Friday, August 21, 2015

Opinions Can Be Wrong Plays! The Consuming Shadow

Want to see me play through and almost win at The Consuming Shadow but not actually win because I suck at the game's combat system? Well your wish has been granted!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Some Further Thoughts on 'The Consuming Shadow'

So I've been playing some more of 'The Consuming Shadow', Yahtzee's horror roguelike, and I have some more things to add to my previous post. I've now completed the game once, which is to say that I got the 'A' ending with The Scholar, who is the default character of the game. I went to Stonehenge, figured out the god's rune and beat back the Ancient, which is actually very easy. You just whack his tentacles and eyes as they appear and then counter his magic as you would with a Cultist enemy by copying his spells. I was probably lucky, however. I had a good playthrough in which I managed to unlock two new characters. Firstly I unlocked the primarily mêlée character, The Warrior, by completing the lockpick delivery mission and beating the subsequent dungeon. This, nicely enough, gave my Scholar an advanced close combat attack of his own for that playthrough, which seems to have been useful as my pistol-whipping of the Ancient's tendrils was surprisingly effective. As a result of this completion I also unlocked The Ministry Man, who is seemingly one of the "challenge characters" of the game - he only has 24 hours to save the world, rather than 60. I've now had a few goes as them and my thoughts are as follows:
  1. Yahtzee probably should have re-written the in-game dialogue for playing as The Warrior. Something one notices when playing a lot of Yahtzee games is his rather verbose style. He's no Hemingway, and his elaborate prose can at times be a little jarring depending on the character in question. I can more or less accept The Ministry Man using the same dialogue as The Scholar, because while The Scholar is an intellectual and might be expected to express himself in such a way, The Ministry Man is heavily implied to be an existing Yahtzee character known for his rather involved note-taking activities. The Warrior, however, is described as "a two-fisted man of action in a world beyond his understanding". All of The Scholar's descriptions and so forth are retained, however, giving this apparent henchman of organised crime a fairly unlikely voice. This is particularly noteworthy because The Warrior does have unique starting lines and various others which establish him as more "plain speaking" and less of a user of complex language compared to The Scholar. I did appreciate the unique text messages the characters receive, however.
    On the other hand, Yahtzee in general uses way too many similes, and (no offence to him) often pointless, trite or ineffectual ones which add nothing to what he is saying. In general, though, he just uses too many similes. There are plenty of other language techniques out there to choose from!
  2. I'm still convinced that combat is clunkier than it needs to be. While The Warrior has a dodge move, I feel as if the characters in general could use a duck or crouch manoeuvre. Another thing which surprises me, really, is the lack of stealth elements in the game. I'm surprised that it's not a valid option to hide from enemies, at least as a way of giving combat more variety. It also seems a bit awkward that The Warrior's more powerful mêlée attack is a kick, even though he has a knife in the insanity minigame. He could at least stab up some fools. Often your mid-range, waist-level kick is "hitting" creatures hanging from the ceiling or otherwise out of reach, which only really makes sense with the arcing move of The Scholar's pistol whip, which makes The Warrior's attack look off.
  3. It's possibly too easy to get gear. In most "safe" towns you can find a cheap piece of gear immediately, and more are available in dungeons. Something which added to the challenge of a game like FTL, which I've never managed to finish (yes, yes, because I suck at computer games), is how situational the random events could be depending on your ship layout, your crew and a host of other variables. I find that if I'm regularly collecting gear in 'The Consuming Shadow', most random events become a breeze. This is particularly true when one uses the Lucky Charm to harvest gear more quickly.
  4. To refer back to my point about atmosphere in the last article, I think some more "English" dungeons could have worked. There could perhaps have been a historical or ruined building layout, especially given that the UK is riddled with mouldering architecture. A nice ruined abbey or some such would fit the bill. The house, office, warehouse, park and brick building environments are maybe a little generic.
  5. The game doesn't really tell you this, but it's possible to narrow down information on the rune, colour and aspect of the Ancients by inspecting the markings and bodies in dungeons. This information, however, is not recorded in your notebook, so you have to do it straight away in some fashion.
  6. I appreciate the references to Yahtzee's older Chzo Mythos games, particularly the possibility of Chzo as one of the Ancients and the concession in the game of an existing "Tall Man", like the hunter monster in this one. Furthermore, it's nice that The Ministry Man is heavily implied to be Trilby, one of the protagonists of the Chzo Mythos. It's interesting to see that although Yahtzee tends to characterise the Chzo games as a bit pants in hindsight, he still uses Trilby. I also like the use of the Ministry of Occultism, as in those games, and the idea that by 2015 Trilby would have become a high-ranking agent. The use of codenames like T, C and F are good nods to the history of British Intelligence as well. My initial thought, actually, was that C would be Yahtzee's old character (and one of Trilby's supposed colleagues in the Special Talent Project) Chris Quinn, but I don't think that really makes sense.
  7. One thing I will say about this, however, is that in the Alpha of the game the Ministry texts were completely anonymous, which gave them a certain unsettling feel when you received the negative ones. Now that they're addressed from "T", this sympathetic character, some old texts like threatening to shoot himself unless you give him good news, contemplating taking his cyanide and having disturbing thoughts about his secretary (the last of which in my opinion was the least necessary) from early Alpha days seem weird and out of character. This is especially true because T's diary entries, which you unlock by playing the game, emphasise his level-headedness and actually describe his conscious difficulty with bringing the apparent apocalypse into meaningful perspective.
    It's worth noting, by the way, that the game's wiki currently describes T as "your handler at the Ministry", but if you read the diaries it's evident that T has possibly never met The Scholar before, and at least has not seen him for a long time. It's also apparent that apart from seemingly being an associate of Keegan, The Scholar is largely unaffiliated with the Ministry, even in an unofficial capacity, and that they've simply "kept an eye" on The Scholar.
In any event, 'The Consuming Shadow' is still fun. I've been watching Yahtzee's 'Ego Reviews' on Youtube and he mentions in the one for 'Trilby: The Art of Theft' (another favourite of mine) the possibility of additional content for 'The Consuming Shadow' at some point, perhaps in time for the Steam release. Hopefully that's also provided to everyone who purchased the game through other means. At this stage I'd argue that the aspects which would liven things up in further content would be another dungeon environment or two (perhaps with some more background assets), some event artwork, possibly another playable character (although I realise I haven't unlocked The Wizard yet) and maybe some kind of custom mode. I imagine alterations to the game's combat and so on would be too big a task. In any event, this is one I'll be attempting to keep multiple blinking-from-the-darkness abominable eyes on.

SPOILERS! Ending A screen below!
"I just wanted to go into Stonehenge!"

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Some Initial Thoughts on 'The Consuming Shadow'

As I once stated in my article 'On Zero Punctuation', I quite like the works of Yahtzee. I'm not a complete Yahtzee fanboy, mind you. I certainly think he buys in a bit too much to this whole "Oh no there are evil forces of political correctness who want to lock us up for making crass jokes" paranoia which seems to exist on the internet, but I think for a mostly one-man team he's made some pretty fun games in his time, games which have given me just us much entertainment as many notionally "professionally" made games and a good deal more entertainment than even more such titles. With 'The Consuming Shadow', however, he seems to have progressed properly into "profesh" territory himself, as this is not a free title but one you must purchase for the sum of ten American-style dollars.

I'd been keeping my eye on the game for a while, but lost track when it actually game out, so I've only just grabbed it as of a few days ago (as of writing). I'd played a bit of the alpha, but not too much, and I was looking forward to the improvements made in the full version. In case you're unaware, the game is a procedurally-generated "roguelike", which is to say that every play-through is randomly generated but at the end of each playthrough (regardless of how it ends) you get experience points and thus levels which contribute towards your next playthrough. The game's in two dimensions with a fairly simple interface and a silhouette art style, which leaves a lot to your imagination.

August 16th, 2015. Made the mistake of looking at the 'Latest Threads' on The Escapist forums...

Here are my thoughts so far:
  1. The game is fun. It's not overly complicated, it's quick to play, and the procedurally-generated nature of the content gives it a feeling of longevity, in my view at least.
  2. The dungeons feel a bit limited. Dungeons are a single storey of a randomised assortment of screen-sized rooms, regardless of whether you're in a fancy home, a warehouse, an office building, a park, etc. Thus the dungeons themselves can be a bit monotonous at times. There's also not a great deal of background material in most of them.
  3. The controls are also a bit limited. You can walk forward, run forward, turn, shoot, make a short ranged close combat attack and cast spells. Apart from one unlockable character with a dodge there's little variety of movement, like ducking, jumping or what have you, which can make gameplay feel a bit stiff and unrealistic.
  4. The art style works. I don't think Yahtzee always gives himself enough credit for his artwork, and claims that the silhouette style in this primarily compensates for his limited skills, but leaving the enemies up to your imagination gives the game an unsettling feeling. There's a decent variety of enemies as well. The music and sound effects are quite good.
  5. The game has a nice deduction game appended to the main dungeon gameplay in which you have to gather clues to figure out which ancient being you're meant to be banishing from the universe and which exact magical incantation you'll need to do so.
  6. It's possibly not as atmospheric as it could be. It certainly is atmospheric in the sense that it gives a nice uneasy feeling of Britain falling under a mysterious darkness that no one really wants to acknowledge, but I feel like it's not as quintessentially "English" as it could be. Admittedly, you can also travel to towns in Wales. I feel like one thing which could benefit the game would be some unique artwork for the random encounters and a little more artwork for the town screens, a bit like the visuals that come up each time you reach a new city in Organ Trail. I need to put a bit more thought into this, and obviously Yahtzee wanted to limit his artwork, but I still feel like this could have helped.
Overall I think 'The Consuming Shadow' is a pretty decent game to play if you've got the inclination. It's spooky and sombre with a definite sense of progression. For a mostly one-man job I think it's very admirable indeed. At the same time, I feel like if someone was to take inspiration from this game for a project of their own, there are a few ideas which could be expanded to really capitalise upon the potential of a concept like this.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Brief Comment on Fantastic Four (2015)

It's bad. Yeah, everyone is saying that (but not everyone), but what makes it bad? I'll sum up:
  1. The plot never stops setting up. Meet Reed! Meet Ben! Meet Sue! Meet Johnny! They build a teleporter! They use a teleporter! They get powers! The government exploits their powers! They build a new teleporter! Doom got powers! What's going to happen now? Oh, we beat Doom. The end.
  2. There's no sense of "family". They're a bunch of thinly-written characters who barely relate to each other. They never even work as a team until the very end. Part of the point of the comics was that the Fantastic Four expressed the idea that your "family" is a group of people with whom you have a shared experience. This never comes across in the film, and Sue never has their experience. If anything, the 'Four' in this film is Reed, Ben, Johnny and Doom. This leads me to:
  3. It's kind of sexist. Yeah, the old comics are sexist too, but so is this. Sue never goes to the other dimension until the very end. She gets her powers in a very arbitrary way. None of the men even think of bringing her along even though she was part of the team that built the teleporter, and it's never brought up that they didn't.
  4. They make exactly the same mistakes with Doom as in the 2005 film. He's attracted to Sue, so he fails as a reflection of their embrace of family: remember the classic line "Doom needs no one." Doom rejects the society of others because of his massive inferiority complex. In the film he also has superpowers. Thus instead of being a character who pursues power, he's simply a character who misuses power, making him just an arbitrarily evil version of the other main characters. There's no explanation for why he's that way.
  5. The film is grey, flat, boring and colourless.
This might have worked as a crappy sci-fi film about teleportation and body horror, but there was no need to waste the characters of the Fantastic Four on such a concept. Even an incredibly generic film where the Four got powers and Reed's old colleague Doom, now a power-hungry tyrant, attacked them because he thought they were the biggest obstacle to his taking over the world/becoming a god/whatever, and they had to defeat him, would have been better. I didn't mind that they made Johnny and Sue into more active characters in the plot, but they could have done a lot more with it. You'd be better off watching the 1994 one than this.