PAX AUS 2015. Another year done. I’m knackered.

So my social event of the year, PAXAUS 2015, has come and gone. It was an odd mixture of fun, frustration, and exhaustion.

The mecca of all things nerdy.
The mecca of all things nerdy.

If you’re not sure what PAX (short for Penny Arcade Expo) is, you should check out Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade started life as a little online web comic that has grown into a huge industry powerhouse simply because it’s creators LOVE gaming. The expo happens yearly all over the USA and now, thankfully for the past few years, in Australia. Even better is that they’ve chosen Melbourne as the city to host it (for the time being) which means it’s incredibly easy for me to go to. It’s a celebration of games, gaming, games development and issues surrounding the gaming industry. It includes all facets of gaming, which is what I especially enjoy, so if you’re not a lover of video games but you adore table-top games, you’re totally covered.

To be honest, I am not really a hardcore gamer of any particular game style. I dabble in indie computer games and occasionally play the more mainstream stuff like The Sims, obvs. When I feel like it, I might play a card or board game or two. That said, I do enjoy knowing about the industry and it’s various facets. So for me the panels at PAX are definitely my favourite bit and what I invest much of my PAX time in.

Hee. I got the feels.
Hee. I got the feels.

This year there was a huge number of panels that I wanted to get into but due to time and schedule overlap, I couldn’t quite see everything that I wanted to see. Sadly, with PAX and the nature of how the show is put together, you do run the risk of panels not being great. Unfortunately many of panels I chose to attend were lackluster. While the topics were awesome, some failed simply due to the lack of preparation or real direction on behalf of the panelists.

The two panels I attended about the social aspect of gaming were frustrating as they didn’t even come close to discussing the topics they advertised. One panel was supposed to be debate about social gaming (think multiplayer games) versus solo gaming (single player) and which was better. It turned out to be a bunch of gameheads talking about which games they liked to play as opposed to putting forward arguments as to which was supposed to be “better”. It could have been SO GOOD… but wasn’t.

The other panel along the same theme was “Are Gamers Social?”, which was supposed to be a discussion addressing the idea that we gamers are not just people who sit in dark rooms playing games all day, denying that the outside world exists, was extremely disappointing. It was clearly put forward by someone with an axe to grind and who wanted to whine about how people give him a hard time – and having folks on the panel who looked like they hadn’t even bothered to shower in a few days didn’t help his cause. Even as they complained about it, they had already firmly ensconced themselves idea that gamers are different sorts of people an that they were different and somehow unsociable. ARGH!

Anyway, I left that one early because it just frustrating me.

But not all was doom and gloom. I had picked a few pretty awesome panels. There were a number of panels about diversity in games – including not only women in the industry (of course, because that’s always a huge topic considering “Gamergate” last year and the ongoing saga of females breaking into male-dominated industry), but also representation of different folks from all walks of life, backgrounds and ethnicity as well as addressing the issues of physical and mental disabilities in games. Some of those were real eye-openers.

And then there were the fun ones. D&D games with audience participation; a great one being run on the last day by The Dragon Friends who put out a regular podcast, discussions about LARP (live action role-play) as art, and science versus video games presented by Tim & Phill Talk About Games which as a little bit brilliant and piss-funny too.

The business end of the panel. (The Dragon Friends.)
The business end of the panel. (The Dragon Friends.)

The main exhibition hall was definitely sensory overload and I could really only manage a few short walks around the place to look about before naturally gravitating back to the quiet of the panel theatres or the table top hall. In spite of the overwhelming visual stimulation, I did get to see a lot of games being played and I admit my trigger finger got itchy as I observed folks enjoying Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate which has all the aesthetics I like in a game. (Ye olde London? YES PLEASE.) I even got to see a live demo of a game that I have been patiently waiting the release of called Unravel which really does look brilliant.

On the whole, PAX is fun. It’s hard to describe to those who have no interest in gaming of any sort (like my work colleagues for example) but it’s nice to know that us people who enjoy games and gaming of all sorts have a place to nerd out and be with our own for a few days.

Life is Strange – Game Review

On the penultimate eve of what is swiftly becoming the geek event of the year – PAX AU – I thought I would celebrate the approaching nerdgasm with a review of a game that I have been playing on and off for the past few weeks.

I would have done a review sooner but I’ve basically been in post-game remorse since I finished it a couple days ago.

Life Is Strange

It certainly is. If you want a game that induces all the feels… EVERY. SINGLE. ONE… then you need to play this one.

Let me chuck in a disclaimer here, though. If you prefer a lot of activity in your gaming experience (think “activity” in First Person Shooter terms – button mashing and racing around shooting/hitting things), then you will not like this game. If you enjoy a character and plot-driven game that runs more like a choose-your-own-adventure book, then you will love it.

Life is Strange is about choices.

Cause and effect.

Chaos Theory.

It’s a game in five parts (or episodes) where you play the part of Max, a budding photographer who discovers she has the power to turn back time and rewrite the past, sometimes to the betterment and sometimes to the detriment of any given situation.

The game starts with saving the life of Max’s long-lost best friend, the blue-haired Chloe, and from there you follow the girls through their adventures. It’s a little Sweet Valley High mixed with Pretty Little Liars mixed with Twin Peaks mixed with Walking Dead.

But without the zombies.

Chloe and Max
Chloe and Max

For me, it was totally immersive. I became invested in both the characters and the storyline. It brought me to tears in a few parts – but maybe I’m just a sook… Though having watched a few people on Youtube playing the game, their reactions have been much the same.

The real star of the show is the beautiful soundtrack. A good musical score can make or break a film and the same can be said for a game like Life is Strange. The music is mellow and haunting and lovely. Paired up with the fantastic art and animation throughout, it’s a real treat. I’ve noticed a handful of folks criticising the voice acting and script but once you just get into it, you simply don’t notice the ridiculousness of it. (“You hella saved my life!”)

The game play itself is very simple, you look at everything, talk to everyone and choose an appropriate response. In some places you have problems to solve like finding number codes or remembering and repeating a sequence of events. And as I mentioned, every thing you do or don’t do or choose to say affects future scenes and decision – this idea of cause and effect is what the game is built around.

Unfortunately (and this seems to be a common and very loud complaint) is that the game will lead you to make one of two choices to finish. There are no alternative endings at all. So regardless of whatever choices you make throughout the game and how you change the journey within the storyline, you will always come back to one specific decision at the end. And that kinda sucks because unless you’re the type of person who likes to unlock every achievement possible and get the best stats, you’re not likely to want to replay. I have no problems with either of the endings but just felt bummed that regardless of how I chose throughout the game, it didn’t really matter. But that was a very small gripe in what was ultimately a very enjoyable experience.

Getting down to the technical nitty-gritty, the mechanics of the game are a little clunky. I do have to say that the drag-click thing with the mouse is annoying but if you happen to be playing this on a console, you have the option of hitting buttons which is obviously easier. (I was playing on the PC version.) Other than that, you move Max around with the typical WASD keys and steer with the mouse.

Life is Strange is available through Steam. You can buy the first episode, “Chrysalis”, for a fiver and if you like it you can buy the rest for $17USD. I finished the whole thing in about 15 hours of game play. Not bad for a little indie game. Not bad at all.

A solid 8/10.

Important note: The game has been found to be triggering for some people as it deals with illness, drugs and suicide. If you’re particularly sensitive to these concepts, steer clear. The game is also rated M for obvious reasons.

Sims Saturday – The Sims 4 – Casa Del Vinoduo

Another Saturday, another Sims build. This one I have been working on for weeks. It’s the biggest house I have done to date. I just wanted to make something huge and extravagant. It is extremely laid back in terms of furnishing, though I personally adore the kitchen and the ensuite bathroom in the master bedroom.

Renlish.com - The Sims 4 - Casa del Vinoduo
Front and rear of house.
Renlish.com - The Sims 4 - Casa del Vinoduo
Floorplan: (T-B) Ground floor, middle floor, top floor.
Renlish.com - The Sims 4 - Casa del Vinoduo
Alfresco views.
Renlish.com - The Sims 4 - Casa del Vinoduo
Favourite room views.

You can find Casa Del Vinoduo in the Sims4 gallery online right here, or through the game. Just search the hashtag #renlish or my EA username, renlish, to find it.

Sims Saturday – The Sims 4 – Desert Condo

Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be regular gaming posts here on Renlish. I’ve been playing The Sims since it’s inception and have owned pretty much all of them up to an including the most recent, The Sims 4. I’ve never really been a heavy gamer and I don’t own all every expansion pack that’s ever come out but I regularly dabble to wile away a few hours.

Until now I must admit my gaming goals consistered mostly of building booby-trapped houses in which I could torture and kill my Sims in entertaining ways. (The trait of a psychopath? I dunno…) But with Sims 4, I was more intrigued with the building aspect of the game. And of course with the great new graphics of the new Sims 4, I’ve got a new addiction.

It’s fun to build the sorts of house you could never really hope to live in in reality – because, y’know, stuff like supporting walls and underpinning are an actual Thing™. And you can’t have three-story houses where the middle story is nothing but a pool. With glass walls.

Soooooo… without further ado, here’s a new Sims 4 build.

Desert Condo

Desert Condo features a mezzanine-style, open plan living arrangement similar to what you would find in modern inner city loft appartments.  I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of living in that sort of apartment.  Being someone who needs a lot of light, the idea of a whole wall of windows really appeals to me, though the bills for heating and cooling would be attrocious.  But what the hey – it’s pretty!

Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo

Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo
Floor plan – upper floor
Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo
Floor plan: upper floor (different angle)
Detail shots:
Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo
The yard; enclosed decking with a pool.
Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo
Looking across from the mezzanine into the ground floor.
Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo
The office. I love layering plants!
Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo
All the beautiful redness. I want this kitchen in real life!
Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo
The lounge area.
Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo
Lounge and entryway.
Renlish.com - The Sims4 - House Build - Desert Condo
Outside view.

Do you play? Here is a direct link to the Desert Condo on the Sims4 Gallery (via the web). You can find me in the gallery via both the web and in game under the username, renlish (no capital R).