The Stanley Parable begins with an in-engine cut scene set of a man in a dingy office. A narrator explains that this is Stanley, who loves his job, even though as described it sounds quite tedious. But, we are told, one day the orders he receives on a screen stop coming, and he realizes that no coworkers have stopped by all day. So he decided to go to the staff lounge.
At this point, we are handed the controls. The office opens onto a corridor. The narration continues when we hit certain points along the corridor; and eventually, we reach a branch, and are told that "Stanley turned left."
Following the narrator's instructions eventually leads to a story in which, supposedly, Stanley liberates himself from a control device that kept him happy despite the tedium of his work; and, in a final narration, are told that "Stanley would never follow orders again." Which is amusingly disconcerting because, of course, to reach this ending, we did nothing but follow orders.
Naturally, if you restart, and diverge from the path, the story changes -- quite often, the narrator becomes prickly and upset with you, because you're not doing what your told. There are, of course, multiple different endings depending on what path you take -- some rather humorous.
A vital lesson any aspiring game designer must learn is that relatively small tweaks to the rules of a game can produce major changes in the feeling of play. Diplomacy variants are one good way to see this quickly; since the game's publication in 1959, fans have designed a huge number of variants (or 'mods', if you will), and by exploring them, you can see a lot of ideas for how to change gameplay very quickly. Excellent places to explore them include The Variant Bank and The Diplomatic Pouch.
Diplomacy is, in many ways, a superb game, but it is not without flaws. Among them, two are prominent. First, it is fairly easy to be eliminated in the early game, which is a pain, since a complete game takes seven hours or so to play, and your friends are still having fun while you're looking at your watch. Second, because of the high ratio between supply center and non-supply center provinces, it is fairly easy to construct a "stalemate line" -- a continuous line of mutually supporting units such that no attack from the other side, however arranged, can break the front. More...
What's most remarkable about Gravity Bone is its sheer sense of style. From the bizarre cube-headed NPCs to the fuzzed-out interscene narrative with its "generic symbol" iconography to the cool bossa nova track of the first level, Gravity Bone is replete with well-conceived touches that reinforce its atmosphere, which is a strange combination of James Bond cool and sheer surrealism.
My problem with most cooperative FPS games is that they are not, well, cooperative. The mechanics of your average coop FPS are in fact setup to encourage players to act competitively. Infinite respawns and high-score lists mean most players are just charging ahead, trying to pick up all the ammo and shoot more monsters than everyone else, so that their name appears at the top of a list.
My idea of coop is taking your time before entering a room, communicating, and making sure no one on your team dies. I like to feel like I'm on an adventure with my buddies, overcoming challenges together. So imagine my joy when I stumbled upon a game that delivers just that, and gave me an excuse to play through Quake 2 again.
No, wait! Come back! I know its old, but Quake 2 is still a damn solid shooter from the good old days when a reload key was considered a bit flash. I'm not talking nostalgia here... go and dust off your old copy if you don't believe me. Thanks to freely available modern versions of the engine such as Quake2Max it's still pretty easy on the eyes too.
Vanilla Quake 2 coop has always been a blast. Back in 1998 I sat down with four other guys on a LAN and we tore through the entire game together in one five-hour sitting. Great stuff. We still look back on that Sunday afternoon with fond memories. Coop or Die is not whole new game. It just takes the same core gameplay and adds a bunch of new features that really tighten up the cooperative mode. Gone are infinite respawns, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit and wait until the next map if you screw up. If any player dies, you must restart the level. So suddenly there is a reason to protect your teammates and share resources. Gone too is the scoreboard. You get no extra recognition for storming ahead and getting all the kills. You succeed or fail as a team. Other neat features include the HUD upgrade that shows you the location and health of your teammates and a central server that stores a team's inventory and progress. Also worth mentioning is the death tracking, which creates corpses where players died in other sessions. Walk over them, and you get the players name and how they perished.
However, the feature that really sold me on this mod is challenge mode. As a masochistic gamer who likes to be, quite frankly, abused by Rogue-like games, I am always looking for new games to torture myself with. Put your Coop or Die profile into challenge mode and suddenly you have only one life, for the whole game. That’s right, Coop or Die doesn’t care if you and a friend have spent the last four hours playing; step on a grenade or fall off the wrong platform, and its back to Mission 1. N00b. Suddenly, this shit gets serious. Everyone is focused, even on the easy opening stages. As someone who worshiped at the altar of Quake in the nineties, doing Quake 2 without dying was something I knew I had to do before I could look myself in the mirror and call myself a gamer. And what would be the point of doing it without bragging rights? Thanks to the central server, players who prove themselves will be rewarded with recognition on the website and a number of shiny gold stars on their profile, depending on how many players they completed the game with.
I've watched the community grow steadily over the last year. Though the forums may seem quiet, there are plenty of active players. I've never had a problem finding a good team, and at least two Steam groups exist to help people organize sessions.
So, you think you are a Quake ninja? Think quicksave is what is making this great nation weak? Join me on Stroggos, I still have stars to collect.
N.B.: I have heard people having problems getting Coop or Die to work with the Steam version of Quake 2. So before you run off and purchase a Steam copy just to play this, check if it is going to work first!
Playing Zombie Master I experienced an emotion I’d never felt before in a multiplayer game: Fear. Normally found exclusively in single-player games, fear requires a build up of atmosphere and level of immersion not normally found in the online FPS world. The game in question started like any other, a bunch of guys merrily laying into a horde of zombies with assorted firearms in a shooting gallery affair common to just about any online zombie game of the last ten years. There was even laughter as zombie ragdolls flew through the air. But slowly the humans went down, surrounded and outnumbered. Imperceptibly at first, things started getting claustrophobic. Ammunition became scarce. Finally, only two of us remained. We were surrounded. Then the guttural scream from the next room signified the death of my comrade who had 'just gone to look for ammo'. Suddenly I found myself alone in the darkness. A malignant intelligence was watching my every move, plotting my demise.... I felt scared.
When I was playing the original Command and Conquer, back in 1995, I remember thinking "wouldn't it be cool if all those tanks and soldiers that I'm controlling were real people, running round a 3D battlefield, playing in first person?" I wasn't the only one to think of this. Over the years a few other games have attempted to mix FPS with RTS, but they all seemed to be lacking something. None were on quite a big enough scale for me. Nobody tried to grab the idea and really run with it. But with Empires, after years of disappointment, I'm finally playing the game I dreamt of as a teenager.
Distinctive, Surrealistic, Serene (and at $7, a bargain)
Some games, like Myst, feel like art because of the nature of their audio and visuals. Kalimée is of this type. The visuals are simple, but nicely textured 3D, and inspired by the surrealist painting of Salvador Dali; the music is excellent and peaceful ambient techno.
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