Paul Hughes

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Ascension giga-drubbing

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Rob and I much love the deck-building game Ascension, as we have documented previously. Other fans of the game might like these screenshots from some transcendent multiplayer ridiculousness perpetrated by our friend Sean last night.

Final score: 32 to 47 to 89 to… 1,543. In Sean’s words:

Transformed Adayu the Serene…then Daybreak Askara to copy that hero, and copy it again since it’s Enlightened.  Three times the goodness for every card played…and many of them being multi-faction, so super-six goodness.  Ridiculous.  I started to wonder if there was some infinite loop thing I could get into after I cycled through the deck a second time.

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Destiny data point

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If your inboxes are like ours, you and your fellow nerds are kibitzing right now about whether to buy Destiny or not. Collectively, in the aggregate, we’re on the fence—but leaning towards probably not. Or not any time soon.

Mary and I played the beta (i.e., the “beta”) a good bit back in July. Mary is recusing herself from any Destiny commentary because SHE KNOWS TOO MUCH, but here’s what I had emailed those guys after the beta, if you’re looking for another data point to steer your decision-making…

I played a good bit this weekend (got to level 6) and all I could keep thinking was “Hey, you got your Borderlands in my Halo.” Which, you know, could be two great tastes, etc. Although I’m not a big Borderlands fan, with all its incremental Torchlight-y treasure that always makes me think of Excel. And Destiny keeps some of my least favorite parts of Halo, like the fake-y iterative combats, but those are probably necessary for MP. But the game is beautiful. I had some nice moments of thinking, “Finally, Mass Effect Skyrim!”

 And I also know that we can’t expect too much gameplay innovation from a triple A studio. That’s not what the machine is designed to produce. All these games just keep eating each other’s poops and churning out more beautiful poops that are basically the same game. In addition to obviously Halo and Borderlands, you can see quite a few flecks of Far Cry. Which I basically don’t have a problem with—it’s fine to keep artisanally hacking away at making a better version of That Game. But it’s just more clear with the rise of the indies that it’s not the only kind of game we’re allowed to have.

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Project Spark, neat!

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We had this vague sense that “Project Spark” was interesting–in that “oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard of that” way–and indeed, it is! It’s an internal MS project, by a small team out in Redmond called Team Dakota, and it’s both a free-to-play Xbox One game (that alone seems kind of amazing) and a whole platform for building new games. One of the community members we talked to (the inventor of an in-game “Godzilla” that Microsoft’s lawyers haven’t discovered yet) even compared that aspiration to becoming like Unreal within a few years. (Project Spark will be on the PC too.)

The demo we played was underwhelming at first, just in seeming like a conventional top-down, vanilla-fantasy arcade adventure game. Like this:

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But then we realized that this was just a tutorial for the building blocks of the system, a visual program language of “when/do” programming tiles–so we were adventuring around and finding little tiles that we could then use to activate elements in the game.

The real meat of the game is the Minecraft-y world editor, in which you can build all sorts of games, with a ton of different textures, building blocks, and custom “brains”–basically AIs built out of the code tiles. In the beta, people have made everything from RPGs to tower defense games. Even cooler (and like Minecraft), the editor is multiplayer, so you can team up with friends to build games and levels. This is also the revenue engine of the game: it’s free to play, but the “whales” will be the game designers who will pay to buy more varied and interesting world-building ingredients.

What a nice surprise! Really looking forward to this, it comes out on 10/7. Although fair warning: While Mary and I were having coffee at Monorail Espresso (another great PAX refuge, that’s where we’re sitting as I type this!), we ran into some friends who had DL’d the beta a while ago and said it was so buggy it was unplayable. Let’s hope the in-game experience is smooth in the released version.

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Pretty great Smash Bros.

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According to our 11-year-old Nintendo research intern, Super Smash Bros. (for the 3DS and WiiU, not the DS) is pretty great. We waited for about 20 minutes to play the 6-minute demo–totally worth it for the exclusive “fight towel” swag–and discovered that the Wii Fit Trainer is no match for the combined power of Luigi, Bowser, and Greninja. The game releases on 10/3.

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PAX Indie Megabooth Manifestation of Awesomeness: The Magic Circle

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So Rob and I risked sounding stupid by asking if the sketchy, cel-shady art in this game was placeholder (we hoped not) or for reals. It is for reals in the best way: you’re trapped in a “legendary vaporware game” and you’re watching as the game’s developers (the gods, basically) edit the game while you’re playing it. The (of course) meta gameplay has you discovering the dev tools behind the game and using them to try to survive and, presumably, punch your way out Tron-style. E.g., if you’re attacked by a creature, you can edit it to make it your friend or even take its abilities.

You learn more of the narrative as you explore, solve puzzles, and overhear the developers–foul-mouthed virtual eyeballs who float in and out of scenes. Very funny, very smart, very meta. LOVE. The self-funded team is ex-Irrational/Bioshock folks (including the CD for Bioshock 2) and they’re making something great. Watch a rough cut of the game play: http://youtu.be/pnkVMoEkObY

FYI: it will be on Steam initially but not early access, since the burden of explaining an incomplete incomplete game is too much to bear.

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