Articles Reviews Barnestorming #37- Panic Station in Review, Incredibles, Fields of the Nephilim
 

Barnestorming #37- Panic Station in Review, Incredibles, Fields of the Nephilim Barnestorming #37- Panic Station in Review, Incredibles, Fields of the Nephilim Hot

panicstation Don't panic, it's Barnestorming #37

On the Table

Another of last year’s games this week reviewed- Panic Station, designed by David Ausloos (Shapeshifter here on F:AT) and published by Stronghold Games who look to be ruling 2012 with an ambitious release schedule and some very, very strong-looking titles.

Panic Station is interesting- it’s just about as volatile, fragile, and inconsistent a game as I’ve ever played. It has so many fracture points that it’s been something of a minor miracle when our games have gone smoothly and without someone completely disconnecting from either the rules or the metagame. When it’s working, I actually think it’s brilliant and it could be an even better “paranoid co-op” than BSG. When it doesn’t work, it’s a total drag of gamey mechanics, weird rules, and cloying uncertainty.

The thing about is, as somebody that has written a whole, whole lot about games over the past seven or eight years, I find it really kind of thrilling that it’s not the kind of game where you check off a “yes” or “no” box in response to the question “is this game good/worth buying/worth playing”. I like that it’s so divisive, and I like that it’s really quite demanding of the players to make it work correctly. The first time we played it at the Hellfire Club, we played other games afterword but about every five minutes someone would pipe up with “You know what that game really needs?” or “I think you could probably do this with that mechanic”. It’s a conversation starter…but it’s also a game where you might have a session that completely bombs due to the wonky rules or player disengagement. It really is pretty dumb that troopers can’t fire guns. And that Androids can be infected with parasites all the way across the board.

On the Consoles

Kingdoms of Amalur looks like a hit based on the hour long demo. Looks great, plays great, and feels pretty unique. It remains to be seen if the interesting mix of single-player MMOPRG, brawler, action RPG, and Dragon Age-like dialogue emerges as a game-changer for the genre or just a mess. I Loved the time I had with it and I can’t wait to play more. Maybe if we all buy it, Curt Schilling (part of the production team) will get Upfront 2000 published. As an XBLA game.

My Choplifter HD review went up. Wait for a sale.

 

On IOS

Ascension, Ascension, Ascension. Then some Ascension. After that, a game of Ascension. 26 simultaneous games. Goddamighty.

I have been squeezing in some Kingdom Rush, which I think is probably the best tower defense game yet. It’s really freaking hard and there’s some very cool depth in terms of permanent ability increases bought with stars and towers that have branching upgrade paths. There’s also cool touches like being able to set a flag to reposition soldiers and an instant “farmer uprising” button to put a speedbump in front of the creeps. It’s got a Castle Crashers-style look that’s fun and not cutesy IOS irritating, and there’s plenty of levels and challenges. It’s iPad only.

Caylus. I’m not sure. Implementation is decent. It seems just as dull in 15 minute, full game sessions as it does in three hour tabletop ones. The mechanics are interesting, it’s just so, so very soulless and it is so processional that it almost feels like a parody of that descriptor. It is kind of funny that the workers are represented by fatbellied, beareded men- the stereotypical Caylus enthusiast.

On the Screen

River has been watching The Incredibles over and over again lately. I’ve seen it more in the past week than I have in my entire life.

The good news is that it’s a great picture, easily Pixar’s most sophisticated, satirical, and passionate. The writing is so freaking smart- sharp, witty, and sometimes witheringly astute. “Everybody’s special, Dash”. “Which is a way of saying that no one is”. There’s some really clever stuff with Mr. Incredible and his apparent “infidelity” as well. It really is kind of like Watchmen for kids in some ways- very postmodern and revisionist yet reverential of its subject.

The theme of accepting mediocrity and denying excellence is pretty hardline stuff for a kid flick, as is the general message that the typical, middle-class American lifestyle is a soul-crushing morass that stifles the exceptional.

I hope to god they never make a sequel.

 

On Spotify

In the early 1990s, when I was all up into goth and death rock, I was also really getting into Spaghetti Westerns. So when I saw a picture of Fields of the Nephilim all decked out in beat-up dusters, spurs, and other very baroque Western bounty hunter gear, I had to hear them. Of course, this was before the magic of Spotify or even Amazon.com so their records were hard to come by. I remember finding a copy of “Dawnrazor” at a record show and it was $50, and I bought it on the spot.

I haven’t really listened to Fields of the Nephilim in a while and I’m not really sure why I got in the mood to hear their really quite weird mix of Sisters of Mercy-ish goth rock, Pink Floyd, and Ennio Morricone. But revisiting the catalog and in particular the “Revelations” compilation, I sure did miss these guys.

The Western thing is just awesome, but it’s really only front-and-center on the record “Dawnrazor” which opens with a cover of “Man with a Harmonica” from Once Upon a Time in the West. The remainder of the album could almost pass for a death rock ZZ Top in spots. You’ve got to hear “Preacher Man” if you haven’t before. Better yet, watch the awesome postapocalyptic video, directed by grade A weirdo Richard Stanley (Dust Devil, Hardware). Not on the album but a must-hear- “Psychonaut”, which starts off sounding like a Joy Division clone but turns into something much greater.

The 1988 Nephilim album is bigger, more occult, and even more Pink Floydian. It’s more sophisticated, I suppose, but I definitely prefer the dusty, spurs-clacking goth rock sound of the previous one. There’s a couple of live things and a third record that I’ve never really gotten into, but now I just might thanks again to Spotify.

Whatever you do, avoid anything any of these guys did after Fields of the Nephilim. Carl McCoy resurrected the band in the late 1990s as The Nephilim and did this really lousy death metal record. The other guys did some pretty boring UK death rock in Rubicon.

 

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Comments (45)
  • avatardragonstout
    Quote:
    I like that it’s so divisive, and I like that it’s really quite demanding of the players to make it work correctly. The first time we played it at the Hellfire Club, we played other games afterword but about every five minutes someone would pipe up with “You know what that game really needs?” or “I think you could probably do this with that mechanic”. It’s a conversation starter

    Maybe for someone who gets review copies and plays TONS of games, or for a game designer, being a "conversation starter" that makes everyone talk about how it should be improved could be construed as a plus. But for anyone who spends money on their games, I think that kind of conversation is a pretty damning negative.

    Nothing against this particular game, I just think you're reaching all the way around to madness if you have to call that a positive.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    It depends on who you are. I like difficult movies, difficult books, difficult music. There's value for me in controversy and things that make me question what it is I like about something and what I don't. I like a movie that people talk about a lot more than one where everybody just says "yeah, that was GREAT!"

    If games can truly hold up to the kind of critical rigor that other mediums can, there has to be room for difficult, experimental, challenging, and divisive games.

    I get what you're saying about if you're a consumer buying the game it might be a negative and I agree with that- especially if you're after the game that everybody says "yeah, that was GREAT!" and that the end of the assessment.

    But mind you, I'm not in the business of writing buyer's guides. I might say "yes, this game is recommended" or something but I'm ultimately not writing all these reviews to help you make purchasing decisions. That's like the #1 thing that has gone wrong with both board game and video game reviews- they're too often feature lists intended to tell people whether or not they should buy a game.

  • avataraerodynamics

    I can relate to the watching a movie repeatedly with your children syndrome. When my daughter was just a couple of years old back in the late 90s her favorite was "Batman Forever" and we watched it on an almost daily basis for what seemed like weeks. God, I got tired of Jim Carrey hamming it up as the Joker. Be thankful at least that The Incredibles is a decent movie.

    Good to see mention of Fields of the Nephilim. I discovered the band through 120 Minutes back in the late 80s during my 'mope-rock' phase (along with the Cure, the Church, Jesus and Mary Chain, et. al.). Loved that whole dusted down spaghetti western look. Still have "The Nephilim" LP on vinyl, but I need to find their early stuff in electronic form so I can re-visit one of these days.

    Next Tuesday sees the release of five Jean Rollin films to blu-ray, so hopefully some of that will make an appearance in your "On The Screen" section soon Michael.

  • avatarStephen Avery

    Good analysis of Panic Station. I was fortunate to play a preproduction copy. There was a lot of gamey stuff in it that I didn't like. Then all of the sudden- that one moment comes. Something is going down and you don't know who to trust. The game pulled it off so well that I was kinda amazed. David has some great ideas. I think he is a desinger to really pay attention to. His stuff can be overwrought and complex- but it is always interesting. I've already seen huge leaps in his work since the first version of Dark Darker Darkest.

    His latest -Rogue Agent looks wonderful. Easily the game I'm most intersted in trying in 2012. I'm going to start twisting arms to get a shot at this.
    DO YOU HEAR ME? I'M TRACKING YOUR ASS DOWN TO PLAY THIS. I'm hoping there will be a copy flaoting around at Origins. If not I'm going to kick in some doors.

    Sorry, I went a little schizoid. But really- it looks good.

    Steve"2 Cents"Avery

  • avatarStephen Avery

    BTW the Incredibles is a GREAT movie. (though anything gets old after a while) How is it they never cashed in on an Incredibles2. Seems like it would have been a no brainer.

    Steve"Would totally see Incredibles2"Avery

  • avatarhotseatgames

    I got Panic Station for Christmas but have yet to get it to the table. I'm really looking forward to it, but I fear that if the first try is a total flop I'll have a hard time getting people to give it another chance.

  • avatarMattLoter  - re:
    Michael Barnes wrote:
    But mind you, I'm not in the business of writing buyer's guides. I might say "yes, this game is recommended" or something but I'm ultimately not writing all these reviews to help you make purchasing decisions. That's like the #1 thing that has gone wrong with both board game and video game reviews- they're too often feature lists intended to tell people whether or not they should buy a game.

    Everyone who decides to write reviews of anything should drill this into their heads. Not that it always works out, but it should always be aspired to. Who wants to read a rethemed press release of features?

  • avatardragonstout  - re:
    Michael Barnes wrote:

    But mind you, I'm not in the business of writing buyer's guides. I might say "yes, this game is recommended" or something but I'm ultimately not writing all these reviews to help you make purchasing decisions. That's like the #1 thing that has gone wrong with both board game and video game reviews- they're too often feature lists intended to tell people whether or not they should buy a game.

    I greatly appreciate that, and even without you saying "buy this" or "don't buy this" (and even with you saying "I love this terrible aspect of the game!"), I had a good enough impression of the game to make my own decision. The review's a great review, way more interesting than most of your reviews.

    I think the problem is that the conversations mentioned sound more like they're about something *bad* than about something *difficult*, since all the comments you mentioned above are all "this is a problem with the game that could be improved by...". I talked a lot with friends about precisely all the ways the Watchmen movie fucked up, and seeing that movie and talking about why it sucked illuminated thoughts about what makes movies bad and definitely gave me a deeper appreciation for the book because of it. So I gained something from watching it. That doesn't make it difficult, just bad.

    The other thing is that the problems with the game sound like problems that should have been the developer's job to fix. I'm interested in listening to difficult music, not music that's "difficult" just because the recording engineer or whoever forgot to put a microphone on the drums.

  • avatarStephen Avery

    Oh Snap- I'm such a spazz that I overwrote my own comment before posting it.

    Summary: A gushing review of David Asloos' work.
    I think Barners nailed it. There is a lot of gamey stuff in Panic Station but then that moment happens when something is going down. Everyone gets paranoid and accusations fly. People are cutting their eyes and it is beautiful how he captures the paranoia. But it is fragile. You wonder how the game possibly works.

    I think Ausloos is a designer to watch. I am super pumped about Rogue Agent. It is on the top of my list of games to try for 2012. If I don't get my hands on a copy soon I'm going to START KICKING IN DOORS. Hopefully there is be a demo copy flaoting around Origins.

    So that is the abbreviated version. I guess I shouldn't drink and type- but then I'd never type.

    Steve"Get me Frikken ROGUE AGENT!"Avery

  • avatarscissors

    The game actually does sound interesting although its apparently a brilliant mess. Against my better judgement, I may go in for a copy eventually or at least try to borrow one somewhere. I like that it aspires to something more intense and thematic - and apparently sometimes succeeds - than the latest paint-by-numbers euroclone or any game that plays it too safe.

    At the same time the mic/drum kit example by d'stout is bang on and the cost of games does add up- so if there is a risk the game is a flawed you have to think twice.

    Overreach I like and pushing the envelope... but if it ends up a flop it'll join a nmber of pretentious art house movies on the shelves I havent been able to get rid of, or my copy of bitches brew, etc etc (sorry, just like older Miles Davis).

    Obviously, it's a bit of a risk, as last week's Dungeon Run also appear to be but this one may be more interesting for me because of the storyline and effects. right now te only similar type game we are playing in terms of accusation and mistrust is The Resistance.

  • avatarKen B.

    There is definitely a funny animated rapper guy gif to be made from that stern-looking Caylus image.

  • avatarMattDP

    Oh man, I was such a Fields of the Nephilim whore when I was a teenager. Personally I prefer that big second album to the first but I guess that was just a preface as I moved from the metal I enjoyed as a young teen to the prog rock I dug as a young man.

    The thing about the Nephilim is that, flour and cowboy hats aside, they were basically the embodiment of what Gothic Rock was all about. Far more so than a number of better-known bands like The Sisters of Mercy, they totally nailed that bizarre mixture of misery and occultism that was the heart and soul of the thing.

  • avatarSagrilarus  - re:
    hotseatgames wrote:
    I got Panic Station for Christmas but have yet to get it to the table. I'm really looking forward to it, but I fear that if the first try is a total flop I'll have a hard time getting people to give it another chance.

    Make sure you set expectations appropriately. Panic Station is an event, not a game, and requires a lot of let's-pretend play acting to pull off a good session.

    I played this at WBC with a good dose of liquor at the table and a bunch of people that didn't know each other. We had a good time, but it was because we were hamming it up and raising hell and not worrying about winning. The game was a mess, but we still had fun.

    Panic Station is an RPG with very short rules. People need to be aware of that when they sit down to the table.

    S.

  • avatarSuperflyTNT

    Dark, Darker, Darkest is the next game he's putting out, I believe, and it's a much more mellow game, in the classic game sense.

    And I can't wait.

  • avatarColumbob  - re:
    Stephen Avery wrote:
    How is it they never cashed in on an Incredibles2. Seems like it would have been a no brainer.

    One will probably get made I'm sure, with the kids all grown up. After all it took 11 years for Pixar to make Toy Story 3 after the second one, and 12 years between Monsters Inc. and Monsters University next year. Cars 2 was made relatively soon after the first one after only 5 years.

  • avatardragonstout

    Toy Story 2 only took 4 years.

    After a day has passed, now I'm dying to play Panic Station. I just don't want to buy it. I think the thing I should've added to my recording engineer metaphor is that it sounds like an album where, though it's very clear that someone in the final stages of putting out the album royally screwed up (how quickly did those version 2 rules come out?), the band itself sounds like they were playing great...which makes the screwups all the more frustrating and adds to the mystique. Ruined genius. I think your article got at that well, and then the little blurb you wrote here focused purely on the negatives.

    Whatever, too many words spilled on this. Too bored at work yesterday.

  • avatarSan Il Defanso

    I'm pretty spent on Traitor games, but I keep hearing so much divergent stuff about Panic Station. Makes me want to take a crack at it, if just to review it. But yeah, I'm in that boat where I don't really want to buy it either.

    And my favorite Pixar movie is easily Wall-E. And it's really not even close for me.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Panic Station- The music analogy doesn't really fit. The thing about games- and in fact one of the things that is both unique and interesting about them as a medium- is that they're never "fixed". If you listen to a recording, barring issues introduced by physical or digital reproduction, it's always the same. Games aren't, because they require that alchemical transfiguration that the players/player attitudes/player interaction create to be complete. When you listen to a record, it's finished. You don't complete it like you do with a game.

    The thing is, Panic Station in some ways is more incomplete than we're used to in board games and I agree with what Sag said about it being a very light, rules-thin RPG. I'd add that it also offers a more formalized method for player interaction and movement. But it requires you to be more proactive than usual to bring out its better qualities.

    The discussion about it reminds too of what Mr. Bistro and Colby were saying last week about Dungeon Run...that at Gen Con- where they were really kind of proctoring the experience and guiding players along a certain mode of interaction- it was a smash. But in the wild, that completion step that depends on the players sometimes doesn't mesh with the aim of the design. I would not be surprised to hear that Panic Station, when it was being tested and developed under David's guidance, had a higher success rate.

    What Avery said about "that moment" is so, so freaking true. The first game we played, I was literally sitting there thinking "this is crap"and going through my mental thing where I'm thinking about how it sucks that I was going to have to give a bad review to a game from a designer and a publisher that I like. But then, somebody did a trade and accused the other of trying to infect them, and it just went off. The rest of the game was mostly awesome. There have also been games where That Moment came when the heat scan suddenly showed a second person infected...then it turns into this thing where everyone is replaying all the trades that went on,analyzing movement, making accusations...this is great, great stuff. And the game gives you a lot of interesting things you can do to play into its paranoida.

    It strikes me that the game is, in some ways, very similar to Betrayal at the House on the Hill. It's got the shifting sides/victory conditions, the "twist", and an alarming degree of fragility.

  • avatarSan Il Defanso

    Michael, one thing I love about the whole Barnestorming format is that when you write a huge essay-long comment and begin it with the title of something in the article, I know a second essay-long comment is on the way, on a different topic.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Nephilim- yeah, it's interesting how proggy they are in retrospect. When I was listening to them back in '91-'92-'93, I HATED prog and didn't even like Pink Floyd. But now, listening to the records- especially the second one and "Elizium"...man, there is some Pink Floyd stuff on there.

    It's true, they had a more occulty kind of thing going on that was really cool...sort of a faux Necronomicon/Crowley thing. Man, when you're 15 that is some heavy ass shit. "Catula (SP) calls!"

    At any rate, the spooky bounty killer thing is still a more interesting look than most of goth couture. How the fuck did that scene go from cool ass shit like that to nasty girls with raggedy ann hair and fat rolls busting out of latex?

    It's still weird to me to think of a band like the Nephilim being popular...but they had some decent hits in the UK. In the US, they were practically unheard of and I probably wouldn't have known about them back then if it weren't for NME and Melody Maker back issues I used to buy by the box at this record store.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Movie stuff- Aero, where have you been? I probably wouldn't buy any of the Rollin stuff on Blu-Ray to be honest, particularly since I can see them all on Netflix. EXCEPT Fascination, which is his best movie. I'll probably pick that one up.

    It's easy to see about 100 sequels for The Incredibles...so, so much merchandise would be possible. I can't help but wonder if it's simply not as marketable to kids as Cars and Toy Story are. I mean, Cars has no discernable message or agenda other than "hey kids, get your parents to buy a bunch of worthless shit" and Toy Story's aww shucks Randy Newman schtick combined with in-show corporate toy brands makes it likely more palatable for middle America.

    But The Incredibles, like Monsters Inc. and Wall-E, is more difficult because it has a pointed message and all three of those films feel much more high-minded and passionate than, say, Finding Nemo or even Ratoutille. I wonder if maybe Pixar is more careful about licensing and exploiting some of their properties than others.

  • avatarInfinityMax

    So, what's the point of writing reviews, if it's not to help people decide if they want to buy the game? I mean, is it just the academic value of discussion? If so, why on Earth would anyone send us review copies? Shit, why bother with a 'best of the year' list, if it's not to tell people what they ought to buy?

    What would you say is the purpose of a game review, if it's not to help guide purchasing decisions? While I agree on some level (in my moments of self-delusion, I like to believe that I am more entertaining than informative), I do think that readers and publishers alike are hoping to see recommendations.

  • avatarSan Il Defanso  - re:
    Michael Barnes wrote:
    But The Incredibles, like Monsters Inc. and Wall-E, is more difficult because it has a pointed message and all three of those films feel much more high-minded and passionate than, say, Finding Nemo or even Ratoutille. I wonder if maybe Pixar is more careful about licensing and exploiting some of their properties than others.

    I would personally put Ratatouille in the realm of the more "high-minded" Pixar movies, but I see what you mean. They are an example of a company that does popular marketable stuff to fund the more challenging projects. Which of course still end up being big hits, if not in merchandising.

  • avatardragonstout

    Some, maybe most, days I'd put Ratatouille as their best and most mature film, and it seems to me an even more personal film for Brad Bird than Iron Giant. I'd definitely say it's more high-minded than The Incredibles, which, while great, I appreciate primarily for the action thrills. Whereas Ratatouille is saying so many things about Art, about art's commodification, about how the upper class appropriates and makes mainstream-palatable the art made by the lower class, about the way artists get screwed over by whoever they're working for because they're so desperate for a big break, and about the value of criticism of art.

    Which segues into answering InfinityMax's question: the typical distinction between "review" and "criticism" is that yes, a review's main purpose is to tell you "spend money/don't spend money". Which is why straight-up reviews are so much less interesting to read than criticism, whose main purpose is to take a piece of art that you might be already familiar with, and then illuminate aspects of it, whether good or bad, that you hadn't noticed before. From criticism, you gain a deeper appreciation of why a piece of art works or doesn't work, its historical context, and how it connects or breaks away from other works of art.

  • avataraerodynamics  - re:
    Michael Barnes wrote:
    Movie stuff- Aero, where have you been? I probably wouldn't buy any of the Rollin stuff on Blu-Ray to be honest, particularly since I can see them all on Netflix. EXCEPT Fascination, which is his best movie. I'll probably pick that one up.

    I've been lurking around, but I haven't really had anything to add to the conversations since I haven't been boardgaming much lately. I do look forward to your column each week to read your iOS reviews and to see what you've been watching and listening to.

    I went through a "I'm not gonna buy new DVDs any more 'cos there's so much good stuff on Netflix" phase for a while last year, but then realized I really enjoy collecting discs which later led to a polizioteschi/giallo/spaghetti western buying spree. My old Redemption/Rollin DVDs are non-anamorphic, so I plan on upgrading at least a few of the better titles like Fascination, Shiver of the Vampires and Lips of Blood. I generally resist re-buying films I've already got, but I've been following much of the online chatter surrounding the release of these movies on blu-ray which has me all excited to join the party.

  • avatarColumbob  - re: re:
    San Il Defanso wrote:
    I would personally put Ratatouille in the realm of the more "high-minded" Pixar movies, but I see what you mean. They are an example of a company that does popular marketable stuff to fund the more challenging projects. Which of course still end up being big hits, if not in merchandising.

    Ratatouille is probably one of the least merchandisable Pixar films, I mean how many stuffed rat toys in chef hats can you sell? Cars, 'nough said.

  • avatardragonstout  - re: re: re:
    Columbob wrote:
    Ratatouille is probably one of the least merchandisable Pixar film
  • avatarGary Sax

    IMHO, I think Ratatouille is the least traditional "kids" movie by Pixar.

  • avatarMattLoter  - re:
    InfinityMax wrote:
    So, what's the point of writing reviews, if it's not to help people decide if they want to buy the game? I mean, is it just the academic value of discussion? If so, why on Earth would anyone send us review copies? Shit, why bother with a 'best of the year' list, if it's not to tell people what they ought to buy?

    What would you say is the purpose of a game review, if it's not to help guide purchasing decisions? While I agree on some level (in my moments of self-delusion, I like to believe that I am more entertaining than informative), I do think that readers and publishers alike are hoping to see recommendations.

    For me, semantically, I think the best reviews don't give recommendations per say but share insight about the product/experience that allows each individual to better see what's being brought to the table and thus make their own decision as to if it's worth pursuing. Specifically in the case of games I want to know about your experience playing it and what worked for you and what didn't, but most importantly I want to know WHY and I need WHO YOU ARE to shine through as well. The best reviews create a situation where as the consumer you can potentially come to the entirely opposite conclusion than the reviewer because they encapsulated their experience so well.

  • avatarJonJacob

    I've said it here before, Incredibles is the best Super Hero movie ever made and Brad Bird challenged the very idea of what we should be able to say to kids more than Disney has allowed since Old Yeller. It's a very complicated and deep picture and even most adult action films come nowhere near trying to do what Incredibles does. I think it should have won more then just best script that year. But there was no chance they'd honor an animated comedy, that's two strikes against it before you even watch it according to that crowd.

    Ratatouille is a weird beast. It shouldn't work and it's amazing that Brad Bird pulled an ace out of his ass somehow. The film was abandoned by it's original creator and left to die on Pixar's shelf. So they called Bird in to salvage it. It's not Pixar's best film (Incredibles is that) but it's damn good considering the limitations of the story. I remember hearing kids in the theatre complaining to their parents that it was boring.. good thing they went with accents instead of sub titles. I noticed the same thing with UP as well. Kids complaining. Sometimes I wonder how they stay in business but then I remember I haven't seen Cars 2 and never watched Finding Nemo a second time. They make those films too.

  • avatarInfinityMax

    That makes a lot more sense, and it's a lot more how I attempt to approach a review. It's still an attempt to help people figure out whether they want the game, but it's more trying to present enough information to decide for yourself if the game is right for you, rather than finding out if I think you should buy it. I think it's actually pretty damned important to present enough information that readers can decide for themselves.

    I was a little confused because it just sounded like you and Barnes were suggesting that game reviews ought to be just musings and observation, geared more toward high-minded discussion than to informing a reader's buying decision. I mean, the whole reason we get free copies of games is because publishers want us to get people to buy them. They're not donating games so that we have something to mull over and discuss between ourselves. It's not a charity thing.

    Of course, I also really like to get all opinionated, and I am rarely accused of being balanced and fair. I don't try to pretend I don't have an opinion, and I'm regularly somewhat irritated when I have to play a game that blows a goat. I also don't even pretend to be erudite or brainy, and complex discussions with ten-dollar words are not my bag at all. That's what we've got Barnes for.

  • avatarMattLoter

    I think review copies being talked about, even if just in some shoegazy introspective way, is still good press. People buy stuff that's interesting, so if something is worth lots of musing over, it's usually worth checking out.

    Balanced and fair is a total bullshit notion and people pretending to be so is one of the worst things to happen to commentary/media in the last few decades.

  • MarkD
    Quote:
    River has been watching The Incredibles over and over again lately. I’ve seen it more in the past week than I have in my entire life.

    The good news is that it’s a great picture, easily Pixar’s most sophisticated, satirical, and passionate. The writing is so freaking smart- sharp, witty, and sometimes witheringly astute.

    Let me recommend The Iron Giant, it's by the same writer and is a ridiculously underrated great little film.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Loter said pretty much I wanted to say in response to you, Drake.

    My point is that a review shouldn't tell a person to buy a game or not. It should give the potential consumer or player insight as to what you as the singular reviewer feel is worth talking about in regard to the game. It could be high-minded smarty paants talk. Or it could be "this game rocks". Either way, your opinion should guide the reader to assess whether or not the game is worth their time or money to _them_. I think it's a very, very slippery slope when reviews are little more than consumer advice. That's terrible, terrible games journalism and there's WAY too much of it. When I see a review where the central focus is "should you buy this game?", I want to tell the writer to just hang it the fuck up because they're doing it wrong and they're undermining the value of games writing.

    Its true that review copies are a marketing thing. But that's on the publisher's end. Covering a game at all raises awareness of it, and even a bad review leads buyers to the checkout button.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Oh yeah, I have Iron Giant...saw it in the theater. Strangely, I rarely watch it but I do like it a lot. At one point I had a big Iron Giant figure but I have no idea whatever happened to it.

  • avatarInfinityMax

    Yeah, you guys both have good points. Hell, I agree. A dull review that doesn't discuss the game outside of a few pros and cons isn't much of a review at all, and 'you should buy this' is useless without supporting evidence.

    On the other hand, I don't think there's anyone 'doing it wrong.' Well, OK, sure, someone is, but in general, if you're writing about the game, and sharing your opinion, that's something. Yes, some people do it better than others. But any discussion about a game is raising awareness, which as Loter pointed out, is basically the point.

    I do have to say that I don't think gaming journalism is a very big deal. Heck, I consider a review successful if it manages to wedge in a fart joke. I'm not trying to write for the Nobel Peace Prize, or raise the bar for writing about games. I just don't take the whole process that seriously. I do take seriously my responsibility to both readers and publishers to accurately present a reasoned account of the game, to get the game on the radar (for the publishers) and convey opinion and information about it (for the readers). Beyond that, I just like writing, and I like cracking wise, and I like playing games. Reviewing lets me do all those things at the same time.

    Basically, I don't do it for critical acclaim, to impact the industry, or to improve the quality of gaming journalism. I do it because I think it's a hoot. Oh, and people give me free games. I write the best reviews I can, not to elevate the art form, but because A) then I can be proud of my work, B) then more people will give me free games, and C) if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing right.

  • avatarShapeshifter

    Thanks Michael for what must be by far my favorite review of Panic Station to date, regardless of its critical nature.
    I think you touched upon some substantial truths regarding the design.

    You hit the nail right on the head when you presumed the success rate before publication was alot higher than the current rate as presented by BGG (to pick one site).
    Actually, I was baffled when the first extremely negative feedback was posted, since I had almost nothing but succesful sessions under my belt. Even the lesser ones were still tense.

    Looking back, I know perfectly understand why the game clicks with some groups and tanks with others. It is not often a matter of the game not echoing people's expectations of what it will be. Especially people looking for an optimalization puzzle in the style of Ghost Stories or a straight deduction game like The Ressistance are usually dissapointed.

    My design goal was to design a very open-ended system that allowed alot of imput from players.
    What I know realise is that by doing so this strength is both its weakness: by allowing such an open ended architecture some groups will use this freedom to the game's disadvantage. They can "break" the exerpience if they want to by "gaming the game". In that sense it is a fragile beast.

    Indeed, I agree that in essence it is a very stripped down RPG. It at least appeals more to RPG fans than to eurogame fans.

    In all honesty, the conflict might also lie in the fact the game is too open-ended for eurogamers, but it also needs thematic gamers to accept its abstractions, which admittingly are an above average amount.

    That said, I don't think what some consider to be the theme of the game (a military corps fighting aliens) is actually the theme of the game. The true theme of the game is much harder to capture: it is the fear an paranoia, something far more trascendental and fragile.
    In that sense, this game is almost all about metagaming. I would go so far to say that metagaming IS the game. It is above all an experience.

    Looking back, I'm still glad I designed the game as is. Despite it's fragility and the obvious mistake of releasing it with a rulesbook that became flawed due to initial page restrictions that forced me to reduce the amount of information. Let's call it a beginners mistake. Something we for the most part fixed with the new printrun.

    Because...when the game sinks in with the right group...gosh...it is magic.
    I have had some of my most memorable gaming sessions with Panic Station.
    Intense, electrifying 60-minute mini SF-thrillers that reproduce all the anxienty of
    my favorite BSG sessions in a fraction of the time. I can only whish that most people will experience at least once such a session.

  • avatarNotahandle

    Michael Barnes  wrote:
    "As soon as the players start asking why a trooper can’t fire a gun (only the androids have hands?) or how it is that an android can be infected by a biological parasite that’s attacking a human on the other side of the map, things start to fall apart. And how is that gas cans keep players from getting infected, anyway?"
    1) Poor nomenclature, think of androids as soldiers and humans as scientists. 2) The downside of the telepathic link. 3) Same way Zgwortz affects the Awful Green Things.

    Sure, it has a few disconnects that hurt suspension of disbelief. Players should try to ignore them.

    We played a four player version last night and made a few mistakes due to a too quick rules explanation and hurried set up. Everyone enjoyed it and wants to play again. Trouble is, even four players seemed too few; and I think they all need to know the rules well.

  • avatarSagrilarus  - Are you people crazy?
    Notahandle wrote:

    Sure, it has a few disconnects that hurt suspension of disbelief.

    That's putting an incredibly positive spin on some really jarring thematic fractures in this game.

    The map is a mess, the whole android/human binding thing makes no sense at all, and the pass-a-gas-can immunity is so frikkin' contrived that it's beyond description. Honestly, this game reminds me of a skunked $400 bottle of wine where no one is willing to admit it tastes bad because it cost $400.

    There's a good concept lurking in this game, but it needed to go back into the oven for 20 minutes, and frankly re-themed to something that made some sense. If it was a hacker/cracker/cyberspace game you could gin up a match, but with its current theme it's nonsensical.

    S.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Thank -you- David for giving us such an interesting and unusual game...I think you've done some really interesting things pushing the limits of narrative, abstraction, "open architecture"' and the metagame. You took some risks with Panic Station, and even though it is divisive and not 100% satisfying every time, it's not really like anything else on the market. It's definitely NOT just another co-op with a traitor game.

    I'm really happy to hear you say that the theme isn't "dudes versus aliens" and that it's something higher that occurs between players, facilitated by the rules. And I totally agree that the openness of it is a liability for many gamers used to more rigid structures of interaction.

    I'm also really happy that you "got" my review...I was kind of worried that folks would take it as a negative review, which it certainly isn't. My reaction to the game is complex, and I think it _deserves_ rigorous criticism and analysis. Much more so than a game that's just "good".

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Sag, to your point, you might be right that a different setting would help smooth out some of those fractures in specificity. But knowing David, this is exactly the setting he wanted to make a game about. You know, it could be that the game's _fiction_ is where some of the disconnection is actually occurring.

  • avatarSagrilarus

    In my opinion that's where all of the disconnection is occurring. The mechanics underneath seem sound and though my session resulted in everyone but one being infected it still played to a reasonably logical conclusion -- a Mexican Standoff.

    But on more than one occasion we had to press the rules through what the theme was trying to infer. The theme contradicted the rules. From a usability perspective that's a mess. It needed revision.

    S.

  • avatarNotahandle

    Sagrilarus wrote:
    "The map is a mess, the whole android/human binding thing makes no sense at all, and the pass-a-gas-can immunity is so frikkin' contrived that it's beyond description."
    Why do you think the map is a mess? The android/human binding is obviously for playability and I don't think it's any worse than other nonsensical rules made in other games, e.g. High Frontiers changed rule that means a black product vanishes from your rocket if you retool the factory that made it. Sure, the rationale could be better, but it does remind me of SF stories that I've read in the past. If the gas can had been a radioactive fuel cell, not 100% shielded, you could rationalise that it emits at a low enough level that it doesn't affect the humans, but does affect the aliens infective ability.

  • avatarSagrilarus  - re:
    Notahandle wrote:
    If the gas can had been a radioactive fuel cell, not 100% shielded, you could rationalise that it emits at a low enough level that it doesn't affect the humans, but does affect the aliens infective ability.

    Let the revision begin.

    S.

  • avatarNotahandle

    You want a revision of a revision? Okay: it's a radioactive fuel rod; they need three of them to assemble the tac-nuke to blow the hive.

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