see branching paths for everything they do will be disappointed, but I personally didn’t mind the more focused approach. What did bother me was how the hokey, somewhat pretentious writing got in the way of State of Mind’s otherwise intriguing themes of transhumanism. The game sometimes feels like it tries too hard to be profound and can get up its own butt with its philosophy. State of Mind clicks best when those themes simply prop up the relatable human drama; an estranged father attempting to rebuild his family, for example. Other scenes feel outright dumb. In one unintentionally hilarious moment, I met a character infiltrating the virtual world undercover. He reiterated his need for secrecy, then immediately denounced the beliefs of the society he’s supposed to blending in with by making a loud scene in public. Well-worn archetypes (e.g. the messiah with a god complex, the self-righteous hacktivist) could have been stronger if they were written with more subtly. They can be over-the-top to the point being cartoonish and are painfully one-dimensional. In terms of presentation, the sharp, polygonal art direction gives State of Mind a cool style. I especially love the slick camera framing that adds to the cinematic feel. Unfortunately, scenes that abruptly switch to the loading screen and occasionally wonky angles (such as from within a character model) mar the production values. State of Mind’s gameplay can be hit and miss, as well, but I admire its variety. More involved mechanics include using a drone to navigate a maze of ventilation shafts while avoiding rogue bots. Sifting through notes to find correlating intel offers cerebral fun akin to a classic adventure title. An interactive art exhibit allowed me to manipulate music and visual effects for no real purpose but was neat diversion nonetheless. Best of all, only a few mechanics repeat themselves. Recurring activities are simplistic but mostly inoffensive. For example, piecing together jumbled AR scenes like a virtual puzzle. Others, such as a hacking mini-game, feel too easy. Players must position the analog sticks in the right spot but exacts solutions worked repeatedly, sometimes even consecutively. Conclusion State of Mind presents interesting ideas wrapped around solid gameplay and a good look. However, the questionable writing and performances bring everything down. It has some bright spots, but State of Mind ultimately boils down to an ambitious yet average sci-fi thriller. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  5. The Space Hulk tabletop game has entertained Warhammer 40,000 fans for decades. The Space Marine vs Genestealer conflict spilled into the world of video games in the early 90’s, spawning numerous titles ranging from real-time strategy to first-person shooters. Space Hulk: Tactics isn’t the first turn-based strategy entry, but its new card system and two narrative-focused campaigns seperate it from the pack. The two distinct story campaigns center on the Blood Angels chapter of the Terminator Space Marines and the alien Genestealers. This marks the first time the ferocious monsters have been playable in a Space Hulk campaign. Like the board game, players guide a squad through the narrow corridors of the Space Hulk vessels. Marines must fulfil objectives such as escaping or eliminating a target. Genestealers need to slaughter their armored foes before they complete their mission. Outside of these narratives, players can battle in skirmishes against the AI or face other players in competitive multiplayer. I played match against a developer using the Blood Angels while he chose the Genestealers. My objective was to reach a room in order to scorch it with a flamethrower. Only one of my units could perform this task so I had to escort him to the point safely. Players position units or attack adversaries by spending Action Points. Characters have a limited amount of these points, so it’s important to plan ahead for obstacles such as locked doors or surprise enemy spawns. Units fill a specific roles such as Medics, Librarians (psychic-powered mystics), or Assaults, and can use staple genre abilities such as overwatch in addition to their class abilities. Genestealers, whose ranks include powerful Broodlords and nimble Reaperfexes, are placed at spawn points and swarm their prey in waves. Since the opponent can’t see where Genestealers get positioned, savvy players can set up surprise ambushes. Genestealers can even place decoys to throw off the other player. A new card system offers another strategic twist. Equipping units with cards bestows powerful abilities and bonuses. For example, a card may award more points for killing certain enemy types or deal extra melee damage. Tactics features over 80 cards to collect, each one playing a substantial role in combat and tactical decision-making. Cards can also be destroyed in exchange for extra action points for Marines or to summon new units for Genestealers. I like the strategy and flexibility of gaining more actions by sacrificing an ability I may not need in the moment. A first-person option is one of the game’s coolest features. Hitting a button causes the view to shift from a standard top-down angle to witnessing the action from the character’s perspective. Not only does this look neat, but it helps with lining up attacks more accurately or to better identify environmental elements. When playing competitively players can control four chapters (basically factions) of Space Marines: Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Ultramarines, and Dark Angels. Squad customization allows for units to be modified by body part with various armor types and color schemes. With plenty of options at their disposal, players can create squads that suit their visual fancy. I also got a brief look at the mission editor. Players can craft their own levels to share with others online. The intuitive controls make it a cinch to construct corridors and place elements such as auto-turrets and other traps. Visual variations of each tile means stages can take on the gothic look of imperial ships or the metallic hodgepodge of orc vessels, among others. Players can assign multiple objectives to their missions, with Terminators and Genestealers having their own dedicated tasks. Admittedly, I’m not much of a Warhammer 40K fan. However, strategy games make my soul smile, and Space Hulk: Tactics strikes many of the right notes for the genre. I had a good time playing and could see myself getting into the experience despite having no affinity for the intricate lore. Look for the game on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One when it launches on October 9. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  6. The Space Hulk tabletop game has entertained Warhammer 40,000 fans for decades. The Space Marine vs Genestealer conflict spilled into the world of video games in the early 90’s, spawning numerous titles ranging from real-time strategy to first-person shooters. Space Hulk: Tactics isn’t the first turn-based strategy entry, but its new card system and two narrative-focused campaigns seperate it from the pack. The two distinct story campaigns center on the Blood Angels chapter of the Terminator Space Marines and the alien Genestealers. This marks the first time the ferocious monsters have been playable in a Space Hulk campaign. Like the board game, players guide a squad through the narrow corridors of the Space Hulk vessels. Marines must fulfil objectives such as escaping or eliminating a target. Genestealers need to slaughter their armored foes before they complete their mission. Outside of these narratives, players can battle in skirmishes against the AI or face other players in competitive multiplayer. I played match against a developer using the Blood Angels while he chose the Genestealers. My objective was to reach a room in order to scorch it with a flamethrower. Only one of my units could perform this task so I had to escort him to the point safely. Players position units or attack adversaries by spending Action Points. Characters have a limited amount of these points, so it’s important to plan ahead for obstacles such as locked doors or surprise enemy spawns. Units fill a specific roles such as Medics, Librarians (psychic-powered mystics), or Assaults, and can use staple genre abilities such as overwatch in addition to their class abilities. Genestealers, whose ranks include powerful Broodlords and nimble Reaperfexes, are placed at spawn points and swarm their prey in waves. Since the opponent can’t see where Genestealers get positioned, savvy players can set up surprise ambushes. Genestealers can even place decoys to throw off the other player. A new card system offers another strategic twist. Equipping units with cards bestows powerful abilities and bonuses. For example, a card may award more points for killing certain enemy types or deal extra melee damage. Tactics features over 80 cards to collect, each one playing a substantial role in combat and tactical decision-making. Cards can also be destroyed in exchange for extra action points for Marines or to summon new units for Genestealers. I like the strategy and flexibility of gaining more actions by sacrificing an ability I may not need in the moment. A first-person option is one of the game’s coolest features. Hitting a button causes the view to shift from a standard top-down angle to witnessing the action from the character’s perspective. Not only does this look neat, but it helps with lining up attacks more accurately or to better identify environmental elements. When playing competitively players can control four chapters (basically factions) of Space Marines: Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Ultramarines, and Dark Angels. Squad customization allows for units to be modified by body part with various armor types and color schemes. With plenty of options at their disposal, players can create squads that suit their visual fancy. I also got a brief look at the mission editor. Players can craft their own levels to share with others online. The intuitive controls make it a cinch to construct corridors and place elements such as auto-turrets and other traps. Visual variations of each tile means stages can take on the gothic look of imperial ships or the metallic hodgepodge of orc vessels, among others. Players can assign multiple objectives to their missions, with Terminators and Genestealers having their own dedicated tasks. Admittedly, I’m not much of a Warhammer 40K fan. However, strategy games make my soul smile, and Space Hulk: Tactics strikes many of the right notes for the genre. I had a good time playing and could see myself getting into the experience despite having no affinity for the intricate lore. Look for the game on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One when it launches on October 9. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  7. Farming Simulator 19 commemorates the series’ 10th anniversary, and Giants Software plans to make it its biggest title yet. An overhauled presentation raises the visuals to impressive heights. The addition of wildlife introduces a new level of life and dynamism. Bigger than all of that, though, is the long-awaited inclusion of the iconic John Deere license. The world’s most popular farming brand makes its Farming Simulator debut after years of fan demand. John Deere’s popular 8400R tractor graces the cover art and will be one of several machines players can hop behind. Alongside John Deere will be the usual robust suite of agricultural brands, including Case IH, Challenger, Fendt, Valtra, New Holland, and more. Giants Software also showed off weeders and sprayers. Though they’ve appeared before, they’re now used to deal with new, troublesome weeds. These pesky plants grow in between crops and reduce their yield. The weeder can eradicate of these weeds while leaving crops intact. Unfortunately, weeders can only deal with weeds at a certain height; if it grows too high, it won’t be of use. That’s where sprayers come in. Sprayers kill weeds too tall for the weeder to eat up. To use it, players must refuel by purchasing herbicides. However, the dual-purpose machine can also be filled with fertilizer to quickly cultivate a field. Between the weeder and sprayer, the players have a choice between using chemicals or manual labor to remedy weed issues. Forestry, a fan favorite activity, has been made easier thanks to improvements to the crane used for tree cutting. When players move the crane forward, the head always stays at the same height–no need to constantly re-adjust it like in past titles. Giants Software plans to add more forestry equipment and the trees themselves have been remodeled to look better than ever. On the subject of things looking nicer, the aptly named Giants engine allows for new levels of realism. Effects such as HDR rendering, global illumination, depth-of-field, and 3D shadows make the scenic farms look more gorgeous than they ever have before. Grass casts shadows, and the formerly flat bushes have been upgraded to thick ones. The sky box, once a static flat image, now contains 3D objects like the a sun and moon that move across it. Furthermore, improved clouds grow darker to signify impending storms. Thanks to the realistic temperature changes, heat will rise on sunny, cloud-free days. Conversely, more overcast weather results in a temperature drop. Weather can even produce fog. Smaller touches, such as the farmer inside the vehicles having a pedal-pressing animation and more realistic machine movements, lend to the increased authenticity. The equipment customization introduced in the previous Farming Simulator also sport improvements. The old 2D preview image, which limited how much players could observe customization changes before finalizing a purchase, has been replaced by a fully viewable 3D version. Now, players can see exactly what they’re getting before they commit to a change. Customizations options include front-loaders, engine setups, and color changes (except for John Deere equipment). More tire setups will also be included and affect gameplay. For example, wide tires have more friction and narrow tires destroy less crops as players drive through them. Farming Simulator is all about the crops and 19 introduces cotton and oat. A cotton harvester comes with the former. Oat plays a vital role as not only a crop but also as food for horses, which segues into the other big addition: wildlife. At the request of fans, Farming Simulator 19 includes animals for the first time. The aforementioned horses can ridden around the farm. Players can own a dog, though his use was not finalized at the time of the presentation. Non-domesticated creatures function as a randomized gameplay mechanic. Sometimes when players plant seeds, birds will swoop down to pick those seeds out of the ground to eat. Beyond birds, Giants Software plans to include other species though they didn’t confirm any specifically. Player-created mods have become a popular aspect of the series. One award-winning mod, called Seasons, added all four seasons to one of the previous entries. Farming Simulator 19 continues to support these creators thanks to its compatibility with the developer’s mod website. Mods will also be available on console versions, albeit with some differences due to hardware and licensing limitations. For the first time, Farming Simulator 19 will ship with two brand new maps (it’s usually one new and one returning map); a European and an American area. The U.S. map offers a wide open space, addressing prior complaints that they were unrealistically similar to the smaller U.K. maps. Additionally, a bonus third map, the South American area featured in Farming Simulator 17’s Platinum Expansion, will be a free download on launch day. Giants Software aims to improve the sandbox feeling of the game. They plan on giving players more options to freely mess around and plow their fields as they see fit. On top of that, they want to improve the looks of placeables objects like solar panels, wind turbines, garages. Farming Simulator 19 once again supports multiplayer; 16 players on PC/Mac and 6 on consoles. With a decade of experience under its belt, Farming Simulator appears on track to be the biggest and most complete package yet. Budding and veteran farmers alike can pick up the game when it releases for PC, Mac, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on November 20. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  8. Farming Simulator 19 commemorates the series’ 10th anniversary, and Giants Software plans to make it its biggest title yet. An overhauled presentation raises the visuals to impressive heights. The addition of wildlife introduces a new level of life and dynamism. Bigger than all of that, though, is the long-awaited inclusion of the iconic John Deere license. The world’s most popular farming brand makes its Farming Simulator debut after years of fan demand. John Deere’s popular 8400R tractor graces the cover art and will be one of several machines players can hop behind. Alongside John Deere will be the usual robust suite of agricultural brands, including Case IH, Challenger, Fendt, Valtra, New Holland, and more. Giants Software also showed off weeders and sprayers. Though they’ve appeared before, they’re now used to deal with new, troublesome weeds. These pesky plants grow in between crops and reduce their yield. The weeder can eradicate of these weeds while leaving crops intact. Unfortunately, weeders can only deal with weeds at a certain height; if it grows too high, it won’t be of use. That’s where sprayers come in. Sprayers kill weeds too tall for the weeder to eat up. To use it, players must refuel by purchasing herbicides. However, the dual-purpose machine can also be filled with fertilizer to quickly cultivate a field. Between the weeder and sprayer, the players have a choice between using chemicals or manual labor to remedy weed issues. Forestry, a fan favorite activity, has been made easier thanks to improvements to the crane used for tree cutting. When players move the crane forward, the head always stays at the same height–no need to constantly re-adjust it like in past titles. Giants Software plans to add more forestry equipment and the trees themselves have been remodeled to look better than ever. On the subject of things looking nicer, the aptly named Giants engine allows for new levels of realism. Effects such as HDR rendering, global illumination, depth-of-field, and 3D shadows make the scenic farms look more gorgeous than they ever have before. Grass casts shadows, and the formerly flat bushes have been upgraded to thick ones. The sky box, once a static flat image, now contains 3D objects like the a sun and moon that move across it. Furthermore, improved clouds grow darker to signify impending storms. Thanks to the realistic temperature changes, heat will rise on sunny, cloud-free days. Conversely, more overcast weather results in a temperature drop. Weather can even produce fog. Smaller touches, such as the farmer inside the vehicles having a pedal-pressing animation and more realistic machine movements, lend to the increased authenticity. The equipment customization introduced in the previous Farming Simulator also sport improvements. The old 2D preview image, which limited how much players could observe customization changes before finalizing a purchase, has been replaced by a fully viewable 3D version. Now, players can see exactly what they’re getting before they commit to a change. Customizations options include front-loaders, engine setups, and color changes (except for John Deere equipment). More tire setups will also be included and affect gameplay. For example, wide tires have more friction and narrow tires destroy less crops as players drive through them. Farming Simulator is all about the crops and 19 introduces cotton and oat. A cotton harvester comes with the former. Oat plays a vital role as not only a crop but also as food for horses, which segues into the other big addition: wildlife. At the request of fans, Farming Simulator 19 includes animals for the first time. The aforementioned horses can ridden around the farm. Players can own a dog, though his use was not finalized at the time of the presentation. Non-domesticated creatures function as a randomized gameplay mechanic. Sometimes when players plant seeds, birds will swoop down to pick those seeds out of the ground to eat. Beyond birds, Giants Software plans to include other species though they didn’t confirm any specifically. Player-created mods have become a popular aspect of the series. One award-winning mod, called Seasons, added all four seasons to one of the previous entries. Farming Simulator 19 continues to support these creators thanks to its compatibility with the developer’s mod website. Mods will also be available on console versions, albeit with some differences due to hardware and licensing limitations. For the first time, Farming Simulator 19 will ship with two brand new maps (it’s usually one new and one returning map); a European and an American area. The U.S. map offers a wide open space, addressing prior complaints that they were unrealistically similar to the smaller U.K. maps. Additionally, a bonus third map, the South American area featured in Farming Simulator 17’s Platinum Expansion, will be a free download on launch day. Giants Software aims to improve the sandbox feeling of the game. They plan on giving players more options to freely mess around and plow their fields as they see fit. On top of that, they want to improve the looks of placeables objects like solar panels, wind turbines, garages. Farming Simulator 19 once again supports multiplayer; 16 players on PC/Mac and 6 on consoles. With a decade of experience under its belt, Farming Simulator appears on track to be the biggest and most complete package yet. Budding and veteran farmers alike can pick up the game when it releases for PC, Mac, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on November 20. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  9. Two worlds. One demon. Over a dozen heroes. That’s what players have on their plates in Shadows: Awakening, Games Farm’s latest installment in their Heretic Kingdoms saga (which includes 2014’s Shadows: Heretic Kingdom). This unique isometric RPG blends choice-driven storytelling, loot-based gameplay, and an inventive world shifting feature for what looks to be an engrossing experience. Players control a demon called the Devourer that resides in the Shadow Realm. As its name suggests, this entity consumes the souls of fallen heroes. Those spirits then become its puppets, which the Devourer uses to bring them back into the mortal plane. The demon has access to their memories and personality allowing him to essentially masquerade as the hero to fulfill its own agenda. The game begins with players choosing the first hero to leech off of from a choice of three. This primary hero comes with a unique backstory that ties into which quests players receive, how they play out, and influences the main plot’s evolution. Because of this, Shadows: Awakening requires multiple playthroughs using different starting characters in order to experience everything it has to offer. Evia, one of the primary heroes, died 300 years prior and hailed from an imperial family. However, her bloodline’s regime fell sometime after her demise, so her motivations involve finding out what happened to her family and the imperium. The warrior Kalik was killed by his own son just a few years ago. Thus, he seeks to find his offspring and exact revenge. Up to 15 heroes can be recruited to the player’s party throughout the adventure. For my demo, Evia drew the lucky straw as the chosen protagonist. Players traverse two separate realms, human and Shadow, by toggling between them in real-time at the press of a button. This also switches control between the demon and human. The Shadow realm appears as a dark reflection of the mortal world but contains notable differences that players must exploit to solve puzzles and find secrets. A basic example could be getting past a broken bridge in the Shadow Realm by walking across its intact counterpart in the living realm. The procedurally generated levels feature equally randomized loot with the exception of hand-placed secrets and powerful items. While in the Shadow Realm, time halts in the other world. I watched the player take advantage of this, freezing moving platforms in the human world by switching to the demon’s. This condition can also be useful in combat. Having a tough time battling a earthly foe? Jump to the Shadow Realm mid-fight for a quick breather–provided the coast is clear there as well. Games Farm designed many combat encounters with realm-swapping in mind. I witnessed a boss battle against a spider demon that had surrounded itself with a shadow shield that was impenetrable in the human reality but vulnerable in the Shadow Realm. Thus, the demon had to break the shield first, allowing the human to finish it off. Shadows: Awakening eschews a traditional party system for something more streamlined. Instead of all four characters roaming at once, players control one at a time by swapping between them on-the-fly. Games Farm designed the game primarily for consoles and thought this would ease the clunkiness of managing party members on PC. Characters interact with each other and hold specific conversations depending on who’s matched with whom and their relationship. One pair of heroes happen to be ex-lovers, so putting them in your party leads to some awkward, hostile dialogue between them. Combat has a similar flavor to Diablo. However, a synergetic network simplifies the team tactics of Dota/League of Legends to allow a single-player to perform them. An example is a goblin throwing an oil flask at enemies to reduce their fire defense, then using a fire mage to deal extra damage. An inquisitor summoning rotating blades after first casting her tornado attack will cause the blades to spin faster and deal more damage. Progression boasts hearty depth. Upon leveling up, characters earn points to spend towards four main attributes, which basically act as classes. Additionally, there are separate skill points used for upgrading one of eight total skills. Each skill has three levels, creating further nuance that allows players to build a playstyle that suits them. With 15 heroes possessing sets of eight unique skills, that makes for over 120 total skills in the game. With so many stats to wrap your brain around, I’m thankful that the game features an option for simplifying the leveling process. For those who just want to see that overall number go up without messing with the nitty gritty, you can choose to raise a blanket talent and its subsequent stats rise automatically. Detailed-oriented players fear not. You can still manually upgrade every individual stat if you prefer to be more hands-on. Furthermore, experience share amongst the party eliminates the need to grind using each individual hero. The same ease of use applies to Items and gear. New equipment can be quickly compared to current loadouts via an icon that clearly communicates if something is better. This provides a quick at-a-glance for those who don’t want to get bogged by the details and just want to know if a new weapon beats their current one. Again, If you care to know exactly how that new shield trumps your equipped one, the full stats are provided. The main story and sidequests heavily emphasize player choice. One mission I saw featured a drunkard who murdered his wife and asked the player to help him dispose of the body. Players can either perform the dark deed, hand the man over to the guards, or just do nothing. A critical story moment involves deciding the fate of an important female character. Deciding not to rescue her causes her to disappear from the story, which in turn locks out some future content. Furthermore, a karma mechanic causes the demon to physically change based on the player’s decisions. It can become more angelic, sprouting wings for example, or increasingly demonic. Shadows: Awakening may resemble a Diablo clone on the surface, but its inventive mechanics and focus on accessibility make it a game worth keeping an eye on. Boasting at least 60 hours worth of content and a ton of replayability, it should keep fans engaged in its dual worlds for the long haul. I can’t speak for when it releases in the Shadow Realm, but it arrives in our realm on August 31 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  10. Two worlds. One demon. Over a dozen heroes. That’s what players have on their plates in Shadows: Awakening, Games Farm’s latest installment in their Heretic Kingdoms saga (which includes 2014’s Shadows: Heretic Kingdom). This unique isometric RPG blends choice-driven storytelling, loot-based gameplay, and an inventive world shifting feature for what looks to be an engrossing experience. Players control a demon called the Devourer that resides in the Shadow Realm. As its name suggests, this entity consumes the souls of fallen heroes. Those spirits then become its puppets, which the Devourer uses to bring them back into the mortal plane. The demon has access to their memories and personality allowing him to essentially masquerade as the hero to fulfill its own agenda. The game begins with players choosing the first hero to leech off of from a choice of three. This primary hero comes with a unique backstory that ties into which quests players receive, how they play out, and influences the main plot’s evolution. Because of this, Shadows: Awakening requires multiple playthroughs using different starting characters in order to experience everything it has to offer. Evia, one of the primary heroes, died 300 years prior and hailed from an imperial family. However, her bloodline’s regime fell sometime after her demise, so her motivations involve finding out what happened to her family and the imperium. The warrior Kalik was killed by his own son just a few years ago. Thus, he seeks to find his offspring and exact revenge. Up to 15 heroes can be recruited to the player’s party throughout the adventure. For my demo, Evia drew the lucky straw as the chosen protagonist. Players traverse two separate realms, human and Shadow, by toggling between them in real-time at the press of a button. This also switches control between the demon and human. The Shadow realm appears as a dark reflection of the mortal world but contains notable differences that players must exploit to solve puzzles and find secrets. A basic example could be getting past a broken bridge in the Shadow Realm by walking across its intact counterpart in the living realm. The procedurally generated levels feature equally randomized loot with the exception of hand-placed secrets and powerful items. While in the Shadow Realm, time halts in the other world. I watched the player take advantage of this, freezing moving platforms in the human world by switching to the demon’s. This condition can also be useful in combat. Having a tough time battling a earthly foe? Jump to the Shadow Realm mid-fight for a quick breather–provided the coast is clear there as well. Games Farm designed many combat encounters with realm-swapping in mind. I witnessed a boss battle against a spider demon that had surrounded itself with a shadow shield that was impenetrable in the human reality but vulnerable in the Shadow Realm. Thus, the demon had to break the shield first, allowing the human to finish it off. Shadows: Awakening eschews a traditional party system for something more streamlined. Instead of all four characters roaming at once, players control one at a time by swapping between them on-the-fly. Games Farm designed the game primarily for consoles and thought this would ease the clunkiness of managing party members on PC. Characters interact with each other and hold specific conversations depending on who’s matched with whom and their relationship. One pair of heroes happen to be ex-lovers, so putting them in your party leads to some awkward, hostile dialogue between them. Combat has a similar flavor to Diablo. However, a synergetic network simplifies the team tactics of Dota/League of Legends to allow a single-player to perform them. An example is a goblin throwing an oil flask at enemies to reduce their fire defense, then using a fire mage to deal extra damage. An inquisitor summoning rotating blades after first casting her tornado attack will cause the blades to spin faster and deal more damage. Progression boasts hearty depth. Upon leveling up, characters earn points to spend towards four main attributes, which basically act as classes. Additionally, there are separate skill points used for upgrading one of eight total skills. Each skill has three levels, creating further nuance that allows players to build a playstyle that suits them. With 15 heroes possessing sets of eight unique skills, that makes for over 120 total skills in the game. With so many stats to wrap your brain around, I’m thankful that the game features an option for simplifying the leveling process. For those who just want to see that overall number go up without messing with the nitty gritty, you can choose to raise a blanket talent and its subsequent stats rise automatically. Detailed-oriented players fear not. You can still manually upgrade every individual stat if you prefer to be more hands-on. Furthermore, experience share amongst the party eliminates the need to grind using each individual hero. The same ease of use applies to Items and gear. New equipment can be quickly compared to current loadouts via an icon that clearly communicates if something is better. This provides a quick at-a-glance for those who don’t want to get bogged by the details and just want to know if a new weapon beats their current one. Again, If you care to know exactly how that new shield trumps your equipped one, the full stats are provided. The main story and sidequests heavily emphasize player choice. One mission I saw featured a drunkard who murdered his wife and asked the player to help him dispose of the body. Players can either perform the dark deed, hand the man over to the guards, or just do nothing. A critical story moment involves deciding the fate of an important female character. Deciding not to rescue her causes her to disappear from the story, which in turn locks out some future content. Furthermore, a karma mechanic causes the demon to physically change based on the player’s decisions. It can become more angelic, sprouting wings for example, or increasingly demonic. Shadows: Awakening may resemble a Diablo clone on the surface, but its inventive mechanics and focus on accessibility make it a game worth keeping an eye on. Boasting at least 60 hours worth of content and a ton of replayability, it should keep fans engaged in its dual worlds for the long haul. I can’t speak for when it releases in the Shadow Realm, but it arrives in our realm on August 31 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  11. Tropico 6 gives fans another opportunity to live out their power fantasies. Once again taking up the mantle of El Presidente, their goal is to stay in power as either a benevolent ruler or ruthless dictator. Like previous entries, accomplishing this involves building an island empire across multiple historical eras. Players manage their land resources, the economy, and the individual lives of citizens, to to maximize their profit. Kalypso walked me through Tropico 6’s new twist during E3 and here’s what I came away with. Expanded Scope Previous Tropico games gave players control of a single island. Tropico 6 expands that control to several archipelagos. These satellite islands come with their own challenges as well as building features. For example, players connect islands using a new bridge-building mechanic. Additionally, bridges act as additional production chains for efficiently transporting goods and citizens. Players can now implement new transportation modes such as bus stations and taxis. Bus routes give Tropicans that lack their own cars a speedier method of getting from point A to B (ideally point B is their job) as opposed to walking. Tunnel construction allows players to reach new secluded areas and provide another alternative method for transporting goods. Tunnels become available in modern eras. Cable cars ferry citizens people up Tropico 6’s increasingly elevated areas, such as tall plateaus. Deeper Control and Customization Work Modes, a feature absent in Tropico 5, makes a return in 6. It allows players to adjust how buildings operate in terms of what type of Tropicans can access them. For example, a building open to all citizens can be changed so that only upper class residents can access it. Work Modes affect population happiness. Too much emphasis on only pleasing the wealthy could cause the lower classes to become unhappy and even riot. It’s also possible to adjust existing buildings to emphasize a certain Happiness Value. During my demonstration, the developer wanted to increase the budget of a tavern. However, an edict prohibiting alcohol was negatively impacting the business. By removing that edict, the tavern’s efficiency increased. The developer then changed the Work Mode to all you can drink in order to to further raise the building’s revenue. For the first time, El Presidente’s palace can be customized. Players can mess with the building’s color, general layout, and add gaudy touches such as swimming pools, helipads, and even a giant hologram of the leader himself. The palace can also be relocated, which has been a community requested feature. A Change of Scenery Visual variation is a key point of focus for Tropico 6. The tropical setting remains the norm but new areas include arid, hostile environments. I saw active volcanoes, jagged cliffs, and a significantly wetter swampy marsh. Time-of-day changes, backed by new lighting effects, add another layer of visual shine. Weather changes along with disasters such as thunderstorms not only look impressive but can impact gameplay by destroying buildings. Environments have gameplay implications as well. In one mission, El Presidente realizes that a particular island is too inhospitable to produce the necessary resources for his expanding his empire. Thus, he responds by sending out citizens as pirates to roam the seas and plunder other islands for their goods. This lead to the next key point. Raiding El Presidente can now order his underlings to pilfer resources from foreign lands. I watched a scenario set in the Colonial era where the player’s pirates needed to make rum. The rum distillery required sugar to function but the infertile island couldn’t support a sugar plantation. Instead, the player sent out a band of pirates locate a nation with sugar ripe for swiping. Sure, players can trade or find other means of gathering resources. However, pulling off a successful heist feels satisfying. Tropicans can even steal landmarks from other nations. Offering monuments such as a Mayan pyramid or the Taj Mahal to El Presidente allows players to build them on their island. Landmarks not only look cool but offer various, unspecified gameplay effects. Fulfilling these heists requires players to first complete a series of quests. Be careful though; stealing too much from another superpower may invite their wrath. A new Relationship Rating displays El Presidente’s standing with other countries. The Warfare feature, a staple of the series, allows powerhouses like Russia to attack if players anger them too much. Additionally, Tropico 6 ships with 15 mission maps that all have unique stories attached to them with their own timelines and narrations. The four-player multiplayer introduced in Tropico 5 makes a return as well. Tropico 6 launches for PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later this year. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  12. Tropico 6 gives fans another opportunity to live out their power fantasies. Once again taking up the mantle of El Presidente, their goal is to stay in power as either a benevolent ruler or ruthless dictator. Like previous entries, accomplishing this involves building an island empire across multiple historical eras. Players manage their land resources, the economy, and the individual lives of citizens, to to maximize their profit. Kalypso walked me through Tropico 6’s new twist during E3 and here’s what I came away with. Expanded Scope Previous Tropico games gave players control of a single island. Tropico 6 expands that control to several archipelagos. These satellite islands come with their own challenges as well as building features. For example, players connect islands using a new bridge-building mechanic. Additionally, bridges act as additional production chains for efficiently transporting goods and citizens. Players can now implement new transportation modes such as bus stations and taxis. Bus routes give Tropicans that lack their own cars a speedier method of getting from point A to B (ideally point B is their job) as opposed to walking. Tunnel construction allows players to reach new secluded areas and provide another alternative method for transporting goods. Tunnels become available in modern eras. Cable cars ferry citizens people up Tropico 6’s increasingly elevated areas, such as tall plateaus. Deeper Control and Customization Work Modes, a feature absent in Tropico 5, makes a return in 6. It allows players to adjust how buildings operate in terms of what type of Tropicans can access them. For example, a building open to all citizens can be changed so that only upper class residents can access it. Work Modes affect population happiness. Too much emphasis on only pleasing the wealthy could cause the lower classes to become unhappy and even riot. It’s also possible to adjust existing buildings to emphasize a certain Happiness Value. During my demonstration, the developer wanted to increase the budget of a tavern. However, an edict prohibiting alcohol was negatively impacting the business. By removing that edict, the tavern’s efficiency increased. The developer then changed the Work Mode to all you can drink in order to to further raise the building’s revenue. For the first time, El Presidente’s palace can be customized. Players can mess with the building’s color, general layout, and add gaudy touches such as swimming pools, helipads, and even a giant hologram of the leader himself. The palace can also be relocated, which has been a community requested feature. A Change of Scenery Visual variation is a key point of focus for Tropico 6. The tropical setting remains the norm but new areas include arid, hostile environments. I saw active volcanoes, jagged cliffs, and a significantly wetter swampy marsh. Time-of-day changes, backed by new lighting effects, add another layer of visual shine. Weather changes along with disasters such as thunderstorms not only look impressive but can impact gameplay by destroying buildings. Environments have gameplay implications as well. In one mission, El Presidente realizes that a particular island is too inhospitable to produce the necessary resources for his expanding his empire. Thus, he responds by sending out citizens as pirates to roam the seas and plunder other islands for their goods. This lead to the next key point. Raiding El Presidente can now order his underlings to pilfer resources from foreign lands. I watched a scenario set in the Colonial era where the player’s pirates needed to make rum. The rum distillery required sugar to function but the infertile island couldn’t support a sugar plantation. Instead, the player sent out a band of pirates locate a nation with sugar ripe for swiping. Sure, players can trade or find other means of gathering resources. However, pulling off a successful heist feels satisfying. Tropicans can even steal landmarks from other nations. Offering monuments such as a Mayan pyramid or the Taj Mahal to El Presidente allows players to build them on their island. Landmarks not only look cool but offer various, unspecified gameplay effects. Fulfilling these heists requires players to first complete a series of quests. Be careful though; stealing too much from another superpower may invite their wrath. A new Relationship Rating displays El Presidente’s standing with other countries. The Warfare feature, a staple of the series, allows powerhouses like Russia to attack if players anger them too much. Additionally, Tropico 6 ships with 15 mission maps that all have unique stories attached to them with their own timelines and narrations. The four-player multiplayer introduced in Tropico 5 makes a return as well. Tropico 6 launches for PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later this year. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  13. Quite a bit changed over the year since I last saw Insurgency: Sandstorm. Creative Director Andrew Spearin (who I interviewed at E3 last year) departed New World Interactive. Its highly-touted story mode has been cancelled. New World narrowed the focus to double-down on what brought Insurgency to the dance: its brutally realistic multiplayer. I had a chance to play a few rounds of multiplayer alongside seven other teammates. Our objective was to secure a checkpoint, but that was easier said than done. Insurgency’s focus on realism means taking one or two good shots ends the player’s life. The intelligent AI regularly flanked and swarmed us when we least expected it. Teamwork became a necessity; lone wolves rarely lasted long trying to reach the objective on their own. Although the game was rough around the edge, fans of the original Insurgency should be glad to know that Sandstorm, thus far, continues the series’ reputation as a grounded, skill-based shooter. After my session concluded I had the opportunity to speak with Insurgency’s lead designer, Michael Tsaroushas. We chatted about the various changes and roadblocks to hit the project in the last year, translating the PC experience to consoles, and the reason behind the story mode’s cancellation. Run through what's changed with Insurgency since I saw you guys last year. Michael: As you know we cancelled our story mode that was going to be for release. That is something we're going to reconsider after launch. We're focusing on a multiplayer experience, which includes cooperative multiplayer, 5v5 competitive matchmaking, adversarial traditional multiplayer, which is 16v16. Included in that are a lot of different improvements, a lot of new stuff since Insurgency, our previous game; new fire support mechanics, calling in helicopters, airstrikes, artillery, vaulting, door breaching, improved ballistic system. It's a hybrid between hit-scan and simulated ballistics depending on the distance of the bullet. Vehicles, character customization, a lot of different things we've been working on the last year. How was it designing that AI? I just finished playing a few rounds of the 8-player squad against a team of bots to try and capture an objective, and that AI is rough. I'm glad you feel that way. That's what we're going for [laughs]. In Insurgency, we had cooperative modes. We started out way back in the day with an adversarial game, but we explored all this cooperative play, and it ended up working really well. So, we dedicate a lot of resources in making sure our cooperative experience is just as fun as our adversarial- just as fun as our competitive experience. And you can see just in Checkpoint Mode, which is what we played today, [the AI] come at you, they’re very aggressive. They die just as fast as you, and I think when you have that, a high lethality game, the stakes are really high and you need to be really careful. And that's what make it fun. Are they especially reactive? I noticed I would kill one and then all of a sudden I would turn a corner and there's five of them just coming at me. Yeah, it's that kind of intensity that we want. That kind of fear, that kind of tension that we want. Like, “oh no, I have to be careful”. Have you guys added any new vehicles? I know last year you guys specifically mentioned jeeps and other vehicles. But you guys were also stressing that you weren't trying to be like Battlefield. Correct. We don't have tanks, we don't have any heavy vehicles. All of our vehicles are light. Trucks with machine guns on them. They're really interesting to play with because they're kind of like mobile turrets in a way. Not a lot of games do their vehicles that way but we found that that works pretty well for us. You have a shield for your turret. If you place it in the right position and watch, then you can screw them up, mess their day up real bad. We also have the fire support vehicles I was talking about. Those you don't drive, though. The trucks you drive. It's like when 2-player classes come together they can call in an airstrike, they can call in a helicopter. Has anything changed in the last year in terms of looking at other shooters and trends that have arisen–battle royale specifically? [laughs] It's hot right now. You know, we've talked about it in the past on our team. "Hey, I think we could do a cool battle royale". But it's not really what we want to do right now. It's not important to us at the moment. I don't think it's important to our community either. So maybe we'll explore post-release, but right now we don't have any plans for that. We'll see. As far as other trends go, I think we've been pretty solid with our vision for the past year. Since we cancelled the story mode for release we've been really focused on polishing and refining the multiplayer experience and expanding too. Can you talk about what brought about the cancellation of that story mode? When did that decision happen? It was still, at least this time last year, very much a thing. I watched a big trailer for it. What happened with that? Well frankly, we bit off more than we chew. We are a small studio. We're doing a lot of new stuff here [with a] new engine. We worked on Source, which came out in 2003. We're on Unreal Engine 4, which came out very recently, and we had to account for that. We had to account for the fact that we want to be on console. We had to account for the fact that we were really building a whole new platform, and we're a small team. There's like 36 of us, and we're spread all around the world. We have a couple different studios in Denver, Amsterdam, and we came to a realization that if we really want to deliver the experience people know us for, we should focus on it. And that led us to the decision. And you said it’s not a totally done thing? It could return in the future? After release we're going to reconsider it. At the moment we're just focused on the multiplayer. How's it been working on consoles for the first time? It's been interesting. It's been a challenge, of course. We don't have any experience on consoles. There's TRC's, there's certifications that you need to know, and that's been interesting to learn. That console release is also going to be split. That's going to come out in 2019. PC is going to be September, and that has helped us to make sure we focus on one thing at a time. Let me ask you in regards to the shooting. I think last year one of the devs described it as "The Dark Souls of shooters" I like that. It is a good way to describe it, at least in the brutality. The unforgivingness. Yeah, or the realism to a degree. It plays well with mouse and keyboard, but for a controller, have you guys had to pull back on that a little bit for a controller? How has that been translating that control setup? We definitely maintain the experience. Nothing changes [when] you play with a controller. Honestly, people play Insurgency right now with a controller. We have partial controller support for the Source version of Insurgency. I played it with a controller. It feels pretty good, right? It an experience that you can't have on a controller, and by doing that, seeing that in the original Insurgency, that led us to believe “hey, this could work for console.” So we don't really change much from that. We're obviously refining it, we obviously have to take into account key binding space and stuff, maybe do some aim dampening when you analog over something. Other than that, the experience is very similar. And we want that, we don't want to sacrifice our gunplay. It's kind of your identity as well. Exactly. Insurgency: Sandstorm is available now for pre-order on Steam. Doing so gains access to a future beta. To try it out even earlier, New World Interactive is currently taking sign-ups for an upcoming closed alpha. The game arrives in September for PC and comes to consoles in 2019. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  14. Quite a bit changed over the year since I last saw Insurgency: Sandstorm. Creative Director Andrew Spearin (who I interviewed at E3 last year) departed New World Interactive. Its highly-touted story mode has been cancelled. New World narrowed the focus to double-down on what brought Insurgency to the dance: its brutally realistic multiplayer. I had a chance to play a few rounds of multiplayer alongside seven other teammates. Our objective was to secure a checkpoint, but that was easier said than done. Insurgency’s focus on realism means taking one or two good shots ends the player’s life. The intelligent AI regularly flanked and swarmed us when we least expected it. Teamwork became a necessity; lone wolves rarely lasted long trying to reach the objective on their own. Although the game was rough around the edge, fans of the original Insurgency should be glad to know that Sandstorm, thus far, continues the series’ reputation as a grounded, skill-based shooter. After my session concluded I had the opportunity to speak with Insurgency’s lead designer, Michael Tsaroushas. We chatted about the various changes and roadblocks to hit the project in the last year, translating the PC experience to consoles, and the reason behind the story mode’s cancellation. Run through what's changed with Insurgency since I saw you guys last year. Michael: As you know we cancelled our story mode that was going to be for release. That is something we're going to reconsider after launch. We're focusing on a multiplayer experience, which includes cooperative multiplayer, 5v5 competitive matchmaking, adversarial traditional multiplayer, which is 16v16. Included in that are a lot of different improvements, a lot of new stuff since Insurgency, our previous game; new fire support mechanics, calling in helicopters, airstrikes, artillery, vaulting, door breaching, improved ballistic system. It's a hybrid between hit-scan and simulated ballistics depending on the distance of the bullet. Vehicles, character customization, a lot of different things we've been working on the last year. How was it designing that AI? I just finished playing a few rounds of the 8-player squad against a team of bots to try and capture an objective, and that AI is rough. I'm glad you feel that way. That's what we're going for [laughs]. In Insurgency, we had cooperative modes. We started out way back in the day with an adversarial game, but we explored all this cooperative play, and it ended up working really well. So, we dedicate a lot of resources in making sure our cooperative experience is just as fun as our adversarial- just as fun as our competitive experience. And you can see just in Checkpoint Mode, which is what we played today, [the AI] come at you, they’re very aggressive. They die just as fast as you, and I think when you have that, a high lethality game, the stakes are really high and you need to be really careful. And that's what make it fun. Are they especially reactive? I noticed I would kill one and then all of a sudden I would turn a corner and there's five of them just coming at me. Yeah, it's that kind of intensity that we want. That kind of fear, that kind of tension that we want. Like, “oh no, I have to be careful”. Have you guys added any new vehicles? I know last year you guys specifically mentioned jeeps and other vehicles. But you guys were also stressing that you weren't trying to be like Battlefield. Correct. We don't have tanks, we don't have any heavy vehicles. All of our vehicles are light. Trucks with machine guns on them. They're really interesting to play with because they're kind of like mobile turrets in a way. Not a lot of games do their vehicles that way but we found that that works pretty well for us. You have a shield for your turret. If you place it in the right position and watch, then you can screw them up, mess their day up real bad. We also have the fire support vehicles I was talking about. Those you don't drive, though. The trucks you drive. It's like when 2-player classes come together they can call in an airstrike, they can call in a helicopter. Has anything changed in the last year in terms of looking at other shooters and trends that have arisen–battle royale specifically? [laughs] It's hot right now. You know, we've talked about it in the past on our team. "Hey, I think we could do a cool battle royale". But it's not really what we want to do right now. It's not important to us at the moment. I don't think it's important to our community either. So maybe we'll explore post-release, but right now we don't have any plans for that. We'll see. As far as other trends go, I think we've been pretty solid with our vision for the past year. Since we cancelled the story mode for release we've been really focused on polishing and refining the multiplayer experience and expanding too. Can you talk about what brought about the cancellation of that story mode? When did that decision happen? It was still, at least this time last year, very much a thing. I watched a big trailer for it. What happened with that? Well frankly, we bit off more than we chew. We are a small studio. We're doing a lot of new stuff here [with a] new engine. We worked on Source, which came out in 2003. We're on Unreal Engine 4, which came out very recently, and we had to account for that. We had to account for the fact that we want to be on console. We had to account for the fact that we were really building a whole new platform, and we're a small team. There's like 36 of us, and we're spread all around the world. We have a couple different studios in Denver, Amsterdam, and we came to a realization that if we really want to deliver the experience people know us for, we should focus on it. And that led us to the decision. And you said it’s not a totally done thing? It could return in the future? After release we're going to reconsider it. At the moment we're just focused on the multiplayer. How's it been working on consoles for the first time? It's been interesting. It's been a challenge, of course. We don't have any experience on consoles. There's TRC's, there's certifications that you need to know, and that's been interesting to learn. That console release is also going to be split. That's going to come out in 2019. PC is going to be September, and that has helped us to make sure we focus on one thing at a time. Let me ask you in regards to the shooting. I think last year one of the devs described it as "The Dark Souls of shooters" I like that. It is a good way to describe it, at least in the brutality. The unforgivingness. Yeah, or the realism to a degree. It plays well with mouse and keyboard, but for a controller, have you guys had to pull back on that a little bit for a controller? How has that been translating that control setup? We definitely maintain the experience. Nothing changes [when] you play with a controller. Honestly, people play Insurgency right now with a controller. We have partial controller support for the Source version of Insurgency. I played it with a controller. It feels pretty good, right? It an experience that you can't have on a controller, and by doing that, seeing that in the original Insurgency, that led us to believe “hey, this could work for console.” So we don't really change much from that. We're obviously refining it, we obviously have to take into account key binding space and stuff, maybe do some aim dampening when you analog over something. Other than that, the experience is very similar. And we want that, we don't want to sacrifice our gunplay. It's kind of your identity as well. Exactly. Insurgency: Sandstorm is available now for pre-order on Steam. Doing so gains access to a future beta. To try it out even earlier, New World Interactive is currently taking sign-ups for an upcoming closed alpha. The game arrives in September for PC and comes to consoles in 2019. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  15. The mountain of battle royale games continues to rise with Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds dueling at the summit. For developers beginning the climb, reaching the top feels nigh impossible. However, Fear the Wolves by Vostok Games aims to establish a cozy, nuclear-powered base camp near the top instead. Fear the Wolves comes from the minds behind the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise. That series’ harsh survival elements and bleak setting bleeds into their new battle royale. 100-person bouts take place in the infamous Chernobyl nuclear zone. Gameplay also takes a decidedly hardcore approach. Speaking with Oleg Ruslan, a key mind behind the project, he describes it as, “less arcadey stuff, no cartoonish things. More realistic, more hardcore–a grim reality that sucks.” Unlike other battle royale games, Fear the Wolves gives players a lot more to worry about than the 99 other combatants. Chernobyl contains irradiated areas that harm players who lack protective equipment. On top of that are Anomalies, danger zones on the map that further challenge the player. “Some of them are invisible, some of them are pretty interesting to really understand and explore how you deal with them.” says Ruslan. “For example, a type of Anomaly which hurts you if you're standing but if you're running you're fine. You need to try and find a way out of it, and [these are] little puzzles that the players will need to solve.” In another twist, a dynamic day and night cycle along with changing weather conditions directly affect gameplay. Ruslan explains “ For example, in strong wind you can not shoot very accurately. Your bullet physics [are] affected or in dense fog you cannot see other players very well.” If the elements weren’t enough to deal with, mutated animals such as vicious wolf packs stalk players throughout the match. Ruslan states this adds another layer of unpredictability to matches. Players who run into these beasts without the proper weapons will become a gruesome meal long before any human does the job. With added dangers, however, come new ways to emerge victorious. In addition to winning matches by being the last person standing, players can instead opt to hop aboard an escape helicopter. The lucky soul who manages to climb aboard this single-seat aircraft automatically wins the match–regardless of the number of players left. The helicopter only appears during the final leg of the round and gives new meaning to the phrase, “get to the chopper!” It also struck me as one of Fear the Wolve’s most intriguing features. “That's our little touch that will make it a little different experience, we think.” says Oleg. “Instead of people sitting in the bush [and] waiting for someone else to snipe and just win the match, here it's a possibility to actually just avoid the company. Anyone can be elusive and just jump on that helicopter and escape the map and win. So this definitely gives more room for tactics and possibility for winning the game.” Vostok Games also want to incorporate streaming features into Fear the Wolves. Twitch and Mixer users viewing matches in progress will be able to vote in real-time which in-game mechanics occur such as the weather effects. This appears to be a work-in-progress, with Oleg stating that the team has plans to expand on audience integration in the future. At the moment, Fear the Wolves will feature solo, survival, and squad play. An unannounced fourth mode will, in Oleg’s words, be “fresh to the genre”. All in all, the game has a lot going on between modes and gameplay, and I asked how the team decides when its doing too much and to scale back. Oleg told me that while the studio has plenty of ideas, they’re currently focused on how players react to what’s already present. Everything Vostok Games does must be “in line” with the community’s preferences. Speaking of community, Vostok wants Fear the Wolves to find its own, hardcore niche in the deepening pool of battle royale titles. It’d be nice to supplant Fortnite and PUBG as top dog, of course, but Oleg believes merely copying the competition would be insane as that would require crafting a product that’s twice their quality–a tall order for any team. “It makes sense to be different, and offer the market something different, and see if people have [a] response.” explains Ruslan. “...We would go crazy headbanging against the wall fighting against guys like Fortnite.” We won’t have to wait too long to see how Fear the Wolves fares. The game enters Steam Early Access this month and the full PC release is scheduled for later this year. Vostok Games plans to launch the console version in 2019. So far, the game offers a slew of unique ideas and a hardcore appeal. I’m keen to see if Fear the Wolves can take off like its opportune escape helicopter. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
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