Tag: Telltale Games

500 Words On Bigby Wolf

Courtesy Telltale Games

When it comes to game design, I understand that it’s difficult to craft an experience that’s unique to every player. If all goes well, your game is going to be played by more people than you can imagine. When it comes to video games, you’re likely to have a protagonist and, if they’re not silent, they’ll have a personality. The challenge comes in when you cast that personality in such a way that it can be altered by things the player chooses to have the say or do. What motivates these choices? How do other characters react? And what impact will these choices have on the future?

Case in point: Bigby Wolf, from Telltale’s Fables adaptation, The Wolf Among Us. I just finished my first play of Episode 3, “A Crooked Mile”, and while this definitely feels like both a more substantial episode than the previous one and the right sort of complication the tale needed to maintain steam, something is bothering me. Bigby, as given in the beginning, is a somewhat gruff character. He’s not given to social graces for the most part, is viewed with either fear or distrust by most, and has a reputation of letting his temper get the best of him. I like this as a backstory, but not necessarily as a rule. Bigby now lives in a world of skyscrapers and concrete, a very different forest than that of his past. Would he really be so obstinate as to not change?

For my part, I think he would not only need to change, but he’d want to. Wolves are territorial, and Fabletown is Bigby’s beat. He’s been through enough to understand that he can’t just huff and puff his way through his situations. He has people he admires and others he wants to make amends towards, to ensure the past does not repeat himself. This guides the choices I make throughout the game.

What bothers me is that these choices do not feel entirely significant.

While the messages that tell me certain characters will remember things I say or do remain effective, it still feels like certain conclusions are foregone, if not inevitable. As much as I am allowed to choose my path both through the game’s branches and as dialog continues, all roads tend to converge in the same way. The story being told is by no means bad, but my impact upon it, both as a player and as Bigby, has yet to feel truly substantial, save for one or two fairly big decisions.

I still dig The Wolf Among Us enough to see it through to the end. The art direction, music, voice acting, and overall storytelling remains exemplary. The Bigby I am playing, however, does not feel terribly distinct from how he might be played by another individual. This is a complex character with deep emotions and individual, variable motivations. He can, and should, have modes of behavior and operation other than just huffing, and puffing, and blowing your house down.

First Impressions: The Wolf Among Us

Telltale Games has a lot going for them. Their Poker Night games demonstrate some pretty solid design choices, while The Walking Dead is one of the best storytelling experiences I’ve had gaming in recent memory. Adventure games, to me, remain a charming and underrated way of combining gameplay with story, ensuring our actions and choices define the outcome of what’s happening in front of us. I was looking forward to trying out The Wolf Among Us, and recently finished its first episode, “Faith”.

Courtesy Telltale Games

The Wolf Among Us introduces us to the world of Fables. A series of graphic novels from DC’s always-interesting Vertigo studios, Fables are literally fairy tale characters who live in our world. Having emigrated from their original settings, these legendary characters do their best to live among normal humans, with the less than human-appearing ones needing magical spells to pass as everyday people. They live in their own little corner of New York City, dubbed ‘Fabletown’, and order is kept thanks to an unlikely sheriff in the form of Bigby Wolf. He’s our protagonist, but he’s not much of a hero.

In fact, in the past, he’s played the villain most often. As the Big Bad Wolf, he’s gone after and devoured pigs and little girls alike. However, that was the past. The character we see in The Wolf Among Us is much more reserved and far less malevolent, though he still has a surly attitude and is more than capable of beating down someone trying to put a hurt on him. He’s trying to make things better, for himself and for Fabletown, so he tries not to ‘wolf out’ or abuse people. He’s complex and magnetic, a great lens for us to experience Fabletown through, and like all Fables, he’s very hard to kill – this is, after all, a character that once has his stomach filled with rocks before he was thrown into a river. And yet, The Wolf Among Us is something of a murder mystery, meaning Bigby must use skills other than his ability to punch people really hard.

The combat in The Wolf Among Us is an improvement over that in The Walking Dead. Movement keys prompt dodging, the mouse helps Bigby use the environment or strike key portions of an opponent, so on and so forth. Prompts from the environment are also improved. If I had a complaint about the game, it’d be that the on-screen prompts from the environment make puzzles a bit too easy to solve. I’m not sure if you can turn this feature off or not – I’ll just have to play again to find out!

‘Faith’ is a great start to this new series of Telltale episodes. Fabletown is full of great characters, who both maintain the aspects that made them timeless and present them in a new, modern way that smacks of a noir classic. I’m a sucker for the blending of genres in general, and this particular mix is right up my alley. I’m very much looking forward to coming episodes. The Wolf Among Us offers a ‘season pass’ on Steam for all five of its episodes, and you can get individual ones on the console of your choice. It’s definitely worth your time to check out.

Game Review: Poker Night 2

I’ve been playing poker for most of my adult life. It’s not a regular thing for me – mostly at family gatherings or parties thrown by friends – but I know the game well enough to not completely embarrass myself, usually. Practice makes perfect, though, and a couple years ago Telltale Games provided a means to practice my game with Poker Night at the Inventory, allowing me the opportunity to throw down cards and chips with some familiar Internet characters. Did it need a sequel? No. Did it get one anyway? Yes.

Courtesy Telltale Games

The doors of the underground gaming establishment open once again to allow for a no-limit high-stakes poker tournament involving some faces you might recognize. Instead of just gaming culture, however, the scope of the invites has expanded somewhat. From the animated series Venture Brothers comes none other than Brock Samson, a quiet but intimidating presence at the table. Balancing the taciturn bodyguard is Borderlands 2‘s Claptrap, who’s vocabulizer seems to be stuck on ‘snark’ mode. Ash from Army of Darkness gives the little robot a run for his money, though, in addition to having any number of catch phrases at the ready. And last but never least is Sam of Sam & Max fame, who replaces his homicidal rabbit buddy at the table. And your dealer, in the interest of computerized fairness, is GLaDOS, from Portal.

If that line-up isn’t enough to get you to drop $6 US on this game immediately, here’s more incentive.

Texas Hold ‘Em, while iconic in terms of poker tournament play, is no longer your only option. The game of Omaha is also available. In case you don’t know, Omaha plays very similar to Hold ‘Em except each player is dealt 4 hole cards instead of two. A player can only use two of those hole cards to make the best hand possible. I feel like this game option is a bit more forgiving to beginners, as you have more options and opportunities to create a good hand, yet at the same time it can be confusing if you’re dealt an attractive-looking set of hole cards but can’t make the right hand work with only two of them. It’s one of the things that keeps the game fresh.

Courtesy Telltale Games

Your fellow players have their particular tells, some obvious and some subtle. This isn’t new, but the ability to make their tells more obvious and their playing more predictable or exploitable is. How, you ask? Buy them drinks. The lovely Mad Moxxi of Borderlands 2 is tending bar, and if you spend some tokens, won from playing or winning tournaments, she’ll bring some booze over to your opponents to loosen them up a bit. It adds a layer of strategy to your gameplay: at what point do you buy Ash that drink so he bets bigger and stops waiting to win on the river? In addition to the libations, tokens also unlock felts, cards, and chip designs that are part of each franchise represented by the game. Unlock a whole set and you’ll change the entire look of the Inventory. The apex of success is the bounty challenges. A random set of them are laid out for you at the start of a tournament. If you complete them all, you get the chance to win an item from one of your fellow players. Winning the item unlocks prizes in the games Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands 2. All from playing poker with some iconic characters who engage in witty banter. What’s not to love?

Functionally, Poker Night 2 is pretty flawless. The AI of its various moving parts seems pretty well implemented. I’ve only seen the occasional clipping issue. As much as I’ll get frustrated when a winning hand turns to a losing one thanks to a lucky draw on the river, that’s down to the nature of poker itself rather than anything the programmers did. Some of the conversations tend to repeat themselves, but this can be minimized by only playing a few tournaments at a time. Like most diversions of this nature, Poker Night 2 is best experienced in moderation.

Still, for its bargain basement price, great execution, and hilarious writing, I’d definitely recommend Poker Night 2. If you’re a fan of any of the characters mentioned, enjoy a good game of hold ’em, or just want the maximum bang for your entertainment buck, this is a fantastic deal.

Good Games Never Die

Courtesy LucasArts
Badass biker antiheroes with chainsaws never stop being awesome.

The announcement came down yesterday that Disney is pulling the plug on LucasArts. While it seems unlikely that Star Wars games are going to go anywhere, because it’s a cash cow that never seems to run out of milk no matter how past expiration it might be, the prospect that many of its adventure games will never see new content or sequels. No new Full Throttle. No new Grim Fandango. No new Day of the Tentacle. Even TIE Fighter and its ilk seem to be fading into the annuls of gaming history, never to return. We’ll never see games like these again.

… Okay, that’s hyperbole, because good games never die.

The fact that LucasArts has finally been given the mercy of being walked behind the shed and bade farewell before Disney pulled the trigger on Walt’s old scattergun doesn’t mean the developers of the beloved games also got sent to a farm upstate. Tim Schafer‘s Double Fine is doing just fine, and as I write this something flavored like an old adventure game is supposedly being developed with all of that luscious Kickstarter cash. Likewise, a spirital cousin to TIE Figher was Wing Commander, and Chris Roberts is also using crowdsourced funds to develop the eagerly awaited Star Citizen. Here and there, the minds behind the games now locked away in Disney’s vaults are still working to make new and interesting adventures for us. Not all of these games will be perfect, of course, but there’s plenty of hope for the future.

They’re not the only ones working on it, either. TellTale Games is becoming a company whose hallmarks are high quality games with either great, broad appeal (Poker Night) or the resurrection of high-quality adventure gaming (The Walking Dead). With their growing success and attention given them by various “top games of 2012” lists as well as being featured on Extra Credits, it’s clear that good adventure games are still something gamers want. To paraphrase what James says, to declare a genre of game (or just about anything else) ‘dead’ is a declaration of rather silly hubris; things of the past don’t necessarily lose their appeal just because they’re old. If you want a good example of something of quality never truly dying, look no further than the Muppets.

Finally, even if another new adventure game were never to hit the shelves, be they real or virtual, the old ones haven’t really gone anywhere. Some of them, however, have been so outstripped by technology that it can be difficult to get them running properly on modern machines. Enter services like Grand Old Games, or GOG. From Gabriel Knight to King’s Quest, from Myst to Sam & Max, many of the nostalgic cravings of adventure game veterans like myself can be sated by this service. It’s where I got my playable copies of Wing Commander, after all, and I was playing System Shock 2 in preparation for BioShock Infinite. Once that and some other modern games are out of the way, I have my sights set on nostalgic trips into Stonekeep and Beneath A Steel Sky.

I believe that good games never die. And if someone calls them dead, I’ll be one of the first to raise them. Once a necromancer, always a necromancer, I guess.

Game Review: Poker Night at the Inventory

Courtesy Telltale Games

So, what can you do with $5 these days? Get a Happy Meal, or a footlong sub. Take a ride on a mass transit people-mover. Put just over a gallon of gasoline in your car.

Or, get yourself lots, and I mean lots, of entertainment.

On the surface, Poker Night at the Inventory sounds like something thought up as a cute little “what if” scenario. Simply, this is bunch of Internet favorites gathered together to play some no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em in a private, semi-secret club established as a holdout first against Prohibition, then the idea of games becoming shunned or banned. While some of us might simply sit around drinking and talking about how such a scenario might play out, Telltale Games took a break from their succession of point-and-click adventure entries that breathed new life into some neglected LucasArts franchises and made the scenario happen. It’s now available on Steam, and the results are simple, addictive and hilarious.

Courtesy Telltale Games
They saved you a seat.

The characters are, as I said, favorites of the Internet. First is Max, of the Sam & Max Freelance Police. Of the two, Max has always been the unhinged one. His tendency is to solve his problems with violence. The rabbit from Monty Python & the Holy Grail has nothing on the lagomorph, since the furry little slayer of knights never ran off at the mouth about how much he enjoys the taste of kneecaps. He’s here thanks to Telltale Games bringing him and his big canine partner back from the grave LucasArts dug for them in the 90s.

Next is StrongBad, of Homestar Runner. He first appeared courtesy of TellTale in his Cool Game for Attractive People. Apparently the only thing he got out of the game’s designers was “a recommendation for a cool hang-out.” He’s the shortest player at the table, but do not judge him by his size. Or the fact that he can hold his cards quite well despite the boxing gloves.

Taking a break from crushing tiny baby-men with bare hands, the Heavy of Team RED came to the Inventory after the Engineer showed him where it was. Apparently, destroying opponents in games of poker is just as satisfying as mowing them down with Sasha. Not only does he bring his distinctive voice and imposing presence, the Heavy also shares quite a bit about himself. You may just find out what his favorite movies are.

Last but certainly not least, Tycho of Penny Arcade may seem to be the most reasonable one at the table, but don’t be fooled. He brings not only his trusty 20-sided die but also portents of doom and his rapier-sharp rapid-fire wit. He rounds out your opponents nicely.

The dialog and interactions in this game are fantastic. They alone are worth the price of admission. And, really, they’re what you’re paying for. As a representation of Texas Hold ‘Em goes, it’s not going to set the world on fire. Max might, though, if I don’t wrap this review up quickly.

In contrast to a lot of Steam titles available, this is a relaxing and fun little enterprise. One-liners whip across the table as your opponents taunt one another and call you out to match their bets. Even when you’re not playing, say for example after Strong Bad went all in on what seemed to be a weak flop only to pull a flush out of his mask, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time. There’s hours of entertainment here, and for $5 on Steam, you can’t ask for more and might expect much less. Poker Night at the Inventory is packed to the brim with more than you’d think, from fantastic dialog to Team Fortress 2 unlockables, and is worth every penny.

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