Blaugust Day 17: The Blackwell Adventure Game Series (Legacy, Unbound, Convergence, etc.)

If there’s one game genre that I find it almost impossible to explain why I would recommend a particular game highly, it’s the adventure game genre.

Whatever you try to explain, you can’t shake off the uneasy feeling that you might be dropping a whole bunch of spoilers on someone, and it’s too easy to end up with a series of stock clichés. It’s good? It had a solid story? Interesting characters?

Part of the adventure game’s appeal is that sense of discovery and exploration, of finding out secrets and mysteries and what’s going on. Me providing a Wikipedia synopsis would ruin that desire to piece it all together.

Couple that with the doubt that what makes a story good is all too subjective – I might be too much of a romantic, content to accept formulaic plots that would find plenty of homes on the TV Tropes website, simply because it falls into one of my favorite settings (urban fantasy, in this case) or find an easy, comfortable, familiarity with such a formula, while someone else pans it for being too predictable – and it becomes very difficult to describe why a particular adventure game would appeal.

I guess for me, it’s part atmospherics – the setting, the sense of mood (bonus points if it’s noir or cyberpunk), music that sets the tone, suitable sounds that evoke a place and ‘fit’ with the world.

It’s part writing – how the characters come across, if they come across as believable, the flow of the dialogue, the strength of the voice-acting, if any, or fun, humorous vignettes that follow in the style of the classic Sierra or Lucasfilm/LucasArts greats.

Puzzles are very much a secondary concern for me. I prefer them easy and not to get in the way of the story being told, as opposed to so hard or obscure that I end up forever blocked or forced to use a walkthrough to progress. after having endured a heavy dose of frustration that made me forget the story while trying to deal with the requirements of the game.

Adventure games are very much mostly about the story for me, how I feel about the characters, if I can immerse into the world believably for the space of those couple of hours and live out the plot the writer wanted to tell me.

That said, the Blackwell series from Wadjet Eye Games would come highly recommended by moi.

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The Blackwell Legacy is the first game in the series.

I put it on my list at the beginning of the month, meaning to finally give it a go and evaluate if the rest were worth playing…

…Well, in under two nights, I’ve gone right through Blackwell games 1-3 and am chomping at the bit to finish 4 and 5… which I don’t yet own, leading to an interesting dilemma of if I should go against my usual miserly nature and pay full price for said games, or exercise just that little bit of patience to pick them up when one of the ubiquitous Steam sales roll around.

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The main character of the Blackwell Legacy is Rosangela (Rosa) Blackwell, who returns home from her aunt’s funeral to discover the family legacy… a ghost named Joey that is now bound to her side, and the powers of a medium… which yes, lets her see ghosts and talk to them. Turns out that she now has a new mission in life, to find restless ghosts and help them accept their deaths and find peace.

It’s not a terribly new trope – TV shows have done it before, like in the supernatural series Ghost Whisperer; there are a ton of urban fantasy books that cover similar ground, though they may call their special women ‘witches’ instead of ‘medium’ or (one of my favorites being Kelley Armstrong’s Jaime Vegas) ‘necromancer.’

But you know, that lack of newness just makes the premise understandable, and dare I say, a little fun as well. Now -you- get to play the ghost detective that you’ve read or watched before.

The character writing in the Blackwell series is fairly solid, courtesy of designer/writer Dave Gilbert, providing a cast that is both diverse and colorful.

The voice-acting of the series is excellent. One of its critical pillars, I would say, as the voice actors really help to bring out extra facets of each characters’ personalities over what the text conveys.

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Blackwell Unbound is the second game,  and if you think the main character looks rather different from the first game’s intro, you’d be right.

We move backwards in time several decades to play Rosangela’s aunt – Lauren Blackwell – when it was her turn as the psychic detective.

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There’s a lot more noir influence in this one. Lauren is as hardbitten a medium as Rosa was reluctant. The woman chain-smokes like a chimney, and has an ashtray for every location of the house, plus a couple more.

As they go around solving ghost cases, little plot threads start springing up and winding their way through the past/future of the first game, and harkening and foreshadowing the subsequent games. It leaves for some mysteries and unanswered questions, if you try to play any of the games as a standalone (I wouldn’t advise it,) but I’m a right sucker for episodic story arcs so it’s completely up my alley.

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Blackwell Convergence brings us back to Rosa, a little older and more mature, having blossomed into a fairly competent, fast-talking ghostbuster.

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The third game offers more attractive graphics, and looks and feels like Dave Gilbert has found his stride with regards to who these characters are, and where we are going with them.

There’s plenty of wit in this one, with characters that are now both comfortable and familiar to the audience, and makes for an entertaining ride.

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I’m still waiting to play the fourth and fifth games, but from reports, things only get better from here and the whole series winds up in a satisfactory and fitting (if possibly poignant or bittersweet – which usually means the writer nailed it emotionally) fashion.

Definitely worth a play. (Or at least watching or reading somebody else’s Let’s Play of it.)

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust and Blackwell, and the number 17.

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Steam Sale Recommendation: One Finger Death Punch

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This game is nuts. A good kind of nuts. Crunchy. Flavorful. Nuts.

The stick figure graphics look absolutely cheesy, in a low budget mobile app kind of way, but hiding behind that is a gem on the level of Cook, Serve, Delicious or better.

You press two buttons. That’s it.

Left and right mouse buttons. Or if you’re a keyboard warrior, you get the options of left/right arrow, S/D or B/N.

Everything else is in the timing, plus the combos and skills that change up the timing.

This game distills that mechanic into its utmost purest form. (A one-button clicker would lack the confusion of one’s fingers trying to decide which button to press now.)

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I suppose you might call it a rhythm game meets a fighting game side brawler or something, but whatever you call it, it’s definitely worth a play.

It will teach things like anticipation, watching the enemy’s coming attacks, planning of your next few moves and improve one’s reaction time.

Skills that can be applied to any other action-combat game you’re playing, like say, *cough*, GW2. (I weep inside every time I see a player get knocked down by a champion wurm’s tossed rock. It’s one of the easiest things to practice dodging on. The player just has to make the mental connection that dodging it -is- actually possible.)

It will punish button mashing with tit-for-tat ruthlessness.

And still it will feel completely fair, because it will only attack you when you slip up and make that mistake. Press one button that failed to connect and missed, and an enemy will hit you in response. Fail to dispose of an enemy, and it again will hit you.

Get the timing and anticipation perfect, and you are rewarded with sequences of absolute martial arts combo perfection as you slip into a flow state and your corresponding stick figure glides like water and smashes the crap out of his enemy stick figures.

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Each level lasts a fairly short time, so it’s great for those quickie entertainment moments when one can’t afford to fire up a longer game (or say, when one is waiting for 15-30 minutes IN a longer game waiting for something to start.)

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And yet, there are a TON of levels with a bunch of variations to choose from (the above pic is like one small part of the whole continent map – the graphics look like shit, yes, but thankfully you don’t have to stay in this level select screen long) plus survival mode plus god-knows-what difficulty modes, so there’s plenty of game in this game.

Ultimately, you wanna pick up One Finger Death Punch for the fantastic demonstration of how merely pressing two buttons can add up into an entertaining game, and for the cartoon stick figure carnage amidst punchy sound effects that work really well.

Stars Without Number: Swan Song

I’ve always liked tabletop roleplaying, but also always ran into the geographical problem. There’s simply not enough people I can find in physical proximity to get a game going, especially living somewhere in  freakin’ Asia, a continent or two away from where more people have heard of the concept.

Now there’s digital tabletop roleplaying – assuming you have a webcam, a microphone and a tabletop roleplaying program – but eh, I already find trying to keep to regular MMO raid times a headache, to say nothing of trying to schedule the SAME 4-5 busy working adults across weeks and months for long enough to have a decent story going.

Then there’s the effort of GMing – isn’t it always funny how the one with the most interest ends up taking on most of the work – and I end up concluding that trying to run a game in reality fits under the ‘very low priority desire’ category.

Instead, just like one realizes that one doesn’t have the time to play all the MOBAs in the world and just idly watches professional streams now and then, I’ve taken to watching someone else roleplay for me.

Or a whole bunch of someone elses.

JP McDaniel aka “itmeJP” on Youtube, runs a roleplaying games channel where his friends and him play through a broad range of game systems. He’s also had some very special guest stars joining in – Totalbiscuit on Dark Heresy, Jesse Cox on Numenera, and so on.

One of the more recent and fascinating game series that I would recommend is their current play through with the “Stars Without Number” RPG system (a free edition available through DriveThruRPG here.)

If you like science fiction, and/or are a fan of Firefly, where a gang of ruffians and ne’er-do-wells fly around on a spaceship visiting different planets and getting into interesting scrapes, you might like Swan Song.

This is Part 2 of the first episode, which gets right into the introduction of the characters, then the story portion.

(Part 1 is the character creation and involves lots of dice rolling and numbers and system talk, which may only interest a smaller subset of you.)

One notable player to look out for is Steven Lumpkin, who also happens to be the lead level designer for the Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade MMO. He’s more often in the GM role, but as it turns out, he’s also a very entertaining and artfully imaginative player.

The entire playlist is here.

As these “Rollplay” episodes are almost essentially audio plays, unless you really want to track every last nuance of their faces and dice rolls, I’ve found that they make good watching alongside a relaxing farming session in an MMO, where one can indulge in repetitive meditative motions while keeping the rest of the brain occupied elsewhere.

Now level 63 in Path of Exile, thanks to lots of Fellshrine Ruins farming and Swan Song!

(The item drops on Merciless do seem to be a lot more attractive, I’m accruing currency and skill gems at a decent enough rate.)