Thursday, July 18, 2013

Random Roundup Time!

I recently finished reading the novelization of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I'd previously read the comic adaptation, and was a bit surprised to note just how similar they are. I think that pretty much every single character and story beat is the same in both versions. Which is pretty impressive, I guess. It's a good story… it definitely doesn't replace American Gods as my favorite Gaiman novel, but it's fairly high up the list. I have no immediate plans to check out the BBC television version, but imagine I'll hit it sooner or later. (Whoa: looking at that link now, I have learned that Natalie Dormer plays Door! OK. That moves it a few spots higher up the queue. Plus Anthony Head, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Christopher Lee? Well, all right then.) It's funny to see another story that, like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has gone through a number of incarnations in a surprisingly large variety of media.

I recently tore through The Stolen Throne, a novel written by David Gaider that serves as a sort-of prequel to Dragon Age: Origins. I enjoyed it. It could have used a bit more love from an editor (or maybe the eBook version I was reading hadn't been corrected), but the actual story was propulsive and engaging, and showcased some nice lore for DA fans like myself. At first glance it seems like a hack-and-slash sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel, with some intricately described bloody fight scenes and melodramatic revenge plots; but it features a core of four very well-drawn and interesting characters (Maric, the rebel prince; Loghain, a common-born commander; Rowan, an awesome warrior woman and Maric's betrothed; and Katriel, an Orlesian elf bard), and together they give the story a very welcome emotional depth. I kind of feel a bit like David Gaider enjoyed the unfiltered platform he had as a novelist, and could make the kind of sad, melancholy, bittersweet story that he wants to, without an organization pushing him to sand off the harsh edges and make a more palatable heroic tale. Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and from what I've heard the later novels are even better, so I'm sure I'll get to those soon as well.

I picked up 400 Days, the first expansion to Telltale Games' phenomenal The Walking Dead adventure game series. I'm increasingly convinced that The Walking Dead was the best game of the past year, and have been excited to see whether they could continue the quality. 400 Days is very different in form from the previous installments, but is really engaging nonetheless. Instead of a single linear (albeit branching) story with a single protagonist, 400 Days contains five smaller stories, each set at different times after the apocalypse started and featuring a different main character. By necessity, these stories are shorter and so we don't dive into them as thoroughly as we embraced the lives of Lee and Clementine, yet I was thoroughly impressed at just how well the game is able to communicate these characters' situations and personalities. There's no real exposition, just incredibly well-crafted dialogue that brings you up to speed while you create their futures. I think that 400 Days would be fine as an introduction to the series, but if you continue a game from Season One there's some nice and very subtle nods back to decisions you made in that game (and some even more subtle, even chilling, links between the various stories within 400 Days). I expect that we'll see more of these people in Season Two, and I'm already curious about just how that will be presented. It's a little disconcerting to think that, by strengthening some of these characters' positions, I could actually be making life more difficult for Clem in the future.

I'll do a full write-up on Hordes of the Underdark later, but for now I'll just briefly mention that it's been my favorite installment of the series yet.

From current games to future games… we're just about a week away from the launch of Shadowrun Returns! It was originally scheduled for June, then pushed back a month for some final polish. This will be the first major game that I've Kickstarted to have been released (I'm not counting The Silver Tree), and I'm excited and nervous to see how they've done. The previews and demos I've seen are looking really sharp - I was really happy to see that they went ahead and implemented the Matrix for real, which removes any hesitation I might have had to play as a Decker. Anyways, here's a nifty preview for it.

I'm getting the game for free thanks to my Kickstarter backing (along with some fancy swag), and will probably be playing it fairly heavily after it drops. Expect one or more Shadowrun-specific posts in late July or early August.

Also in future game news: Chris Gardiner's Below is approaching its public release. If anyone would like to try the private beta, drop me a line - Chris will probably do one more round of beta testing to get fresh eyes on the latest changes he's made. I've been playing the beta since, well, forever, and I'm really excited to see it reach this step. Below is a unique game that draws inspiration from a lot of different sources (roguelikes, adventure games, fantasy novels, etc.), and hits that sweet spot of something that's easy to pick up and play and yet satisfyingly rewards planning and strategy. Once the final version is released, I'll probably write up a separate post covering my own personal techniques for the game, which have served me very well thus far.

In less explicable Storynexus news, Spacemarine9 has created "Rat Sending Simulator 2K1". It's awesome. It's so gleefully unbalanced, thoroughly deranged in its approach to all aspects of gameplay, that I can't help but smile while playing it. Definitely right up there with Doghunt for my favorite comedic Storynexus games.

I'm up to the current season of Doctor Who. That show still kind of baffles me. The best episodes of it are really, really good. The worst episodes are incredibly corny, anachronistic, and infuriating. I've really dug Amy (probably my second-favorite companion behind Martha), and Rory has grown on me as the show continued. I'm a bit intrigued by the mini-reboot the current season pulled off in its pilot, but based on scuttlebutt from Dr. Who fans, I'm not exactly looking forward to the rest of the season. Eh. I increasingly agree with people who say that Doctor Who is such a quintessentially British invention that we Yanks will never really understand it.

I've recently started digging into Adventure Time, and am absolutely loving it. I've finished all three comics compilations, the first season of the show, and am about a quarter of the way into its second season. It's such a perfect show for me… I love its combination of absurdity, fantasy tropes, goofy good-natured humor, non-sequitor transitions, and loose continuity. I also think its characters are surprisingly complex; the Ice King in particular is such a fascinating villain, and I can't really think of any good analogies to other similar characters.

Hm, I guess that's it for now! Expect more focused (though no more noteworthy) posts to follow!

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