Betrayal at House on the Hill – Review

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a semi cooperative horror board game by Avalon Hill and Wizards of the Coast.  The players begin by exploring a modular haunted house, hoping to gain abilities and items to increase their chance of survival. Some of the room tiles hold Omens, powerful items and followers that also have a chance at triggering the haunting.  The special thing about Betrayal is that there are fifty hauntings to trigger, all with their own characters and mechanics.  After about a dozen plays, I haven’t experienced the same game twice.

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Pretty?
The artwork is fairly run of the mill.  The house tiles sit together nicely and serve their function, the cards are designed okay, but are mostly text based and the character portraits are quite rough.  None of this gets in the way of the game play, but if I was to change one thing it would be the characters.  The models don’t look good at all and, while they come painted, I’d rather the option to paint them myself.

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Fair?
It is a pretty diverse cast with three male and three female characters, half of which are persons of color. At least half of the characters (it’s hard to tell) seem white to me, which really betrays a feeling of that being the default.  Each character has two versions with different backgrounds and stats. The gender representation is outdated, with one woman in a dress and the other in shorts and crop top. The little girl is also in a dress, but the giant bow on her head tips it over into comical gender coding.

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There are also problems with the roles the character’s play.  The Scientist is an old man, the spiritualist, a middle aged woman of color, for example.  There are one or two little nods to breaking stereotypes, like the nine year old girl who’s into medicine, but it’s barely even lip service to real equality.  At best the characters are cliche, at worse, they’re reinforcing harmful stereotypes.

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Fun?
Despite the weak art design and dodgy stereotypes, for a few weeks, Betrayal was all I wanted to play.  I love working in little role plays to figure out why we’re there and being really invested in a character that’s betrayed.  But even without the added flavor, there’s plenty to keep us entertained.

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The first half of the game involves exploring the house, and there’s always the question as to whether it’s best to stick together or strike out on your own.  Each time you enter a room, there’s a chance that the new tile will hold an omen.  At this stage you roll six dice and have to roll under the number of omens in play.  So the haunting is more and more likely to happen the longer the exploration lasts, but with dice that go from zero to two, you could trigger one right away.

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Room and omen combinations determines which of the fifty scenarios play out from here on. Most of the time, that involves a betrayal.  We did get one scenario with no traitors, but don’t think for a second that you’re safe.  We basically turned on each other in a heart beat…

With alien diseases, floods, mad scientists and poltergeists, the scenarios truly feel different from game to game, so be prepared for a lot of re-playability.

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The rules require a lot of reading and many situations are contextual.  When the haunting starts, there’s a new, sometimes overriding set of rules, which can slow the game down somewhat.  This makes it really hard to play the game with a new player or two, especially if they turn out to be the traitor.  Younger players or anyone with reading difficulties would be at a massive disadvantage.

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Winning the game is largely based on luck, so I’d class this game as pretty casual.  If that’s what you’re after and you’re okay with games being relatively short, Betrayal is worth picking up.  If you tend to get into the role play, even better.

– Siobhan

SiobhanSiobhan is an artist who was raised on every type of game and make believe.  She grew up rescuing fuzzy animals and the occasional princess, slaying monsters and competing with her older brother.  Now she’s a fan of befriending monsters, playing co-op and getting lost in a good story.  When she’s not gaming, Siobhan works as a 3D artist in Brown Bag Films, enjoys anime, writing and crafts.

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Sword and Sworcery EP – Review

About a week ago I was lying in bed, awake but not ready to get up yet so I pulled out my iPad and went in search of a new RPG to try.  There are a lot of repurposed old JRPGs and D&D games on the platform, but I was burned out on Baldur’s Gate and in no mood for another endless Final Fantasy run. I just wanted a little adventure.  As I searched, I was reminded of the reason I’ve been staying away from original IP on iPad.  There are just so few female protagonists and I am not alone in being sick to death of having to pay extra to unlock them or hope for them to be added as a stretch goal.

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Then I was rescued from mundanity with a recommendation of exactly what I needed! Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP is a beautiful little adventure game available on a PC and mobile platforms.  I played it on my iPad and felt like the controls were designed for it.  Fighting a triangle feels more epic than most monster boss battles in more elaborate games, but you won’t want to rush through Sword and Sworcery to beat it so much as wander around and spend time in it.

Getting high on shrooms is a legitimate tactic, right?

Getting high on shrooms is a legitimate tactic, right?

Pretty?
The simple pixel art is beautifully handled and the characters are really striking and recognisable for their proportions.  It really feels like every spot of colour was carefully considered and placed. I loved the animation in particular.  There was something very naturalistic about the movement of the characters and animals in the background that gave them so much life.

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The music in the game is at its’ heart though, so do turn the volume up if you have the chance, or better yet, use headphones.  One of my more memorable moments was dreaming of a musician in a quiet grove, and sitting down to listen him play.

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Fair?
An original adventure game on iPad with a female protagonist is a rare thing, so it’s tough for me to step back from all the excitement to analyse it properly.  The first thing to note is that the character has a defined gender without being sexualised in any way.  She also manages to avoid any annoying tropes or cliches associated with heroins within her arch. The Scythian is an adventurer who happens to be female, but her gender isn’t made to define her.

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On the other hand, a look at the rest of the characters shows a mostly male cast, from my reading, and the only other character identified as female is ‘Girl’.  Girl is relatively passive throughout the game, so aside from the protagonist herself, all the agency belongs to the supporting male cast.  This is a disappointing trend that I’ve seen cropping up in female lead games quite a lot.

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This man in a suit is actually called the archetype… hehe

The thing is, it feels a lot like there’s more to Girl than meets the eye.  Outwardly she’s very quiet.  She doesn’t offer much guidance like Dogfella and Logfella or tell you where to go, but once you start see how she thinks, it becomes clear that she can offer just as much, if not more, insight.  She knows what you have to do.  She knows what to expect from the trigon and how to face the Gogolithic Mass.  But for some reason, she’s not confident enough to step forward and offer that advice.

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It would have been nice to have a more than just the two female characters, but I got the feeling that the developers knew what they were doing with their representations of gender.

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Fun?
There is a whole lot of walking around in Sword and Sworcery, so it can get frustrating.  In a way it forces you to sit back, explore and wonder at things rather than pushing headlong to defeat it.  I did get a little stuck due to playing the game during a full moon (yes, that’s a thing), but when i talked to others that had it easier, it was clear that they’d missed some of the details I stumbled upon while lost, so maybe it was worth it.

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

Waiting, waiting, waiting…

The controls on iPad were perfect and very simple, the combat felt epic and tense despite involving only two buttons and the puzzles were beautiful, if not particularly challenging. While the fights are fairly repetitive, there isn’t too much combat, and since the Scythian weakens throughout the game, it still becomes more challenging and foreboding as it goes on.

So unfair!

So unfair!

The story is simple but quite meta, so it helps if you’re into that sort of thing.  There’s also a surreal quality to it’s flow.  What really caught my attention was the range of characters and how you get to know them.  You are treated as an outsider and it feels like you’re being kept at arms length, but with respect.  Then a mechanic is added early in the game that allows you to see what the characters are thinking.  This acts as a hints and tips option and gives you cues to move the narrative forward, but more importantly, it gives you an insight into the cast’s personalities and opinions.

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There’s obviously lots to say about this game.  I thought it was cool and subversive and it was exactly what I wanted.  I enjoyed the intellectual tomfoolery of it all as well as the sincere emotional narrative.  The music is amazing and the visuals memorable.  It was more than worth the purchase price and I’d recommend it to one and all.

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Siobhan– Shiv (Siobhan)

Siobhan is an artist who was raised on every type of game and make believe.  She grew up rescuing fuzzy animals and the occasional princess, slaying monsters and competing with her older brother.  Now she’s a fan of befriending monsters, playing co-op and getting lost in a good story.  When she’s not gaming, Siobhan works as a 3D artist in Brown Bag Films, enjoys anime, writing and crafts, and is currently learning all about quilling!

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Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) – Review

Never Alone is a narrative platformer developed by Upper One Games, an indigenous games company belonging to the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Alaska.  Iñupiat elders were at the heart of the writing, collaborating with the developers to portray a traditional story with the verbal and visual forms of its source material.  The result is a visually distinct piece which uses the modern interactive medium to tell a story that has in no way been removed from its culture.

Pretty?
The first thing that struck me about Never Alone is that it’s narrated by an Iñupiat Elder, James Nageak, in their own language.  The subtitles don’t feel in any way out of place in a medium that often uses nonsense speach to cross cultural borders, but the rhythm of the Iñupiat tongue places it firmly within a rich, and very real, culture.

Original art design by Dima Veryovka

The visual design is unique to my experience. It’s a beautiful example of how art direction can benefit from traditional influences and feels much like a natural step in the history of the scrimshaw.  The two protagonists are the most realistic depictions, with progressively more abstract designs the closer to fantasy we get.  The spirits are flat drawings, with no animation at all.  They’re also the focus of the platforming puzzles, part character, part landscape.

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Fair?
Never Alone seems to be step one in a plan to develop ‘World Games’ in collaboration with a variety of cultures.  Amidst calls for greater diversity in games seemingly countered by bouts of cultural appropriation, this is a shining example of how to move forward.

Scrimshaw featured in the Never Alone Documentary clips

Scrimshaw featured in the Never Alone Documentary clips

The protagonist, Nuna, is a little girl, and her gender was chosen consciously to reflect the dearth of female role models in games.  While this delights me no end, it left me wondering if it was an oversight that she’s the only girl in the story.  I counted four more gendered characters and all were male as is the narrator. Regardless, Nuna possesses all the agency in the story, with the boys filling the supporting or antagonist roles, so it’s easy enough to forgive.

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Fun?
While the story was engaging, the game really falls down when it comes to mechanics.  The unlockable documentary clips were very interesting, but cut through immersion far too much, as if the developers weren’t content to let the game speak for itself. While co-op was a big selling point for me, there’s no option to play online, the puzzles were a bit too repetitive and the controls were clunky and inconsistent.

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If I were to request any change in the game, I’d prioritise the controls, because with two players, it became frustrating enough to get us yelling at the screen when we should have been focused on the beautiful world or caught up in a tense chase scene.

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While playing Never Alone was frustrating, I still remember it fondly for its incredible art direction and whimsical depiction of a fascinating culture.  I sincerely hope that the developers fulfill their goal of founding a new genre of World Games.  With the success of their first title, may they choose to invest in tighter platforming, while holding onto the considerable strengths of their collaborative development style.

I think they're just trying to ignore him... I dunno

I think they’re just trying to ignore him… I dunno

  • Shiv (Siobhan)

SiobhanSiobhan is an artist who was raised on every type of game and make believe.  She grew up rescuing fuzzy animals and the occasional princess, slaying monsters and competing with her older brother.  Now she’s a fan of befriending monsters, playing co-op and getting lost in a good story.  When she’s not gaming, Siobhan works as a 3D artist in Brown Bag Films, enjoys anime, writing and crafts, and is currently toying with Twine.

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The Witches – Review

The Witches (Terry Pratchet), by Martin Wallace, is a great board game with beautiful art, straight forward rules and just enough complexity to be compelling without making it inaccessible.

You can start with one to four playable characters, all young witches from the Discworld books, and the goal is to solve the myriad of problems that typically crop up around Lancre.  From sick pigs to Elf invasions, the trick seems to be pacing yourself to gain experience and a few decent cards before taking on the big guys.  The game ends when a set number of problems (relative to the number of players) have been added to the board or if three elf problems are on the board simultaneously.  The latter results in everyone losing because… you know… elves!

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Pretty?
The artwork is top notch, with the board itself as the centerpiece.  The map of the Ramtops could be framed and hung on the wall, a beautiful piece filled with locations from the Discworld books.  The characters you play, as well as those in the cards, are faithful representations of those from a range of the books as are the enemies, so while there’s plenty to see for Discworld novices, it helps to know your references.

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The manual was a particular treat to me as I’m generally the only person at a table who cares if we’re following the actual rules.  It was easy to navigate and pleasant to look through, with a decent key of all the relevant tokens and cards in the game.

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Fair?
Witches are, as you may be aware, all women.  The reason for this, in the Discworld setting at least, is that magical men (Wizards) lock themselves in a tower and fight over who gets to be in charge while Witches busy themselves about solving actual problems and doing all the dirty work.  It’s a nice, subversive theme within Terry Pratchett’s writing which is all the more successful because he has written such a varied range of women throughout his novels.

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This range lends itself to a whole spectrum of body types and ages, so all in all, the game stands out on the back of its’ source material.  The cast are all very white, and mostly fantasy English, however, so it’s not exactly gold standard on every front.

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Fun?
The mechanics of the game are simple.  You have a set number of problems on the board and a set number, relative to the number of players, that get placed at the start of each turn until they’re all used up.  As a witch, you need to move to a problem, then role 2-4 dice to beat it’s difficulty.  Solving the problem can ad benefits to your character like a flat bonus to your roles or extra cards in your hand.

Failing, using too much magic or randomly rolling cackles on the die can build up your cackle count, which can eventually eat into your solved problems.  Reducing your cackles requires you to meet with other witches and have tea.

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It’s a fun game, but it’s the fluff that makes it really entertaining.  ‘Solving’ sick sheep with turpentine, ‘fixing’ this nasty death over here and then building up the nerve (and the cards) to take on a vampire or elf queen before settling in to have some tea with the other witches.  It’s not a story we often experience in adventure games and it’s highly entertaining.

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To conclude, The Witches is beautiful, fun and puts young women in the spotlight of adventuring.  It great to play with friends, and I think it might even work for older children if you’re introducing them to gaming.  And, of course, being a Discworld fan can certainly ad to the entertainment value.

-Siobhan

SiobhanSiobhan is an artist who was raised on every type of game and make believe.  She grew up rescuing fuzzy animals and the occasional princess, slaying monsters and competing with her older brother.  Now she’s a fan of befriending monsters, playing co-op and getting lost in a good story.  When she’s not gaming, Siobhan works as a 3D artist in Brown Bag Films and enjoys anime, writing and crafts, and is currently toying with Twine.

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Dragon Age Inquisition – Herald Fan Art

I often start artsy things and I very rarely finish them, but I just about managed to keep going with this one.

It was all inspired by the tarots from Dragon Age Inquisition.  All your disciples (followers and advisors) have their own tarots that change throughout the game to represent narritive character development.  But the inquisitor has only generic race, class and background tarots.  Naturally, a lot of artists have been making their own customised character’s new tarots in response.

Check out the original tarots on the artists page, Nick Thornborrow’s Art.
And also this amazing collection of fan made tarots on Tumblr.Herald

Introducing Noon Levallan, my rogue inquisitor.  I started out with an idea for three tarots, Herald, Inquisitor and a lover card, but so far I’ve only worked on the first. I tried to keep the initial design simple because I felt it had to work as a graphic piece if it was going to stand up to detail and texture.Noon002

Next, I hid all the foreground, leaving the sky and used water colour textures and a lot of custom brushes to get some movement in the background.

Crackling lightning, as it turns out, is a weird thing to draw, so I had a learning experience figuring out how to make it all look like it glowed a bit.  I also snook in some subtle demons that are only really noticeable in this close up.

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Noon004When working on characters, I can’t help but focus on the face.  I considered giving her a higher nose arch and the larger eyes of the elves from DA2, but my Levallan just looks like a human with pointy ears.  Given the position of the hand, she doesn’t even have that.  She looks like my character from the game, but I’m still not sure if that was the right choice.

Noon005I had to change the hair when I started painting it in just to vaguely acknowledge gravity, although she certainly has some hairspray or something keeping it up out of her face… maybe it’s the pointy ears!

After playing around with the herald mark on her hand, I was forced to acknowledge the clothing.  I spent a few days opening the file and just staring at the blank shape thinking, “what in the world will I do with this?” before going back in and breaking it up into segments.  With the help of some more water colour texture (thanks Margo), I finally started doodling into various designs on the clothes until it was perfect I’d had enough.

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The themes I wanted to get across with the tarot were reluctance and divinity.  She’s posed looking away and the focus is more on the mark than the person.  The light creates a false halo and is reflected by the demons in the background.

This all makes sense if you’ve played Dragon Age, but in case you haven’t, a brief explanation may be required (no major spoilers, I promise, but this is plot).  The game starts with the protagonist under suspicion after a major disaster.  But the ‘mark’ which has appeared on her hand turns out to be part of the solution.  This sets the protagonist up as a messiah figure, arriving in time to save the world and a major part of how you play involves embracing or denying this link to divinity.

It’s a theme I found to be very successfully portrayed and I’m particularly interested in exploring religion in magical settings. The natures of scepticism and faith are changed in a world where demons fall from the sky, after all.

I have no current plan to finish the other two tarots for my Levallan, but it was a fun learning a new approach and finishing a project under my own steam.  Let me know what you think and if you haven’t already, go save the world already!

– Shiv (Siobhan)

SiobhanSiobhan is an artist who was raised on every type of game and make believe.  She grew up rescuing fuzzy animals and the occasional princess, slaying monsters and competing with her older brother.  Now she’s a fan of befriending monsters, playing co-op and getting lost in a good story.  When she’s not gaming, Siobhan works as a 3D artist in Brown Bag Films and enjoys anime, writing and crafts, which is increasingly involving costumes.

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Life is Strange Episode 1 Review

After completing the first episode of life is strange, it was fair to say that I was left wondering. This game has definitely got me hooked on its mysteries. Life is Strange has a narrative that is engaging and compels you to continue onwards. However, the game is not without its faults. Either way the first episode of Life is Strange offers a unique story with promise.

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Story
The story focuses on an 18 year old girl called Max. Max has returned to her childhood home of Arcadia Bay to pursue an education at Blackwell Academy. Her best friend from her past also lives here but she has yet to reconnect with her when the game starts. The story that Life is Strange presents, is one that shows promise, as the outline of the sub-plots are interesting. I was, however, disappointed with the execution of its characters and dialogue.

Throughout the first episode we’re introduced to many of the teens that Max goes to school with. However, I found that each character within the game was a stereotype; the bimbo cheerleader and the rich kid who is unstable. These archetypes have been seen before.  I expected to meet a cast of interesting people, but instead I was greeted with dull dialogue. Nevertheless, I am hoping that this first episode will develop as the game progresses so we can see these stereotypes develop into interesting and three dimensional characters.

A flaw which is harder to excuse, is the dialogue, which I found, at times, bizarre and unnatural. Most of Max’s classmates use words like ‘punk ass’, ‘hella’ and so forth. These words are over used in the first episode and sound like they’ve been written by middle aged writer who thinks they’re “down with the kids”. This actually distracted from the story. One minute I would be feeling for Chloe’s situation only to be left indifferent moments later when she opened her mouth and spouted random dialogue that conflicted with the mood of the situation. The execution gave the story less impact and drew you away from it, instead of enticing you in.

At other times the dialogue just felt wrong. For instance, Max has the option to tell the principal that a student had a gun, to which the principal responds with a sigh and a suspicious glance that Max is lying. Now surely if any hint of a gun was mentioned to a principal, alarm bells would sound everywhere. This blasé response seemed unnatural and silly. It was these moments in Life is Strange that made the story standout, but in a bad way.

These flaws aside, Life is Strange does have an interesting plot.

The first episode manages to plant enough seeds to make me want to watch them grow. Max seems to be uncovering a lot of mysteries that lay in Arcadia Bay and it’s these mysteries that keep the game from being a dud. For example, we are introduced to a girl named Kate Marsh who seems to be hiding a great deal. Also, we learn about a missing girl named Rachel Amber who appears to have been someone to everyone but in each case she is a different person, from a saviour to a party girl. These snippets of plot lines that we glimpse in the first episode are what gives Life is Strange promise.

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Design
Life is Strange excels in its design. The game is accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack. Each song adds to the ambience and develops the tone of the game. Each scene and texture is hand painted and looks stunning. There is great variation in scenery and character models. Character models range from tall, thin, fat, and short and each has their own, unique look. This made each character appear pivotal and integral to the story in some way. The games’ design was also distinctive because its interface was unlike any others in the story telling genre. As Max walks around, everything that can be interacted with, pops out at you so the player always knows what they need to do or what they can do if they wish. This aided game play nicely. The design of Life is Strange was implemented perfectly and I couldn’t find fault.

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Gameplay
The gameplay is typical of a point and click game. However, Life is Strange focuses on storytelling rather than the player solving puzzles. The game includes collectibles in the form of poloroid photos which a player takes and sticks into Max’s journal. In order to find them all players need to manipulate certain objects in the game. This was a nice element to add as it encourages players to search each location thoroughly and added another layer to the gameplay.

Life is Strange also includes time travel. As Max, players can reverse time to the nearest checkpoint and thus they can change their choices. The game demonstrates how far the player is rewinding time by using a spiral. This spiral appears in the top left of the screen, and whenever the player goes past a circle on the spiral, the player has rewound a choice they previously made. This was an interesting aspect that made Life is Strange more than a point and click game. However, I still haven’t come to grips with the mechanic, as sometimes I’m not sure which choice has been rewound and at times it is difficult to stop the travelling process. I am sure that in the coming episodes this mechanic will get easier to use.

Finally, players can access Max’s journal. This journal is the games way of keeping score of everything that has happened. You can read Max’s diaries which help players remember which choices they made, see the map so you can see which locations you have visited, read text messages, look at the collectibles sheet and read character bios. The journal is a perfect tool that keeps record of the games lore and the timeline after you have changed it.

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Glitches
I played Life is Strange on PC and only came across a few glitches. I found that every time I engaged in a conversation the first word or syllable would be cut off. Also there were issues with reflections. Some mirrors would reflect a picture of outside instead of what they should be reflecting which was a room.

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Verdict
Life is Strange is a game that is all about its story. However, it is this aspect of the game that isn’t polished. The gameplay and design work perfectly fine but the story lacks depth and the bad writing leads to its downfall. Nevertheless, Life is Strange promises big things, the story might be let down by its writing but the general plot is engaging and I want to know more. This drive accompanied with its finesse in design makes Life is Strange a game that should be played. My hope is that it evolves in its next episode and lives up to the story it has begun.

20141118_131948138_iOS– Sophie

Sophie is a full time chef but her passion is gaming. She loves playing on PC and the playstation. She grew up on Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and Tombi.  Her favourite game dev is Bioware (she is still waiting for the Asari to arrive on Earth). In her spare time she writes, reads and wonders what game she should play next. Catch her on Youtube: https://t.co/YYmj1G1A4u Twitter: @Rain45 Twitch: Rain045 or Tumblr: Rain045 for more gaming FUN!

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Girls Get Gaming 2015.

Howdy folks!

I wanted to give you an idea of what you can expect from us here at Girls Get Gaming for the coming year.  We are going to try to do more. More what? Well gaming for a start. We will hopefully be going to more conventions, playing a wider range and genre of games, commenting on pressing issues we feel are important and, most of all, having fun while doing it.

We have decided to do a board gaming video log of sorts where we play through a game while talking and chatting about various news and events which just happen to pop into our heads at the time. This will maybe be a once a week thing and the videos will be uploaded every Wednesday. Our first video is below and while we may have a lot to do in relation to camera work and preparation etc I think it was a success. So check it out and let us know what you think, how we can improve and anything else you wish to add:

 

We will also be looking into live streaming on Twitch!  The details for that are not solid yet but I figure, what the hey, worth a mention anyway.

We are, of course, a musical bunch here and are hoping to record and maybe video more of those mash-up’s soon. Friends, we will be roping you into these things but remember its all in the spirit of fun.

My co-inquisitor Shiv and I started this venture last year for a number of reasons, which I will probably explain in detail in another blog post, but the main reason was to have fun and we hope to continue to do that throughout this year.

We hope you all stick around for the ride and those that have commented, shared and liked what we have done so far,thank you so much, it is very much appreciated and we look forward to carrying on this journey with you.

– Christine

CHRISTINEChristine is an avid gamer and comic enthusiast with a passion for waffling She grew up on console games and sugar but is currently veering off into PC gaming territory although she still hasn’t grasped WASD. Originally growing up she wanted to be a Superhero but had to settle on model making and design instead…she didn’t look good in a cape. Her goal in life is to succeed in something but unfortunately there was too many bugs in the coding so she is still stuck in beta. She currently works from home as a freelance artist.

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