Monthly Archives: December 2014

Interactive Fiction Saturday: Monster Loves You!, An Assassin in Orlandes, Appointment with F.E.A.R., The Forest of Doom

Yes, it’s another attempt to unclutter my desktop somewhat, so I’m reviewing a bunch of similar games together.  Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

Monster Loves You!

Monster Loves You! is a game by Radial Games Corp and Dejobaan Games where you play a monster in the monster village of Omen. Your journey will take you from birth to elderhood, and your decisions could ultimately have an impact on monster-human relations.

Monster Loves You! has a very simple control scheme in that everything is controlled with the mouse and the controls basically consist of reading and then clicking a choice, then reading some more. Your choices will impact your stats: Ferocity, Kindness, Honesty, Cleverness, Bravery, and Respect (this last affects how monster society views you) and your choices will ultimately lead to one of several endings.

An example of one of the many decisions you will make over the course of the game.

The visuals in Monster Loves You! have a cute storybook feel to them and are very brightly coloured, of particular note are the emoticons which show your character’s reaction to events, which are hilarious. The music has a very folksy vibe to it. Needless to say, it’s not a demanding game by any stretch of the imagination.

Monster Loves You! would probably be a great game to play with children or for adults who are looking to take a break from more gameplay intensive titles. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that since you are playing a monster, you have the option to gobble up everything in your path (this includes human children), and some decisions involve violence (although it’s all in text and nothing is shown). It’s short, but in all honesty, few interactive fiction titles boast 40+ hours of gameplay.  It does have a decent amount of replay value in that events are randomized and there are many different endings. Personally, I think the $9.99 price tag might be a little steep for what you get, but absolutely buy it on sale if you’re looking for a cute little diversion from whatever big budget game has your interest.

An Assassin in Orlandes

Do you remember reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid and want an experience that takes you back to those days when you were holding your breath as the book told you to turn to page 25? If so, Tin Man Games has got you covered. They’re the company responsible for converting Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (basically a cross between a CYOA with RPG elements like stats and battles determined by dice roll) to digital format. The books were originally published in the U.K. and aimed at the 9-12 age group.

In An Assassin in Orlandes, you are hunting for a woman named Kari when you witness a murder. Your journey will take you from the streets of Orlandes to shadowy monasteries and forgotten crypts and pit you against cannibals, undead kings, and giant spiders.

Unlike other interactive fiction titles I’ve reviewed, As Assassin in Orlandes is the most book-like. When you click a page, it will flip to the next one as if you were turning the pages of a real book. Like the CYOA books of my childhood, you’ll constantly be told “Turn to Page ____.” at the end of a section. If you’re the type who wants the feel of a Choose Your Own Adventure book but you don’t want to dig through your bookshelves to actually find the books, An Assassin in Orlandes is for you.

What sets An Assassin in Orlandes apart from the CYOA books of my childhood is that it incorporates stats, an inventory, and battles like in your average RPG. At the beginning of the adventure, you’ll be able to choose your difficulty level (Casual gives you unlimited saves, Classic limits you to three saves) and asked to roll for Vitality and Fitness. Vitality determines how much HP you have, and is not only important during battles but can also be affected by certain decisions you make (falling down a hole, for instance, will cost you Vitality). High Fitness is also very important, as it can get you out of some dangerous situations. Battles are turn-based, with you and your opponents taking turns to attack and defend. During battle, you can choose to test your luck and potentially gain a bonus or penalty to your next roll.

Interactive fiction lives or dies by its writing, and the writing in An Assassin in Orlandes is great (all of the games in this review have great writing, in fact). The story is predictable, perhaps, but exciting, and depending on your decisions and whether the dice like you, can get pretty tense at times. During one playthrough, I ended up facing a giant spider and escaped with only 1 point of Vitality, whereas in another playthrough i ended up wandering delirious through a forest before I eventually died. Suffice it to say if you want well-written adventure story, you can’t go wrong with this.

Graphically, the game is mostly pages of text with some nice black and white illustrations. There’s some music; it’s nothing to write home about but it fits well with the game’s themes.

If I had one criticism of this game (and this is also true of Appointment with F.E.A.R. and The Forest of Doom) is that it ends up being very linear and getting the best ending seems to depend on whether you pick the right items from a list at the very beginning of the game, so unless you have a walkthrough or are taking notes (or you’ve read the original book), it can be frustrating to reach a branch in the story where you need a specific item to continue or it’s instant death.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for the type of experience that brings you back to a time where you devoured Choose Your Own Adventure books, you’ll want to give An Assassin in Orlandes a try.

Appointment With F.E.A.R.

This was actually the first game from Tin Man Games that I bought off Steam. Appointment with F.E.A.R. is a superhero-themed gamebook that originally came out in the 80s (and thus has no relation with the F.E.A.R. series).

Appointment with F.E.A.R. puts you in the role of a superhero who is charged with protecting Titan City from an assortment of villains. Your goal is to uncover the location of the secret meeting of F.E.A.R., an organization run by the infamous supervillain the Titanium Cyborg.

Your goal in Appointment with F.E.A.R. is to collect Clues that will eventually reveal the location of the meeting. You collect Clues by following up on leads and defeating villains. Uncovering Clues and defeating villains will net you Hero points and usually a Luck point or two. You can use Luck points to give you a better chance at unlocking collectable cards, which isn’t essential for winning the game but if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a feature.

Appointment with Fear is more graphics heavy than either An Assassin in Orlandes or The Forest of Doom. It’s presented in a graphic novel format but it isn’t difficult to read like it’s physical counterparts (I sometimes have difficulty with following the order of the panels when I’m reading a physical comic book).

I’ve already mentioned that the writing in all these games is top notch, but Appointment With F.E.A.R. is easily the funniest of the bunch. I played this with a friend who’s into superheroes, and we both had a good laugh while playing this game. The dialogue is cheesy and overdramatic, the villains are over the top, even the randomly generated superhero names are hilarious. Your character’s civilian form, for instance, sports a pair of thick-rimmed black glasses a la Clark Kent. I lost it when I them for the first time.

The one big criticism I have with this game (and with the other games by Tin Man games) is that there is a very specific path you need to follow depending on which superpower you selected at the beginning, so you can potentially play this game fifty times and each time will end the same way–in complete failure, so, again, unless you have a walkthrough or you’re a fan of trial and error gameplay, Appointment With F.E.A.R. can be incredibly frustrating. Still, if you like superheroes, especially if you like parodies of the genre, this might be worth a look.

The Forest of Doom

The Forest of Doom is the latest gamebook from Tin Man Games on Steam, but it’s one of the earliest Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. In the Forest of Doom, you are an adventurer who is tasked with finding pieces of a legendary hammer forged by the Dwarfs to protect them from their enemies.

The Forest of Doom is the same kind of Choose Your Own Adventure/D&D hybrid as An Assassin in Orlandes in that it is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure book with combat mechanics. However, in this one, the stats you have to keep an eye on are Skill, Stamina, and Luck (Skill affects the damage you do in combat, Stamina is your HP, and Luck is like Fitness from An Assassin in Orlandes). You still have an inventory to manage, but The Forest of Doom also has a map and the illustrations are in full colour instead of black and white.

The writing in The Forest of Doom is great but kind of cheesy, not in the comedic way of Appointment With F.E.A.R. but cheesy in the same way that old RPG manuals, or parodies of The Lord of the Rings are cheesy. If I didn’t know that this gamebook came out in the 80s, I would have said that it was a parody of RPGs at that time. Nope, it’s playing it completely straight, near as I can tell (which, being that it is actually from the 80s, makes sense).

My one complaint with this game is the same issue I have with An Assassin in Orlandes, which is that the game requires you to have specific items which you choose from a list at the beginning of the game to complete objectives. If you don’t have these items by a certain point you literally wake up at the very beginning of the game and have to start over. (Seriously, the entire game is made out to be one long dream sequence.) So, again, unless you have a walkthrough or love good ol’ trial and error, The Forest of Doom and friends can be frustrating. However, the writing’s solid (if cheesy) so if you like a good fantastical yarn, this might be a good pick for you.

Overall

Overall I would say that none of these games are horrible. The ones from Tin Man Games can be incredibly frustrating if you don’t know exactly which items you’re supposed to bring along, which might turn off players who are used to more open-ended games like The Yawhg. (The Yawhg is a fantastic game, by the way.) If you’re interested in gamebooks, however, you could probably do much worse. Monster Loves You! in contrast, is a more modern, less frustrating piece of interactive fiction that you can play to take a break from more intense games. Whether you just want to chill out or sample a bit of gamebook history, there’s something in this review for everyone.

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Game Review: The Wolf Among Us

I’m a great lover of folk and fairy tales. I still have an old, beat up copy of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales that I devoured as a child. It used some very archaic language and used the German names for favourite characters; Cinderella was Aschenputtel (which I pronounced “Ashen Pudding”) but I loved it. Plenty of writers, directors, etc. like to put a new spin on these old tales, whether it’s Disney, well, Disneyfying the stories or someone telling a familiar tale with a “dark and gritty” twist, even the traditional stories have dozens of different variations (on local and national levels). I’ve seen Pagan writers expound on the so-called “Pagan origins” of this or that story. There’s really no end to what you can do with such a large body of public domain works.

One of the more recent attempts to put a new spin on familiar tales is Fables, from Vertigo Comics and created by Bill Willingham. In this series, characters from folk and fairy tales (called Fables) have been forced out of the Homelands by the Adversary, and have begun a new, if clandestine, life in New York City in the community of Fabletown. It sounded like something that was right up my alley. Unfortunately, the creator’s conservative views turned me right off of the series.

Then Telltale Games announced that they were making a game based on Fables, called The Wolf Among Us, in the same style as their Walking Dead games.

Well, I avoided it for as long as I could, but ever since playing The Walking Dead, Telltale has their hooks in me, and it’s only a matter of time before I buy all of their recent adventure games. I am lusting after the Game of Thrones one right now. I needs it.

Anyways, in The Wolf Among Us, you play as Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown (of, you guessed it, Little Red Riding Hood fame). It’s Bigby’s job to protect the citizens of Fabletown, so when a brutal murder literally arrives on his doorstep, it’s up to Bigby to catch the killer before more Fables die.In a nutshell, think of this game as the brothers Grimm meets film noir.

Since this is a point and click game and not a shooter, gameplay involves pointing and clicking on people and objects, and QTE-based action sequences. Occasionally you’ll get to make a choice that will impact the story in future episodes in minor or major ways. If you’ve played The Walking Dead games, you’ll know what to expect from this one.

There was a great emphasis on story in The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of twists and terms at least one “Holy shit!” moment per episode. Thematically, the game deals with issues of poverty and classism and the way that law enforcement and government reinforce those systems.  Overall I’d say that the story was solid and kept me at the edge of my seat. I should also note that you don’t need to be familiar with the comics to enjoy this game, although if you’re a fan you’ll definitely see some familiar faces. (Then again, if you’re a fan you’ve probably already played it.)

Love the graphics in this.

 

I think my biggest criticism of this game was that it just didn’t have the raw emotional impact of The Walking Dead. Don’t get me wrong, it has a great story, but I was never really agonizing over a decision or turning on the waterworks. I also feel as if my choices had less of an impact on the narrative overall and I found it was easy to win characters over to my way of thinking. This might be due to the fact that I was trying to play a “nice” Bigby, whereas a more violent Bigby would have a very different experience. Something to note is if your thing is getting achievements, you unlock different Book of Fables (basically a codex that contains information about characters and concepts from the series) entries for making certain decisions, so there is some incentive to replay those sections.

As for things to watch out for if you’re sensitive to them. There’s a suicide (I only encountered this character after their death but I hear you can intervene and stop them if you make the right choices) and the game doesn’t shy away from getting bloody and violent, but there’s also a good dose of violence against women, especially sex workers (although Bigby can intervene most of the time and tell the abuser to cut that shit out). You can do some really nasty things while torturing interrogating a suspect. One character has a bizarre sexual fetish (which is treated as an invasion of privacy and creepy stalkerish behaviour) and there’s also a reference to slavery. The only nudity that I saw in the game was when Bigby visits the obligatory strip club and one of the characters is doing a pole dance naked.

I don’t want to give anyone the impression that it was a bad game. I loved it and can’t wait for the second season, it just didn’t have the same emotional impact as The Walking Dead. If you just can’t get enough grim(m)dark fairy tales in your life, you want more adventures like The Walking Dead, or you just like adventure games in general, you can’t go wrong with this one.

An Update on My Novel

If you’ve been following my blog since November 2012, you’ll recall that I participated in NaNoWriMo that year and won. It’s been two years since I wrote the book, and since then I’ve had eye problems, had surgery that didn’t fix my eye problems but stopped them from getting worse, and have been very stressed out and lacking the motivation to finish the book due to said eye problems. It’s been two years of tax-related paperwork, editing, more editing, and formatting.

But yesterday, yesterday, dear readers, I ordered a proof copy of The Eldermaid.

It’s been a long two years, but it’s finally happening.