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Video Games

Planet Cracker

Hey folks, if you guys have been following my blog, you would have seen some of my game reviews. But now, in conjunction with the reviews, I’m going to start cracking the games wide open. What do I mean by that? Well simple, after every game review I will conduct a postmortem on the game. What I will be focusing on will be primarily on the level design, storytelling method as well as the design and game principles employed in the game itself.

So, if you are looking for any Planet Cracker posts, all you have to do is either go to my Planet Cracker tab on top or you can look for them in my Planet Cracker categories.

So folks, stay tuned.


Sims Medieval Review

Sims Medieval, a game about the Sims in the Medieval age. Thank you Mister Obvious, for the obvious. Fine, here is something you didn’t know you damn self-deprecating inner voice! It is actually pretty good for a good day or two or three or four… It really depends on your attention span and your need to experiment. I lasted about 2 days, 3 tops.

I’ll start things off with a run through of what you can expect from this new series to the popular Sims franchise by our dear friends at The Sims and EA. So what is new in Sims Medieval? Well for starters you no longer get to control a family of Sims, you only have a preset kingdom to play around with and you have quests to do.

The Sims you control are essentially Heroes, they are just Sims with special interaction options. The game starts off with only the Monarch, your job as a Monarch is to build a kingdom. How do you do that you ask, simple, complete quests. Every quest you complete rewards you with Resource Points, Renown and an improvement to the 4 key aspects of a Kingdom, chiefly Security, Knowledge, Culture and Well Being. Resource Points are basically you Kingdom building currency, you use it to erect new structures and this new structures will increase the maximum capacity of your Kingdom’s Key Aspect. Building structures will also unlock new heroes and new heroes will unlock new quests etc etc.

Every Kingdom has a limited pool of Quest Points, every time you take on a quest you reduce the amount of QPs until you run out. The Kingdom then enters a “Evaluation phase” and unlocks exactly the same Kingdoms except it has more QPs and you have to start from scratch if you choose to play the “New Chapters”. Doesn’t sound all that appealing, but what the game does is it introduces Achievements, when you unlock new “Kingdoms” you get achievements, when gather 500 herbs you get achievements and when you erect 50 buildings you also get an achievement. Hell you get an achievement for getting lots of other achievements and then the game rewards you by unlocking items, hairdos and clothing.

Let’s talk about the actual quests, oh I forgot to mention, you can only play as a Sims if you are doing a quest. Quests are essentially just special interaction options layered over your own special interaction options from your career. After my first Kingdom, I realized that the quest for a new Kingdom were exactly the same as your previous attempts. The only variety comes from the fact that different Hero Sims has a different way of approaching the same quests. The quests are actually well-written and honestly quite amusing as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Certain quests actually allows you to control 2 heroes instead of 1, I’m guessing that quests in the later part of the game will involve more Sims but that would require you to have established a kingdom of more than 50 QPs. Some quest also involves murdering other Hero Sims, one example “Royal Assassination”, this quest involves a Spy assassinating the Monarch, yes your Monarch the one you played with.

Every Hero Sim, has a unique special interaction with people, objects or even places. Here is an example, if you are the Monarch or Tyrant as I like to play it, you have a special social interaction option called Monarch *Geez who would have guessed*. The cool thing about Monarch is you can send people to the stocks or throw them into the Pit to be devoured by some hentai tentacle monster living in it. If you are a Blacksmith, only you can use a forge and mine ores, there is unfortunately no Auction Houses for you to sell of the gems you find, there is however a marketplace so I guess that works out.

Instead of the old Aspiration bars, now we have Focus bars, this is basically the indication on how happy or fulfilled your Sims is feeling at the moment. This is important because most actions are dependent on your Focus level. Need to enter a forest to kill some beasts, your Focus bar better be in the green or chances are you are going to fail and then run out of the forest flailing. This also applies for crafting, the higher your focus, the less likely your spell or concoction of salves will fizzle. One last thing, every quest has a rating, bronze, silver, gold and plat. The higher you Focus the faster the Quest Performance bar fills up and vice versa. You do get more rewards for finishing the quest in platinum so you know where this will lead.

Oh! Remember the good ol’neediness bars? They just got tossed out the window! Well most of them anyway, Need Bars like Hunger and Energy are still around but everything else *including hygiene and bladder* has all been removed in favor of less statistic a player has to constantly monitor. This is after all the Medieval age, who cares about hygiene, they had the Plague for a reason. Which is interesting, because you can actually play as a Physician and one quest involves you and a Merchant uncovering and preventing a potential plague.

In summary, Sims Medieval is a definitely something different from the Sims franchise and it is very refreshing. Graphically, I don’t really see much difference between Sims 3 and Sims Medieval. In terms of gameplay, it definitely adds a new dimension and direction to the game. Story, well it is still a Sims game, need I say more? My only real gripe is the fact that once you have found the playstyle that suits you the most, almost all of your Sims would end up having the same traits and after a few kingdoms, you will realize that how and who you use to tackle the quests is the same. Of course that is just me Min Maxing Resource Points and Key Kingdom Aspects.

So here are my scores.

Gameplay: 8

Graphics: 7

Total: 7.5



Throwing Sims into the Pit

Refreshing gameplay with rich variety

Not Sims 3



Sorely lacking when it comes to Kingdom building

Getting debuffs can lead to a downward spiral of failure compounding your debuffs.

Certain traits will just get your Sims murdered in their profession.

Invasion is not an option

CBC News – Technology & Science – Schools use video games as teaching tools

Mass Effect, a game with a complex story developed in Edmonton, will be required 'reading' for a course in contemporary Canadian fiction at Concordia University. Mass Effect, a game with a complex story developed in Edmonton, will be required ‘reading’ for a course in contemporary Canadian fiction at Concordia University. (Bioware)

LittleBigPlanet is more than a video game in which little creatures made of sackcloth run and jump. It was designed to make it easy for players to make their own levels, turning gamers into game designers, which is why it was one of the games in the curriculum at a New York public school last year.

Students at Quest to Learn, for Grades 6 through 12, usedLittleBigPlanet to adapt, create, and perform one of Aesop’s fables. Katie Salen, a game designer and an architect of the school’s program, explained in an interview that the eight-week project had connections to language arts, literature, math, physics, and computer science.

Katie Salen is a game designer and an architect of the Quest to Learn school program in New York. Katie Salen is a game designer and an architect of the Quest to Learn school program in New York. (Courtesy Katie Salen)Students at Quest, she said, are expected to meet the state requirements for achievement in standard subjects like math and science, but they learn in a “problem-based context. The learning is game-like.”

Learning to adapt

It sometimes involves playing games, but the real objective, said Salen, is to give students the ability to learn. “We’re looking at the notion of how to equip kids in the 21st century to be flexible, adaptive learners.”

Games and game environments are good learning tools, Salen explained, partly because players understand, from the outset, what the objective is. And while players think they are in control, the truth is that games have been carefully designed to give players that belief. Well-designed games are structured to give players the knowledge they need to solve problems just when they need it.

‘[Gaming is] not a marginal pursuit anymore. We’ve got to start thinking about games with all the tools of analysis that are available to us.’Darren Wershler

Then there’s the social piece of the puzzle, an essential component to well-rounded children. Gaming, said Salen, is “hardly at all about the artifact of the game itself, and much more about the social fabric and interaction that gets built around that games as kids play and as they learn how to play and have conversations about that play.”

At Quest, the students aren’t just playing games, they’re inventing them, too.

“We’re interested in putting kids in the role of designers,” said Salen. “We believe that in making games, kids have a chance to go deep into a range of content.”

Sparking student interest

At Argyle Secondary School in North Vancouver, students in the Digital Media Academy (DMA) are also learning to become game designers. In the DMA lab on the school’s second floor, Murray Bulger, who established and runs the program, said the game design class is drawing motivated and passionate kids, many of whom spend hours of their free time learning from online tutorials.

Murray Bulger of the Digital Media Academy says a game design class is drawing motivated and passionate kids. Murray Bulger of the Digital Media Academy says a game design class is drawing motivated and passionate kids.(Courtesy Murrary Bulger)

Students who could not be convinced to read a book before taking the classes would devour training manuals in an evening, Bulger said with a smile, in preparation for hands-on time with software packages used for design, animation, and 3D modelling. Kids are already playing games, he said, so it makes sense to leverage that interest in the education system.

The DMA begins its second year this fall, adding 24 Grade 11 students to the cohort of 13 that are entering Grade 12. They take core classes in art, design, and information technology. In their first year, all students take a project management course built around game design, which is, Bulger asserted, “one of the greatest models for project management there is. You have to have a number of specialists and you need a large team.”

Other skills developed in project management include creativity, organization and planning, teamwork, and the iterative production process. The subject of game design is so rich, said Bulger, that even if students never do it again, they’ll have learned much that’s useful and applicable no matter what career they choose.

And while the average student already has a basic understanding of video games from playing them — “they’re coming in with this huge knowledge base,” says Bulger — they lack the ability to analyze them. So a key component to the game design class is playing and deconstructing games, everything from Space Invaders to BioShock, to figure out what makes a good experience.

Staying relevant to students

Darren Wershler of Concordia University says Mass Effect is a good choice for teaching about non-linear fiction and branching narratives.Darren Wershler of Concordia University says Mass Effect is a good choice for teaching about non-linear fiction and branching narratives. (Courtesy Darren Wershler)

Darren Wershler thinks the field of video games in education is filled with possibilities. “To keep pretending that we can leave it out of the classroom, I think, is a grave mistake.… It’s not a marginal pursuit anymore. We’ve got to start thinking about games with all the tools of analysis that are available to us.”

Wershler has been teaching video-game studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., for two years. This fall he joins the English department at Concordia University in Montreal and will be adding Mass Effect to the “reading” list for his course, Contemporary Canadian Fiction, when he teaches it in 2011.

On the phone, Wershler said the game satisfies the criteria of being contemporary (it was released in 2007), Canadian (it was developed by Edmonton studio BioWare), and fiction (it’s an action role-playing game with a deep, complex story).

It’s a good choice for teaching about non-linear fiction and branching narratives, he added. And because the game allows players to choose whether their protagonist is male or female, and to have sexual relationships with other characters, “It’s a good way of introducing topics of gender.”

Today’s writers, Wershler insists, are creating fiction in many different media. The typical English department curriculum, he said, pretends that things like comics, the internet, and video games don’t exist.

“And yet,” he says, “that’s the environment that people who want to be writers or scholars are growing up in.”

Taken from http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2010/09/09/f-videogames-education-learning.html

Crysis 2 PC Review

I must say, Crysis 2 has come a long way since Crysis first came out back in 2008. The game is visually stunning and having tried the 3D capabilities at a EA roadshow not long ago, I’m much impressed, though I felt like throwing up after playing for a scant 30 mins. So what is new in Crysis 2?

Well for starters, Crytek has finally overhauled the nanosuit power activation system, remember the horrible power wheel? It is now replaced by specific hotkeys, Q for Maximum Armor Mode, E for Cloak, B for Visor Mode and Shift for Speed Mode. This makes the gameplay faster and way more enjoyable.

The nice thing about Crysis 2 is the fact that it has a coherent story and help fills the plot holes back in Crysis, the story is pretty much War of the World where the army could actually do something. Like Crysis, you can outfit your weapons with attachments, in addition to this, Crysis 2 also implemented purchasable upgrades to your Nanosuit. Stuff like increasing speed at lower energy cost, damage reduction, faster regeneration and improved cloaking mechanisms are all available, all you have to do is kill the aliens.

All in all, Crysis 2 is a marked improvement to Crysis in terms of gameplay, story and mechanics. Here are the scores

Graphics: 9

Story: 7

Gameplay : 7

Overall: 8

DoW II: Retribution review

Loyal fans of Dawn of War or Warhammer 40k in general, rejoice! Retribution has finally and with it, the Imperial Guards. That’s right folks, if you didn’t know already; the Imperial Guards are the latest race to be added in the repertoire of playable races in DoW II.

Well since I am on the topic of new stuff, every race is getting a playable campaign and like Chaos Rising, a new unit. That is, if you didn’t already know that. So what are the new units?

Space Marine – Land Raider Redeemer

Tyranids – Swarmlord

Orks – Battlewagon

Eldar – Autarch

Chaos Space Marine – Noise Marines

Imperial Guradsman – Everything

Finally go that out of the way, now back to the review proper. I’m only going to be covering the Single Player portion of Retribution as multiplayer is essentially the same as the original DoW II with new units thrown into the mix.

As Relic has promised, Retribution’s Campagin has gone back to its RTS roots, will kinda. Each race has access to 4 heroes, except for the Tyranids. Your main commander, aka the main character, is usually a melee oriented tank, or in the case of the Imperial Guards, a competent marksman. The rest of your hero rentinue will fill the roles of, sneaky git, range dps and crowd control.

Like DoW II, your heroes’ gain levels as they go through the missions, with ever level, you get a skill point as well. Skill points are used to purchase traits/abilities.

Instead of the long Skill Tree we are familiar with from the first DoW II game, we now have a simpler and more streamlined Skill Tree.T he Skill Tree is divided into 3 different branches, Stamina, Offense and Will. There are a total of 15 unlockable traits and abilities, 5 in each respective branch.

Every Skill Point in a branch will immediately unlock a new trait or ability, powerful abilities are of course are the furthest spectrum of the Skill Tree, requiring you to fully invest in a particular branch to gain access to these powerful abilities.

What is different from the traditional Dow II game is the fact that every trait you get, actually benefits your army. This of course requires the players to put the heroes in the side lines and pick up an Honor Guard.

So let’s talk about the Honor Guards, they are essentially powerful units, taken in place of the heroes. Honor Guards are the same units you have in your army except they are stronger and fully ungraded, choosing Honor Guards will also give you extra population count to increase your standing army during missions. As I mentioned before, choosing Honor Guards will also grant your army access to special buffs from the replaced hero, significantly increasing the effectiveness of your army.

As I have mentioned earlier, Relic going back to its RTS roots. This means that players can now capture Requisition points and Power Nodes; however these points only grant you a onetime bonus to your resource. This is the main difference between the Multiplayer mode and the campaign. Big huge army versus an elite smaller army lead by supped up heroes, choose your poison.

The missions within the Campaigns are essentially the same across the races; the only difference is the loot you get and the foes you might face which unfortunately don’t happen all too often. The mission can get repetitive but luckily, the distinctive style of each race helps somewhat negate this fact.

The other thing worth noting is the fact that units are unlocked every mission, well 2 new units and a wargear to be exact. At the end of every mission, players are given a choice between the choosing a new unit, a unit upgrade if you already have the unit or a piece of wargear.

Say, if you already unlocked Tactical Marines, you can now unlock Missile Launcher upgrades etc etc or you could unlock the Assault Marines you have been eyeing but then the new piece of armor would really make you hero more dakka. This is basically the conundrum you will be facing most of the time.

Having played through all the starting mission of each race, the one you should really play would have to be the Space Marines’ Campaign. They are after all, the canon storyline. As for the story, it is pretty straightforward.

When we last left Aurelia, the Greater Daemon of Nurgle, Ulkair was defeated but it was revealed that the Chapter Master of the Blood Ravens was in league with Chaos. Ten years later, we are still hunting the rouge Chapter Master Kyras but now an Ordo Malleus fleet approaches to destroy all the planets in Aurelia. Exterminatus.

I’m not gonna spoil if for you but let’s just say the end mission is the same and it is just a matter of which race you want to kill the big boss with, and of course watch said races’ ending cinematic.

So how did I find DoW II: Retribution? I actually rather enjoyed it, even though it is essentially the same game as before. Don’t fix it if it is not broken as they say.

I finished the game with Imperial Guards first and I went along the lines of quantity over quality. Worked pretty well but it made the game a micromanagement hell, for me anyway. It kinda became a game of attrition as you get resource refunds whenever you lose a unit. Eventually, it became a game where I just keep sending Imperial Guardsmen to their deaths at the frontline. Hey wait a minute! That is exactly what they do with Imperial Guardsmen in all the 40k lore! I approve!

Right now, I’m finishing up the campaign as an Ork Freebooter. In contrast, I went for a quality over quantity and even then I’m still making decent progress on the hardest difficulty.

All in all, it was pretty fun playing all the races, refreshing to play something else other than biologically enhanced super soldiers. So here are the scores.

Graphics: 8

Gameplay: 9

Story: 7

Overall: 8

My Retribution

I know it has been awhile since I’ve written anything substantial. This is probably the part where I tell you how busy with some big project I’m working on and the whole elaborate details. The truth is, I’ve been loafing around playing King’s Bounty. Steam tells me I’ve spent an ungodly 84 hours on it and I’m only 3/4 to finishing it. I really should be doing something more constructive shouldn’t I?

Oh yes people, I just got my copy of Dawn of War II: Retribution, Collector’s Edition of course. Yes I know, I’ve manage to grab my copy 4 days earlier, I didn’t know that till I tried installing it on Steam though… Talk about Retribution, but hey watch out for my review/reviews.

Alexandra Sim-Wise, full of winz

I always had a thing for red heads and I must say, this red-head is just made of winz. Who am I talking about? Read the damn title for god’s sake!

Admittedly, Alex Sim-Wise had only came to my attention recently, thanks to the wonderful thing we call youtube. Did I mention she is kinda a gamer and a geek as well? No? Well she is! Double points! High Score! I mean with a name like Sim-Wise (Sam Wise anyone?), she has gotta be something else. Hilarious, bold, sexy and my personal favorite, British, Alex Sim-Wise, she has got it all!

You can enjoy more Alex goodness here.

Identity Crisis: A Gamer’s Epic Journey

In the span of 3 days, I have encountered 3 posts on the topic of gamer identity right here in the ocean of information. The first is by a local gaming magazine Playworks, you can read the post “Defining the Gamer“. The next was Kotaku, I’m sure most gamers are familiar with it, similarly, you can view the original post “Is Gamer A Dirty Word” and lastly, a post by Transmythology, you can view the post “Wake Up Geek Culture: Time to Live“.

Each of the posts are tackling the same problem from different angels and approach, one questions the word “Gamer” itself, the other questions the connotation  of said word and lastly a post about fandom and the elitism inherent in it.

Alright, lets tackle this one by one, starting off with Gamer as a term. The thing we must understand, is the fact that  words are social constructs, words by themselves are gibberish, they are without meaning or form. It is the people that give meaning to words. I covered a similar topic in one of my earlier posts “Mind Your Language“.

The fact that words are social constructs being with it, implications, and in the case of gamers, the implications can be rather unpleasant to the uninitiated. Gamers is a term given to people who play alot of video games, I’m gonna recycle a post I put up on Playworks.

Do we truly need ‘Gamer’ as a label? As a title? Games encompass a wide spectrum of medium, board games, miniature games, table-top games, video games even sports.

Chess is a game, but do the people who play chess regularly or even professionally consider themselves a gamer? I highly doubt it. How bout the myriad of people who play Farmville on Facebook? If by strict definition, they can be considered gamers in the strictest sense of the word, but do the people who play those games label themselves as gamers?

A gamer, in a cultural sense, is someone who plays video games very often and keeps in touch with the latest gaming news. Video games are usually the gauge of a person’s gamer-ism but are not necessarily a strict benchmark.

As games and reality continue to converge, we will be forced to reevaluate what game is, and what being a gamer means. “Gamer” should not be a label, title nor a category, it is a concept. A concept is malleable, a category is not, so a gamer is simply a person who enjoys playing games, regards him or herself as a gamer and is proud of gaming as an act itself.

One should just be comfortable with what they are and what they enjoy doing, it doesn’t matter what people call you or what social niche you feel inclined to fill, the simple fact is, just be yourself. Who cares what other people think, haters will always be haters, why waste time on them when you can spend it getting more exp.

Moving on, let’s take a look at the history of video games, because that is after all the most common association of what a gamer does. You may be wondering why I’m looking into the history of video games, simple, it is the source of all the stereotypes. So the first video games came out around 1940s to the 1950s, not to mention the first video games were on an extremely rudimentary computer, a technological wonder of its age. New technology has always been treated with some suspicion and the amount of knowledge required to even make and use such technology can be staggering. This acts as a barrier into video gaming, technological jargon.

Who were the people who made the first video games? Technology experts with their thick glasses and their lab coats, this mental image of what geeks are kinda stuck, especially the glasses. What does this do with the negative association of being a gamer? I’ll get to that in a short while, bear with me.

Let’s move on to another aspect of video gaming, time. Video Games, especially the bigger titles, demand a great amount of time from its players. This leads me to the point of human evolutionary psychology, an animal with a highly evolved brain is still an animal, we are driven by primal needs and the most powerfully of them is the need to procreate. Most human activities either involve survival or socializing. Socializing can be viewed as a way to find potential mates in a deep-seated psychological sense, the fact that we spend so much time on games, reduces the chance of one going out and socializing. Admittedly this is not necessarily true but acts as a good marker for how most people might subconsciously think.

If we just look around, most people who do not play games are more often than not involved in a social activity of some sort.  Analyzing further, we see issues like gender classification as well, which we still see today, women are suppose to like ‘girly’ things and game systems just ain’t girly with its big bulky wired manliness. Women were never expected to get into the nitty gritty insides of a high tech computer, even now, there is still an overwhelming difference in the number of male technical workers to that of females. This of course, is caused mostly by social pressure and the status quo.

So women hardly play video games and gamers do not have time to go out and meet people. I think on some level, everyone can see this, the hard part is to look past this rather shallow but unfortunately true idea and see the people that gamers are, and the thing is, more and more gamers are finding a balance between life and games.

So let us take a look at the elitism that surrounds the gaming community, admittedly, most of the hostility was borne more of a reactionary hostility, I mean if you have people making fun of you and what you do, you will eventually snap and strike back, this makes the gaming community passive aggressive or just outright hostile to the new comers (newbs) of a gaming community, a hostility borne out of suspicion. As we look down the road, this has evolved into a niche, something these outcasts can rally to and take comfort that they are alone, this exclusivity builds upon the very human need to belong and yet be an individual at the same time. We are rare enough to make us exotic, but prevalent enough to find friends.

In a very masochistic way, I think most gamers enjoy this exclusivity. With the advent of facebook games and the whole casual game industry, gamers find their once clear definition challenged, when you are challenged, the most common reaction is to lash out, which brings about the need to redefine what a gamer is. The people advocating this are, not surprisingly, the gamers themselves. I mean even I have lashed out at the in my post “The real fake fans“. Gamers see this as an intrusion into a space they once have a clear definition and a place they belonged.

The world is changing, old stereotypes are eroding and labels are becoming less important, people are who they are, it doesn’t matter if you are a music connoisseur, a movie buff, comic book nerd, Otaku or a gamer, in the end, we are all just people who enjoy what we love and that is what matters. It is natural to want to protect the things we are passionate about, but how we feel do not apply to how people perceive it and people need to accept that and just live with it.

So be proud of who you are, no matter what stereotype you fall under.

DC Universe Online: Collector’s P.O.V


Direct intervention is necessary…

Take what is useful, destroy the rest

Progress cannot be halted.


Embrace perfection.There is no fear

I sense your weakness.

I will show you true power.

This delay is pointless…

Releasing control…


Gaming 2011

Yes folks! It is time once again to take a look at the movers and shakers of the gaming world in 2011, these are games I can’t wait to get my hands on, so lets get the ball rolling!

  1. DC Universe: Online – 11th Jan 2011
  2. Dead Space 2 – 25th Jan 2011
  3. Two Worlds 2 – 25th Jan 2011
  4. Dragon Age 2 – 8th March 2011
  5. Dungeon Siege III – 22nd March 2011
  6. Crysis 2 – 22nd March 2011
  7. Darkspore – 29th March 2011
  8. Dawn of War II: Retribution – March 2011
  9. Alice: Madness Returns – 1st Quarter 2011
  10. Fable 3 – 1st Quarter 2011
  11. Portal 2 – 18th April 2011
  12. The Witcher 2 – 17th May 2011
  13. Star Wars: The Old Republic – 2nd Quarter 2011
  14. Deus Ex: Human Revolution – 2nd Quarter 2011
  15. Jumpgate: Evolution – 1st September 2011
  16. Warhammer 40k: Space Marines – 3rd Quarter 2011
  17. Batman: Arkham City – 3rd Quarter 2011
  18. Guild Wars II – 2nd November 2011
  19. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – 11th November 2011
  20. Mass Effect 3 – 4th Quarter 2011
  21. Postal III – TBA 2011

As you can clearly tell, lots of awesome games will be hitting the stores in March, a time of financial woe and geeky bliss. 2011 looks like a good year to be a gamer!