Catching Up on Gaming: Dead Island

Yeah, I know, it's buggy, but there  is  fun to be had.

Yeah, I know, it's buggy, but there is fun to be had.

Dead Island is a game I'd been curious about for a while, but I'd been put off by the fact that it is highly melee-centric. There ARE firearms in the game, but they're supposed to be extremely difficult to locate, and getting ammunition for them is even tougher. Normally when I play a game, especially any sort of survival and/or horror game, I like to keep my distance and fight from range. I'd avoided Dead Island as a result.

I picked it up on sale at Origin, and so far I'm finding it to be a fairly mixed experience. My initial impression was soured by terrible control glitches. I have a multi-monitor setup, and I found when trying to play with the mouse and keyboard that it wasn't locking the mouse input correctly; I would end up with two mouse cursors, one of which would often stray onto my other monitor with other programs running, and when I tried to click things in-game, I'd end up taking focus away from the game. Frustrating, to say the least.

I haven't resolved that issue yet, unfortunately. I can play it, but to do so I have to use an Xbox 360 controller. Not ideal, but it does work pretty well. It seems to be a good one to jump into when I just feel like a little gaming, maybe a quick 10-15 minute session.

I'm too early in to have a handle on the actual plot of the game, but here's what I know so far. You have a choice of characters to play, each with a different speciality; blunt weapons, sharp weapons, firearms, etc. I went with the distressed-looking lady pictured above, Xian Mei, the sharp weapon specialist/assassin. Each character has a bit of a backstory that brings them to the island, when everything starts going terribly wrong and everyone starts eating each other.

Naturally there'll be a lot more to this story, including what happened, and why, but right now I'm immersed in the whole "What the hell is going on here!?" phase, worrying more about finding a secure, defensible location than in investigating the deeper questions. That'll come in time.

The combat is mostly pretty fun, though it quickly becomes obvious that being mobbed by more than two zombies at once is really, really, really dangerous. The zombies are pretty easy to kill, but it takes enough time that you'll be overwhelmed. I think I've survived one encounter with three zombies; every other time it's been three or more, I've died horribly.

I really love how they handle weaponry. Weapons are easy to find, though they won't necessarily be the weapons most appropriate for your particular character. Blunt weapons are the most common, though I've started finding a few more bladed weapons recently, which is good for Xian. Weapons have a durability rating, and degrade pretty quickly, especially this early in the game; later on, I think you start finding weapons that are a lot more durable.

You'll also find work tables around the island that will let you repair damaged weapons, upgrade them, or create entirely new ones. Keeping your weapons in good shape is vitally important. You can fight zombies unarmed, and it is advisable to do so whenever it's safe, but weapons will take them down a LOT faster. Taking them down quickly is the key to staying alive if you've got several of them after you at once.

There's some good character development stuff straight out of the roleplaying game genres with skill trees and stuff, but I'm not far enough in the game to have played with all of that yet. It looks like there's a lot more to this game than just wandering around killing zombies though, so that's a pleasant surprise. I'm glad I've got it, and I'll be looking forward to Dead Island: Riptide, the upcoming add-on for the game.

It's possible to play it co-op, and apparently there are particularly dangerous parts of the island where that's highly advisable. I might have to see if I know anyone who plays who'd be interested in getting in on a game with me at some point.

It can be difficult to get a real idea of what a game is like from a written description, so if you want a better idea of how it plays, I highly recommend this "Let's Play" YouTube series by Sips and Sjin of the Yogscast. (Viewers be warned about NSFW language, however.)

Changing the Story - Interactive Narrative

Shortly after I posted my GeekBeat.TV review of The Walking Dead Game I got a number of comments to the effect that people were disappointed by how little the story changed over the course of playing the game. I was pretty dumbfounded by this, as the degree of change was one of the things that impressed me the most; so much so that I wrote about it here, too.

After having given it a few weeks of consideration, I’ve come to believe people have the wrong idea about interactive storytelling, or at least that they have unrealistic expectations. There’s this sense that “the story completely changes when you select different options!” means really radical changes, like in one branch you abandon Atlanta and go off to a totally different city with different characters, while another branch has you stay in the area.

That kind of branching story can be done, but not in a game like The Walking Dead Game. That’s more the kind of difference you’d see in a massively multiplayer online game like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic, where the games were designed with massive budgets and enough staff to be able to cope with wildly diverging paths of that nature.

The Walking Dead is a much more tightly focused game, and it works within some limitations. You’re always going to start the game in that police car, and you’re always going to end episode 1 in [SPOILER REDACTED]. Nothing you do during the game can change that, except die, and I’d assume you’d try again if that happened.

Instead what changes is Lee’s relationships with the other survivors, and even who the group of survivors is composed of. Did so-and-so live or die? Did you stick up for the one family during the confrontation in the pharmacy so that he has your back later on? Did you call someone a nasty name, earning a black mark in her book that she’ll remember later? Did you lie to Clementine or tell her the brutal truth early on? All of these things are noted and remembered by the game, and really change how people interact with Lee as you play him through events.

THAT is how interactive narrative changes, even when settings don’t. Now, where’s episode 2?

A Different Kind of Interview

This has to be another fairly short night of writing. I have an interview coming up tomorrow for one of those day job things I remember from some time back in the past. The dream is to do this writing gig full time, but it’s going to be a while before it can pay the bills, I suspect. Anyway, it’s a fantastic gaming company with a lot of great projects under them, so wish me luck! I’m really hoping I get this.

Geek & Sundry

I love living in the future. I really do. One of my favorite things about this future we’re in is how huge geek culture has become and how it continues to explode with great content, like Felicia Day’s brand new Geek and Sundry channel over on YouTube.

The Sword and Laser

Geek and Sundry first came to my attention by way of The Sword and Laser, a fantastic fantasy & sci-fi book club/audio podcast/GoodReads forum hosted by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt. Some weeks ago, they announced that they were bringing S&L to video as part of Geek and Sundry, so of course I had to check it out.

Sadly, The Sword and Laser won’t be airing on the G&S channel for another couple of weeks, but G&S itself launched today and they’ve got a bunch of other shows that are well worth checking out.

I’m the One That’s Cool

Firstly, Geek and Sundry is Felicia Day’s channel, so you’d better bet The Guild is represented. They’ve gotten together and made another music video, this one about the injustices many geeks had to endure in their formative years at the hands of “cooler” peers, and the cultural reversal that has left geeks increasingly popular lately. It’s a fun song and video, though by far the most serious of the releases they’ve done to date, dealing as it does with issues of bullying and abuse.

The Flog

Felicia has another show, this one a weekly solo effort. The Flog debuted today, where she talks about stuff she’s into, highlights cool things she’s found around the internet lately, and goes out and tries things she’s always been interested in, sometimes for the first time. In her debut episode she goes out to learn the basics of blacksmithing. Now I’m no stranger to blacksmithing and crafting in general—I wield a mean pick in Minecraft—but she was doing this in the real world for once, not in a video game. She forged a real iron fire poker, and has it up for auction to benefit the FDNY Foundation. Pretty awesome stuff.

Table Top

Felicia got Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Eureka & The Big Bang Theory) to host a show all about table top gaming. Yes, they still make games you don’t play on computers or consoles! This one is the longest of the shows I sampled at half an hour plus individual one to two minute interviews with each guest player afterward. It’s well worth the investment.

For the first episode, Wheaton has guests Grant Imahara (Mythbusters), Jenna Busch (Girl Meets Lightsaber) and Sean Plott (Day[9]TV) on set to play Small World, a German-style fantasy board game that’s something like Civilization meets Settlers of Catan with some Dungeons & Dragons thrown into the mix. You watch them play, get a feel for the game and how much fun it can be, get some instruction on the rules and some tricks for good play. It looks like it’s going to shape up to be a really fun show. It’s supposed to air every two weeks, alternating on Fridays with The Sword and Laser.

Dark Horse Motion Comics

The last show I checked out today was Dark Horse Motion Comics, where they take actual comics and give them just enough animation to kick them off the page and into the video realm, with voice acting, sound effects and ambient background music to present the stories in a whole new light. Whether this one is for you will depend a great deal on whether you’re into the comic being adapted; this first one, The Secret, is maybe not my cup of tea, but I could easily appreciate how the format would (and will) appeal on a series that I’d be more inclined to follow.

Geek and Sundry isn’t the only such channel to pop up. Chris Hardwick, aka the Nerdist, has something similar in the works. I’ll undoubtedly be checking that out shortly too.

My Favorite Kind of Writing Research

This is only tangentially related to writing, since I’m doing it in preparation for my next story, but it is SO good to play these games again.

A huge part of my early gaming life was taken up by Sierra adventure games. King’s Quest, Space Quest, Willy Beamish, and similar series from other publishers took up more hours of my life than I care to think about these days.

There was always something especially quirky and fun about the humor in Space Quest and the many send-ups of the sci-fi I grew up on that drew me in to those games. The sad part is I never played any of the series after the third. I tried, but many of the games from that era were buggy, and I never got IV, V or VI to run until now.

I’m working through both Space Quest I and IV as research, or “research” if you prefer. Thanks to the magic of ScummVM, I’ve been able to get past the first bit of Space Quest IV for the first time ever. It’s a real delight to have new Sierra games (new to me, at least) to play. There’s still one or two King’s Quest titles I never got through …

I’m not sure exactly at this point what direction I want the Space Quest inspiration to take me in. I’ll probably have to let it decide that. It certainly won’t be a carbon copy, or an attempt to write a story in the Space Quest universe. In my mind’s eye, it’s more a matter of colorings and shadings of humor and weird situations.

Thanks to ScummVM I’m able to finally(!) play the game after all these years, but there are still some issues because it’s such an old game. Wish me luck getting through the whole thing!