Mad Max, the computer game

Originally posted by Chris Groff on Google Plus.

I’m about 10 hrs into Mad Max now, so while I’m not even close to completion I’ve seen and done enough to have a pretty good take on it.

You play the titular character of Mad Max. He is the haunted wasteland survivor that we saw a bit of in Road Warrior but they really tried to emphasize it in Fury Road. This game, like the movies, doesn’t really fit into a specific time line, it’s really another story in the Mad Max verse.

We are introduced to Mad Max after his run in with Scrotus. Stripped of his car and his clothes he is once again thrust into this world tasked with surviving and regaining his place in the wasteland. Along the way you’ll meet a variety of characters, key is your side kick Chumbucket who is a blackfinger. He’ll be your companion for the journey, a mechanical zealot who’ll keep your car running and offer helpful advice along the way.

Your goal is to survive and in order to do that you’ll end up helping other survivors against Scrotus and his legions. This is where the core game play and story comes in. The game is broken into story missions and free roaming action. The map is scattered with bases and encampments for the various warlords and you’ll be taking them out to weaken Scrotus’s grip on this area of the Wasteland. This is done with a combination of specific story goals as well as just free roaming action.

In addition to working towards Scrotus there are random things to do like exploring the vast area for precious scrap (currency), collectibles and components to upgrade your character, vehicles and strongholds you are working out of. There are also races to enter and general havoc you can cause by taking out convoys and other forms of destruction. Max is definitely on a mission in this game.

The action is broken up into car racing/combat and melee combat. The controls for driving took me a little bit to get used to but once I did driving hasn’t been a problem and is really fun. The cars feel distinctive and upgrades to your Magnum Opus are noticeable in how the car handles. So it’s not a case of just throw the best stuff on. Because as you add components there are trade offs between acceleration, handling, weight and damage. You can really tailor the car to your style.

Crashing into cars is met with a satisfying impact as chunks fly off metal crunches, bodies go flying and vehicles explode. This is accomplished by ramming vehicles, side swiping them, ripping chunks off with your harpoon or simply shooting at them. Destroying a car will reward you with a bit of salvage, but if you can take a car out and leave it drive-able returning it to your Stronghold (once you get that far) will give you access to use that vehicle as well as a much larger salvage value.

Melee combat I’m finding equally satisfying. It uses the same kind of combo mechanic that WB started in Batman and continued in Shadow of Mordor. Impacts feel solid and meaty. You break bones, slam people into walls, curb stomp them, shiv them and bash them with clubs. Max is pretty bad ass and in 10 hrs beating the piss out of the various warboys and other factions is only getting more fun as I unlock new skills in the game.

There is a bit of formula to the whole play, not dissimilar to Shadow of Mordor. The area is broken up into territories and they are under the control of various bosses and factions with bases. You need to break down those bases and weaken their control. This is done by taking out watch towers and taking over pumping stations. The stations are all unique, but like the fortresses in Mordor there are some similarities to the approach and the action in. You fight your way in and blow it up. There are optional goals inside, which you’ll certainly want to do and are generally easy to accomplish on the way.

I personally like that these optional goals are fairly easy to do because it lets you keep the action flowing, other people may find it too easy. But my idea of fun is not search a field of haystacks for the right haystack and the needle in it YMMV. Because this is the formula of the game your long term enjoyment will be determined on how much you get into the general action elements. If you want a ton of variety of things to do, this may grow a little thin during the games typical 40-50 hour run time. This is the common approach that most open world games have. It’s a large world populated with similar actions and goals. Fortunately this formula is broken up with story moments and cut scenes that really help bring this world to life.

I’ve always enjoyed playing a specific character in open world games much more then random guy. I feel much more connected to the world because I know I’m supposed to be Mad Max and the story plays out like I’m Mad Max. Counter this to a game like Skyrim where you can play whatever you want, but regardless if you want to be Conan, the Grey Mouser, Robin Hood or Merlin the narrative really doesn’t change – this though is one of those YMMV things too.

Graphically the game is impressive there is a very consistent look to the setting, people and places. This game truly captures the look of the Mad Max franchise and there have been many times I’ve just stopped to appreciate the view. The frame rate has been pretty constant and I haven’t noticed any glitches along the way. However I’m also having fun playing the game and not stopping constantly to check for them.

There are a couple outlying issues. First is the fact that jumping/climbing is a little stunted. I wasn’t expecting to move around like in Batman or Shadow of Mordor. But the game has some semi-artificial fences that if you could only climb that ledge…. It’s not crippling and doesn’t really ruin the game but it’s just one of those niggling issues that always bugs me.

The next is one I actually applaud but thought I should mention. This is a game that runs on auto saves which means you can’t do the save/re-load thing. You can save at anytime but that will only update your accomplishments. When you die any thing you’ve collected will be retained but you don’t pop up right at the place you last saved. Instead you re-start at the last check point location. Basically the same as Batman, Shadow of Mordor and Borderlands. I personally like this method as you can’t try and rinse/replay your way through but other people hate that.

There are online play elements coming but they currently aren’t available so I can’t comment on them. But I suspect they’ll be similar to the random challenges that are in Shadow of Mordor and Batman given that it’s by the WB.

The screen shots below are taken from my TV. Very much if you can see it in the game you can get to it. Outside of the core ‘known’ area is the unforgiving wastes which you can explore at your peril. You may get lucky and find some paradise or swept away in a sand storm.

Overall I’d give this game 8.5 out of 10. I generally like all aspects of the game I’ve encountered but think it could benefit from a little more variety and a bit more polish in the little details along the way.

Because it’s been asked between this and Shadow of Mordor I’d pick Mad Max hands down. Not because the game play is so much better but because I’m enjoying the story more and I prefer the setting.

You can find out more about the computer game Mad Max here.

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Revisions Ahoy

I’ve been going through my catalogue of unpublished stories this last week and revising them. One or two might fit an open market, but not all. Once I’m revising, I kind of keep at it.

The distance of time helps me to consider my own work more critically, so if there is a reason to do it for one, I might as well do it for all. That way, at various periods, I am reviewing all my work. The chances of this stuff getting published is honestly declining as markets for heroic fantasy (that’s the only genre in which I have completed, unpublished stories) are likewise declining.

I do a lot of my proofing on printed pages. I am comfortable editing other people’s work on the screen, but for my own work, I find I’m better able to spot problems on a physical copy. Can’t say why that is, and it might actually be psychological.

If I have the time and motivation, I’ll read these stories aloud to myself. Something that looks fine on the page or on the screen might sound odd when you actually say it. Is it necessary? No, but I’d say anything that you do to make the writing stronger is worth the time.

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The Great Courses Listen Throughs

If you’ve been around here any length of time, you’ve likely seen me write about the Great Courses. I’m a huge fan of the courses, and different ones have influenced Kiss My Axe, Centurion, and Nefertiti Overdrive. That might be why the Great Courses have approached me about being an affiliate – meaning I’d host links here that direct back to the Great Courses and if those lead to a sale, I’ll get a cut.

It’s not something that I wouldn’t be doing anyway, but I wanted to mention it especially since I was going to do a “listen through” of two of the lecture series from the Great Courses.

The PDFs for Nefertiti Overdrive have been provided to backers and I’m just awaiting a proof so I can okay print production and get the books to the backers. Given that, I wanted to do a “listen through” for two lecture series on Egyptian history from the Great Courses. Once a week I’m going to post an article here that is part review, part overview, and part discussion of how I take inspiration from the episode.

I hope that sounds interesting. This is not something I am doing specifically because of the affiliate program, but was rather something I wanted to do to help provide inspiration for people who are interested in gaming in an Egyptian setting.

Expect to see the first post next week. I’m actually excited to return to these series which are both entertaining and enlightening.

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The Admiral: Roaring Currents

I really, really, really …

Really wanted to like this movie. It’s Yi Sun-Sin (pronounced Ee Soon-Sheen), my favourite Korean historical personage. He was absolutely amazing – the one bright point in an otherwise disastrous period (the Imjin War when Japan invaded and occupied parts of Korea near the end of the 16th century). I’ve read his diary of the period, and it makes him out to be the kind of person with whom I would actually enjoy sitting down and having a drink.

That’s not the Yi Sun-Sin of this movie. Which is fine. I’ve ranted before about the huge errors with Braveheart and Gladiator, but I own both movies. Were this an entertaining movie with a logical throughline and engrossing plot, I’d forgive the inaccuracies. Nope.

While Choi Min-Sik, one of Korea’s best actors, does a great job of portraying a brooding, tragic Admiral Yi, the script gave him very little but cliché and platitudes with which to work. The special effects are excellent, and the battle scenes exciting, but the illogic of almost everything that happens drains the fighting of much tension.

My wife, who is Korean and who adores Choi Min-Sik, found the movie tedious. It broke all kinds of records in South Korea, and I think much of it is designed to cater to Korean movie appetites – tragedy, sacrifice, maudlin emotion. My wife may have been removed long enough that she isn’t as interested in these ploys to tug at the heartstrings.

For me, it’s extremely depressing because I think the actual story has so much in it, I can’t understand the desire to alter it out of recognition. I felt much the same about Braveheart. Admiral Yi was facing 133 Japanese warships and 200 support vessels with only 13 battleships (panokseon) of his own. He chose the battlefield, designed a strategy that accentuated his ships’ advantages and removed much of the enemy’s advantages, then prepared the battlefield and drew the enemy in at a time of his choosing.

Just read the Wikipedia entry on the battle if nothing else.

I would have loved to have Choi Min-Sik play the gregarious but determined admiral, disillusioned with politics but loyal to his nation – which really meant the king at the time – and his family. Rather than gloomy councils of war, show him entertaining his friends and officers, enjoying drinks and archery. He can confide the fear that he feels, but it seems to me – through reading his diary and the accounts of his deeds – that he knew the Korean navy was superior, that it could protect the nation and thwart the Japanese. Destroy their supply lines and one cripples their efforts.

Just as he did.

I give the Admiral: Roaring Currents 2.5 panokseon out of 5. Though filled with action and great special effects, the story is plodding, the characters stereotypes, and the plot clichéd. What a waste of great source material.

You can find more information on the Admiral: Roaring Currents at IMDB and Wikipedia.

You can read about the Battle of Myeongnyang at Wikipedia.

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Booze-Soaked (more or less) Confession

I have a secret for my writing that isn’t something I generally discuss. Alcohol.

The drunk writer is as much a stereotype as the starving, bohemian artist. And for me, drunk doesn’t work. When I drink too much, my typing suffers dramatically, as does my judgement – though that should be no surprise. A bottle of beer too many, and my writing suffers.

But a couple of glasses of red wine? Yeah, that’ll kick the heck out of any writer’s block. The stuff that I write after some wine isn’t uniformly good, but that’s generally not the point. For me, it’s getting the writing on the page. Even if I start with nothing, after some alcohol something will appear on that page. If it’s a project on which I’ve already worked or planned, I can get 1,000 or even 2,000 usable words down after a couple of hours.

To be honest, I generally don’t turn to alcohol for my writing these days. What usually happens is that I’ve had a glass of wine or a bottle of beer at dinner, then another after, and once the dishes are done I’m at the keyboard banging away.

It’s a crutch, sure, and it’s not something I am proud of, but it is a tool I can and have used.

I also like wine and beer, so there’s that.

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Star Wars: Rebels

My daughters and I are watching Star Wars: Rebels and are really enjoying it. We just finished episode 7 and I am really enjoying it. Not only do I get a chance to enjoy something with my daughters, but Rebels, more so that the Clone Wars – which they never got into – hearkens back to the very first Star Wars. There are many callbacks to the original trilogy (they had a scene in a cantina this last episode), but this is still a very different take.

I would say that Rebels is Star Wars meets Firefly, and what in that is not awesome? Further, it indicates that Obi-Wan was not the only Jedi who survived the Clone Wars, and since this is canon (I believe) this might be something the influences the stories in the new movies.

Basically, the story is about the crew of a Millenium Falcon-like light freighter called the Ghost, and while they are working the wrong side of the law – like their Firefly brethren – they are also fighting the Empire. There are linkages so far in the series between this one independent crew and the coalescing Rebellion.

In the end, this is a pretty light, fun series, but it does touch on some of the darkness that we encountered both in the original trilogy and in the prequels. In my opinion, none of the movies were as dark as Revenge of the Sith, and this follows on from that, so it has to address things like the murdered Jedi and the Empire’s solidifying control over the populace.

This is a children’s show, but Avatar: the Last Airbender showed that you could have a children’s show with a deep and meaningful storyline as well as hints of serious issues without drawing the series into darkness. I don’t think the writing in Rebels matches Avatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, just that it has flaws. Sometimes its a bit to light, and I think there are times when the production is pulled back when it could have faced issues head-on.

I give Star Wars: Rebels 4.75 rebellious young Jedi apprentices out of 5. This offers great new stories set in the Star Wars universe but with a slightly different focus, and maintains the optimism and excitement of the original trilogy while still dealing with the aftermath of the prequels.

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Gen Con Finds: Castle Assault

I don’t play boardgames as much as many people, but we have a few around the house, and as my girls get older, I’m investing in more. When I heard about Castle Assault, I was intrigued and wanted to check it out at Gen Con. I’m glad I did.

In Castle Assault, you play an army . . . wait for it . . . assaulting a castle. It’s referred to as a tower defence game, though I will admit this means nothing to me. The game can be played solo or with two players, and the basic rules can be digested in about ten minutes. That’s kind of like saying poker can be explained it ten minutes – it can, but there is so much more to it than the basic rules.

The armies are composed of unit and command cards, in which the command cards act as kind of “buffs” for the units, giving them special abilities or allowing them to act in special ways. Each of the armies has a specific style, meaning that each requires a different strategy to use and oppose. That makes the game different with every play. The art for each is unique and lends itself. Each army also has a hero card, a kind of player character for the board game.

This is kind of a mini-review, and I’ll write more when this game gets released. My understanding is that should be in a couple of months, so the wait won’t be long.

I give Castle Assault 4.5 rampaging orc battalions out of 5. The game is easy to learn but would likely take a satisfying amount of time to master. The art is great and the variety of cards and armies gives a player lots of different ways to enjoy the game.

You can find out more about Castle Assault here.

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