The Banner Saga


Making a game less user-friendly in order to alter how it is perceived is a difficult thing to do, but more and more people are realizing how restrictions change player behavior. Papers, Please is perhaps the best and most obvious recent example in this regard, but I would argue that the difference between Dragon Age and Mass Effect is another, albeit more subtle way of doing it – offering the player choices with little to no hint of how it will play out. The Banner Saga does this a lot, for great effect.

The Banner Saga tells a story about reluctant leaders. It is a grim tale and the uncertainty of the outcome of your decisions really exemplify why the protagonists lead not because they want to, but because someone has to. There are very few unambiguously good or bad decisions – abandon the villagers and they will likely be slaughtered by the armies scouring the land. Bring them along and everyone is likely to starve as you run out of resources. A multitude of  factors make it hard to optimize your results, further using gameplay to establish the protagonists as barely hanging on, making choices they hope will be good in the long run.

It is a dark story with uncertain endings, possibly not one that would do well in a AAA environment. As such, the Banner Saga is a fine example of how the diversification of game development into different-sized projects help the industry mature.

Posted on Jan 26/14 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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Rogue Legacy


While I like the umbrella term PDL to describe Roguelike or Roguelite games, some of the ways in which Rogue Legacy differs from the traditional Rogue formula are really important in making it a good game. Importantly, it is more forgiving than Spelunky or FTL as it does not remove any progress on player death – there is certainly charm in starting from a clean slate every run, but never having to worry about losing everything invites exploration and reduces frustration when death feels random.

Rogue Legacy is sensible about revealing new classes and equipment pieces, things that would have seemed redundant or insignificant earlier in the game are usually revealed just as they become useful. Some classes are only powerful if you play a certain way and others are remarkably well suited to a small number of situations, but they all have their place. Similarly, there are a lot of choices and most stats can be raised in at least three different ways, but there are subtle differences that occasionally make all the difference.

Finally, Rogue Legacy draws comic relief from a large number of character traits and references to other games, but it does this without compromising the tone or – more importantly – the design. It is an impressively cohesive collection of elements, even more so considering the small number of people involved.

Posted on Jan 04/14 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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It’s been a long while since I wrote anything other than reflections on this page. Not that there has been a lack of material – I keep a closer eye on the industry now than I used to, and I partake personally in more events since I live closer to them – it’s just difficult to say something that is relevant but unsaid elsewhere. Not that the reflections have any particular value, but I do it mostly for my own sake and the public nature of the format only serves to make me think more about the words.

That said, in 2014 I will attempt to only write positive things about the games I play. This is not too big of a stretch since intriguing me is usually a requirement for me playing a game in the first place, but it is a useful focus in rooting out the successes of each game, the inspirational pieces of them. More importantly, there are far too many instances in the gaming culture focusing on negativity and ridiculing flaws – certainly, some thoughtful critique but there’s also a large chunk of people writing hostility for laughs. I’m not in a position to singlehandedly change the tone of the conversation, but I can at least experiment with the tone of my own voice.


Monaco is an interesting beast that invites you to find exploits, shows you why the exploits do not work and invites you to try and outsmart it. It is a brilliant exercise in asymmetric gameplay and a sandbox not in size but in options – every level is a stage for a myriad of heist movies. Most importantly, Monaco truly shines in multiplayer, constantly causing incidental synergy and making every player contribute without handicaps.

Kentucky Route Zero

Still in development, but the first two chapters have been something out of the ordinary. While there’s a lot to be said for the melancholy and mystery of the settings and aesthetics, the characters really sell it.

Tomb Raider

I can probably name a few games I liked more than Tomb Raider, but everything from the technology to the design and writing was surprisingly good. Making a modern Tomb Raider game and telling a human origin story for Lara Croft was difficult for so many reasons but Crystal Dynamics managed to pull it off.

…Honorable mentions go to GTA V and Rayman Legends (which I really liked but did not have much to say about), and Papers, Please. And a bunch of other games. It’s been a good year.

Posted on Jan 03/14 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog, Reflections | No Comments »