Author Archives: Hentzau

Thoughts: Torment – Tides Of Numenera

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I have something of a bone to pick with the Numenera setting. By extension I also have something of a bone to pick with Torment: Tides Of Numenera – as is implicit in the name, this is a spiritual successor to the immortal Planescape: Torment that replaces the oddball worlds of Planescape for the even weirder reality-bending madness of Numenera. Planescape: Torment is considered by many to be the Best RPG Ever; I don’t go quite that far and merely consider it to be the best-written RPG ever, but nevertheless these are extremely large shoes to fill for Wasteland 21 developers InXile. The strategy equivalent would be trying to make a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri or Master Of Orion, and I’ve completely lost track of how many contenders have shattered themselves trying to ascend those heights over the last couple of decades. Doing something like this is all but setting yourself up for a fall, in other words, and so I’m not all that surprised that Torment ultimately fails to attain the lofty goal it has set for itself. What is interesting here is the manner of that failure, however, as it hasn’t fallen down quite the way I expected it to.

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  1. And Hunted, which I still haven’t forgiven them for.
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Replay: XCOM 2 – Long War 2

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I’ve not dabbled with mods for many years. That might sound a little strange considering the high volume of PC games that I get through, but it’s partly because of the high volume of PC games that I get through: I usually play games with an eye to reviewing them, you can’t review them fairly if they’re plastered in mods, and over the last few years I’ve had little time to revisit games I’ve already played to see how they change. With the slightly more relaxed (or less obsessive, anyway) attitude I’m taking this year, though, I have the opportunity to do ridiculous, time-expensive things like reinstalling XCOM 2 along with the recently-released Long War mod for it to see what all the fuss is about.

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The Hentzau Review Of Books

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(About video games.)

For a medium that’s been around for a good 35 years at this point there are surprisingly few books that do a good job of exploring the various facets of videogame history. I’ve always found this a little bit odd; modern videogaming has found itself inextricably linked with the rise of the internet and so you’re far more likely to find retrospectives on games and developers somewhere online, but the catch here is that anything published on the internet is going to be 1) superficial by its very nature (and I don’t mean that as a slight at all, it’s just that the amount of effort you’re going to put into researching even a long blog post or news article is always going to pale in comparison to what you’d do for a full-on book1), and 2) distressingly hard to find unless it’s got really good search engine optimisation. No, I much prefer the old-fashioned approach of sitting down with a book that’ll do an in-depth exploration of one specific area, even if the authors can’t seem to resist giving them cliche titles like Game Over or Insert Coin; the act of reading a book has a permanence that scrolling down a webpage lacks and which leads to my assimilating the information far more readily, and as I like reading history books in general I’ve ended up reading rather more books about the history of video games than a normal person should. As I’ve hit something of a slow period when it comes to writing about games, I thought I’d change things up slightly by writing about writing about games instead. Here are a few books that I liked (or didn’t), and why.

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  1. Okay, so I have a very low opinion of Games Journalism these days, but I should balance up the constant dunking by mentioning the exception to this rule: Eurogamer occasionally put up some really good retrospectives that are easily ten thousand words plus. The one on Tomb Raider was fantastic.
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Violet Club

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If you follow UK news at all you’ll know that recently there was a bit of a brouhaha over the Royal Navy’s failed Trident II missile test just off the coast of Florida. Some of the more hysterical accounts of the incident have the missile veering towards the US mainland before self-destructing; these sound a little dubious, but there’s at least a sense of irony to the idea as Trident is a US-developed weapons system. The UK abandoned its own nuclear weapons development program back in 1958 in favour of simply buying the technology from the Americans, and there are some very good reasons why this is so. One of them is Violet Club.

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Thoughts: Shenzhen I/O

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Well, it finally happened. After carving out a niche in the market by making puzzle games that were secretly about programming, it was inevitable that Zachtronics would eventually cross a line and make a puzzle game that was actually about programming.

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Thoughts: Shadow Tactics – Blades Of The Shogun

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Back in 1998 a small Spanish developer called Pyro Studios released the first Commandos game. Commandos was a strategy game with a difference: instead of jumping on the Command & Conquer RTS bandwagon that was trundling along at full speed at around about this time, Commandos was instead a World War 2-set Mission Impossible-style series of infiltration missions where you took command of a small squad of 4-6 Allied operatives as they blew up various bits of critical German infrastructure and assassinated key personnel. It was a game notable for the massive strength asymmetry between your squad and the opposing forces — each level was infested with dozens and dozens of guards and your commandos were unfortunately rather realistically squishy, quickly succumbing to just a couple of rifle bullets — which in turn engendered an extreme focus on stealth and on using the unique toolkits available to each individual commando to unpick the enemy patrol paths so that you could reach your objective.

Commandos was successful enough that it spawned its own real-time tactics sub-genre. As well as two sequels (Commandos 2 arguably perfected the formula, while Commandos 3 was a bit of a cash-in from a studio that was running out of ideas and talent), it inspired two Desperados games, Robin Hood: Legend of Sherwood and even Star Trek: Away Team. But then a funny thing happened: after the initial rush of imitators, this particular strain of stealthy strategy game died an abrupt and premature death. Save for Desperados 2 in 2006, nobody has made a Commandos-style game in almost fifteen years.

That is, until Shadow Tactics was released last month. And oh my goodness, it is Commandos to the core.

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Some Reflection

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I have been doing this blog for some time now. I started it back in 2012 — today sort of kind of marks its 5th birthday, in fact. At the time I was unemployed, had a lot on my mind and needed a constructive outlet for it, which is why if you check the Archive you’ll see 2012 had a fair variety of posts ranging from explanations of black hole physics (as much for my own personal reference as anything else) to lengthy peans to the old manuals that used to come with Microprose games. There were also a lot more of them, since I had far more time to write.

That all changed in 2013 when I finally found myself my first post-PhD job, which is also currently still my only post-PhD job as I’m somehow still there. The unfortunate burden of actually having to do annoying life-essential things for the first time meant that non-review posts were almost immediately jettisoned; doing the research required for a science post took 6+ hours of my time, while it takes me two or three to bang out a review. It’s the difference between spending a Sunday evening writing, and spending an entire Sunday writing, so it made sense at the time to focus on chunks of writing that were actually going to be manageable given my drastically reduced free time.

I will admit, though, that as we enter the Glorious Space Year 2017 the idea of writing another 40 reviews is starting to pall slightly; I’ve done 201 of them so far and it’s beginning to get a little repetitive. I’ve never written them for any other reason than that I enjoy doing so (although I am immensely gratified that other people enjoy reading them and value my opinion, and I very much appreciate everyone who has stuck with me this far), so the looming prospect of the act of writing becoming a chore is a rather alarming one that I would like to avoid if I can.

With that in mind, I am going to make some or all of the following changes to my output this year:

  • I am going to try and write 4-6 science posts this year. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the largest amount I think I can reasonably commit to.
  • I am also going to do more In Praise Of-style retrospectives of old games and mechanics.  Possibly a lot more, depending on how many ideas I can come up with.
  • Consequently, the rate of full on review posts on here is probably going to become less regular – I may experiment with doing shorter-form reviews as I think condensing a cogent opinion into 1,000 words or so could be a challenging but useful exercise, but it’s more likely I’ll only crank out 25-30 reviews this year compared to the usual 40.
  • Most importantly I’m only going to sit down and write a review of a game if I’ve actually got interesting things to say about it that I want to commit to text. There have been a few occasions this year when I’ve had to mentally force myself to write about whatever I’ve been playing recently when I didn’t really want to. It doesn’t happen that often as I usually have a lot of Opinions About Games, so I don’t expect this to affect my output all that much, but having that filter in place should stave off some of that looming ennui.
  • Finally, and I know I’ve said this before, I will do my best to respond to most comments that merit one within a day, rather than the current turnaround time of a week. You guys are taking the time to write them, so I should prioritise taking time to respond to them.

Have a happy New Year, and one where you hopefully read more varied content on this blog.

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