Monthly Archives: October 2013

GMotW: The Walking Dead and the lightcycle effect

GMotW

Licensed games have a… checkered reputation, to be sure. No getting around it, regardless of the strength of the creator, the love and devotion put in, the objective quality of the final product, the very nature of the project means that folks will think of it as being a shameless, hopeless, cash-grab. Certainly, when I sat down to play The Walking Dead: The Board Game I was… cautious? Despite being told that it was pretty okay, I still had my reservations, not the least of which being that this was the sort of game which lives and dies on theme, but I had never seen the show and I, like so many in the world, am beginning to find zombies teetering on the edge of “overplayed.”

I had a good time, though. And it did at least one thing I thought was keen enough to look into. Page three of the rule book:

Whenever you move, place a zombie token in the space you were on, as long as it is now empty.

Interesting, indeed. Especially given that at the beginning of the game, the board is cleared of zombies.

That’s strange, isn’t it? The board is fairly large, about 250 hexes, almost entirely open but for the barriers around Atlanta in the dead center, and no zombies anywhere. It seems counterintuitive for a game about traversing a zombie-filled wasteland… sure, they can appear when drawn by cards, but you still have these vast, untouched swathes of zombieless real-estate.

But when you start to move–and this is really a game about exploration, so lots of movement is necessary–they appear, a Tron-lightcylcle-wave of them left wherever you go (augmented by circular pileups when you fire your weapons and they come running from all angles). The narrative explanation is that your movement throughout the area is causing them to grow active; as I’m not familiar with the source material, I cannot say for sure how canonical it is to have zombies existing in a semi-dormant fashion until folk breeze past them, but from a player’s perspective I can say that this sells me on two messages, both alike in dignity:

1) Things are getting worse. I’ll level with you: dropping a zombie token every time I move? That’s really fiddly. It takes waaaaay more tokens than I want to deal with on the regular. It futzes with the pace of play. But it means that this beautiful, open, unsullied land starts turning to hell before your eyes, and that can create wonderful moments when two or three players pile up in an area which transitions, with a surprising speed, from an open world to a barely-navigable hellscape. Suddenly you have to ask yourself if it’s worth a hard slog to get where you need to go, or if it’s more effective to take a wide berth where it’s still clearish, or if you should just bugger on out of there. When it works, it works well.

2) You gotta keep moving. I think there are other aspects of the game which make it a less-than-perfect example of an exploration game… the lack of justification for the resource scouting, the arbitrariness of the location scouting, things of that nature. But by gum, is it a game that tells you from turn one that once you leave a place, you don’t want to have to come back there. But even better: you CAN go back there. Going home is never NOT an option, because saying that you can’t revisit a hex you left is the absolute worst sort of arbitrary rulesmanship. But you shouldn’t, not just because this is a game about moving to new places, but because this is a game about attempting to escape a dangerous situation… nominally, you are seeking out a safehouse, after all. What the game lacks, or which might be interesting, is a more purposeful benefit to moving back… not just to cross your trail or get more resources, but to re-scout a location you’ve already obtained. Its set up this nice worrying situation, in which going back isn’t fatal, but it is unwise… and then it doesn’t really give you a lot of cause to GO back, because it’s never not unwise. On the whole, it’s a mechanical interaction which I feel starts to go a great place but doesn’t quite get there.

But still, I had fun. I blew up some zombies pretty good, and the genre isn’t QUITE saturated just yet, so… good times.

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GMotW: Superhot. Super. Hot. Super! Hot!

It’s that time again! Time for another Game Mechanic of the Week!

What’s on the docket this week? Well…

… good question. What with one thing and another, this is the week of Transitions, when I’m working three jobs simultaneously, and haven’t had a lot of spare time for games and game-related activities. Indeed.

So, does that mean there’s no game mechanic this week? No, just that it’s a brief-ish digression on a brief-ish game. Well, a not even a game, a demo. It’s time for Superhot.

SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT.

This is a rule that doesn’t even get explained, but boy howdy is it a useful one. I’ll make up the terminology myself.

Right-click to ditch your gun.

Superhot exists in a fantastic space, and if you haven’t played it yet, do so right now. Seriously, even if you just take in the first level, you need to understand the style.

And boy, it’s all about style. It’s a first-person shooter; at the moment, an incredibly simple one, with little in terms of narrative besides the need to kill all the dudes trying to kill you and the last chapter which… well… is odd. But it exudes style, from the grey and red template to the core mechanism that makes the game function at all: time only moves when you do.

On the whole, it makes you a frightening berzerker, and it’s easy to come up with several options for what it’s actually simulating here… are you somehow supernatural, a thing literally unstuck in time? Is this an approximation of the thought-processes of the dangerously hypercompetent? Is this, as the last level indicates, indicative of some sort of crazy mind-control in action? Or is it just keen, a neat thing by virtue of being a neat thing without greater “story” attached to it?

(Me, I never accept the latter option, but what do I know?)

Regardless, you are an entity killing dudes, and though it’s too lo-fi to be brutal, it’s clear that you are a terrifying thing. Weaving between slow-motion bullets, reacting nigh-instantly to the sudden appearance of bad guys, and not stopping till everyone is dead. And ditching your gun.

Y’see, you pick up a gun, and it has six bullets, and once you fire them all, you’re out. Pick up a new one from where one of your victims dropped it. Or, if you’re getting low on ammo, just ditch your gun to grab a new one, or to go all melee on the mean men in sunglasses. Why do I love this? Because it sells me on the danger of the protagonist, whatever his (her, its) nature may be. You are unarmed and unprepared, logistically, for this battle. No weapon, no ammo, you take what you can get from the surroundings, and you don’t even have an option to reload. And then you proceed to unleash hell.

Obviously, Super Hot is not the first game to have its players take supplies from fallen opponents, but the lack of a starting weapon, the lack of ammo, and the frankly beautiful slow-motion arc of a disposed gun all combine to enhance the frenetic pace, which is a really interesting descriptor for a game which spends much of its time not moving. The ability to ditch a gun before it runs out of ammo is an implicit encouragement to take part in this dance as well… you’ll lose your gun automatically if you try to fire it when you’re out, but that means you click one more time than you need to. It’s a minor punishment, at best, but it can mean the difference between shooting a dude and getting shot, and when one hit is instant death, that can be important. Better, more effective a use of your resources (bullets and time) to keep flinging half-used guns, picking up fresh ones wherever they fall, and making sure that your litany of murders is capped off by plenty of littering.