Risen 3: Spell Immunity

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I’m in the middle of playing through Risen 3: Titan Lords and have just acquired some offensive magic spells by joining one of three factions in the game. I’ll try to keep spoilers at a low level here, so I won’t go too much into specifics. (A minutia blog post about the game will be uploaded when I’ve completed it.)

After joining up with the faction, I was given a trial of killing a golem with an offensive spell. The trainer recommended using a fire spell that i could buy from him now, but then my experience with a ton of RPG immediately begged to differ. In most of these games a common denominator often say that creatures are probably immune to elemental spell damage that matches their own affinity. Fire demons ignore fire damage, ice golems ignore frost damage, that kind of thing.

But the trick is that in most RPG, beings immune to lightning are actually quite rare – most of the time even nonexistent. Lightning often works well against all elemental creatures, including fire and ice. And for that reason, I’ve favored this type of magic for quite a while.

So I ignored his recommendations, went to another trainer, and bought a lightning spell!

Risen 2: Dark Waters

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Developer: Piranha Bytes | Released: 2012 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

I decided to start Risen 2: Dark Waters right after the first game in the series, while I still had fresh memories about it. I bought it on Steam including all DLC, so there will also be something about those. One contains pirate clothes and two are actual adventures lasting about one hour each.

The title screen music was quite nice but also revealed that it wasn’t the same composer as in the previous game. In fact, a lot of things had changed. The nameless hero, now drunk in the beginning and without access to magic, had a big mullet and no longer resembled Wentworth Miller. His voice actor was also different. From a tower in the very tiny harbour town, Caldera, Commandant Carlos and our hero watched a medieval ship being trashed by a Kraken. The only survivor swimming ashore was Patty, the pirate daughter from the first game, and she also looked and sounded totally different.

Typical Piranha Bytes – no regard for continuity there. The Gothic series also had the same problems.

The interface was also handled quite differently in the sequel. There were absolutely no window panes anymore. All looting, inventory, attributes, logs and whathaveyou were shown in dark, separate screens. How very 2010’ish. Even looting a chest showed a separate screen, and looting corpses just grabbed whatever. Along with the vastly improved textures, sharp lighting and the larger font for dialogs, all the improvements made me think of a similar jump between the Two Worlds games. The first one was also crude in many areas that the second game improved upon in much the same way.

And this time they even allowed me to rebind the quicksave key.

Risen

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Developer: Piranha Bytes | Released: 2009 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

This was a third person open world RPG in control of a predefined male human – no character customization in this one. It had ruthless beginnings, unforgiving combat, expensive training, no loading in and out of most houses and dungeons, a great sense of verticality in the form of steep cliffs and meandering paths, and NPC that sometimes wouldn’t restrain themselves from calling you a moron and optionally kick your ass if need be.

In other words, a typical Piranha Bytes RPG.

In fact, it felt so much like the first Gothic games that it could almost have been called Gothic 2½. I’ve completed the first three Gothic games a long time ago. (Well, actually I’ve completed all four if you also count Arcania, but it wasn’t made by Piranha Bytes and had a different feel.) The first games in the Gothic series had very ruthless beginnings. I actually never quite enjoyed starting that far down the ladder and it taking so long to get the upper hand, but there is something to be said for finally getting powerful enough to stand toe to toe with the tougher enemies of the game. It gives a very palpable sense of progression in the later parts of their games.

The Piranha Bytes RPG have always felt crude to me in a strangely charming way – kind of like the Paul Norman games on the Commodore 64, such as Forbidden Forest and Aztec Challenge. Lots of cut corners everywhere. Roasting a stew without meat in the pan. Animations where items are just conjured out of thin air. Sound effects that sometimes feel like they don’t belong. That sort of thing. Even though Risen was a reboot with a new publisher in 2009, it still felt totally like a late part of the exact same series. It also still had all the strong trademarks too, like a solid AI for NPC going about their own business.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

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Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, World War I

This was a really charming adventure game with minor stealth and action elements. I’ve always been fond of European graphic novels and thus the comic book art style, the multiple parallax layers and the cute animation was right up my alley. Most of the time it was strictly side-scrolling with exits (like a doorway) to another plane closer or farther away, but there were also healing mini-games, minor QTE, and pursuits in a car driving towards the camera. The game was also educational. Sometimes a piece of history could be popped up with a paragraph about what really went on in the first world war.

While the game itself was charming and had relatively easy puzzles, the story and the depiction of the first world war was anything but. It followed the story of Emile and Karl (both drafted into the war on each side), Anna the nurse, and Freddie the American that joined voluntarily after his wife was killed. They met up and got separated repeatedly on several occasions, and sometimes they even got captured or wounded. There were many grim sequences with lots of blood and death. Bombs falling, explosions, shooting from afar, planes, tanks, armies – lots of pain and despair to be seen and felt all over the place.

How a French Comic Series Inspired Star Wars

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This is a blog post I’ve wanted to write ever since I started my first blog in 2011. After the news got out about Luc Besson releasing a movie in 2017 based on the comic, I thought it would be a good idea to get it done some time in advance. Similar blog posts have since been published by others especially in 2015, but I’m still going to release my version as I have new comparisons I believe no one else have had, and I’m also using original material from both the graphic novels and the movies that I have acquired myself.

I’ve always loved the original Star Wars trilogy and thought these movies have really earned the status as some of the finest science fiction of all time. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve rewatched the trilogy. The first time I saw the first movie, I got minor Flash Gordon comic book vibes, especially as our heroes discovered the Death Star for the very first time.

But after a closer inspection, it turns out that the movies actually owes a French science fiction comic series a whole lot more than Flash Gordon, a series called Valérian and Laureline that originated in 1967. And I’m not talking about just mere fleeting similarities or obvious coincidences. In this blog post, I will show you various comic pane extracts from the series and compare them to photos of the Star Wars movies. I think you will be quite surprised how much some of them match each other.

Valerian and Laureline

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This is part of a blog series about European graphic novels. See this blog post for a small introduction.

Valerian and Laureline is among my most treasured space and science fiction stories, right up there with monster franchises such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Futurama and probably a hundred more. The stories of adventure, diplomacy and exploration are really intriguing, at least up until the two city books. The way this series was drawn left me in awe right from the beginning, and it still does. No doubt it has inspired a lot of other media since, especially Star Wars.

If you are new to European graphic novels, this series is an excellent introduction.

Page 2 in "Heroes of the Equinox"
Page 2 in “Heroes of the Equinox” where we see the astroship with our heroes in the last pane.

The series is about two spatio-temporal agents, Valerian and Laureline. They belong to Galaxity, the capital of Earth in the 28th century. Their most important task is to make sure that no one uses time travel to change the course of history, but also for Earth to establish contact with new civilizations. To help them with these tasks they are in control of a saucer-shaped astroship that can jump in both space and time, sort of like teleporting. The technology in the series is much closer to Star Wars than Star Trek; overly detailed and dirty, sometimes even breaking down. Taking care of their duty usually turns out to be a complicated matter that brings them on an adventurous and meandering path, typically with a lot of bizarre beings and a constant sense of wonder. The series is very imaginative and still have awesome science fiction ideas I have yet to see anywhere else.

Introduction to European Graphic Novels

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Back in the 70’s, way before the first Star Wars movie, I started collecting comics in the form of graphic novels in A4/C4 size, i.e. the size of a full letter. They were a bit bigger than the standard comics magazine, with stiff high quality color pages inside a solid carton front and back page. Graphic novels of this kind was extremely popular all over Europe especially at that time, and typically had about 48 quality pages. Asterix, The Adventures of Tintin, The Smurfs and a ton of others used pretty much the exact same format. They all had a small back edge with vertical text and a number – a tiny hardcover; ideal for collecting and finding it again on the shelves. It would often take more than a year before the next graphical novel in most of these limited series was published. I collected the novels in my favorite series as they were released and read them many times over during the years to come.

It was quite a different culture than with the superhero magazines on the other side of the pond. Not that we didn’t have those – we certainly did and we also loved them – but we Europeans always held our graphical novels in very high esteem. Each novel was usually an entire story with a start and an end (rarely they continued) and they almost always adhered to precisely those 48 pages. Only a few select titles had more, and then still a static number that it then adhered to, like 62 pages for The Adventures of Tintin. This ensured a good and predictable chunk of time reading it, and that for me was part of the charm.

Alien: Isolation

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Developer: The Creative Assembly | Released: 2014 | Genre: FPS, Horror

As a first person horror action/adventure, this game was quite true to the first movie and really managed to exude the same atmosphere. Especially the prefabs and corridors were an amazingly close call. In the beginning it also felt like a spiritual successor to System Shock 2, in part because of the ominous graffiti on the walls. And it was quite a looker. Lots of details, all high resolution textures, and a solid lighting style with small whiffs of smoke here and there.

The gameplay was mostly sneaking around, avoiding androids or the alien using various tools for opening doors and a bit of crafting for e.g. creating distracting bombs and health syringes. I could hide inside lockers or crawl through vents. Weapons were weak and ammunition sparse, and most of it would barely scare away the alien anyway. The androids in the game were also tough bullet sponges. Fighting one felt just as absurd as when Ripley fought Ash in the movie, just as it should be.

The levels were quite linear to begin with, but the later areas got bigger and with adjoining corridors. If the area felt particularly open with lots of options for moving around, chances were that the alien would be tagging along there as well. There was also a lot of backtracking, either to get back to a hub (such as the tram stations) or to open previously blocked doors with newly acquired hacking or cutting tools.

But it’s true what they all say – it was way too long (a whopping 19 missions) and sometimes relentless. I heard the rumors and prudently selected one of the lower difficulty levels, but still. There were actually a lot of levels where the alien wasn’t even present, but when it was, it felt like it was tethered to me. Sort of like if it could sense my aura and know not to go too far away.

Papers, Please

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Developer: Lucas Pope | Released: 2013 | Genre: Simulation, Puzzle

This was a mix of a simulation and a puzzle game as an immigration officer at a border checkpoint for the fictitious country of Arstotzka in 1982. Inspecting the passports and papers of the arrivals from a massive queue was split up in days. In between a family had to be supported with the income, and if I had too many validation errors then maybe they would starve, be cold, or even die.

On various new days there were a change of rules, possibly introducing a new tool. Sometimes it was just additional papers, at other times confiscating passports, detaining, searching for hidden weapons after a couple of snapshots, even using a key to open a locker with a weapon and shooting a runner.

I didn’t expect this one to grab me as much as it did. Normally I’m not always keen on these simulation kind of games, and I had prepared myself for one of those that I played for one hour (the unwritten backlog rule) and then abandoned. I even selected easy mode with an additional income to avoid having to break too much of a sweat supporting my family. But within just a few minutes I was really hooked.

One reason was the terrific atmosphere – the dark, dystopian scenario, with perfect muffled talk sounds. Another reason was that checking up on details in passports, papers and fingerprints spoke to my tad of a perfectionist gene that I made good use of in my 12 years as a software tester. Not that I didn’t get quite a few error receipts. Sometimes the game did feel a bit unfair as if it wanted me to be downright wrong about a decision no matter what I chose. But that feeling of nailing a wrong piece of information and maybe even detaining someone, it was mysteriously fascinating.