Friday, 29 May 2015

Ran of the Ninja - EP5 - Killing Kelly

With our distraction set up it is time to make our move against our well secured foe. But before we really get at Karajan we have to take out his lieutenant Kelly, the man who personally lead the attack on Mark's ninja village.

I quite like that Kelly is a puzzle boss, you can't straight up fight him, you can't even stealth kill him without disabling him first. It felt good to drop the light on him and I am actually glad there isn't an option to let him live, the entire context of the game is that you are a ninja and complete pacifism doesn't make sense here. A stealthy assassin that only goes after their target and key figures in their power structure is definitely a trope that you can play you instead.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Ran of the Ninja - EP4 - I'm A Monster

Much like the previous episode, this level felt a bit like a bait and switch, I anticipated setting the building alight to be more like breaking the transformer in an earlier level, a minor objective on the way to a bigger goal, instead it is literally the entire purpose of this level.

My favourite scene is one I could never have set up deliberately at the time, guards have two possible responses when they find a body, they can be calm and raise the alarm or they can panic, stumble backwards and fire into the dark. Honestly not sure how I triggered the latter response here, I can do so more reliably now, but mostly by dropping corpses into the light or other ways making the discovery of the body more... interesting.

It was amazingly satisfying to do here it was a completely different way to clear the room and I felt like an awesome deadly assassin striking from the dark in a completely different way compared to ghosting the level made me feel in episode 3.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Ran of the Ninja - EP3 - Quiet As A Ghost

How much violence you want to commit in Mark of the Ninja is pretty much up to you, so far there is no one you actually have to kill, in fact you can if you want try to sneak past everyone. Seemed like a fun time so I tried it here and it worked pretty well for me. In fact I found it a little bit faster since my priority was getting past guards without being spotted rather than killing every last one of them via stealth kills.

Interestingly enough you actually forgo honour if you try this route, a lot of the seals in this game are based around enemy kills. I guess you are a ninja after all, you are meant to be an assassin not a just a thief or a spy.

Later on you unlock costumes which let you tailor your play a bit more based on what you enjoy, but I will leave off talking more about it until later.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Ran of the Ninja - EP2 - Breaching the Perimeter

One of the things that caught me off guard was how long each individual level takes in Mark of the Ninja and upon reflection I think I have worked out why. Each set of levels marks a single mission and each level merely a stage of a given mission. The tutorial is an exception in how self contained it is.

As a result each level sets up it's own goal near the start which you achieve during it, it is a little bit more narratively confusing here because as the first level of a set, it is both setting up the overall mission as well as the goal for the level itself which is why I was surprised achieving what I had thought of as a subgoal took so long.

Maybe if there had been more separation between the mission set up and the level set up I would have ended up less confused?

On a narrative note we learn this level that gaining The Mark is both a great honour but also a death sentence, it is the kind of thing that is only used in a time of great need. The question is why do I start the game with the Mark then? What actually kicked this whole thing off? The raid against the village was pretty clearly in response to something. But I don't yet know why.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Ran of the Ninja - EP1 - A Rude Awakening

Time to kick off another Let's Play series. Mark of the Ninja has been sitting in my backlog for quite a while and I am not entirely sure why. It has a great reputation and involves sneaking around as a ninja which is definitely a thing I am in favour of in games.

Admittedly the only time I went to play Mark of the Ninja prior to this LP I did fall afoul of a minor issue I find in a lot of game, the assumption that just because a controller is plugged in I want to use it. If you have a controller plugged in it will only give you controller prompts and I had quite forgotten about having one plugged in at the time so it was extra frustrating to get the wrong inputs suggested. I really wish more games would move between controller and keyboard inputs smoothly, where the prompts are based on the most recently used input device rather than just what is plugged in.

This episode covers the tutorial level, which introduces most of the basics the game uses, light/dark, vents, sound and stealth kills and wall climbing. It does a nice job introducing them to you one step at a time building towards Mark being a fully capable ninja by the end.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Star Realms Diaries - EP3 - An Ark Full of Needles

Shortly after the Gambits expansion for Star Realms was released Jarenth and I decided it was a great excuse to record another episode of the Star Realms Diaries. Unfortunately various delays meant this episode wasn't released in quite as close to the expansion release than I would have liked, and this blog post is of course even later, but life goes on.

I really like the changes brought in via Gambits. I had played enough games that the new variation in the card pool was very welcome and the new emphasis on bases has really shifted how often I purchase them. Previously I had a very ship heavy approach to my strategy and now I find myself really emphasizing bases, using them to shield myself from enemy attacks as well as triggering the new cycle of bases that trigger on bases being played.

The new gambit cards are definitely a bit more of a mixed bag, I find them most powerful when you can use them to grab an early game advantage ideally by grabbing a powerful card in the first couple of turns. But generally results in me being disappointed when I end up with some of the gambit cards that simply aren't suited to that kind of play. Some of them are definitely weaker than others and I never feel happy to have received them.

This was a fun game and it is one I am still regularly playing with friends, in general I have about 7 games running at any one time if you want to play me just send a challenge to Ranneko.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Ranslinger - EP11 - Ghosts of A Violent Past

With this we finish off Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. The ghosts in the final chapter are a very strange addition, really pushing Silas over the edge into madness. He seems to have gotten better by the time of the framing narrative but who knows what would push him back over.

I had a great time with Gunslinger and really wish there was more information available on how and why it was made. I definitely think it was stronger for its framing narrative and its willingness to strip things back and present a mechanically satisfying short western themed shooter.

As a thought experiment if they had gone for a more standard approach I think this is roughly the structure I would predict:

1. Riding with Silas's brothers, maybe dealing with some kind of ambush. (NB Need horse riding or justification for no horses)
Finish with reaching a town, cue cut scene with gambling and wild bunch, end with hanging
2. Silas trekking back to town and taking off after his brothers killers

At this point the exact ordering would be a bit trickier, but definitely you would mix in going after the wild bunch with having various regular bounty hunting style of levels.

Not sure you could pull of having a barkeep Bob with this set up, you would need to justify a big action scene like in the second last level and Bob as the barkeep loses a lot of impact without the framing narrative. So maybe you actually have Bob be in that final graveyard fight, perhaps finish with a deliberate double kill so Silas dies fulfilling his revenge.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Ranslinger - EP10 - A Vista Full of Snipers

This episode we take a trip to the mountains, fulfil Grey Wolv's prophecy and take down Jim Reed, leaving us with only the mysterious Bob left, a fella who seems to be near impossible to find and take down.

This is one of the sillier levels in that Silas is clearly pretty drunk right now and his mood is trending to the melancholy, He is definitely gearing up for the end of his tale, which will happen next time on Ranslinger.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Ranslinger - EP9 - An Express Robbery

In this episode of Ranslinger we complete the third and final train related level. This time the train is moving, which results in me paying significantly less attention to it most of the time. Makes me wonder if it loops and if so how often.

I really like the scene where Silas wanders off to the bathroom. Both for the speculation by his audience but also for the endless looping slow motion carriage. It was a fun way to spend time listening to the banter, certainly much better than freezing my camera.

I really should read up on Jesse James, I am kind of curious as to just how one would go about robbing a train running across the countryside.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Ranslinger - EP8 - Keep on Training

Train robberies are another archetypical western plot so it probably shouldn't be surprising that 3 levels of Gunslinger revolve around trains and train robberies. It makes for some pretty linear levels, but a lot of door kicking which feels pretty nice.

We also finally get to find out just why Silas is so keen to track down Roscoe Bob Bryant. Gunslinger like a lot of games reveals a motivation for the player character that doesn't really have any reason to bleed over to the player. Sila's brothers are only introduced in a cutscene that also kills them off, there is no time spend developing them or interacting with them. They are a key formative event in Silas's past but I am not Silas, I am merely controlling him in the fight scenes.

I don't really consider it a problem in this game, because it is such a short and linear game and at least we have had time to get attached to Silas himself, had they pulled it off in the beginning then it would have been worse.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Ranslinger - EP7 - The Swamp Job

Continuing the chase Dalton brothers after they robbed 3 banks in the town they live in, we pursue them into a swamp, but this time we have a posse of our own. I am sure that there will be no surprises here.

I like the swamp, mostly I like the way that the swamp is heavily impacted by the conversation in the framing narrative, changing the weather, environment and even the foes at one point. Again reminding the player that they are in a story being related over a pint in a pub. People fall asleep and other conversations and tangents show up, even at times where the storyteller thinks they are at one of the most exciting tense parts.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Ranslinger - EP6 - The Bank Job

The devs got maximum use out of their bank assets here and the level hook felt pretty clever. A situation with confliction viewpoints and we get to play through them all, from how Ben remembers it fallout out, the story that made it into the dime novels and then finally the "truth" from Silas himself.

The first time around if you have the perk that lets you know secrets are near by, this level can be surprisingly frustrating as you are warned about a secret you can't grab until the next time you run through this area approaching from another angle.

The non-duel boss fight at the end is kind of annoying, not a great deal of cover and a big sack of hit points and none of the flavour of the duels. At least it was over pretty quickly.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Ranslinger - EP5 - Spelunking

This episode has a couple of instances of the door problem being solved by moving rocks rather than a convenient final wave of foes. It is definitely an approach that Gunslinger leans on pretty heavily and gets away with it mostly due to novelty. If a longer game or simply more games tried this same approach I am pretty sure it would grow tedious and dumb pretty quickly.

The multiplier in this game see powers not just some of the perks I rely on but also determines your XP gain, the bigger the multiplier the more XP you get and the faster you progress. This makes the few points in this game where you get free extended concentration or just a turret and wave after wave of enemies are thrown at you really high points as you push through and try to take advantage. If you have the right perks at these times you can get a pretty significant amount of progress towards the next perk or two.