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Matt Gardner

Interactive Narratives | 80 Days - Inkle Studios on how to make an engrossing text-heavy mobile adventure

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
80 Days, Adventure Games, Inkle Studios, Interactive Narratives, iOS games, Mobile games, Videos

Interactive Narratives | 80 Days - Inkle Studios on how to make an engrossing text-heavy mobile adventure

80 Days has been one of my favourite games of the year. If you told me that a text-heavy iOS game would end up being a personal contender for Game of the Year back in January, I would have probably laughed in your face. The idea of a mobile game providing a deep, narrative-driven experience is frankly laughable to me, particular one so heavily rooted in reading lots of text. But 80 Days made a mockery of my scepticism, somehow managing to be perfectly suited to little bursts of play-up-and-play action yet still offering an engrossing long-term narrative steered in large part by the player.

An adaptation of Jules Verne's classic, which updates some of the more archaic sensibilities of the original while retaining the style and politics of our planet in the late Nineties, 80 Days is a bold, refreshing game that puts players in the immaculate shoes of Passepartout, juggling valet duties to his adventuring master, planning the route across the globe, dealing with the various moral dilemmas and dynamic events that crop up and block the way from time to time, balancing speed against funds and health, all the while marking the calendar and the time left.

It works magnificently on smart devices, so much so that something would undoubtedly be lost on console or PC, such is a tactile way that you draw out the narrative, poking and prodding the screen to gently unfurl the next segment of story or attempt to wheedle more information out of the people that meet, making choices that will affect you master and those around you, and tracing your way across continents with your fingers.

Interactive Narratives | 80 Days - Inkle Studios on how to make an engrossing text-heavy mobile adventure

I've played through it at least seven times now.

But I wanted to find out more about how the game came into being and the thought processes behind some of the design choices, not to mention how Inkle went about adapting the original novel and optimised it for a platform not normally associated with gripping, replayable interactive fictions. Which brings me to part one of our rather lengthy chat...

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NBA 2K15 Review | A Sporting Soap Opera

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
2K Sports, Basketball games, NBA 2K15, PS4 games, Sports Games, Visual Concepts, Xbox One Games

NBA 2K15 Review | A Sporting Soap Opera

NBA 2K15 is an interactive sporting soap opera, and it's quite brilliant in that regard. Visual Concepts have been leading the line in terms of narrative framing for career modes for some time, but last year's next-gen version saw them really ratchet things up in terms of context and plotting for MyCareer, upping the stakes by giving you a nemesis to measure yourself against, a mute team buddy to give you inspiration and a kick up the arse when warranted, and interactions with coaches, GMs and the press.

This year, though, they've really gone the extra mile in cultivating a sporting narrative full of drama and emotion. You kick things off as an undrafted rookie with an obnoxious, Jerry Maguire-esque agent shopping you about low-to-mid-level teams for a trial. The greater the team's standing, the harder you'll have to work to impress them, and so on. Succeed, and you'll earn yourself a ten-day contract; do well in the mattering of games during that short time period, and you might win a spot on the rotation for the rest of the season. It's a true underdog setup that then spins out into regular team meetings, chats with your coach, practice sessions, contract negotiations, team-mates finding out about you entertaining the notion of signing with a another team, squabbles about playing opportunities, clashes with other rookies and players, all in the quest to become the greatest player you can be.

NBA 2K15 Review | A Sporting Soap Opera

It's rather intoxicating stuff, aided by more fully-featured voice work from the characters you'll meet along the way. It must be said, however, that few NBA players have the acting chops of Shaq, and the monotonous drawl of the likes of Terrence Ross and Andre Drummond, not to mention the interesting timing of some lines that VC clearly didn't have the time to record twice, can make dialogue exchanges inadvertently hilarious.

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FREE Warlock II: The Exiled – Great Mage Edition! Five codes up for grabs!

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Dealspwn
Tags:
Competitions, Freebies, PC games, Strategy games, Warlock 2: The Exiled

FREE Warlock II: The Exiled – Great Mage Edition! Five codes up for grabs!

The Warlock II expansion pack "Wrath of the Nagas" is out this week, and to celebrate, we've been given five codes for Warlock II: The Exiled - Great Mage Edition, which features pretty much everything you need in order to get up and running with the hextacular strategy game. Here's what I said about Ino-Co's sequel in my review:

Warlock II: The Exiled is a game that stands on the shoulders of its predecessor rather than blazing a trail, but that's okay. What Ino-Co have given us here is an incredibly solid, hex-based strategy title that provides a great entry point to the series (and the genre, to be honest), with enough here to keep fans engaged for several thousand turns.

Sounds pretty good, right? It's the sort of game that, while not spectacular, is a great entry point for genre newcomers, and will easily become a major timesink. And you can nab it for free. Here's what to expect from the the Great Mage Edition:

  • Warlock II: The Exiled - the game
  • Soundtrack for Warlock - Master of Arcane
  • Soundtrack for Warlock II: The Exiled
  • Digital Novel - The Great Mage Game - A story of action, intrigue and wizardry, set in the Warlock universe. Written by acclaimed fantasy and sci-fi author John Helfers.
  • Digital Artbook - 42 full-color pages of beautiful artwork from the Warlock 2 game: Great Mages, Environments and Units

There are also seven in-game items included with the bundle:

  • Domain of Death - Start your quest in the land of the dead!
  • Magic is Fun - The lord known as The Magical Genius is available to your cause!
  • Elementary, My Dear - Adds three new deadly elemental spells to your arsenal towards world domination!
  • Chants of Light - Gives access to three new magical powers, including a powerful Lord Summoning ability!
  • Frost Power - A former Great Mage who seeks retribution offer his services to you!
  • Half-of-Everyone - Nobody knows him, but this Jack-of-all-Trades can be the best ally by your side!
  • Ancient Dragon - A new Great Mage - the Ancient Dragon - joins the fray, and wants to show who is the greatest mage of all! Start as a huge almighty dragon who does not need any starting city. Be your own capital and conquer everything you want!

We've got five codes for Warlock II: The Exiled - Great Mage Edition. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is to pop a comment in the box below (apologies that the Chrome login bug is still an issue) telling us what you'd want to be called if you were a Great Mage. What name would you go by? What moniker would you choose for yourself? Make it inventive, keep it moderately clean, definitely abuse the English language for excellent and cringeworthy puns, just let us know in the comments.

We'll close the competition this Friday at 11:59am BST and email out the codes the same day!

Winners will be notified and sent their code to the email address associated with their Dealspwn account, so please make sure to use a valid email address. Good luck!

Corsair Gaming K70 RGB Keyboard Review | The Backlight Fantastic

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Corsair, Corsair Gaming, Hardware reviews, K70 RGB Mechanical Keyboard, Keyboard, PC accessories

Corsair Gaming K70 RGB Keyboard Review | The Backlight Fantastic

I'm a big fan of Corsair's mechanical keyboards. When I bought my current gaming rig last year, I slapped down some cash for the Vengeance K90 Performance MMO Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, with its programmable "G" buttons (that I've still never used, mainly due to the paucity of MMOs in my gaming diet), adjustable blue backlighting, Cherry MX switches, anti-ghosting, and USB pass-through. I give my hardware a true hammering too, and the robust nature of Corsair's stuff is why I keep coming back to them.

Mechanical keyboards and backlit models are nothing new, but few have attempted to bring the very best of both worlds together. Until now (alongside Razer's Black Widow Chroma, that is). Ladies and gents, say hello to the rebranded Corsair Gaming K70 RGB Mechanical Keyboard -- a piece of kit that mixes the durability and functionality of the old K70 with a disco ball. It might just be the most snazzy piece of hardware I've ever owned.

The K70 RGB mirrors its non-RGB predecessor in many ways. Last year's K70 was an outstanding piece of kit, and at first glance, this model seems to be its equal in every way. Both models utilise the same chassis and brushed aluminium faceplate, the same keycaps and 10-key number pad, and neither offer up the option of those programmable macro keys to be found on the K90 or new K95 RGB. The multimedia buttons are still in place too, and Corsair have kept the volume roller, which is much more preferable to the usual two-button setup. Also retained from the older model are the illumination level and gaming mode buttons, with the latter locking up Windows shortcuts like Alt-Tab, should you want to game away without fear of frantic mishaps should you accidentally mash the wrong buttons.

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Daily Bite: Sunlight

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Funnies
Tags:
Daily Bite

See, the reason I don't go outside is because there's a giant ball of fire in the sky waiting to cook me and fire invisible rays of cancer at me.

Also wasps.

Minecraft: The Noob #2 - A Battle in the Skies

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Minecraft, Videos

Minecraft: The Noob #2 - A Battle in the Skies

After falling down a hole in last week's Hunger Games video, this week it's all about Sky Wars -- a game mode where everyone starts on their own little floating island and fights to become the last person standing.

True to form, the first thing I go and do is fall in a hole. Great.

I've discovered that I desperately need practice in terms of the basics when it comes to Minecraft, and that it always helps to have a crafting guide open on a second screen. This week's efforts are riddled with failure, but we also have our first taste of victory, and I follow Deadpool around demand that he gives me his skin.

Minecraft: The Noob #2 - A Battle in the Skies

It's all rather surreal.

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On #Gamergate - Communication not conflict is the only way forwards now

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Gamergate

On #Gamergate - Communication not conflict is the only way forwards now

Back in 1999, gamers banded together to demand an end to the accusation by mainstream media that violent video games were in some ways to blame for that decade's school shootings. Fifteen years on, just last week, and a woman due to give a speech at a university cancels the event in light of security measures implemented to prevent threat of a "Montreal Massacre" style attack. Her crime? Making feminist videos critiquing video games.

In the past week, the New York Times ran a front page story that put Sarkeesian's cancellation of her university talk due to a "massacre" threat in the same sentence as movement known as Gamergate. The Washington Post, and The Guardian weighed on it too. Sarkeesian appeared in Rolling Stone and Newsweek following the pulled event, her name in the ascendancy once more, largely thanks to the same anonymous abusers who would see her silenced. The mainstream media saw a woman who talks about sexism in games being hounded by anonymous sexist trolls online, and #Gamergate creator Adam Baldwin questioning her abuse and belittling her experiences in since-deleted Tweets. The mainstream media made a broad connection and had themselves a field day. Deja vu.

I'm fed up with all of this. I'm fed up of having a pastime and an identity that I treasure and believe in dragged through the mud because people would rather sling abuse and trade insults and invent "sides" and cling to a social media construct rather than engage in meaningful communication. This all started with a break-up made public and (unfounded) allegations of a developer sleeping with a journalist for positive coverage, and it has developed into a nebulous movement that has attracted all sorts -- from criminals to anonymous trolls, from disgruntled gamers determined to strike back against a press that has seemingly abandoned them to right-wing opportunists with a passing interest in games and a greater interest in scandal, from lifelong gamers protective of their sub-cultural identity to moderates who have tried to steer the conversation around to real talk about representation and ethical standards and how we all need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

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Click To Play | Assembots - Robo-Lemmings

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Assembots, Browser games, Click To Play, PC games

Click To Play | Assembots - Robo-Lemmings

Welcome back to Click To Play , the new-old regular series that takes a look at a new browser-based curio each week to further the fine art of procrastination. We accept absolutely no responsibility if you get caught at work/school/uni gloriously wasting time on the games listed here when you should be working.

This week: Assembots

Assembots is basically what you'd get if you crossed robots with Lemmings.

Each stage sees you attempting to guide a certain number of robots from one factory to the next and, just like the eponymous heroes of Lemmings, your mechanical chums in this will simply trundle forwards until you give them a new instruction or they hit a wall. The game eases you into things with a smattering of commands available from a horizontal array at the bottom of the screen, and to begin with you'll dig through dirt walls and platforms, climb walls, and turn into stationary pillars that can be used to activate switches and prevent robots from hurling themselves off of cliffs. You'll only have a limited number of these commands, however, so it's important to think carefully before applying them to a robot -- you simple click the command (or use the hotkeys) and then click the robot you want to apply it to.

Click To Play | Assembots - Robo-Lemmings

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Daily Bite: Aliens Isolation

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Funnies
Tags:
Daily Bite

The Xenomorph doesn't play nice with other aliens either.

Xbox indie parity makes for second-class gamers - Game Buzz #93

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
News
Tags:
DriveClub, Game Buzz, Hatred, Indie Games, Microsoft, Podcast, PWNCAST, Xbox One Games

Xbox indie parity makes for second-class gamers - Game Buzz #93

This week, we deal with Driveclub's latest woes and ask how big games sites can justify early reviews for online games, we chat about Microsoft's continued defence of their indie parity clause, and we take a look at the announcement for the rather controversial Hatred.

Game Buzz | Episode 93 - Driveclub Is A Shambles. Recorded 17th October, 2014.

Parental Advisory: We've tried to keep it as conversational and informal as possible, and you should be warned that there may be some instances of strong language.

Want more? Check out the rest of our PWNCAST posts onsite, hit us up on iTunes, or subscribe to the PWNCAST Feed here.

Xbox indie parity makes for second-class gamers - Game Buzz #93 Xbox indie parity makes for second-class gamers - Game Buzz #93Xbox indie parity makes for second-class gamers - Game Buzz #93Xbox indie parity makes for second-class gamers - Game Buzz #93Xbox indie parity makes for second-class gamers - Game Buzz #93

F1 2014 Review | Old Model, Missing Parts

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Codemasters Racing, F1 2014, PC games, PS3 games, Racing Games, Xbox 360 games

F1 2014 Review | Old Model, Missing Parts

The big question to be posed to the latest in a line of yearly, iterative games is always "what's new?" People won't drop fifty quid for a game that makes the odd cosmetic change or just swaps old rosters for new. We like progression, we like to envisage some sort of movement forwards in the quest to create the most authentic, awesome representation of a sport or pastime, as if there's a perfect goal to be reached that yearly series creep closer to each year.

Of course, when a new batch of consoles have been released, but you're still tethered to the old bunch, I would imagine that keeping up, let alone trying to improve in meaningful fashion, can seem like a Sisyphean task. Unfortunately, in a year where games are shinier and sparkier than in previous ones, you have to make some strides in terms of gameplay.

F1 2014 Review | Old Model, Missing Parts

Sadly, F1 2014 doesn't really do that. In fact, in many ways it does the exact opposite.

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Company of Heroes 2 Interview | Mitch Lagran on broadening COH 2's tactical horizons

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Company of Heroes 2, Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault, DLC, Expansion Pack, Games previews, Interviews, Relic Entertainment, Sega, Standalone

Company of Heroes 2 Interview | Mitch Lagran on broadening COH 2's tactical horizons

I'm quite excited for Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault. I must admit that I'm more of an offline player than an online one, having had my backside handed to me on numerous occasions, but that's what this expansion is all about. Just like Western Front Armies, Ardennes Assault will be a standalone slice of strategic action, but one that eschews the linearity of COH 2's campaign for something a little more dynamic.

My preview for Ardennes Assault went live yesterday, and here's what I had to say about my time with the game in my closing paragraph:

The bottom line is that Ardennes Assault finally brings the feeling of grand strategy and broader tactical thinking to bear on a game that has been renowned for tactical gameplay on a smaller, more individual scale. Company of Heroes has long been a series that is all about making the best with what you have, realising the importance of different individual units and the ways in which they can complement one another. Now, added to that formula, there's more of an opportunity to be a true armchair general, as well as a major on the field. It looks like it truly present the best of both worlds, and that's very exciting indeed.

Company of Heroes 2 Interview | Mitch Lagran on broadening COH 2's tactical horizons

As well as going hands-on with the game, I also had the opportunity to sit down with campaign designer, Mitch Lagran, to have a chat about the changes that Relic have made and the ambitions that the studio has going forwards.

Check out the interview after the jump >>

Daily Bite: Alien Isolation Walkenthrough

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Funnies
Tags:
Daily Bite

This may be one of my favourites thus far.

Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault Hands-On Preview | Nuts!

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Company of Heroes 2, Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault, DLC, Expansion Pack, Games previews, Relic Entertainment, Sega, Standalone

Company of Heroes 2: Ardennes Assault Hands-On Preview | Nuts!

It's always a good sign when a preview event starts wrapping up and the first thing you think is 'Nooooo, please let me take this game with me'. It was nice to place the latest standalone expansion pack for Company of Heroes 2 in context, with our gaggle of assembled European writers given a tour of the Bastogne barracks -- the operational heart of the Allied war effort during the Battle of the Bulge -- before checking out the game inspired by that bloody piece of history.

Inspired is certainly the word, as Relic have used the events of the battle to bookend this particular experience. Essentially, Ardennes Assault gives players the freedom to plan out their own military machinations in the region by way of a 'meta map'. If The Western Front Armies provided a multiplayer introduction to this newly explored theatre of war and the factions involved, the Ardennes Assault pack is the singleplayer counterpoint -- an expansion that zooms in on three individual companies and their commanding officers, struggling to take control of a region filled with constantly shifting German divisions. The idea is clear -- to present a relatively open ended canvas, framed by history, upon which we armchair generals might paint our personal tactical masterpieces.

Our two-hour session with the game consisted of playing the same mission multiple times. Set not far from Bastogne in the town of Houffalize, the skirmish in which we were involved saw us trying to join up with an allied column to the north, cutting through German-controlled territory, overrunning the enemy's artillery stations, and co-opting the massive guns for our own purposes. By focussing in on this single mission (there will be 18 in total we're told -- seven rather broad encounters and eleven more scripted scenarios) several times over, we were able to see how the different companies performed, and how the map changed depending upon what stage of the campaign we were at when we took the plunge.

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Interactive Narratives | MyCareer - Stories and Sports Games

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Defense Grid 2, Forza Horizon 2, Interactive Narratives, NBA 2K15, Videos

Interactive Narratives | MyCareer - Stories and Sports Games

John Carmack once said the following about story in video games: "Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important."

Of course, games have come to encompass a wider array of virtual interactive experiences since he uttered those words, and quite frankly there's never been a better time to be a gamer no matter what you prioritise. Whichever floats your proverbial boat the most -- be it graphics, sound design, responsive and taut mechanics, dynamic content, player agency, expansive world, free-roaming play, expertly-crafted rollercoasters of action and emotion, a well-told story -- whatever your gaming poison, chances are there something damn fine out there for you.

Carmack's words ring hollow for me as a gamer, but from a development standpoint I think it's important to note that a good story or excellent narrative framing is a tool to be leveraged in pursuit of a good game just like mindblowing aesthetics, inventive art design, and other considerations. A point that we (Jon especially) have often made on this site is to include the elements that best suit your game. A focus on storytelling is not something to be shoehorned into a game. A poor story or clunkily-worked narrative elements can frequently be worse than not having it in there at all.

Interactive Narratives | MyCareer - Stories and Sports Games

There are a handful of genres to which narrative design still seems somewhat alien. We hear it all the time when it comes to sports titles, fighting games, racing and driving games -- "this game doesn't need a story". But it rather depends on what you're looking for, to be honest. No game needs bad writing or poorly thought out features or modes, but in certain circumstances, narrative framing at least can serve to elevate a game over its peers. Continuing along that line of thinking, this week's video takes a look at the NBA 2K series, as well as games like Forza Horizon and, surprise, Defense Grid 2.

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VIDEO | This is how NBA 2K15's Face Scan *should* work

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
2K Sports, Basketball games, NBA 2K15, PS4 games, Sports Games, Videos, Visual Concepts

NBA 2K15 is finally here, and it's good. I mean really good. Visual Concepts have tweaked a fair few things in this latest instalment of the World's Best Sport Game Series, and one of the nifty new features is the ability to scan in your face for MyPlayer.

Check out my efforts in the quest for facial perfection in the video above.

I won't lie, I didn't hold out much hope that this would be any good. EA Sports' Game Face is utterly dreadful. Aside from it being a slow, clunky, often unworkable piece of crap, when it does have the decency to work, my Game Face creations all came out looking like someone had stuffed several slapped arses into a blender and then given the remains to Picasso.

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