The Agent Reviews A Game: Hyper Heroes

Hurrah for generic title screens…
Source: Google Play

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of more introspective philosophical pieces here lately. And while it’s good to do some soul searching every now and again, I’m sure you need a break from that as much as I do. So let’s get back to a topic I don’t touch as often as I used to; video games.

When I last reviewed a mobile game, I made it clear that I wasn’t sold on mobile games as a whole but remained hopeful that one could change my mood. I still feel that way, but I think that Hyper Heroes may have helped me to single out my issues with the mobile market. But first, let’s talk about the game.

Hyper Heroes markets itself as a, “marble-like RPG,” and that description seems to fit quite well. You select a team of up to four heroes and do battle with your standard high fantasy monsters by click-and-dragging to literally throw them at the baddies until they drop.

It’s marginally more complex than that description makes it seem. Obviously, there’s the RPG trope of level grinding (more on that later), physics-based tactics requiring you plot your angle of attack and memorize how far each hero can travel, and probably the best mechanic in the game; the various attack styles of the heroes.

There are three styles; bounce, penetrate and stick. Bounce will ricochet off enemies making for complex strikes, penetrate can move through enemy lines while dealing damage to reach priority targets, and stick with stop dead on the first enemy struck for precise setups – especially useful for tank characters to draw fire away from frail heroes.

There’s also a promotion system where, as heroes collect required gear, they can be promoted and gain up to four skills; a ‘Unique’ skill that can be activated after building up a rage meter, a ‘Combo’ skill that activated when another hero crosses over them in battle, a ‘Finish’ skill that triggers at the end of their turn, and a ‘Passive’ skill that grants general buffs consistently.

So, a lot of interesting stuff to work with. But, alas, there are some things in design that just irk me and that I can’t shake off whenever I notice them. And I think they may be a the root of why I haven’t embraced mobile gaming completely yet.

For example, it feels VERY cheaply made. I know that it’s a free-to-play game and I shouldn’t expect much from it, but I expect a level of quality even from budget titles. If you can’t afford to do something right, you find workarounds – not half-assed solutions. Case in point; the voice acting SUCKS. The actors are totally phoning it in for a paycheck and it’s painfully clear that most of them just aren’t comfortable speaking English. Those misdirected, disinterested squeals are an assault on my ears and my own enthusiasm – how can I care about the game if they don’t?

Secondly, the writing is distracting. It felt like the crew helming this project knew they couldn’t fit an epic story into a tiny mobile game, so they relied on humor… humor that tries insultingly hard to get me to laugh and fails miserably. the cringe-worthy comedy ranges from dated references (Seriously, Pyro Monk? A reference to Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” 15 years after the single dropped?), pervy non-jokes (Why is the cute deer-centaur druid asking me not to look at her tail?), and just generally bad writing decisions (I’m sure none of my fellow feminists will be bothered by the sexy female fire mage being called Flame Dame).

And finally, we have game mechanics designed to drain time and money. Remember when I said I’d discuss the level grinding? Well, the grind is so slow when simply battling monsters that you have to rely almost exclusively on EXP potions that you can either collect or – more unfairly – buy with real world cash. Now, I’m no stranger to in-game purchases, but they’re meant to sell convenience; not power. When I need to stock my kitchen with EXP potions and fill my wardrobe with rare gear just to have a fair shake in the PvP arena, there’s a balance problem.

The only alternative is to play every day to get the cumulative daily sign-in bonuses and I’ve only just started to learn how much I hate a game that tells me that I HAVE to play it. Once the game puts me on a schedule, it doesn’t feel like a game anymore; it feels like a second job. And unlike a real job, I don’t get sick days. Instead, I get punished by losing by benefits and have to start building them up again from square one… Oh, and I don’t get paid for coming in either.

Still, there is some merit to Hyper Heroes. There is a germ of a good idea in here and I’m hopeful that a more competent studio attempts something similar in the future. If you can get pass the uglier parts of the game, there’s a well-made puzzle-RPG with cute character designs and unique gameplay that can hold your interest.

3 Games For Pen-and-Paper RPG Fans That Are Bored With Dungeons & Dragons

Now, don’t let the title of this article mislead you. I have nothing against Dungeons & Dragons as a game. There’s a reason why D&D and its various spin-offs, knock-offs, and tributes have endured for so long among hardcore gamers. It really is that good and there’s just something satisfying about creating/playing your own unique story.

But, let’s be brutally honest. Variety is, as they say, the spice of life. A person needs new experiences to stay psychologically balanced and retain mental plasticity; learning new skills and interacting in and with fresh environments is key to our well being.

To put it in layman’s terms, you can only eat so many Oreo cookies before you start begging for a Nutter Butter.

To that end, here are three Pen-an-Paper RPGs that I’ve personally played that I would argue were just as much fun – if not more so – than D&D.

Spycraft

Given how many books and games came up when I searched for this, I’m amazed there haven’t been more copyright disputes.
Source: Wikipedia

You’d be surprised just how much a change of setting can be refreshing. With so many RPGs being Fantasy or Sci-Fi oriented, it’s nice to see one set in something that approximates the modern world.

Spycraft is not a huge departure from D&D in terms of rules; it still utilizes the d20 system and has similar rules regarding stats. So players making the transition won’t be too lost.

What’s nice is that the setting forces a more “cerebral” style of gameplay. Regardless of the Dungeon Master’s intent, it’s surprisingly easy (at least, in my experience) for a D&D campaign to devolve into hack-and-slash, kick-in-the-door, barbarism. In Spycraft, the setting of covert ops and tactical espionage tends to lead one into thinking with strategy in mind – stealthy infiltrations, high-stakes negotiations, black hat hacking and the like. And this is reflected in game with the use of Stress Damage during emotionally draining missions.

This isn’t to say that a good D&D game can’t force players into mental gymnastics or that a bad Spycraft game can’t be thick as manure and only half as useful, but it’s nice to have that guiding hand sometimes.

Eclipse Phase

Yes, there are mentally enhanced octopuses in this game. Yes, you can play as one.
Source: DriveThruRPG.com

The promise of the future is both exciting and bleak. Leave it to the post-apocalyptic world of Eclipse Phase to catch both ends of that.

Yeah, the various colonized worlds are mostly toilet bowls of full slime and privacy is a thing of ancient history. But we now have Morphs – designer bodies built for specific tasks that people can download their consciousness into making us effectively immortal (as long as you have cash). What’s more, everyone has what amounts to a wireless internet connection in their heads that lets them use social media to run highly accurate background checks on everyone INCLUDING the authorities resulting in a system of law enforcement where everyone polices everyone. Sounds pretty badass!

The coolest thing about Eclipse Phase to me though was it’s rejection of the d20 system in favor of a percentile or d100 system. Basically, the massive bag of dice of varying shapes that most tabletop role players keep are simplified down to two 10-sided dice that can represent a value of one to one hundred. Every task has a percentage of failure/success based on difficulty that’s modified by your set of skills and experiences and your success is determined by whether or not you roll above or below that threshold. It’s much more simple to grasp for newcomers to the Pen-and-Paper RPG genre.

Paranoia

“Oh, for the love of – Really, Dave? You couldn’t last, like, 30 seconds?”
Source: Wikipedia

Who could have guessed that the dystopian world of 1984 could be so full of wacky hijinks?

This, again, comes down to that change of setting I mentioned. There aren’t too many RPGs out there that are INTENDED to be played for laughs. The goal of Paranoia isn’t to complete an epic quest or bring down a corrupt system; you’re just trying to force your friends to die in the most hilarious ways possible to ensure your own survival and win Big Broth – um, “Friend Computer’s” love and approval while trying not to get caught doing anything questionable.

Growing up, I remember so many people manipulating the rules of D&D with homebrewed monsters and items in the name of comedy (I distinctly remember one campaign including a “Belt of Masculine/Feminine-kind” that permanently swapped the gender of the wearer and then immediately loses its power to revert them back). It’s nice to see a game can be just as much goofy fun without the DM having to bend the rules backwards to do it.

The Agent Reviews a Game: Ingress

 

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Choose your sides wisely, agents…
Source: JBTALKS.CC

 

I talk shop about games a lot here at the Archive and I’ve even reviewed a few, but this will be a first for me. Today, for the first time, we’ll be covering a mobile game.

I made brief mention of Ingress back in my April Fool’s recap, but I really wanted talk about it in detail because it does something that electronic games in my day never did – make the people playing them get outside and explore the world.

As mentioned previously, Ingress (literally meaning entrance for those who had to look it up in a thesaurus like me) is an Augmented Reality game (AR for short) that turns the world around you into the playing field.

There does exist a story in Ingress, but it’s one of the most unobtrusive plots I’ve encountered that one can take or leave at will since Team Fortress 2. The main framing device involves the discovery of “Exotic Matter” or XM that has been linked to a little known and unseen race called the Shapers. The discovery of these two has divided humanity (read: the players) into two factions of agents; the Enlightened who believe that XM and the Shapers can lead humanity into a new age of prosparity and enlightenment and the Resistance who fear a possible Shaper invasion and seek to stem of the flow of XM into the world.

The Gameplay is simple enough; after choosing a side as either Enlightened or Resistance, you must use your GPS-enabled mobile device with the aid of an AI companion to seek out portals where XM is entering the world and claim them for you team. This is done by hacking portals to receive items including resonators to claim portals, resonator mods to reinforce captured portals, XMP (Exotic Matter Pulse) Bursters to attack and destroy enemy resonators and mods, and portal keys that you need in order to link multiple controlled portals together to form control fields.

In order to find portals, you have to explore the world around you. Portals can be anywhere but are most commonly seen at monuments, memorials, parks, and various other places where tourists or recreational groups may be expected to gather. Once you are in range (roughly 35 meters), you can interact with the portal as you need.

I have very few qualms with the game overall. It’s addicting, it forces me out of the house to walk and get fresh air, and it helped me to discover a lot of interesting places that I never notices before. I’ve also been quick to make new friends on both sides (cooperation between factions to build neutral zones and set rules of engagement is surprisingly common).

If I had to criticize anything, which I do for the sake of this article, it’s that the leveling system creates a significant divide among players. Those just starting out will struggle to find any portals they can claim from opposing factions as the more powerful resonators and XMP’s are only available to higher lever players.

On the other hand this does encourage cooperation with other players. By connecting with local players in my region, I was able to coordinate an item drop to restock my supplies and reinforce portals that I lacked gear for at the time.

Overall, if you’re looking for an excuse to get out of the house, I’d happily recommend Ingress. It’s free for Android and Apple devices and easy to get into. Just be prepared to occasionally pull your hair out when you finish securing your neighborhood only to have someone take down that one portal that brings down the entire field you established.

Cool Things for You To Do This Summer

 

There’s much more than beach bumming out there.
Source: iMediaConnection Blog

Summer Has Officially started for me this week. And that means… more traffic at the fast food joint I work at so I have to work longer hours with less time for fun stuff.

Still, I manage to find time for a little R&R between the day job, continuing work searches, and this blog and I thought that I would share a few with you help you entertain yourselves this summer.

Geocaching

Take your childhood memories of playing Hide and Seek and doing scavenger hunts and imagine them with a high-tech twist.

Around the world, there are small hidden boxes called Geocaches. These caches have been expertly disguised with only a set of GPS coordinates gathered on a global data base as a mark of their existence.

With a GPS enabled device like your smartphone, you can track down these Geocaches, take one of the objects out of the cache, and place one of your own in its place in the world’s largest treasure hunt. If your lucky, you may find an object with a Travel Bug, complete with a code that lets you track where it’s been (I once found a key chain from the Hard Rock Cafe in Singapore that traveled up the west coast before hopping to New York and then to me in New Hampshire).

Info on the rules can be found on the official website. It’s good fun and it gets you out of the house to exercise. Just be careful to not let non-players (muggles, as they are referred to) see you mucking about with the cache.

Make a Weekend Project List

Sometimes, a person just needs to do something more constructive than plow through a summer reading list. To that end, here are some resources for cool projects to work on in your down time.

For the more macho among us, The Art of Manliness often posts DIY projects and “Manly Skills” geared around outdoorsmanship and the golden age of the noble gentleman. I, myself, have made and used the site’s natural fork slingshot.

Grant Thompson, better known on YouTube as The King Of Random, offers a constantly updating laundry list of cool projects and life hacks to entertain and help you out in a pinch. The most impressive in my mind is the massive “Solar Scorcher” that he made out of the screen from a rear projection TV.

Lastly, for all of the culinary wizards out there, take your cookery to the next level at Pimp That Snack. This site has recipes to recreate your favorite food in titanic proportions such as “The Creme de la Creme” giant Cadbury Creme Egg.

Look for Curio Stores and Thrift Shops

This is a favorite pass time of mine. I like to keep track of odd stores and frequent them to see if I can find any useful bric-a-brac.

Your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store is a good place to start. After all, Macklemore taught us the power of the thrift shop.

But you should also keep an eye open for antique stores and gift shops that may carry odd things that could peak your interest. You’d be surprised what you can do with a few up-cycled knick knacks.

 

Not Quite Two-Dimentional: How I Would Improve Nintendo’s 2DS

Source: Kotaku.com

An apt metaphor for Nintendo’s consistent track record with hand-helds.
Source: Kotaku.com

As a birthday gift to myself, I bought a Nintendo 2DS and a copy of Pokemon X. As a result, my biggest fear is that I’ll never get any productive work done again.

The more that I used it though, the more problems I started to find. Of course, since I have an obsessive compulsive need to nitpick everything regardless of quality, I’m going to share with you the design choices I would have made in building the 2DS.

Disclaimer: THE 2DS ISN’T BAD

I just want to point out that I don’t think the 2DS was mishandled by Nintendo or that it was a bad idea in general; quite the opposite. I think that it’s a great piece of technology that reaffirms Nintendo’s dominance in the hand-held gaming market (excluding tablets and smart phones which, for the most part, won’t be practical in gaming until they give us proper action buttons).

I think there are quite a few great design improvements. The larger size and more centered button layout better fits my hands, the removal of the 3D gimmick was a welcomed change as it was unnecessary and didn’t work well anyway, and the lower price tag is great for gaming on a budget.

So, if I love the 2DS so much, why am I complaining about it? The answer is simple: nothing improves until you acknowledge what doesn’t work. The gaming industry, and Nintendo in particular, lives off of building up from what was successful and trimming off the dead weight. Perhaps Nintendo will see this article and consider these changes for there next iteration of the DS – unlikely, I realize, but I can still hope.

Make It Collapsible Again

I’ve read a slew of complaints on forums about how people can’t fit the 2DS in their pockets because it doesn’t fold up like it’s older brother. I’ve never had this problem before – presumably because my big, fat, Scottish fanny can accommodate larger pockets.

That said, I can’t help but feel that being able to fold the 2DS for storage would have been nice. I understand that they decided on this to remove a structural weak point in the design (many is the DS that has snapped in two in someones back pocket), but not only did closing the console up make in compact, it also protected the screens from damage while carrying it.

I understand that doing this would mean returning back to the original button layout and losing the one I love now, but I feel it’s a small price to pay for functionality. Something else that will ruin my beloved layout…

Make The Screens Bigger

At the time of writing this, I have a searing migraine from having to read text in head splitting Eye-Strain-o-Vision. My already terrible vision is not helping matters.

The point of compressing the screens was to make room for the comfortable button layout I love so much. But again, it’s a matter of choosing the lesser evil. If my thumbs cramp up, I can stop and take a break until I recover. If my head is throbbing, that’s going to follow me all day long.

Rework The Pedometer and Play Coins

One of the things I love about my 2DS is that it forces me to socialize and be physically active in order to get the most use out of it – something once thought impossible for introverts like me to do. Knowing that, I wish that it would challenge me a little more.

This is a gripe about the 3DS line in general rather than the 2DS specifically. As it stands now, the 2DS gives you a ‘Play Coin’ to spend on in game items for every 100 steps you take with a maximum earning limit of ten coins per day. The problem is that I can reach my daily max just walking across the street to go to class. As you can see, it’s hardly a workout.

There are a number of ways to handle this. You could increase the reward requirement to 300 steps for a coin (three steps roughly equate one meter, so 1000 meters for the max reward), but not everyone is that dedicated. Alternatively, you could have it measure distance traveled rather than steps taken by using a GPS tracker, but many conspiracy theorists would complain that ‘the man’ is trying to watch him through his toys.

Instead, I’d suggest programing an automatic difficulty adjustment feature. Have the 2DS keep a log of how many steps you take everyday and raise the requirements for a coin reward if they consistently and significantly break through the ten coin threshold. This would add a slowly rising challenge to the workout and give the player something to strive for.

Game on!

Not only am I looking forward to playing and exploring my new 2DS, but I also look forward to what Nintendo pulls out of it’s hat in the future. I hope that they continue to improve on the past to entertain and edify us in the future.

The Party People: Party Games That You And Your Friends Absolutely Must Play At Least Once

Source: Donald Milne @ Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/67972937@N07/)

Featured above: a sure sign that your game library is in need of an update.
Source: Donald Milne (http://www.flickr.com/photos/67972937@N07/)

In these busy times, it’s getting increasingly difficult to make time for socializing. Granted the internet and the advent of social media has helped a great deal with that, but it’s far from perfect and needs a helping hand.

One of the best methods of maintaining contact with close friends and family is through Party Games. Unfortunately, the web is starting to assimilate these as well.

Thank goodness for those devoted geeks of the world who are designing, making, and playing amazing board and card games to this day. What games are they? Why should you play them? Let’s find out.

Why Online Gaming Isn’t Enough

As stated above, online gaming has helped us to talk more. Unfortunately, it has also made us communicate less.

Online interactions simply can’t recreate all of the necessary interactions our brains crave on a daily basis. Without a physical human being present, it becomes difficult to gauge their emotions and intent due to the inability to read the person’s facial and body language. Don’t think body language is a big deal? You’d be surprised if you knew it (or a lack of it) is actually a root cause of road rage.

Speaking of irrational anger, another unfortunate side effect of online gaming is the hordes of fury-spewing trolls that clog up any given server on X-Box Live (Or whatever platform you prefer. XBL is just cited as the worst offender). This is mostly a product of time. Back in the days of analog gaming, we knew that we had to behave ourselves or we would never be playing with that person again. Today, however, the anonymity of the internet practically gives people the freedom to act out however they please without repercussions. As The Coachman said in Disney’s Pinocchio, “Give a bad boy enough rope and he’ll soon make a jackass of himself.”

This isn’t to say that online games are completely worthless. They still offer a means of connecting people over long distances for impromptu bouts of Team Fortress 2 after all. They just can’t offer the level of emotional and psychological connection that a good, old-fashioned, face-to-face party game can. Fortunately, they’re are plenty to choose from.

Munchkin

Source: worldofmunchkin.com

Source: worldofmunchkin.com

Some of the best games are the ones that are self-aware of how silly they can be. Combine this notion with the epitome of nerdy that is Dungeons & Dragons and you have a monster (No pun intended).

Dispensing with the time consuming role play and containing everything on convenient cards, Munchkin – named after a term used in D&D-style games to describe players that are only concerned with maxing out their levels to harass the other players and The Dungeon Master – is all about slaying monsters, stealing their treasure, and making the adventuring life difficult for your friends to ensure your success.

There’s a great deal of strategy at play in this game. You must know when to assist your friends, when to hinder them, and how to prepare for any eventuality. The tactics at play will constantly change as you and your friends obtain new treasures like the Boots of Butt-kicking and the Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment, learn new class skills, and become different fantasy-themed races.

If you ever get bored with the game, grab one of the many expansion packs that introduce new races, monsters, and treasures. Also, a heads-up for all of the geeks out there: word is that creator Steve Jackson is working with Cartoon Network to make a new Adventure Time based Munchkin game.

Settlers of Catan

Source: siliconbayounews.com

Source: siliconbayounews.com

Can’t quite get a handle on the responsibility of looking after citizens in SimCity? Perhaps you should try this more competitive city building game.

Settlers Of Catan places you on an island nation as you compete with other players for territory and resources to build the perfect home for your people. It’s a prime example of the adage, “Simple to learn; Difficult to master.”

Because the board is fully customizable, the game is different nearly every time you play. You must plan your moves very carefully as you place your villages, construct roads, trade resources, and choose how to develop your settlement. This is the kind of game that can run all night if you and your pals are calculating enough.

Do you have too many friends and not enough game? This game has expansions as well! You can boost your game from four players to six. You can also add new elements like sea travel, barbarians, and pirates.

Cards Against Humanity

Source: steelstringbrewery.com

Source: steelstringbrewery.com

If your circle of gaming friends skews older, you may consider trying this “off-color” take on the more family friendly game Apples to Apples.

When people talk about the successes of Kickstarter, most of them will cite Cards Against Humanity – the “party game for horrible people” – as the perfect example. Single players take turns drawing Black Cards (cards with a question or incomplete sentence) while the others play White Cards (cards with a random phrase or statement) to complete the Black Card… usually creating very politically incorrect statements as the end result.

Why would anyone recommend a game like this? The answer is simple: because this game teaches that words alone are not harmful (WARNING: Link is NSFW). It’s the context that they are used in that makes them good or bad. Being able to laugh off hurtful language takes away the power of words and puts it back into the words usage where it belongs (Note to self: consider writing an article on Political Correctness).

You can actually print these cards out for free on the official website and there exist fan sites dedicated to making your own cards. However, you should absolutely buy the game as the creators are known for using their profits for noble causes.

Rapping Up…

We could all benefit from making ourselves and the ones we care about take a little down time and enjoy a friendly game. The next time you’re planing a get-together consider playing these fantastic games. And say, if you know a game others should try, please tell us about it in the comments below so we can share in the fun!