Thursday, September 29, 2011

More news about 'Legend of Grimrock'


Hello again, everyone.

It’s been some time, I admit, since I last gave sound. The reason (among others) being that I’ve been busy finally finding a decent breeder for my sweet, lovely hedgehog Mr. Tanglefoot. More news will be heading in your direction once I know more, but don’t expect anything before late-October.

In the meantime I want to follow up a bit on my previous article about Legend of Grimrock (http://negativethac0.blogspot.com/2011/09/good-news-for-eye-of-beholder-fans.html) since I found some additional information today. Nerd-Age.com recently posted an interview with developer Juho Salila about what we can expect to see in the game.


For your convenience, here is the TLDR-version:

-         Legend of Grimrock IS indeed inspired by such old games as Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder and Lands of Lore. It seems like we should expect an emphasis on tactical party-based decisions and shined up puzzles, bringing us back to that challenging old-school atmosphere. Exactly how much this will resemble Eye of the Beholder is yet unknown.
-         One of the monsters will be the arcane Goromorg. A creature that somehow seems to be the operator (caretaker?) of the devious devices in Mount Grimrock.
-         LoG will appeal to new players by providing a refreshing new way of playing, compared to modern RPG’s. Mostly through the use of mind bending puzzles and tactical combat above button-smashing.
-         Whereas we shouldn’t expect to see many secret monsters there certainly will be plenty of secret areas for us to find which encourages replay. Some of these secret areas contain major rewards.
-         The game will currently be released for PC, MAC and IOS.
-         Although progress is being made every day there is no guarantee of either an alpha or a beta. No dates are, in general, given.
-         The UI will likely be polished up a lot more than we know from Eye of the Beholder. In addition it will likely be possible to utilize customization by creating shortcuts and the switching of various panels.
-         Mods will be allowed to some degree. The idea is to release a level editor at a bare minimum after launch, but the customization of portraits might be a later option.
-         There are plenty of ideas for later DLC so we should definitely expect to see that. The pricing is still unknown.
-         Finally some minor advice is given to those of you out there, wishing to start out a game on your own.

Well, I’m still excited!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

New rogres are old

It happens, from time to time, that I dig out some old stuff which I haven't posted on this site. For some reason. So due to writer's block and dental issues, I'm going for some easy points today.

My rat ogres:

(Click to enlarge)

Friday, September 23, 2011

MMO's and anxiety

It’s been a while since we last spoke about the psychology of gaming, which only makes the link I found two days ago all the more relevant.

The link in question is found at the official World of Warcraft forums (a constructive thread in there? Shocking!) and you can read it here: http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/2592150209?page=4

The TLDR-version: The OP’er addresses the forums because he needs helps with his newest project. He wants to become a tank. A class-type currently in severe minority in the WoW community, which is hardly surprising given the amount of responsibility and shit they have to put up with.
However, he is currently blocked from achieving his goal by the fact that he tends to get extremely nervous, often quitting before even getting started. It’s obvious that this anxiety is a serious problem and that he wants help getting rid of it. And this got me thinking.

Why should we think of mental challenges in gaming?
Those of you who know me well are aware that I’m a clinical psychologist in real life that specializes in anxiety related disorders. I’ve listened to, written about and even treated a good amount of patients in this regard. Anxiety is more or less becoming one of the more common psychiatric problems of the modern world, along with (often comorbid) depression. It is therefore not a surprise that we should start considering this effect in regards to the online community. After all the internet is not safe haven, although it is certainly tempting to think of it that way.

My personal experience with anxiety in online games somehow resembles the one described by the aspiring tank, albeit mine was on the healing-side. Some of you might have followed my elaborations on ‘The Healer’s Journey’ in which I sat out to literally conquer my deepest fear. I was scared shitless by the very thought of healing, especially since I’ve been a sworn DPS’er in WoW since 2005. I’ve spent lots of time shouting at healers and tanks alike, but ask me to walk a mile in their shoes and I turn yellow.

In this way I represent a group, the size of which we might never be able to pinpoint, that has great ambitions for a game offering a myriad of possibilities. And yet we are limited by very unpleasant factors that we keep struggling with, whenever our aspirations surface for a short moment. For many, including me and the original poster, this can be a severe problem. Mind you that I am in no way saying that every person who’s nervous to play a certain class in WoW should be compared to clinical patient. But the associated distress and personal disappointment might be closer related than we think. I therefore argue that we should at least consider how we can best address these issues for this group of the MMO-community.

Allow me to elaborate for a short while.

What is anxiety?
Much knowledge is publically available today about anxiety, and yet there are some who have difficulties grasping its true nature.
Most people can relate to the physiological component of anxiety which usually consist of any variety of nausea, dizziness, (cold) sweating, trembling, abdomen and/or chest pain, and accelerated heartbeats and breathing. On the behavioural side there is often a very strong urge to escape the anxiety provoking situation or simply avoid it entirely in the first place. Although fleeing will usually bring immediate relief feelings of depression and personal disappointment can quickly follow up.
Many people struggling with anxiety tend to ‘give in’ after some bad experiences and stick to avoidance of the problems. Whereas the client with social anxiety will never go to a party in order to avoid her anxiety, the WoW player will likely roll another class, take a break or quit the game all together.

An example of MMO-anxiety
I will provide you with a personal example from back when I first started healing.
I rolled up a paladin because I like paladins. Simple as that. This was in Wrath so getting some good gear wasn’t really a biggie. He was an old character of mine already levelled to 80 so I did jump right into it, signed up for a VoA-pug and stormed in, holy lights blazing.

Before getting this far I remember spending about an hour staring at the trade chat. Whenever someone looked for a healer (which happens a lot, really) my heart would immediately start pounding, my chest would hurt and I’d start feeling chilly. In a way I was actually frozen, even though part of me really wanted to whisper “Sure, invite ahead!”. I’d always make up excuses for not writing, such as checking my Facebook and such. Once the raid was full I felt better for half a minute and then I felt bad why I was such a wuss.
I was, of course, afraid whether I could perform well in a role I never tried out before. Afraid that I’d wipe the raid, that I’d be kicked and foulmouthed along the way.

In the end I signed up, likely before my brain could get started. And I got invited.
Long story short, all my fears were confirmed. The raid wiped, my blessings were wrong and I got kicked immediately afterwards with some harsh words. It was then it all came crashing down.
I frankly looked forward to try something new in Wrath, but this night ruined everything for me. In a way I tried to be happy since it was now confirmed once and for all that healing was not for me. But from thereon I couldn’t bother. I forgot all about the expansion and my anxiety was cemented.

A lot of people out there might recognise something along this pattern, and I am willing to make an educated guess saying that the majority of you are either tanks or healers. Those of you might recognise how demoralising this process can be, especially if your mind was truly set on it.

How it usually starts and how it usually ends
Whether we’re talking WoW or that ‘real life’ thing the problem with anxiety is often that the victims start out with some great ideas and intentions and end up forsaking them, provided they don’t get the support they need. Sticking with the most important aspect (the MMO) I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve grown tired with their former role and now want to try out something new.

As mentioned I’ve been DPS since 2005, and it’s fun to see how the majority of these cases are in fact former DPS’ers who now wish to experience another aspect of the game. In technical terms it’s not surprising that the initial change can make something of an impact for these people. Whereas DPS should (in an ideal world) be just as much on their toes as a healer they can more easily get away with making mistakes. Which means less pressure and certainly less expectations.
Take me for an example (again); I’ve always wanted to be a warrior tank. I tried the healing role and made it almost through. But I’m thrilled by the idea of tanking, ever since I saw my former raid leader in action. I was truly inspired by what that man could pull off.
However, the idea instantly hit the shelf. The amount of tanking I’ve done is so minor and the expectations I feel everyone has really puts me off right from the start.
It’s pretty safe to say that my situation resembles the guy in the original link. Except I placed my ambition on the shelf permanently. In this way I basically resembles the social anxiety struck client that has given up and accepted that she’ll likely never attend anymore parties in her life.

And that is a problem.

Why do some people experience such distress over an MMO?
From previous statement it is tempting to assume that I put MMO-anxiety on equal severity with a clinical disorder. Again I must stress that I am not intending to differentiate nor compare the two, except from the sole point of their consequences. Whether we talk about parties in real life or instancing as a tank, anxiety has the power to cause great distress once we’re limited by its influence.

Why some people are more anxiety than others hasn’t been determined exactly but there is a myriad of biological, social and psychological factors that play in. I recommend doing some reading up on your national welfare homepage or other community, as this blog is more about handling it in an MMO-milieu.

The origin of anxiety can be specific due to an isolated episode associated with great distress (such as my adventure in VoA). Alternatively some people (me included) are simply more attuned to experience anxiety or nervousness than others, which can again be due to biological or social reasons. MMO-wise most people are actually quite good at identifying when it all began and work with it from there.

What can we do about MMO-anxiety? – The cognitive aspect
Luckily there are evidence-based methods in modern psychiatry that are able to reduce and handle anxiety in a more optimal way. Whereas some of these are specifically designed for long therapeutic sessions running for months I do believe there are a few pointers we could provide for people with MMO-anxiety.

One of the major approaches within the psychiatry is the cognitive behavioural treatment (CBT), which has proven capable of addressing many cases of anxiety. In these modern times quite a few people have heard of it (and if you haven’t there is PLENTY of reading out there) but to describe it in a simplified nutshell:

The basic premise of CBT is that our thoughts and how we think about ourselves and the world heavily influences how we feel about it. Thus it starts with a situation, moves on to what we think about it which then turns into a feeling and then into behaviour. We’ll talk more about the behavioural aspect later.
Let’s stay with WoW.

When you wipe on your first trashpack you might think the fault is yours alone for not interrupting or doing enough damage, which will likely lead you to feel guilty, sad or even angry. If you on the other hand speculate that it could be due to inexperience on the part of the other DPS’ers, the tank or the healer you might shrug it off as something bad that merely happens and move on. Again, notice the difference in the result.

When you engage in negative thinking in this way, it is usually termed negative automatic thoughts (NATs). NATs are swift judgements we pass on ourselves and surroundings, either in the form of statements or pictures. For the majority they are so fast (and automatic) that we barely notice them until we start paying attention.

A significant part of battling your MMO-anxiety is becoming aware of your own NATs, your own expectations of yourself and how you evaluate your performance. I will go over each and how to best handle them in turn.

Before going, measuring your expetancies
In the light of former example, whether you expect everything will go horribly wrong or really great will heavily influence your level of anxiety.
You’ve got your shiny heirlooms and open the dungeon queue, ready to sign up for that healing or tanking. But wait a minute; what do you actually expect? Of the run and especially of yourself?

The latter being the most important point for the player new at his trade. How much perfection can you honestly require from yourself, and is it even realistic? Do you expect perfectly smooth runs with no deaths at all? Is it okay for you to see some people die because you couldn’t save them? Do you expect to perform so well that nobody will quit? Do you expect people to write “good job!” specifically before you’re satisfied?

Try taking some time jotting it down beforehand, if you’re feeling anxious. Leave some space next to each expectancy where you can evaluate the realism of your expectation and perhaps room to set a more realistic goal for yourself.

For example, expecting to go through a dungeon without anyone dying is certainly a noble goal but not especially realistic once you consider it. There are several factors outside your control, such as the skills of other players, whether they insist on standing in the fire or you having a limited experience with your role. In this way you’re fighting against windmills, if you can’t set a more realistic goal for yourself. A better goal could initially be ‘It’s okay if people die or we wipe, the most important thing is that we complete the instance’. As you get better you can set higher standards (still within the limits of realism of course) and suddenly you’re progressing.

A lot of people have certain expectancies about the run of things. There is an old saying that everyone should blame the healer whenever something goes wrong, which is tempting to bring inside the instance. The danger in doing so is that this can become the automatic conclusion, so that when/if you wipe, you might automatically think complaining from other party members is addressed at you.
If you’ve had some bad experiences before with your role, try and write them down as well, and what they make you expect for the upcoming run. Make sure to include the “What’s the worst possible outcome you could imagine?” This is the catastrophe thought. Then think hard, and realistically, about counterarguments. Remember that you’re likely biased by your anxiety and negative thoughts so it’s important to try and be objective. Maybe ask someone you trust about their input.

When I started healing again as a druid, I still remembered my paladin fiasco and made a list like this:

Negative expectancies:
“I did terrible at VoA. So terrible that they kicked me and this will happen again”
“Whenever something goes wrong they will automatically blame me”
“I will have shit thrown at me for not doing a good job”
“They will expect me to be able to save them from all situations”
“Maybe it will all go to shit, crash and burn and everyone be angry and blame me entirely!” (Catastrophe thought)

Counter arguments:
“My first healing was in a raid with a class I never tried before. Perhaps I just started out too big. This is a dungeon, it’s something entirely different’”
“If something goes wrong it could be my fault, yes, but chances are good that the other players will fuck up as well. If something was my fault I can instead learn from it, like all the experienced healers have!”
“If they throw shit at me it frankly shows more about them having a problem than me.”
“No class is able to save everyone from everything. They’ve got to learn as well, and if they do something stupid that gets them killed it’s likely their fault in the first place. Not mine. I don’t have a Heal: Stupidity spell. Yet.”
“And so what? This is a game, I will likely never see the people in this pug again. Besides, look at the great healers in the big guilds. They’ve been beginners too. Everyone got to start somewhere and take their downfalls.” (Catastrophe counterargument)
“Maybe this will actually go smooth? Maybe I will perform so well at times that I did turn an otherwise impossible situation into a victory?” (Catastrophe countersituation)

Write a long list initially and notice what works especially well for you. I advice to hang it somewhere within sight so you can easily access it and remember it every time you feel anxious. The most important thing is that it works for you.

Out there in the field, I fight for my heals
Analyzing thoughts is all well and good but a vital part is confronting your fears. A lot of people tell that doing what they feel most anxious about is also the most effective initiative, which was certainly true for me.

Although you might be able to tell yourself that everything will work out fine, you need to see it happen before actually believing wholeheartedly. As a lot of friendly posters tell our aspiring tanks in the original thread, the best way is simply to dive and take it. Be aware that PUGS can be ruthlessly unforgiving in this regard, which can be a blessing or a curse. Although the lower level dungeons aren’t that much of challenge anymore, sustaining some players certainly is. They will give you hell. On the other hand nothing prepares you better for those ‘Oh shit!’ situations than a pack of random morons derping around in the fire as if they were paid for it. As my old healing mentor said (God bless you, Watagai) PUGs are a pain. But the trick is learning how to work through pain. And you will be all the stronger for the job.

Returning to anxiety there are plenty of opportunities for this to kick in during the heat of battle. Luckily our brains tend to work better once the adrenalin starts pumping through our veins and there is a certain irony to it, since a lot of people have told me they were more efficient when they stopped thinking and just fucking did it. I will have to agree in this regard, since some of my greatest achievements were done once my automatic response kicked in. When we double pulled in Hellfire Ramparts and I managed to heal the group through it everyone was in awe. I was spammed with comments about how great my healing was and once asked how I could throw so much of it out, I frankly couldn’t say so. I’d healed all my way through the vanilla instances. By now it was just something I did from the top of my head.

It’s when things start to panic out there (and they will) the anxiety will usually kick in, since it starts confirming your original exaggerated fears. If this sets in, it’s a good idea to be prepared with some memorized counterarguments. Sure, you’ve wiped, that doesn’t prove you suck. Instead, ask yourself what could be wrong. Be analytical. It could’ve been a retarded DPS ninjapulling. Someone might not understand the mechanics. Always, when NATs show up, instantly switch to analytical mode, no matter what shit people throw at you. Be prepared to admit when you err, though. That’s human. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

A great idea some people prefer is to tell the group upon arrival that you’re new. Some will react harshly others be polite. Good groups can calm your anxiety from the start if they’re understanding, even try and recommend you once you do well. In razorfen craul I told the group that I was new but would do my best to keep them going and they turned out to be really friendly, even telling me not to be nervous since my healing was quite good.

As you try out your new role it’s important to notice your victories, even write them down. This goes without saying, you might say, but we humans are a funny lot. In many cases we have an uncanny knack for remembering and focusing on our fiascos rather than our achievements. We can become obsessed with that which doesn’t work. In this way we easily risk committing cognitive dissonance, meaning we will look back at only our downfalls and devalue the meaning of victory.

An example in WoW is my old list:
- Ragefire Chasm: Healed a paladin-tank without shield and wearing mostly leather, for me being the first time healing in a long time.
- Razorfen craul: Recommended by DPS that my healing was way better than anyone he’d played with in a long time.
- Scholomance: Tank pulled three packs, couldn’t control them and left with a dps’er. Healed the remaining three of us through the carnage.
- Hellfire Ramparts: Received great praise for healing us through double trashpack.
- Mana tombs: Healed us through double trash pull followed by ninjapull around the middle.

And so on. Don’t count on people providing you with this praise though. WoW players aren’t always good at praising each other.

If everything comes crashing down, consider asking for a breather to gather your thoughts. If you’re a tank or a healer, your party will likely be fine (or have to put up with) you going afk for a couple of minutes. Then consider doing the following.

Take a deep breath. If anxiety is bad, try doing an exercise such as counting all the white things in the room (do it more than once).
Look over your list of counterarguments. Often the anxiety is related to your original NATs and going over the details once more can really help.
Try to find your curiosity and ask yourself what could be done differently either by your or the party. Analyze and consider as this provides you with some amount of control.
Go through with it. One of the bad things you can actually do is giving up, as this will only reinforce your anxiety and negative thoughts. Unless you’re truly on the verge of a breakdown, going on till you either complete it or get kicked will be more profitable, at least for the experience.

Once the silence settles once more
The instance is over, the battle is done. Time to evaluate.
Maybe you completed the dungeon with no problems. Maybe it was a bumpy ride. Maybe you got kicked and everything went to hell. Either way, fetch your original list of fears and compare the actual run with what you dreaded the most.
Notice and similarities and differences and write them down. What fears were (partly) confirmed and what weren’t confirmed at all?

As always remaining objective is alpha and omega in this regard. Stick to an analyzing, objective perspective and go over the bad experiences one by one. A good start is to jot down three episodes in which things went bad and think about what you could realistically have done otherwise. Perhaps you wiped on a trash pull, but was it really due to you stinking as a healer? Did the DPS refuse to move out of the AoE? Was the tank well geared? Or, if you were the tank, was it an aspiring healer? Did DPS break the crowd controls? Did you?
No always are the answers written in stone. In some cases giving yourself the benefit of the doubt is much more viable than simply concluding that you did a poor performance. Switch your gaze and look outside. A solid part of instancing is the teamwork, after all.

There is a certain trend involving players verbally abusing their group before they leave, either due to a completed instance or simply ragequit. A vital part of battling your anxiety is the ability to ignore unconstructive criticism from other players, especially when it involves profane language. It can initially be easy to take this to heart, but eventually you should be able to see through it.
If and when it happens, it’s a great time to keep your accomplishments in mind. Remember, for you it’s a simple run to forget about. For them it’s probably like that in every single instance.

Just as making notes for your expectations, writing down your conclusions as you go along can be great fun. I did so for my healer, described in my “Healer’s Journey” blog. Looking back at this later is not only great fun, but also a good way to see how much you’ve learned since you started out. It’s also a subtle pat on the back for your great progress. An alternative is to rate your level on anxiety (on a scale from 1 to 10) before entering an instance. Looking back after some time, noticing your progress, perhaps even visualizing it by a diagram, can be really rewarding.

Finally, remember to stay updated on your trade. There are several ways in which you can improve and reflect upon your praxis, such as reading guides and scouring the AH for upgrades. Working on getting some more heirlooms or crafting better gear can be a nice reprieve and make you better for the job. On the other end of the continuum is the notion that you shouldn’t be an idiot. There is a fine difference between the newb and the noob. As a tank, don’t go into dungeons wearing INT-gear, for example.

Sparring with friends and other people who have more experience with the class than you can be a really great idea too. Most of them are happy (and proud) to share their knowledge and give input on certain situations.

So, am I cured then?
A word of caution should be given. The presented approach has obvious advantages in combating anxiety but also has a few pitfalls. First and foremost it’s pretty established that you have to keep up a continuous effort, especially in the area of exposure. If too much time passes in between you risk forgetting some of the lessons and conclusions you made, meaning you might experience more anxiety than you previously did. Luckily, you should easily be able to catch up.

Fighting anxiety is a process just as demanding as losing weight. It takes effort. Additionally, some people will spend very little time making significant progress. For others this is a battle uphill, perhaps only for a moderate gain. The only way to find out how much potential you’re in for is to do it. Some people might require other methods or ‘deeper’ cognitive methods.

The conclusion: Don’t go in with a defeatist attitude. Don’t expect miracles either.
There is great potential in these methods, and trying them out will help some people immensely. Fighting anxiety is rarely a feat easily accomplished, but I will say from experience; it’s doable. You shouldn’t be limited or unable to reach your ambitions because of it. Not when there is indeed hope for everyone, if they at least give it a go.

Still with me here?

Then go hit that dungeon finder. And I’ll wish you the best of luck.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Diablo 3 - Some more speculations


Hello Everyone, we’re back with another round of old faithful Diablo3 speculation. Also known by the-oh-so-appealing syndrome of not being able to play the damned beta and deciding to do the next best thing. Hypothesize about it.

I will let you know that I have downloaded the official client at this time of writing, and in that line I will say; it’s one damn fine looking log-in screen. The interactive sub-menus are superb, and you can spend several seconds playing around with the various setting.

Dear lord, Blizz, send me a beta key. I’m such a prominent person on the internet. Really. I might name my hedgehog after one of your products instead. Might.

In entirely related news, I’d like to point out this nice little collection of footage from the beta:

http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=263366


Having now watched most of them there are some things I want to share my thoughts about.

Diablo 3 = WoW in Sanctuary?Let’s start with one of the hot potatoes. The WoWization of Diablo 3. A lot of people have posted quite steamed remarks on YouTube about this (not a surprise, really) whereas other have sat down and given the question a lot of thought.
How much of Diablo 3 is really going to feature elements from World of Warcraft? And is that really such a bad thing?

On an entirely personal level, I’d have to say yes to the latter. Not because I nurture antagonistic feelings towards WoW. I’ve been a sworn defender of it in years. But because I’m really convinced that a lot of players out there are looking forward to D3 because they have high hopes for something new. I don’t think it’s entirely wrong to say that many people tend to enjoy more than one Blizzard game, the case often being that a player will be involved in both WoW and, say, Starcraft 2 or Diablo. Or all three of them. Starcraft is somehow the odd game out in this regard, mostly due to its different genre, objectives and setting. The similarities between WoW and the universe of Diablo are much easier to spot. They’re both located in a medieval inspired fantasy world and the primary incentive for playing is to kill monsters and improve your avatar. Their respective ways of doing so, however, have always been exactly that. Respective.
What I do believe many people (and myself to some extend) fear, is the possibility of the lines being blurred out between the two. Certainly not in the way of interface, as WoW will be WoW and Diablo will retain its isometric perspective and click to kill approach. We might therefore ask in what areas the similarities might grow bigger?

Judging from the videos there are some elements to point out. Mind you, I’m merely speculating here. I’m not out to degrade, bash or in any way rant about these initiatives. The game is still in beta. Much will likely change. And either way I will still be standing in line for the midnight release. I just find the process of analysing appealing.

First and foremost there is the role of potions. When I saw the very first game trailer it was my solid impression that Diablo 3 wouldn’t feature any potion-system at all, instead relying entirely on health orbs to keep the game running. I did, however, also foresee some problems in this regard. For example in the cases when you’d have trouble killing the first couple of monsters in a group and would therefore get slammed before you had a chance to heal. In that case, potions really would be a necessity.
It wasn’t any big surprise for me when I noticed potions making it back into the footage from the current beta. You will notice them in the bottom of the screen in some cases, and the players will utilize them as they go along. Another thing worth noticing in this regard is the fact that potions seem to be on a cool down, meaning a downtime between using them. Sounds familiar?
I admit that the ever growing potion spamming in Diablo 2 did become somewhat annoying in the end, though. Potions seem to undergo a change with every transition between the games so far, and perhaps this will be the golden standard we could all wish for?
Also, this might just be me, but I never did notice any kind of ’resource potion’ along the way. Known as mana pots among friends. I don’t have any remarks about this, but it’s certainly interesting to note.

The talk about resources brings me to the second point of the WoW-effect, and this did actually surprise me a lot. Apparently, Blizzard is breaking up with the old paradigm that mana is the universal currency for anything besides an auto-attack. That is, the Witch Doctor gets to keep his mana pool (and by being my favoured class by far, once again shows how old and conservative I am, even without making a conscious effort). The monk is now empowered by the power of spirit, which grows when he makes an attack. The wizard now utilizes arcane energy, and the barbarian uses Rage. No, wait. That’s fury now. It seems to grow when you hit stuff and take damage, and enables you to unleash powerful attacks. Sounds familiar?
The demon hunter is an interesting case. Otherwise (in my opinion) being the most bland class of the game so far, she actually has her resource orb split into two halves. One for hatred (which is replenished rapidly) and one for discipline (which is replenished slowly). Whereas the former empowers her attacks, the latter seems for mainly defensive actions. It’s hard to tell how well this will work, but it certainly is a new take on the situation, much alike how WoW did it. As mentioned, perhaps this will be the prime reason for not including resource potions in the game. After all, when watching the footage those bars seem to refill pretty damn fast. Not sure whether that’s a feature of the beta or they’re merely intended as some kind of global cool down for all your abilities, forcing you to utilize them wisely. I’ll admit this was an issue at times in Diablo 2, when you could basically load up with mana pots and spam your strongest spell to infinity. Corpse explosion comes to mind.

Then there is the issue with the names. There are some talents which share exact names and style with the WoW counterpart, such as the demon hunters’ Fan of Knives. Some people will likely be put off by it, some people won’t. I suppose I belong to the latter population in this regard. It does bring a certain appeal to the WoW-players and anyway Blizzard has been doing this for some time now. I point at the conjured water elemental from the first Warcraft game. Although it didn’t make it into Warcraft 2 (why?) we did get to see it return for both Warcraft 3 and WoW.
The point I’m trying to get across is that you can’t really put too much in a name or a similar ability. Again, take the Fan of Knives. It’s an awesome ability, in looks and concept. I really don’t mind it being in the game.
On the other hand, just to represent the other point of view (which is only appropriate) there is recycling and there is pure laziness. What I really don’t hope for Diablo 3 is to see the majority of skills as mere rip offs from the WoW counterparts. After so many years it’s not unreasonable that we as gamers do expect some kind of creativity from Blizzard. I mean, the leap from the skills in Diablo 1 (in which there was basically no difference between the classes, and those few that were unique were also damn useless) to Diablo 2 was downright MASSIVE.
Would it be possible to see such originality again, without feeling that most of it is just WoW converted into Diablo?
I really hope so.


Monster pack sizeNot really sure whether this is just me or a byproduct of graphical improvement… but has the average size of the monster packs actually decreased a bit? I’m just wondering here, but I seem to recall the occasional masses upon masses of monsters back in Diablo 2, which in multiplayer games could pretty much clock the entire screen. When watching the beta footage now I get the impression that monster packs are much more concentrated and appear in rapidl small groups?
Then again, we did encounter the barbarian mass-butchering the ghouls in the original gameplay trailer, and the final battle featured a pretty sum of summoned skeletons. It’s likely that this is something that just hasn’t been as prevalent in the beta as one could assume. Not really something I’m vastly concerned about.

Diablo 3 is not dark enough!I’ve deliberately been waiting to touch upon this subject, not because I’m without opinion, but because there was still room for development. At this stage of the game, however, it seems more appropriate to comment on.

I truly do understand where this critique is coming from, though. There is an obvious difference from the previous two games, and yet I never thought it to be…Torchlike-bad. I might quickly add that I never disliked Torchlight, but on the graphical side it certainly wasn’t bleak. In fact, the comical, lighthearted colors and animations were something that made the game somehow appealing to me. Of course, I never played Torchlight for more than a few days before getting hopelessly tired of it, so I won’t say the visual aspect kept me around.
The point about Diablo is that I somewhat expect things to be dark and gothic. I know this aspect did gradually decline from the first to the second game. If you went to Hell in Diablo 1, you’d see burning crucifixes, bloody sacrifices, pentagrams and the succubi were naked chicks with huge…tracks of land. Not all of this made it through to the second installment in the game but some of it did turn up.
Now one could wonder whether Diablo 3 will feature much, if any, of those elements. They might’ve been sacrificed on the altar of mass-appeal in the same way the savagery of Warcraft 2 entirely disappeared in the third game.

Judging from what I’ve seen in the beta and videos so far Diablo 3 certainly does feature great amounts of blood from splattered enemies (and to be frank, that’d be the day for me, if they ever removed that) and there are references to the occult themes. The areas, however, are not really you average grey run-of-the-mill milieu you might be accustomed to from the the previous games.
I’m not trying to bring back the whole issue with the ‘ZOMG rainbows in Diablo??!?’ (frankly, that’s a natural result of light and water interacting in that way. Try watching a sprinkler in the sunlight or merely a waterfall). It’s a question of overall mood. And somehow, it might seem like such a little thing to complain about in the big whole. Which is likely why I will still try out the game.

When is Diablo not Diablo anymore?I once read a story that made some impact on me.
It begins with a soldier being severely wounded in the war after which he is sent to hospital and meets his wife. Sadly he contracts a deadly disease from his wounds, that will spread unchecked unless the doctors amputate quickly. They therefore make haste to cut off his legs and replace them with new working ones (this is the future of Deus Ex-standards, mind you). However, it seems like they were too late and then have to replace his arms, which later repeats for his chest and finally for his head. Although they’re able to retain his brain and cognitive profile, the soldier finally sits down with his wife, and notices her breaking down crying. She sobs that he is no longer the same man, even though he theoretically speaks, thinks and rationalizes the same way he always did.
This sparked a heated discussion in my class in which we concluded that the vital point of no return would be the replacement of the head. A few tree huggers said ‘the heart’ but they were obviously ignorant.

In this light I can’t help but wondering, how much can you really change in a continuation before it’s no longer a  'real' continuation? Or, let’s stay specific here, how much should you change in Diablo 3 before it’s nothing more than a brand made to sell more copies?
A lot of people felt that titles such as ‘Dragon Age 2’ or ‘Final Fantasy: The spirits within” were simply stolen titles to otherwise poor products that didn’t offer any of the original hallmarks.
I can’t help but wonder, how much can be changed in Diablo 3, before it’s just a game with a recognizable name? Or, what parts are more than others seen as cardinal traits of the series?

One could argue that with an auction house, varying resources between the classes, potion cool down, the revamping of the talent progression, the more visually appealing environment… have we reached a limit? In itself the respective elements would never cause a moment of doubt about this game, but pooled together I can’t help but at least wonder what kind of game we’re going to end up with. In a curious way, mind you. I’m not arguing that we’re going to see a bad game. But we will likely see a different kind of game than what we’re used to.

I did some asking around between all my fans on Twitter “What would they have to remove from Diablo 3 before it’s no longer Diablo?”.
Some of the mentioned elements were:

- Isometric view
- Randomized drops
- Slaying demon lords
- The fairly bleak atmosphere.
- Deckard Cain.

Personally I’d have to say the following aspects had to appear:
- Diablo (Well, d’uh?)
- Unidentified loot (also known as, hauling tons of stuff to the surface and rummaging through it at Cain) which of course had to be randomized.
- Mass slaughter of Hell’s minions (and the feeling that they are indeed endless)
- A clear indication that said minions are truly evil, besides the fact that they’re ugly (The Butcher’s Room, the destroyed Tristram).
- The subtle, creepy and yet catchy music
- A town, preferably small and bleak (Notice that even though Lut-Gholein is rather big by Diablo standards, it’s still downright moody).
- Isometric perspective
- The feeling of wielding truly great power. But also the necessity of doing so, since your opponents are certainly not to be underestimated. (This is partly what killed Torchlight for me. Even when playing on the higher difficulties the enemies kept feeling like morons lining up for ass-kicking).
- Randomized levels
- Unique classes with uniquely tailored skills.
- Pure DPS-classes differentiated by how they kill stuff (No tanks or healers, Diablo is about killing things).

There is likely more to consider. This seems to be the most important though.
Whether assuring or puzzling, it doesn’t really seem like Blizzard removed too much from my most wanted list.
Diablo certainly seems to be back, although we aren’t really entirely sure whether he really is Diablo. He looks like him, though. I haven’t spent much time investigating the story, but I have figured out it has something to do with this fallen star. More light shall certainly be shed, of that I am sure.
In some of the beta videos the loot seemed to be identified when picked up, but on the other hand there did also seem to be scrolls of identification scattered around. Likely no biggie here.
Regarding the slaughter I imagine this has been taken care of. I somehow hope there will be more mobs than what I’ve so far seen in the videos, but it’s not the end of the world if not. Are they truly evil? They do certainly seem more like standardized fantasy minions to me, and expecting the naked succubus to make a comeback might just be a bit too much to hope for. That being said, I really hope we’ll at least see some of the occult and gloom references experienced in Diablo 2.
Music, I really like the music so far. They’ve even included some sound effects from the previous games. That’s great.
I might have skipped out on my reading but I am not really sure whether we will see more than one town or stick to New Tristram? I would hope for more towns, but it worked well in the first game having just one, so I suppose I won’t get too excited about this topic.
Isometric perspective. Well, check. Same counts for randomization.
Truly great power, I do see it. Especially in regards to the barbarian. In addition, the classes do seem quite different in nature. I still hold a tiny grudge regarding the “Oh boohoo, we couldn’t include the necromancer, but here’s a guy that basically does some of the same stuff”. Seriously.
They all seem very dps-like. I do recall something about the monk, I think, being able to provide some healing of sorts. But then again, so could the paladin in Diablo 2, and I usually saw people trashing it for more DPS. Ah well. We’ll live through it.

All in all I am still quite excited about this game. I suppose it has become more of a cautious excitement the more I’ve seen of the game. But it’s there. We will likely have to wait for some time, still, and I’m frankly fine with that. That tendency has been a lovely trait of Blizzard for as long as I’ve been buying their game, and in the meantime we can always sit down and do some more of those lovely Mephisto-runs, right?

Oh.

One thing. Will we get to see a cow level?

I know I’M psyched!!

Looking Back - Fighting Fantasy


‘Fighting’ and ‘fantasy’ are two distinctive words, and yet while put together form something as brilliant as a series of books. No, this isn’t some kind of obscure reference to Minecraft in any way. It’s my early morning attempt at being clever and at the same time start out this post, in which I will delve deep into some of the very early childhood memories of mine. And likely countless of other gamers out there who were lucky enough to grow up with these pieces of adventurous literature.

“Fighting Fantasy” (in case you couldn’t figure it out) is a prominent series of “live your own adventure!” books. Most of you have likely given them a shot some time in your life. You might even have tried it in comics, in which you are to guide the hero through a myriad of challenges by selecting the route you find optimal. Navigation is handled by the simple mechanic of reading the story in a certain order, depending on your choice. Such as, if you wish to talk to the bloodthirsty ogre, you turn to page 5 whereas you turn to page 11 if you want to beat the living snot out of him.


Just mentioned series did develop to be a bit more sophisticated though, and saw its first light back in 1982. Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson are the two great old men in this regard, who developed several books in which you got to be the hero and set out on a perilous journey. Compared to other of its kin, these books did indeed feature the possibility of dying, often in quite gruesome ways, be it through combat or sheep dumb luck. The books featured an element of randomness, meaning you were not entirely free to just form the story at your leisure. Instead you were restricted by the laws of probability as your three stats (Skill, Stamina and Luck) were initially generated through rolls, and as your adventure began several things could go wrong.
For example combat was to a large degree determined by your rolls and in some severe cases you’d be asked to roll under your Luck in order to escape certain death. Hell, in the first book of Sorcery! there is even an encounter in which you die if you’re lucky?
In a way this is a testimony to another cardinal trait of the series. They didn’t always make sense. And in that line of thought, neither did they play fair.

If you’ve played just a handful of these books, you’ll pretty much know what I mean. It can come down to something as insignificant as deciding whether to go left or right (the bad decision leading you to step into a pit trap and die horribly) or in other cases you’ll simply be horribly stuck. The latter will mostly happen if you failed to acquire a certain item earlier in the story. The devious cheater could easily get around the former by simply ‘time-jumping’ (also known as keeping your fingers between pages-syndrome). The alternative was simply starting over, and whereas some books could potentially reward you for this with great replayability, others were simply a drag doing all over all again.


Cheating your way past required keys and objects could be way more difficult and make some books hard as hell. I especially remember such books as ‘Trial of the champions’ being exceptionally notorious in this regard. The book would often provide you with cleverly hidden keys, carrying numbers. Later on you could be asked to go to the indicated reference in case you wished to open the door, otherwise you’d be stuck and forced to end your adventure. In some rare cases you’d have to traverse the dungeon seeking more than one number or clue and use them together (through either subtraction or addition) if you wanted to advance. Certainly some books didn’t want to hand you the victory in any way, and I do remember those as being the most fun.

According to all-knowing Wikipedia, 55 Fighting Fantasy books were published by Puffin Books, from 1982 to 1995. An additional four (and in my opinion, the very, very best) were published under the name ‘Sorcery!’ and were in fact a quadrilogy.
Although I certainly haven’t completed all of them I spent so much of my youth that I have a lot of memories from the various titles. It’s not like the basic premise changed much throughout the series. The scenery and story took a few twists eventually, meaning some books took place entirely in your pre-packaged dungeon whereas others brought you to more exotic places such as forests, battlefields or the frozen tundra. Some played out entirely within a city (I remember enjoying those few the most) and a few in modern time or in a futuristic universe.

Deep at heart, Fighting Fantasy was a game of classical fantasy, though. Perhaps this was why the deviants were so few in numbers.


Instead the series later experimented with twists in the rules, such as letting you lead your own army or utilize thief skills. Two books were specifically designed to include more than one player (Fighting Fantasy being purely solo adventures otherwise) and I think they did a great job. In fact, many of my very first encounters with PnP were in this system.
Those who’ve tried out these books will know that they do have a certain weird charm to them. A bit Alice-in-wonderlandian in nature. Of course some books were bigger culprits than others, but anyone playing ‘The Riddling Reaver’ will know that things just stop making sense at a certain point. It’s so extremely random but at the same time entertaining. I remember how much fun I used to have, GM’ing this book for my friends back then.
In fact, if you haven’t already, I will recommend any GM to at least browse through this book for inspiration. Some of the ideas are downright silly but others aren’t all bad. At least it has a certain amount of originality to it, which is something you often have to search long for in this business.


I must admit that my biggest love for these books lies with the mentioned quadrilogy “Sorcery!”. I recently played through the first chapter as I wanted to see whether I’d be just as engulfed now as I was 12 years ago.
Of course I wasn’t. But it was an interesting read nonetheless. Especially because I ended up completing it in just under an hour with only one encounter. I suppose my memory really does serve me when it comes to it.
The basic story of Sorcery is your song and dance about the missing Crown of Kings that has been stolen by a great evil. Being the champion you set out to retrieve it from the notorious archmage of Mampang, which will lead you through perilous mountains, reeking cities of death, desolate wasteland and towers of doom. One for each book.


The story, however, wasn’t what made these books special. What really made us excited about these instalments was the fact that you were finally able to play as the mighty wizard and utilize your wits and spells to bypass various challenges. Similar methods were seen to a limited degree in ‘Riddling Reaver’ but not to such great detail.
Being a wizard wasn’t just for everyone. In fact you were encouraged to memorize the abbreviations of your spells in the form of three letter words, and since there was a whopping pool of 48 unique spells you’d be wise to prepare. Once your adventure began you were not able to refresh your knowledge but had to rely on your keen memory.
Of course most people would learn five or six by heart, but the key to being a successful wizard consisted of knowing when to utilize what. Casting spells drained your stamina and thus brought you closer to Death’s door. The standardized spells were useful but expensive, whereas the more specialised magic was cheap and could work wonders if used cleverly. However, a lot of them required very specific material components that you had to find first. Utilizing magic without them resulted in fizzles and penalties to your stamina. Attempting to cast spells that didn’t exist (wanting to cast YAK but choosing YEK as an option) severely punished you for being a noob.

In this way, mastering your spells became a challenge all by itself. An entire aspect of its own. There is no doubt that this was the original intention of the books either (besides from the title, I mean) since the alternative was the stupid warrior. Warriors didn’t excel in anything besides two extra points in Skill. As the adventure progressed you’d eventually find so much magical loot that you were equally well equipped for combat, so being a fighter was ultimately an option for the beginner. Nothing less. I now look forward to play the next in line; The Cityport of Traps. As mentioned I always loved the adventures in cities the most, meaning ‘City of thieves’ is another one of my all time favourites.


There were some other very nice things related to Fighting Fantasy. ‘Ouf of the Pit’ is obviously the best monster manual ever published in any system. I’ll happily admit having more fun reading this than those of modern system. Simply because there is so much emphasis on the social and habitual aspects of the monsters. Besides featuring some great maps of Titan (in which the majority of the Fighting Fantasy takes place) there are great entries for every creature with their respective stats and habits. There is only so much variety you can do with Skill, Stamina and Luck, but reading a monster’s preferred diet or circadian rhythm can be great fun. That’s likely the reason why I keep it around for toilet reading (the only alternative being White Dwarf).
It’s not an easy book to come by, though. I believe it has been discontinued in print and you’d therefore have to be lucky somewhere. If you get the chance, though, it’s truly worth the investment.

All being said for now, I hope you enjoyed taking a walk down memory lane with me. I will make sure to return with some more thoughts once I do complete the Crown of Kings-Saga. As a closing story, I’ll point out that I was in fact never able to do so back in the days. My English wasn’t that great so I had to play the translated versions. Sadly this was back then the popularity of these books faded so the fourth and final one was never translated. Much to my disappointment. Now, years later, the time has finally come to bring the fight to the archmage.
Stay tuned to hear how it goes. I will of course post my sheet if I survive all the way through.

And perhaps finally get to learn what that ZEN spell actually does??



Sunday, September 11, 2011

PC: Dead Island review


Maynard and Mr. Tanglefoot went for Sunny Beach to score some Night Elves, but ended up with the undead. Kudos to www. Silverglass.dk for the illustration (click to enlarge!)
I love zombies.
I mean, don’t we all, more or less? There is certainly reason to think so, since the long tradition of games, movies and books is about as endless as the vast undead legions of corpses they are all about. I’m pretty sure the very same impetus drove Techland once they sat down and designed the first person horror survival action-adventure game ‘Dead Island’. Also known as; “Let’s do another one!”
I’ll have to admit; I stole the description from Wikipedia, because I really had some difficulties describing the exact genre of this game. Except pointing out the zombies it doesn’t really tend to stick with one certain trait, but instead flirt with numerous aspects at the same time. It sure is about survival, but you are certainly not without means to switch your role as hunted to hunter. There is plenty of action, but you also benefit much from either walking away or simply ignoring many of the zombies. Also, some tasks in the game are so boring and mundane that you can hardly feel the guns blazing all the way through. There are some elements of adventure, but they mostly come from exploration and small interactions with bland NPC’s.
So what is ‘Dead Island’ exactly?
Well, it’s basically everything you’ve ever known from said zombie media. Nothing less, nothing more. And it’s first person. We’re not getting around that.
Story wise we’re presented with the classical scenario “What if there was a zombie apocalypse at Sunny Beach, and all the beautiful people suddenly started eating each other?”
Besides being a barrel of fun which I’d actually give a shit about (compared to the current state of Sunny Beach) it’d likely never make it into a computer game, so we’ll have to settle for the fictional island of Palms Resort. The only difference from the real life counterpart is the name, really. It’s a tropical island of the (dare I say?) stereotypical kind with lush vegetation, crystal clear oceans and white, radiant sand now covered in blood.

Palms Resort is a highly ranked vacation spot in the zombie community
The game opens up with a typical evening, showing a young man’s blurred vision as he drunkenly staggers through the dance floor. The game wastes very little time before bringing in the flesh eating antagonists, which doesn’t really seem to bother that many guests at the current time. Instead the drunken sod decides to cash in early and go to bed. This is the kind of logic you might as well get used to if you want to make it far in Dead Island.

Waking up, wondering where room service went
As you wake up the next morning in your dorm, you notice that you’re very much left alone. The sunlight is bright, the hallways of the hotel eerily empty and being the kind soul you are, you start rummaging through abandoned luggage for goods. Eventually you discover corpses lying around in grim positions that immediately remind you of the occult Paradise Hotel, and you realize that something on this island has gone horribly wrong. Zombies are now stalking the beaches, bungalows and bars in unlimited hordes, and it’s up to you and a small handful of survivors to find a way off.
Before you start out, however, you are required to choose one of four protagonists to control throughout the story.  Dead Island is certainly built with the possibility of multiplayer in mind and thus you and three other friends can join up for some cooperative zombie slaying (which undoubtedly elevates the joy of the game immensely). On your own, however, you’ll have to decide which take on zombie-slaughter appeals to you the most. You’re free to either specialize in throwing attacks, guns, blades or blunt weapons. Each specialization comes with its own character and a small attached song and dance-background story. Your choice of character also has consequences for the kind of abilities you will learn later in the game, and the amount of damage you’ll be able to absorb.
Sound familiar? Almost…RPG’ish?

Because he's pure awesome
That’s because it is. Dead Island does make an obvious attempt to cater to the RPG-crowd through a differentiating class system and the varying skill trees between them. Hell, they even have aggro improving/decreasing abilities.
As an avid RPG-fan I can’t really say that I mind, and in a sense it kind of brings your thoughts to “I wonder how Fallout would be on zombie island?”. Some people, especially those used to a more dynamic and fast passed action game, will likely be put off by the numbers in this regard.
On the other hand this isn’t Baldur’s Gate and unless you’re numerically handicapped most people will get through this small hurdle in no time and stick to whatever their class does best. If you went for the blade-specialist, use blades and you’ll likely make it. Personally I went with the ever charismatic rapper and writer of the smash hit “Who do you voodoo, bitch?”; Sam B (SaaahmBee…ZoohmBeee… am I the only one seeing this?). Only because of his badass accent and the fact that he wields a hammer the size of a surfboard.


Once you get started on the island of Palms Resort and get introduced to the quests, you will quickly realize that nothing is really new here either. Not that you should be put off by that, though, because the people from Techland did their research. Your tasks are properly divided into main- and side-quests and range all the way from acquiring food for the survivors to fetching valuable family heirlooms forgotten in the fray. All the time keeping the ravenous undead at bay.

Enjoy the peace, it won't last long
The structure of said quests is more than often so simple that you’re simply to go to a destination marked on your map, bash the brains out of a few zombies and gather named item. Sometimes you’ll encounter a tougher version of the zombies or just a bigger concentration of them before reaching your goals, but that’s about the biggest variation you’ll encounter for the majority of the game. A few quests do involve some more brain work from your part, such as shutting down the electricity in order to pass through an area and such. Just don’t expect any Half Life puzzles.
Regarding the incitements for the main quests you might draw similarities to games such as Dead Space in which you had to go through a series of mundane tasks in order to succeed in an overall criterion. Although you can’t help feeling a bit like an idiot when the quest giver for the third time in succession says “OH HERP DERP, THAT’S NOT ENOUGH FOOD. CAN U GATHER MOOR PLZ??” you will likely take them for what they are. Some of the side quests are quite entertaining, a few of them downright weird and beyond logic. You will encounter survivors, whose very grasp on priorities has evaporated in the tropical heat, meaning they will ask you to bring back their teddy bears instead of attempting evacuation to one of the bigger quest hubs. Others will ask you to help break into forsaken homes and some will actually tell you to get them booze so that they can throw in a party?... It’s best to simply think of the XP once you head into zombie-territory looking for Teddy. Luckily, the game features not only a map but also an objective-tracking system for the most parts.

Early in the game you will have to make do with whatever you find
You’re not bound to follow this in any way, though, as Dead Island features a very appealing sandbox approach and encourage exploration. If you’re up to heading into the zombie-infested unknown you should by all means do so, as the enemies will level up as you do. Some areas might be offline for you, due to the story progression, but all in all you have very loose reins. It’s not that Palms Resort is abundant with small rewards and secrets in the same way as Vampire: Bloodlines, but you might stumble upon some funny stuff. I personally managed to find the setup for a pornographically zombie-video, which was disturbing to say the least.

"It's fun to stay at the Y...."
There is another incentive to investigate, however, which is frankly one of Dead Island’s pitfalls. You have to dig out your inner kleptomaniac and scour the island clean for basically everything not nailed to the floor. Being the massive tourist trap that it is, you will find plenty of lost luggage and chests, all lootable. Some are empty, some contain money and some contain various important parts for later upgrades to your weapons. Since Dead Island doesn’t feature any junk-items you can basically utilize everything you find. The downfall comes in when you realize that looting a container requires you to activate it once in order to open it, and then again in order to loot. While this doesn’t sound so bad in writing, you will very soon tire of the two-second animation that will haunt you just about through the first part of the game.
You will, however, choose wisely in doing so, once you get to the weapon-aspect of the game. This is frankly one of my favorite aspects, since the weapons do feel just about right. They make an impact and do indeed feel like what they are: Improvised. You will therefore wield oars, broomsticks, shovels (Dead Space really needed a shovel) kitchen knives and cleavers initially. None of these were really designed for combat and their durability declines rapidly as you slaughter zombies. This not only encourages you to pick your fights but also time your attacks to do as much damage as possible, instead of simply clicking like a maniac.

Getting up close and personal with the zombies
In this regard your stamina is the limiting factor, as it drains by running, jumping and swinging your weapon. Overdo it, and you’re reduced to a gasping, collapsed breakfast pile for the zombies.

Luckily, you quickly get access to better, improvised (and more durable) weapons. Some of these are painfully obvious (such as nails in a bat) whereas some seem like McGyver has nothing on them. Highly effective deodorant bombs, combined baseball bats with whirling razors and electrified scythes are all devastatingly effective against the undead hordes. Make no mistake though, a good Molotov cocktail does the job as well in a pinch, just don’t get too close.


Another mentioning of Vampire: Bloodlines seems in order, when talking about guns which sadly show up way too late in Dead Island, and once they do they seemed quite lackluster to me. I fooled around with them for a bit, but all in all melee seemed not only more powerful but also more fun. Splattering off a zombie’s head with a shovel just has a certain appeal to it.
If all else fails, you always have access to the mighty foot, which will likely be your most cost-effective weapon through the majority of the first 10 levels or so. It’s a very quick and yet powerful free attack, unblockable and able to knock the enemies to the ground. As you can imagine, zombies have a hard time getting back to their feet, often leaving you in a perfect position for a decapitating strike.
The combined baseball-battery-saw blade...thing


The enemies are pretty much what you’d think. The undead are the primary antagonist through most of the game, the living occasionally stepping in to give them a break. The AI isn’t particularly great, which somehow seems fitting due to them being mindless and all.  They will happily get stuck in pools or behind fences, a few of them will take a long time before noticing you. What still seems extremely silly to me, no matter how you put it, is the fact that zombies in Dead Island are actually able to drown. The only time I’ve seen this possible was in Thief: The Dark Project and I’d hoped this game established that this was a really bad idea.

Upgrading and inventing new weapons is vital
The game scales somewhat decently in this regard and although it doesn’t make as big a deal introducing new enemies as Dead Space did, you certainly notice the zombies pulling out the bigger guns as you level up. Initially you’re confronted by the weak Walkers who pretty much splatter if you frown at them. Later on you’re up against the fast moving ‘Infected’ that eventually catch fire and become swift suicide bombs able to inflict massive amounts of damage. You will also confront giant zombie brutes (I like to think of them as the grown up schoolyard bully, who’s now zombiefied) that will literally knock you down in a single blow. Albeit never impossible the game doesn’t let you grow careless at the higher levels, which is good.
Along the way you will have plenty of opportunity to utilize whatever weapon comes in your way. Zombies can be lured into patches of electricity, knocked into pools for drowning (sigh) or you can knock them down by throwing heavy objects at them. The most fun is, of course, running them over (en masse) in your trusty car as you drive around the island like a maniac. Cars never seem to run out of gas or be destroyed and greatly reduce your chances to be hit. Although not able to go to any quest-zone, fooling around with my trusty truck was undoubtedly the most fun I had in Dead Island.

Driving over zombies is a never ending bliss
As you might remember from Diablo 2, bringing in more heroes also brings more monsters. This provides you with an even better challenge and presents some interesting encounters, such as the much cited refill-mission. In these missions one player will be responsible for loading the truck with supplies, while the others keep off the waves of zombies till the whole group can get away in the car. Once again this stresses the impetus to join up with real life friends in order to make a decent game quite good.
The atmosphere, sound, graphic and story are a mixed basket. On the graphical side I don’t really have much bad to say about Dead Island but not really anything bad either. Sometimes I was left with a “Wow, this doesn’t look too bad?” (‘Like motherfuckin’ POSTCARD!’) and other times it felt a bit artificial. There is some repetition of the scenery, making you feel that old Oblivion-sensation of much similarity in a big world.  The NPC’s really don’t look that good at all, especially up close, and a lot of them are both stiff and barely moving. The voice acting is bland at best, sometimes different voice actors seem to appear for the same quest giver. The music is somewhat passable, but in some situations better than others. It’s sufficiently subtle, however, and not that fast paced as I initially feared.
A fast moving zombie. How original
Saying that Dead Island is a horror game is like comparing Dragon Age 2 to ‘Lord of the Rings’. Unless zombies have been the eternal focal point of your deepest fear for ages you will likely get very few scares from this game. Granted the atmosphere can be intimidating in a very few of the quests, and playing without headphones did give me some shocks since I didn’t hear them crawl up on me.
Don’t expect much from the story either. It’s just there because they likely had to come up with something. I frankly didn’t bother one bit about it and it certainly doesn’t provide you with any moments of ‘OHSNAP!’.

All in all it’s fair to say that you’ll likely play the game for the massive appeal in mowing down zombies. Although the melee combat does feel clunky and sometimes you feel like you’re being punished for a mistake you barely noticed making, there is much joy to be found. Dead Island has some very obvious flaws that you will most likely notice, but eventually it’s easy to forgive it as you engulf yourself in weapon upgrades and talent trees. You tend to forget about ugly NPC’s and weird quests, once you unlock your new talents and start sending zombies flying. This is prime attribute of Dead Island and it’s not really at the severe cost of any dumb stat.  If you’re in any way set or curious about some zombie slaying, I do encourage you to give this game a try. In my opinion, however, it might not be entirely worth its current price (being just released and all) so waiting a while before getting it might be feasible.
Verdict: 7/10