Mar 24 2011

Let me tell you about The Sims Medieval

Well, I had every intention of putting together the last of my PAX posts and a Webcomics Wednesday post yesterday. Instead, I played nine hours of The Sims Medieval. That’s ridiculous. It’s a nonsensical amount of time to spend doing anything other than maybe sleeping.  The worst part was that I had no concept of the passage of time. It wasn’t until Brian got home from work that I even realized it wasn’t morning anymore.

Before I get into my review of the game so far, I should mention that I already love The Sims. I’ve played since the beginning, and other than the horrible idea they had to put the game on consoles, they’ve been fantastic. I’ll admit, though, that they’ve only held my attention for a short while. As soon as a new game or expansion came out, I would get it. I’d mess around for a while, make my Sims do stuff, and eventually use the cheat code for unlimited money and build the mansion of my dreams. This would hold my attention for a while, but eventually I’d get bored and stop playing. They’ve been the kinds of games that when I found myself with nothing else to do, I’d go back to them for a little while (of course World of Warcraft pretty much guarantees that I always have something to do), but they haven’t had the hold that some other “unending” games have had.

This game is different.

When you start up Medieval, the opening movie features really cool animation featuring voice over by Patrick Stewart. That’s right. Now not only do I want to take good care of my Sims, Patrick Stewart also wants me to take good care of my Sims. One of the major difference between this game and all that came before it is that you (yes, you) are a part of the story. Instead of being this nameless faceless controller who makes your Sims sleep with each other, you are the Watcher. It definitely has a sort of Black and White feel about it.  The idea is that now it is time for you to become more than just a Watcher. You are going to take an active roll in the formation of this Sim society.

One of the biggest problems people have with The Sims games is that there are no goals. They tried to remedy this with the Ambitions mechanic, but you never really got anything for achieving those goals. An even larger problem was that there was never any negative impact to not achieving them.

Right off the bat, you have to choose a goal for your entire kingdom. I’m still working on just the “Getting Started” goal, but there are different goals based around getting the most money, promoting religion, scientific advancement, etc. Once you’ve chosen your goal and named your kingdom, you create your monarch.

For this game, they’ve provided more ways to alter the physical appearance of your Sims, but fewer ways to alter their clothing. All clothing comes as outfits, which you can change the colors of, but no mix and match pieces like previous games. Faces are almost infinitely editable, with both a simple interface or a more advanced. You also have the option of using prebuilt Sims or using random rolling to create them.

Each Sim has two traits and one fatal flaw.  These influence different abilities your Sim has (one of my Sims can give comforting hugs) and debuffs that you can pick up (my apothecary has the “licentious” fatal flaw, so if she doesn’t get some tender loving on a regular basis, she gets a debuff to her focus).

Once you’ve chosen your kingdom goal and created your first hero, you choose quests.  These quests give you points when finished that allow you to build more buildings in town and hire more “heroes”.  These buildings have standard locations and standard layouts which you cannot alter.  You can, however, upgrade furnishings, walls, and floors. If two Sims from different buildings get married, you choose where they will live.

In addition to reward points for buildings, each quest also grants points to your overall kingdoms stats. These stats include well being, security, culture, and knowledge. Therefore, if your kingdom’s goal is to be the cultural hub of simulated Medieval times, you can choose quests that will grant you more culture points and ignore the others. It’s a really fantastic way to keep the same fun of controlling what these characters do while providing a goal oriented framework that is engaging.

After finishing the first quest with my monarch, Lord Fitzherbert the Great (yeah, that’s right), I built a clinic and hired an apothecary to work there.  This opens up new quests and new options for how I want to complete these quests.  Some quests are designed for one particular hero, but others let you choose who your primary (and occasionally secondary) hero will be and how they will go about completing the quest. The bard is going to have a different set of objectives in a quest than a blacksmith will have.

In the previous Sims games, you’ve been in charge of every aspect of your Sims life. You monitor their fun, their energy, and if they have to go to the bathroom. In early versions, you had to tell them everything to do. Later on, they got a little smarter and would take care of themselves if left to their own devices. Here, most of the nitpicking details you used to have to monitor have been rolled into something called Focus. The higher your focus is, the more likely your Sim is going to succeed at various tasks (such as harvesting materials or crafting items.) The only two stats you have to manage are hunger and energy. Have them eat when they’re hunger and sleep when they’re tired.  Pretty simple.

In previous games, your characters would find a job in the paper, get hired, and go off for several hours a day; all your Medieval heroes already have jobs. As a result, every morning at 9 you are given two objectives for the day. If you complete them in the allotted time, you get a buff to your focus. If you fall down on the job, you get a debuff. My apothecary works at the clinic and usually has to create tonics for people or diagnose their illnesses. My blacksmith has to make or mend weapons. My bard has to gather inspiration and write poems.  All the quests I’ve done so far only use one or two heroes, so there isn’t too much to manage. On a side note, gathering ore for the blacksmith is a pain in the neck, but the actual blacksmithing is really fun.

Controlling multiple characters for a quest can get a bit tricky when they both have multiple quest objectives in addition to their daily career requirements. They live and work in different buildings which results in a lot of back and forth. They’ve done a good job of giving you plenty of control in the UI to jump around to where you need to be. Also, if there is another character that your hero must interact with, they get a little marker on your screen indicating their location that you can click to gain access to all the interaction options without having to actually find where they are.

If you ignore your quests for too long, things start to go bad. After a certain amount of Sim time without completing any quest objectives, you get a debuff. At first there’s no real impact, but eventually your Sim can be put in the stocks for shirking their duty to the kingdom.  Happened to me. It was sad. My Sim was very unhappy. Once you get out of the stocks, you can jump right back into your questing, though overcoming the focus debuffs for the public humiliation can be a bit tough.

You can only have one active at a time.  You can abandon quests in order to pick up a different one, but in my experience you can’t really fail at a quest.  You can, however, succeed less, but the end result is still the same. Points for your kingdom and XP for your hero.

If you hate The Sims, this game probably isn’t different enough for you to get over that. If you just kind of liked The Sims but missed having goals, this game might have enough meat on its bones to satisfy you. I could go on for days about how much I’m enjoying this game and detailing all the adventures my various heroes have been having. My only real problem with this game is how much time it takes up without me noticing.  So, if you don’t hear from me, you’ll know where I am.

Mar 18 2011

PAX East 2011 Part 2: Video Games

While Penny Arcade is a web comic, PAX is primarily based around video games.  In fact, with its attendance of 70,000, PAX East is the largest video game convention in the country.  So there.

Most of the big name games (Old Republic, Portal 2, LA Noir, 3DS) were all but inaccessible.  Most of them had a 3 to 4 hour wait.  As part of my resolution to not spend the entire con in line, I didn’t get to see much of these.  The LA Noir booth had a video playing on the outside, and Old Republic was visible without playing it, but the others were enclosed so without waiting in line there was nothing to see.  With the exception of Old Republic, those games are all coming out soon; it’s not like this was my only chance to see them.

Most of the games I enjoy playing are the less mainstream games anyway, and PAX is great for that.  I’ve got a bit of information about a lot of them.

Let’s jump right in.

Tropico 4

Alright, so there’s nothing really mind blowing here. I love the older Tropico games, and this game promises not to disappoint. Far from just being a rehash of the old stuff though, they have added new missions, new buildings, and a new mechanic. You can now get a counsel of ministers elected to help you get some of your more questionable plans passed and into effect. They’ve also added interactive natural disasters.  As I said, nothing really life changing, but I think it promises to be a really solid game.

Magic: Duels of the Plainswalkers 2012

Like Tropico, this is a sequel that while basically the same game as the original adds a pretty fantastic new feature.

The Magic TCG added a new multiplayer format called Archenemy.  It allows one player to control one large, epic enemy and up to 3 other players work together to take him down. I’ve played it a couple of times and you really have to have a strong deck and a strong coordinated effort in order to defeat the archenemy.  I’ve been crushed a number of times when the archenemy pulls a card that allows him to place a pile of 5/5 flying dragons on the board… and there’s nothing you can do about it.  They’ve added this multiplayer mode to the already pretty fantastic video game.

Defeating the archenemy doesn’t seem nearly as insurmountable as in the card game.  Brian and I did wait in line for this one, and we were matched up with one other person to take down Koth.  We were ultimately (and fairly smoothly) successful.  I think a large part of this was that the cards happened to be with us and not against us.  Only a couple of unlucky draws and we could have been in serious trouble.  I’m super excited for this game to come out.  I’ve been really into cooperative board games lately, and having a co-op video game that isn’t a shooter is pretty exciting.

If you are at all interested in Magic, even learning to play the card game, I highly recommend picking up the digital version.  It really helped me learn how to play, and I also get to play decks with more complex mechanics (landfall) that I would hate playing in a physical deck.  It’s rather akin to my love of playing Risk on the computer; there’s far less that you have to worry about figuring out. And far less for you to get wrong.

Child of Eden

This game looks pretty awesome.  It’s something kind of like a mellower Geometry Wars involving shooting shapes.  I can’t say that I was 100% certain of what was going on.

The game is apparently a spiritual successor to a PS2 game called Rez.  I never played it, but when I looked it up I discovered that it’s the game that in Japan came with an extra vibration piece you were supposed to put in your pocket to make the game more immersive.  (I remember reports that it was not being used for immersion, but that it was a great incentive for girls to play video games.)

Anyway, the interesting thing about Child of Eden is that it is a Kinect game.  For there to be a non-sports based Kinect game is pretty awesome in the first place, and watching people play is rather like watching them do Tai Chi. It also manages to be a Kinect game that’s not targeted at being a party game.  Other than the fitness “games”, there haven’t been many released that I really feel like I would use all by myself.  This one  seems like it could be really relaxing and fun.


I am totally excited about this game and it comes out next week on both the PS3 and 360.  It’s made by Hothead Games of DeathSpank and Penny Arcade Adventures fame.

It’s sort of a cross between Overlord and World of Goo.  The basic premise is that you start the level in command of 50 little Swarmites.  You get points based on how many of them make it to the end of the level.  You are meant to sacrifice some (in the demo video they show them all jumping off a cliff so that some can jump across their heads to get to the other side) and as you go on, some of them get different abilities (it looked to me like a few of them were on fire).  It’s that perfect combination of platformer and puzzle game that always gets me hooked.

Orcs Must Die

I won’t lie.  Just from seeing the name of this game I felt a little conflicted.  I mean, hey, I like orcs.  I like having them around.  I don’t want to kill them. Then I saw some gameplay and I got over it.

This game looks crazy. It’s a combination hack and slash and tower defense. Fear not, oh ye tower defense haters. It’s not like that. Instead of the standard fare of gathering resources and building units, you’ve got these traps you can place in the path of the oncoming orcs. There are spikes that shoot out of the floor, blocks that fall from the ceiling, springboards that launch them across the room.

Also different from your tradition tower defense is that you are an actual character running around and you have the ability to kill the orcs yourself.  This game has the potential to be incredibly fun or incredibly frustrating. Either way, the art style is fantastic and it looks like a solid purchase for me.


This game is not for me.  Then again, it never set out to be.  However, I feel like I need to mention it because it was the thing that Brian was most excited about seeing.

The game is described as a team based action shooter.  In reality, it’s a free to play MMO*. It’s a little bit Halo, a little bit TF2, developed by a guy who used to work on World of Warcraft. The game looks really awesome if you’re into those sorts of games, and I’ll admit that the art style is pretty cool.

Instead of classes, players will be able to use battleframes which will determine their combat style.  You can add to these battleframes or switch them at any time (I love the smell of microtransactions in the morning). It’s a really interesting concept and while it may not be my type of game to play, I’m interested to see how it does in the market.

*The developers have said that they don’t want to call it an MMO because it doesn’t fit into the traditional form of one.  I think they problem they have is that RPG so often gets automatically assumed at the end of MMO because, well, those are the types of MMOs that are on the market and doing well.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

This was the game I was most excited to see at PAX… and the only think I missed out on completely.  The keynote started late and ran long, and the Reckoning panel had already started when we got out (and was already full).  I had figured they would probably be on the floor as well, but sadly, they weren’t.  I’ll have to take my friends’ speechlessness as testimony that it’s going to be an awesome game. I’m just sad I didn’t get to see it for myself.

There were two games that are already out that I had passed over but as a result of seeing them in person, I am now very interested in.  One is Risk: Factions.  I adore a good game of Risk, especially a video game version.  The fewer tiny plastic army dudes I have to cram onto Australia, the better. I figured that I’ve already got Risk games, what do I need another one for.  The game said, “Yes, but now you can play Risk… as a cat.”  I’m in.

The other game is Raskulls.  It’s got over world levels and bonus stages with puzzles.  And the cutest art ever. Precious.  Gonna have to pick that one up too.

Well, that covers about half of the games that are out to take my money in the near future.  I’ve got a few pretty awesome board games to talk about in another upcoming post.

May 25 2010

PAX East or The Great Wil Wheaton Adventure

PAX East has been over for two months now, and I never did get around to writing about it.  I had started a blow-by-blow post of the whole weekend, but it was rapidly becoming rather long and rambling.  So I’ll skip that in favor of documenting the most important occurrence at PAX: When I met Wil Wheaton.

Me, dorking out next to Wil Wheaton. Yes, I am wearing my +5 to Sexterity shirt.

This was my first Con and I don’t know that I knew what to expect.  I should, by all rights, have had a terrible time.  I spent most of my time waiting in lines and sitting on concrete floors which left my back and hips extremely sore.  I didn’t get to play any game demos, and I missed all the panels I wanted to see except for the keynote.  Sounds like a pretty terrible time, right?

The thing is, I loved it.  I had a fantastic time and all thoughts of the event, even during and after the line sitting, are of pure joy.  I blame this on two things.  One is getting to spend three days with “my people”.  This is common at any gathering of geeks, nerds, dweebs, and other outcasts.  When we’re together, everything is a little bit better.  I made “line friends” who told me about boardgames I had to buy and swapped RPG stories.  The second factor leading to my phenomenal time is The Great Wil Wheaton Adventure.

It’s probably a good thing that I’ve waited so long to write about this.  I’ve had time to go through all the phases of acceptance: dorking out, embarrassment, and finally joyful acceptance.  I’ve shared this story with a few people now, and while it is universally accepted as completely nerdy, it’s also supremely cool.

I had no idea that Wil Wheaton would be sitting at a table signing autographs.  That fact totally escaped me. I knew he was giving the keynote speech and I had my copy of Just A Geek with me in case I found myself across a game table from him or something.  However, when we went looking for Scott Kurtz so I could procure my Skull plushie, there he was, Wil Wheaton with the longest line ever. (Actually, it was the longest line ever… until his line the following day, which was much longer.) Brian and I parted ways, he headed for Jonathan Coulton’s line, I for Wil’s.

A note about Star Trek: TNG and my family.  I was six when the show first went on the air and thirteen when it ended.  These were formative years and the show was always appointment television for my family.  We had big Bose speakers hooked up to our tv, which we didn’t use all the time.  We did, however, always use them for Star Trek so we could hear the rumble of the engines.  It was awesome.  I was also, of course, at the perfect age to adore Wil Wheaton.  I mean, who wouldn’t?

I digress.  So here I am, in line, talking to my line friends about board games.   I see that he has two of his books that I don’t own, and his Wheaton’s Law t-shirt.  I intend to purchase all three.  I get to the front of the line and forget all of this.  I shall now document the exact dialogue exchange as it happened.

Me: Hi.

WW: Hi.

Me: If eight-year-old me knew I was talking to you right now, she’d lose it.  I mean, you are pretty much the first man I ever really loved.

WW: Awww.  I’m glad we finally met.

Me: Yeah, it’s been really hard on our relationship.

WW: Well, you grew up as beautifully as I knew you would.

Me: (blushing profusely) You too.

And then he asked my name and signed my book.  I know, I’m a total dork, but it was the coolest thing that’s happened to me in a while. It was definitely the event that saved PAX.  I can’t really imagine having as much fun without it.

I less-than-three you, too, Wil Wheaton.