Building a Better World…One Brick at a Time.

I love Lego games…more accurately, I love the idea of lego games, as do Pinky Pie (8) and Groot (5) . Groot’s barely contained excitement and antipation as the game installs, has him bouncing off things and firing off questions about who he can play as and what he has to do, at a rate that often makes me wonder if he is breathing through gills.

The Excitement soon fades, to be replaced with frustration as he struggles to progress through the prescribed, story arc. ” I need help”… small and thoroughly disheartened voice cries out…. “DAD TO THE RESUCE” …I cry, as I stride over to the couch with a completely overinflated sense of my own ability, a feeling which, disappears rapidly as I discover that I have no more of an idea about what I’m suppose to be doing, than does Groot.  Pinky Pie keenly observing all of this, offers helpful advice  but not long after, we collectively give up and play Forza Instead. (if you ever wondered how much damage you can to the  Australian Outback in a Lambo, keep an eye out for some game footage I’ll post of Pinky Pie at the wheel !!!)….  “why can’t we just run around and build things and fight bad guys dad ?” ask  Groot….” I don’t know son….I just don’t know”

FEAR NOT GROOT OUR PRAYERS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED !!

 

Travellers Tales, subsidiary of Warner Brothers Interactive, have been bringing us Lego games, based around our favourite movies  since 2005s. 2017 see’s a departure from this with the release of Lego Worlds, a single or multiplayer sandbox platform which lets your imagination run wild as you explore and craft worlds in your own image. This game is available on PS4, Xbox one and via steam.

It is a free play style game as with most sandboxes, but there are quests you can complete on the worlds, which reward you with a variety of different rewards, There are “studs”, which are the standard in game currency of the Tt games, franchises, as well as gold bricks which you accumulate to level up and unlock new worlds to explore. As well as special Lego pieces or objects. There are also treasure chests, which spawn randomly around the world, many of which, you need to use the landscape tool in order to get to. They could be buried  far under ground or on at the top of a mountain.

There are NPC’s around which will give you quests to complete, and plenty of special items to discover which adds to your repository of items…everything from  dinosaur bones to a horse and carriage can be scanned and replicated.

The initial tutorials progress you through the use of the various tools at your disposal which will let you shape the worlds you explore, buy giving you one tool at a time and then providing a series of quests in which you much use that tool to complete the quest and again your reward, before unlocking the next tool.

These tools allow you to reshape the landscape, cut and paste objects and structures, paint the world, or build things one brick at a time, using brick shapes you collect during your adventure.This is a multi player platform which lets you visit the worlds other people have created and lets you create and populate your own worlds and share them with other people.

At the time of writing this I have not had a chance to try out the online play, however the general feed back on the single player mode, from Pinkie Pie and Groot was extremely positive. A game that lets them each focus on their strengths and preferences for playing in sandbox environments, I except to see massive complex structure including many statues in praise of Milo, our Tokenise…(or as he likes to think if himself…our household god !) Groot will need to a little more practice with the some of the tools but that didn’t stop him from thoroughly enjoying himself.

All in all we each had at lot of fun with game and look forward to seeing what worlds we will forge.

 

First impressions of XCom 2: Familiar, fun and a little frightening

  xcom 2 dvd case 

Despite my previous doubts over whether I’d buy XCom 2 as a new release, I gave in and picked up a copy earlier this month. Perhaps I was psionicly seduced in to it by a Sectoid? With my first campaign heading for doom, here’s my impressions of the game so far.

Familiar

For those that have played XCom:Enemy Unknown, there’s a certain level of familiarity here. 

Like the previous XCom game, it has  a mix of tactical and strategic elements. At the tactical level, you engage in squad level turn based combat, as per the previous game. There’s also a simillar strategic layer in between missions, where you make decisions about how you progress the story. The strategic layer seems to have been expanded though. My initial impression is there’s more choices to be had in how you progress your rebellion against the aliens.

The XCom 2 storyline also features a familiar character from what is referred to as the ‘first war’.  While the new characters I’ve encountered haven’t grown on me as much as Chen and Valen from ‘Enemy Within’, they’re the sort of archetypes you’d expect. That, again,  helps make it feel like we’re in familiar territory.

The biggest difference for me was getting used to controlling via a mouse and keyboard, having played the previous game on the iPad.

Fun

 Ok, so my first mission to recover the generator gadget didn’t go so well. I was a little cocky and rushed forward before I understood just how different some of the enemies were. But before long I was back in to the swing of things and the more familiar territory of ‘you win most but lose soldiers along the way.’ Until I became overconfident again and was once more decimated by enemies with hidden talents.

Perhaps the only detraction from the fun for me is that my PC is underpowered relative to what XCom demands. Though less than six months old, my PC is more a desktop workstation than gaming machine. For most tasks, it’s powerful enough. Sadly, to get a smooth experieince from XCom I’ve had to dial the graphics right back.

Frightening 

One of the things I’m enjoying about XCom 2 is that fighting the aliens has become more frightening. Familiar other worldly foes have evolved in to far more lethal creatures. At least on this initial play through, the heart tends to race a bit when encountering new aliens. And just when you think you’ve conquered your fear of these amped up aliens, a new extra terrestrial talent is revealed, and the anxiety returns. 

Visually, the aliens are also more spectacular, even on the low quality settings on my PC. The Sectoids contort their body in ghastly ways, beserkers drool

When big brands make love: Lego Star Wars and ‘The Force Awakens’

The marketing department assigned to Star Wars is probably as large as The First Order, and merchandise is a big part of Disney’s plan for galactic domination. So  it’s no real surprise we have a new Lego Star Wars game to go with the latest movie.

Most serious Star Wars fans by now will have seen ‘The Force Awakens’. By June, those who are content to watch it at home on DVD will probably have had their chance to see it too. That means by the middle of the year, the plot of ‘The Force Awakens’ will be as well known as the weak spot on the Death Star. Throw in the bonus of most US schools being on vacation, and June 2016 seems a reasonable time to launch Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Retelling the Star Wars stories with their signature quirky humour, the Lego Star Wars games are among the most played games on our XBox 360.  Jetite has conquered all the existing games, and unlocked a staggering amount of characters – including  Indiana Jones. The Lego Clone Wars game was also our first attempt at playing something like an RTS against each other. 

As a parent, the Lego Star Wars games have a lot going for them.

  • They’re easy to pick up and play – which means even non-gamers in the family can join in the fun.
  • Cartoon style combat, no bad language and no (obvious) adult themes – makes them suitable for a wide range of ages.
  • Adult ‘in jokes’  – although sometimes quite subtle,  there’s more humour to these games than just the slapstick stuff that makes the kids laughing out loud.

Which brings us to the trailer for the new game. It really does suggest the latest instalment to the Lego Star Wars franchise will be sticking to the formula they know works – poking fun at the movie.

But what about Disney Infnity? Isn’t there a Force Awakens game for it too?

Yes, indeed there is.

  

And I’ll admit to being a little surprised to see two games going after what I assume will be pretty much the same market.  I can only assume that when Lego rocked up with a bag full of money to buy the licence for the latest game, Disney felt confident they wouldn’t be cannibalising their Infinity product.  It’s even possible the  June 2016 launch for Lego was imposed by Disney, creating a six month window in which Infinity ‘Force Awakens’ could promote itself without competition. 

When Lego finally launch in June, Star Wars buzz will be well past its peak. It’s going to be interesting to see if the strength of the Lego brand, and the legacy of its previous Star Wars games, will be enough to make the game a commercial success. 

From Test Drive to Total Recall: The visual experience of gaming

Gaming has changed a lot in my lifetime.

One of my earliest gaming experiences was playing the original ‘Test Drive’ car game on my uncle’s PC. At the time, the Hercules graphics card was the state of the art in home computer graphics. The video below, though it’s an emulation, gives you a pretty good feel for what that experience was like.

Oh how things have changed.

Here’s me driving my little Opel Astra on a rain soaked track in Forza 6.

It’s a world away from the laggy, two-tone graphics of the original Test Drive.

If we’re not yet at the stage of photorealistic console games, one has to imagine they’re just around the corner. Once 4K televisions become more common, we’ll probably see even more demand for console gaming to take its next step forward in visual quality.

But what if we look even further out?

By the time Jetite reaches my age, how far the visual experience of gaming have advanced? How will things like augmented and virtual reality change the gaming experience in the coming decades? Perhaps the TV screen will be obsolete! Will the future of gaming be like Star Trek’s “holodeck”? Or will it  be purely in our minds – closer to the virtual memories of Total Recall?

Interesting times ahead.

A Brave New World.

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Daughter (Aka. Pinky Pie….Age 6.): “What game is that Dad  ?”

Son (Aka. Groot..Age 3): “Who is that that guy…what he do ?”

Pinky Pie: “Did you just shoot those people ?”

Groot: “Are they people or robots ?”

Both: “Can I have a turn ?”

ME: “It’s called Destiny…he’s a guardian….yes I did shoot them….their aliens….no you can’t, this isn’t for kids….wait a second……Why aren’t you two in bed.?..do you know what time it is ??….and how long have you been standing there ????…get into bed before your mother catches us and I get into trouble !!!!!!”

I’m a gamer, that said, I’m never going compete in tournaments, or get my name in the paper. My gaming skills have been rated as “Solid”,  by the  20 something, hardcore gamers in my extended family, which basically means when it comes to gaming I’m a firm “C”…maybe a soft “B”, if their feeling generous.

Gaming was always something my kids were going to be exposed to and get interested in.  Although for some reason I thought they would be older when it happened. In retrospect I have no idea why I thought that, but i did. So when this conversation happened at age 6, I was surprised.

Pinky Pie: “how do you play minecraft ?….. can i install it on my ipad “?

What I thought: “How does she even know what minecraft is ????……Can you even get it on an iPad…..I have no idea how to play…..”

What I said:  “Sure honey, its bed time now though, how about we have a look tomorrow, okay ?”

Satisfied with that answer, Pinky Pie, twirled away and off to bed, and I went off in search of  my iPad and youtube.

This was a new dimension to the one of the problems a first world parent….I had up until this point been primarily concerned  with the suitability of the  content they were exposed to when watching television or movies, but suitable content in gaming, both on console and mobile devices was something I had not thought, I would have to deal with at this age. What is appropriate content  and what is available out there for kids of this age ? and how can I share the gaming experience with them in a responsible way ?

So now I have begun a journey through the world of gaming for kids as a responsible adult. I cant be alone in feeling a little unsure and more than just a little overwhelmed at the shear volume of content available these days. I think there are too many choices when it comes to gaming for myself, so one of the goals of this site is to share my experiences and hopefully it will provide some useful information to you and other parent who like me, stand like a dear in headlights when your child comes home from school and tells you all about this game that their friend told them about and can they play Terraria too ???…”Please Dad…. can  I ???? ….PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE !!!!!!!”

I miss pacman.

Star Wars Battlefront: Nothing like the stomp of an AT-AT

  
If you’re a fan of the Star Wars universe, you’ll want to check out the eye candy that is the latest Star Wars:Battlefront game.

This week I finally succumbed and bought myself an XBox One. The decision to upgrade was primarily motivated by the desire to play the latest version of Star Wars Battlefront, but other titles like Forza 6 and the upcoming Mass Effect title also played a part.

There may be a longer post to follow on the whole path to purchasing an XBox One and getting it up and running. But having just stepped away from a couple of hours of Battlefront, I wanted to take a few minutes to say “Wow”.

Let’s get something out of the way up front. I suck at first person shooter (FPS) games. I suck badly. My reflexes and hand eye coordination are pretty ordinary, even for someone my age. So what you’re getting here is the first impressions of someone who isn’t a regular player of this genre. But what I am a fan of is Star Wars.

So what are my first thoughts?

A lot of hard work has gone in to ensuring this game feels like the Star Wars universe fans know and love. (Check out this article on the making of the game for why this game looks so good).

This game is beautiful. From the way the wind whips the snow up on Hoth, to splashing through streams on Endor, the environments you do battle in are gorgeous.

There’s also lots of little things done well. Running across the snowy landscape of Hoth, you leave clearly formed footprints behind you. If you charge out of a dimly lit bunker in to the full glare of Tatooine’s twin suns – you’re temporarily blinded by the glare.

But better than that, the battles I’ve experienced so far feel just like you imagine they should.

I’ve spent most of the previous hour playing the ‘Walker Assault’ mode, which involves fighting alongside or against an invading AT-AT force.

When you’re fighting against the AT-AT’s as they trudge across Hoth’s snowy white plains, their size and firepower make them seem like almost invincible machines of death. Which is how it should be.

On the flip side, fighting as an Imperial soldier alongside an AT-AT is terrifying in its own way. Using the AT-AT’s legs for cover, the controller vibrated in my hands each time the At-At’s heavy steel feet stomped against the rocky desert of Tatooine.

Although its very early days yet, I’m loving Battlefront. After I’ve spent more time playing, I may have more to say about the gameplay. But for now, I’m still just enjoying being wowed by the world that DICE has managed to create for fans of the Star Wars universe.

Walking War Robots: Live. Die. Repeat. Fun. Week 1.


Like the tide of battle, my enthusiasm for Walking War Robots has ebbed and flowed throughout the week. But In spite of lacking variety in some areas, it’s a game that’s managed to keep me coming back, so far at least.

Stamping about in a giant metal mech and blowing up other robots is fun, especially if you have a pre-existing love of mech warfare. Which is why I’ve found myself still playing Walking War Robots (WWR) this week, even though the game is a little repetitive.

Firstly, let’s talk about maps. In particular the lack of maps. Despite not playing more than a few games a day, I’ve been fighting on the same three maps.
Over.
And over.

And over.

It’s all starting to feel a little like Edge of Tomorrow – but without the prospect of waking up to Emily Blunt every day. According to the WWR Wiki, there’s four maps available. But so far my heavy metal feet are yet to tread the snowy terrain of the Yamantau map. [Edit: Ok, I’ve now experienced Yamantau, but it still seems to be the least frequent map I’ve encountered in my first week.]

There’s also a lack of variety in the missions. Every mission is a team ‘control the beacons’ mission, with victory also granted if you manage to destroy all enemy robots. Oh what I’d give for a free for all arena battle. Or some small team battles. Or just something else now and then to mix things up a bit.

And yet, despite these limitations, I’ve come back to WWR for a few battles each day. At about ten minutes a match, it’s easy to quickly dip in and out of the game. Being randomly assigned a team for each match also avoids the hassle of organising people to play at a specific time, and a lot less guilt if you do happen to need to drop out of a match early.

I’m still learning the best tactics to use when fighting with different mechs and armaments, which is helping to hold my interest. If you want to last the full eight minutes, it really pays to give some thought to the best way to fight with your chosen war robot and its arsenal.

Of course, the lengthy times taken to upgrade various weapons also helps drive repeat ‘play’. If you can call logging in simply to kick off a new weapon upgrade ‘playing’.
A week in and the limitations of this game are obvious. Yet back I go day after day for a couple of rounds of metal on metal mayhem. A fortnight or a month from now it may not have the same day in, day out appeal, but I can imagine it being one of the games I pick up when I want a quick hit of multiplayer fun.

 

Need to Know

  • Available for iOS and Android
  • Multiplayer – online only
  • Free to play
  • In-app purchase: in-game currency or experience multiplier.

Walking War Robots: Surviving Day One

 There’s some experiences you never forget. Like the first time you strap yourself in to sixty tonnes of stomping steel battlemech and stride through a war town landscape with rocket fire ringing in your ears.

My first serious ‘mech’ experience was an arcade based game at Timezone, back in the 90s. After a lengthy wait in line with another dozen eager mech pilots, I ponied up my cash and was strapped into a near life-size cockpit. For the next ten minutes, I and my fellow pilots chased each other around a virtual battlefield, our individual machines literally shaking and rattling with every explosion. Given the state of technology at the time, it was an incredibly immersive experience, and a hell of a lot of fun.

There was also the memorable but unfortunate time I was playing one of the MechWarrior games and discovered how easy it is to blow a set of PC speakers if you turn the bass up too much. The rest of the missions on that computer just didn’t feel the same without the satisfying thwump of exploding enemy mechs.

Although I’m not a hardcore fan of mech games, I do have a soft spot for piloting giant robots into battle. Which brings me to my first twenty four hours with ‘Walking War Robots’. (hereafter referred to as WWR)

There’s no discernible plot to this game, and no complex moral dilemmas for your character to solve. What you get is exactly as is advertised on the box – walking war robots. Giant walking robots that you can equip with a progressively more deadly arsenal of guns, rockets and energy weapons.

WWR is an easy game to pick up. Select your first mech, pick your weapons and join the battle. The controls are fairly intuitive, so before long you’ll be unleashing a fiery cascade of cannon fire on your foes. Just be aware that this is one game where more experienced players may actually respawn more times than the newbie – your number of respawns in a round being determined by how many mechs you have in your personal hanger.


Playing on my iPad, there’s enough visual detail to make it clear you’re striding between skyscrapers rather than just solid blocks. But as I soon discovered, the environment is indestructible, so no matter how many rounds you hammer in to a building, it’s still going to look picture perfect. Structures also seem to offer the same amount of cover no matter how many missile hits they take. Still, it’s a small quibble in the scheme of things.

In my first day of casual playing I’ve learned the basics of the game, upgraded some of my weapons, and even earned enough to buy some additional mechs. It’s been fun so far and now the challenge will be how long WWR can hold my attention for.

If you’re a long term WWR player, I’d love to hear in the comments what keeps bringing you back to this game.

Need to Know

  • Available for iOS and Android
  • Multiplayer – online only
  • Free to play.
  • In-app purchase: in-game currency or experience multiplier.