games


In your review of Overwatch, you said that you appreciate the fact that characters speak appropriately in Chinese, Korean, Russian, and French. However, I have read some complaints that the French accent of Widowmaker sounds fake. Since I have heard similar complaints about Leliana of the Dragon Age series, and since both are voiced by French people, I would like to know if this perception comes from actors deliberately exaggerating their pronunciation, or if Hollywood or something similar have misled people into what constitute a true foreign accent.
Cordially,
Antonin BRAULT

Standards are changing, so I think this issue is in flux.

I can tell you what isn’t acceptable any more: mangling foreigners’ accents as in this book.

That is, it would be completely offensive if instead of having a Korean-Japanese-American woman (Charlet Chung) voice D.Va, they’d had a white American attempt a Korean accent.

So far as I can judge, Chloé Hollings, the voice of Widowmaker, pronounces the French perfectly— as she should; she’s French.

Is her French accent exaggerated? Yes, of course; Hollings is bilingual and speaks excellent English. I don’t have any inside knowledge of Blizzard’s production, but one can imagine for many of these voices a scene something like this:

Voice actor: (pronounces a line perfectly)

Director: Great! Only… can you make it sound more French?

And the director does have a point! If they’ve gone to the trouble of hiring bilingual voice actors, they kind of don’t want perfectly unaccented English. The characters are supposed to be cartoony, so they want to reach the sweet spot where the accents communicate the character but remain attractive. (Americans, at least, react negatively to a heavy foreign accent, but find a light accent enchanting.)

With Dragon Age, I saw a page that noted that Corinne Kempa (voice of Leliana) simply didn’t have the type of French accent Americans expect to hear. Again, American viewers aren’t very sophisticated here; few could even identify different varieties of French. (I liked Leliana— it was nice to have a fantasy game that didn’t over-rely on British accents.)

It’s hard to make everybody happy, but I think Blizzard took a pretty good approach. I also like the fact that, except for the two ninjas, the characters aren’t defined by their nationalities. E.g. Mei is a climatologist, who just happens to be Chinese. Zarya is much more defined as “butch power-lifting soldier” than as Russian. They do paint with a broad brush, but they’re nodding much more to media images than to ethnic stereotypes— e.g. McCree is a version of Clint Eastwood; Junkrat refers to Mad Max.  One character they could have done better with, in my opinion, is Pharah, who should speak some Arabic.

Edit: The new character, Ana, does speak some Arabic.

I saw this on Twitter, and decided that this was an important phrase to learn in Chinese:

CliN-G-UgAA8dB_

網上虛擬交心不宜

wǎng-shàng xūnǐ jiāoxīn bù yí

web-above virtual entrust not should

You should not make virtual commitments online.

 

While we’re at it, my Overwatch pals have been quoting D.Va’s comments in Korean, so let’s look at those in more detail.

안녕하세요!

a̠nɲjʌ̹ŋ ɦa̠sʰe̞jo

Annyeong haseyo!

peace you.have

Do you have peace? = How are you?

That first word is a borrowing from Chinese 安寧— Mandarin ānníng ‘peace, tranquility’. You will undoubtedly recognize the first character from 西安 Xī’ān, the ancient capital of China; also Heian, the ancient name for Kyoto.

D.va is very informal and also from the future, so she just says Annyeong!

감사합니다

ˈka̠ːmsʰa̠ɦa̠mnida̠

Kamsa hamnida!

thanks have.assertive

I am thankful! = Thank you!

Again, the first word is a borrowing: 感謝 gǎnxiè ‘gratitude’; the common way to say “Thank you” in Mandarin— which you can hear Mei say in Overwatch— is 謝謝 xièxiè.

And again, D.Va informally says just Kamsa!

Mei’s “Hello” is 你好 Nǐhǎo, literally “you good?”

 

Well, someone had to make Team Fortress 3.  I know that it’s is the obvious comparison, but if Valve ever got around to making TF3, I’d want it to be pretty much exactly like Overwatch: up to date graphics, clever and more diverse characters, good maps, some fun new abilities.  And good riddance to TF2’s accumulated cruft and moneymaking opportunities.

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I’ve been playing it every night since release, and having a blast. Naturally I have my favorite characters:

  • D.Va, the Korean girl who pilots a mech suit. She can take a lot of damage and gets a second life when killed (she ejects from the suit and runs around with quite a good gun). I’m learning her basic combo: use the jets to rocket into an enemy or two, hit Melee to stun them, and finish them off with the guns.
  • Tracer, cheeky English girl who is pretty much Scout, only trollier. She has a short-range teleport which can make it very hard for enemies to get a bead on her, and a low-cooldown ability that recovers her location and hit points from a few seconds ago. She’s exhilarating if you play a team that can’t quite handle her.
  • Pharah, who is pretty much TF2’s Soldier– though Soldier is harder to kill. As Pharah you have to get used to hiding a lot. Her ultimate (a rocket barrage) can be a game-changer, if you choose a time and space such that you’re not immediately shot down.
  • Lúcio, the Brazilian D.J. medic. He can either speed up or heal his nearby teammates, plus he has a sonic blaster that does pretty good damage. Best of all he has an alt fire (RMB) which pushes enemies back. Often you can send them off the map, which never gets old.
  • Mei, the Chinese girl, is hard to play but amazingly versatile. She has a freeze ray; if she can freeze an enemy she can finish them off with an icicle. She can project an ice wall in any direction. And if that’s not enough, she has a self-heal. Getting all this to work smoothly in the intensity of combat is tricky, though. She is an excellent counter to Tracer.

I’m also trying to learn McCree, the gunslinger, because his stun + empty gun combo is extremely effective against Tracer and other interlopers.

As a linguist, I appreciate the fact that characters speak appropriately in Chinese, Korean, Russian, and French.

One of the great things about the game is that almost all of the characters have little health. No, really! It means that it’s not hard to get kills, and feel like you’re achieving something. One problem with MOBAs is that it can take minutes on end to whittle someone down. And even in TF2 kills can take a fair amount of effort.  In Overwatch, if you’re on the ball (and up on abilities and ammo) you can take out an isolated enemy, and there are plenty of maneuvers for breaking up a clump.  In TF2 the whole match can be dominated by a long-lasting sentry farm.  In Overwatch you can usually take care of it with a Roadhog tire, a rocket barrage, or D.Va’s ultimate (blowing up her mech).

There’s a lot of careful game design to make it easy and fun to play. The basics are simple: one gun per character, plus a special ability and ultimate. Reloading, but no need to find ammo. The path of the payload maps is indicated for the defenders during setup. The game saves a set of personal highlight movies for you.

Surprisingly, you can’t easily check everyone’s stats, though you see your own. The game tracks “eliminations”, not kills– basically kills plus kill assists. The effect is, I think, to emphasize teamwork: you’re not distracted or overwhelmed by who has the most kills; you just focus on taking down enemies.

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Plus I appreciate the care spent on the maps. In the first screenshot, for instance, the broken railcars obviously came off the broken bridge… it’s not just a mess of props. Another map has an old-timey cash register with a holographic display, a nice futuristic detail. All of the maps are firmly grounded in place, but with a rich s.f. overlay– giant mechs wandering the streets of St Petersberg, a utopian city in Africa (Numbani is basically Wakanda). Plus of course all the spawn rooms have plenty of stuff to shoot up; my favorite bits are the oxygen tanks and the popcorn tubs.

The designers apparently have an overall story, but from the game it makes even less sense than TF2’s: if they all belong to Overwatch, why the hell are all these heroes fighting each other in endless, pointless bouts?

There are some frustrations– mostly related to whatever happened in the last game I lost. It can be frustrating if six of your friends are playing, as that’s the limit for a game… still, at least my friends are playing; I’m so used to buying games long after release that I often miss the window where they’re playing the same game. As in any team game, it’s irritating when your teammates spend the game doing the same thing that isn’t working, rather than mixing it up or countering properly… but on the plus side, matches are over in minutes.

Pity about Battleborn, though, isn’t it?  I want good things for that studio so they develop Borderlands 3. But it looks like it was too similar to Overwatch and less appealing.

 

 

 

A game based on Philip K. Dick is either going to be great, or horrible.  From reviews, it seemed that Californium at least looked great, so I picked it up.

Basic idea: a failed writer, Elvin Green, starts finding holes in reality. So he starts to seek them out, and see what happens.

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Bubbles of alternate reality

And you gotta admit, that’s a pretty Dickian idea.  The implementation is pretty neat, too: when you open a hole, it expands into a sphere, changing everything inside it.  There must be some interesting engine work going on there– see in the picture how nearby objects get a perfect circle cut out of them.  And this is a dynamic process– once a bubble has opened, it even wavers back and forth.

You can figure out most things by yourself, and should, but here are some things to know that may avoid frustration.

  • You will find TV sets that indicate the number of holes you still have to find in that area.
  • There’s a bug in level 2, which you can avoid by going into the police station last (i.e. when you’ve explored every other area).
  • Some of the holes are only visible from certain angles.  You may have to walk around or change your angle.

I’ve seen some reviews that chafe at that last bit, but really it’s part of the point.  The idea of a glitch in reality that may hide when you look directly at it is just part of the existential nightmare.

There is a light puzzle aspect to some of the holes.  I think it’s best to just give in to the spirit of the game here, even if it means walking around trying to find that maddening last glitch.  If they had made the puzzles harder then the story would perhaps have felt intrusive, and if they had made them easier (e.g. adding audio cues or a compass) you’d be done in half an hour.

There are NPCs scattered around the level; they are 2-D models that turn to face you, and talk at you when you’re close, not unlike Jazzpunk. This is not my favorite design technique, but I understand that for a small studio, 3-D human models and animations would be a huge effort that wouldn’t improve the game greatly.  The voice acting is all good, however.

The best thing about the game, besides the hole-in-reality mechanic, is its feverish level design.  You start out in a supersaturated, cartoony 1970s Berkeley, California, and it’s fun to walk around the street and a half or so that you’ve given to explore.  You see other worlds in the course of the story, and they’re all fun and thought-provoking, plus they have a thematic relevance to Elvin Green’s story.

It took me a little over 4 hours, which is probably about right for what the game mechanic can support.  I mean, they could have added three more worlds, and it would probably be tedious more than exciting.

The ending is a little abrupt, and not as mind-blowing as one might hope… but honestly, Dick doesn’t usually succeed in wrapping things up nicely either.  He creates this hallucinatory blend of religion and paranoia, and just being there is the point.   So it’s probably just as well that the developers didn’t overdo the ending.  I’d say they capture the atmosphere of a Dick novel very well (though they’re not aiming at any one novel in particular), and if that sounds like the sort of atmosphere you’d like to breathe for awhile, check it out.

 

 

 

Yes, I know they just released American Truck Simulator. That’s very exciting news for Europeans, for Jean Baudrillard, and for Nevadans who would like to see their state represented in a pre-apocalyptic condition. I’ve driven through California and don’t care to simulate it.  But driving through Europe sounds interesting.

So, what’s Euro Truck Simulator 2?  It’s a sim about driving.  Driving a truck.  In Europe.

2016-02-18_00007

Do you remember those missions in Saints Row 3 where you’re under cover, so you have to get somewhere while obeying all the stoplights and not killing anyone?  It’s not absolutely totally unlike that. You take a shipment of stuff from one city to another and get paid in euros. You do not get to shoot anyone, though you can beep the horn at them.

Thankfully, you do not have to drive with WASD as in almost every other stupid PC game with driving.  You can use the mouse to steer, which works great.  The roads are pretty curvy, so you will be making adjustments all the time.  If you have a wheel controller, which I don’t, it will work with that too.

Besides the traffic laws, you have to watch out for your trailer (make wide turns!), avoid other cars and trucks (they are almost but not entirely much better drivers than you), and watch your speed.  It’s embarrassing to barrel too fast down a mountain road and end up upending your truck.

When you’re actually underway, what reminds you you’re in a truck is mostly the sound effects.  You get all these deep bass sounds from the engine, and the distinctive sounds of the air brakes.

The most challenging bit is a little unexpected: the last 120 seconds of every job. You have to back your truck up to the dock, you see.  For the most part driving the simulated truck feels like driving a car… except when you’re backing up.  Then the trailer seems to develop a mind of its own and never go where you expect it to.  I had to look up guides and videos on this… the secret is to go really slowly, watch your trailer in the rear view mirrors, and turn opposite the way you want the trailer to go.  That is, to move it right, you turn the wheel left.  Also, you can’t just shove the wheel left and keep it there, like you’re driving a Borderlands buggy; you have to turn left, straighten out, go back for a bit, turn right.

Look, if you need to know, watch this video.  The overhead view (press 3) is also really useful for truck n00bs like me.

Now, overall the game is definitely oriented toward people who start to slowly rub their crotches when they see things like this:

2016-02-18_00002

There is a wide range of trucks you can buy and upgrades you can apply. You can cam around your truck and the interior of the cab.  You can buy DLC that adds new paint jobs or dashboard ornaments.  You can spend some time moving your seat up and down or left and right.  (This changes your view of the road.)  You can switch to manual transmission so you have to properly handle your 12 gears, and then test your skills by driving through the Alps. I don’t grok most of this, but I respect the game for taking its truck nerdery seriously.

Almost as lovingly detailed are the roads themselves. The road numbers are all correct. They’ve carefully created roads of various speeds and sizes, highway interchanges, bridges and tunnels, ferry crossings. The pavement doesn’t always look the same– there are different colors and degrees of wear.  Here and there you will have to slow down for road construction or a train crossing. The signs all look authentic and are in the right languages.

What’s less well rendered are the cities.  They’re basically a few blocks of industrial park. Admittedly this is exactly where you would expect to go to pick up cargo, get gas, buy trucks, and so on.  Still, this is my one area of disappointment.  The game does feel like you’re in Europe; but there’s very little sense of place within Europe.  The buildings, roads, trees, and houses all look the same whether you’re in Scotland or France or Germany or Italy. (There’s a little local color, but not much. About the only geographical thing that gives a sense of place is the mountains: you know when you’re crossing Austria or Switzerland.)

Edit: The day after I wrote this, the developers announced that they’re doing an expansion of the French part of the map, and showed off some screenshots that actually look French. So I suspect they’re aware of this problem.

There’s a day-night cycle to add some variety to your experience.  It can rain.  There are little things to see– a hot air balloon here, flocks of birds there, a working airport over there.  And if you mess up, interesting things can happen. For instance, reaching a toll plaza, something happened, I couldn’t at first tell what.  I couldn’t move forward or backward, yet everything looked OK.  Finally I used the roaming camera (2, then right mouse), and found the culprit:

2016-02-18_00004

Yeah, there’s not supposed to be a car underneath your trailer. (I didn’t get a crash violation notice, so this might be a glitch.  I had to exit the game and restart to get rid of the car.)

You start the game driving other people’s trucks; eventually you can buy your own truck. And later on, you can buy more trucks and hire drivers. Still, the focus remains on the driving. You also have to watch your gas level, your own fatigue, and the condition of your truck.

I kind of wish there were more goofy things to do. You can stop the truck but you can’t get out for a walk.  You actually have an avatar (you can see mine, in her stylish pink shirt, in the second picture above).  I think it’d be fun to be able to walk around your garage, pose by your truck, or stop somewhere to eat.

Is it fun?  As a game, it’s sufficiently challenging for a surprisingly long time. I’ve been going through a phase where I try out games and don’t go back to them, so it’s significant that I’ve put 21 hours into it so far. Many reviews describe it as “relaxing”.  That’s on the right track.  Though you have to pay attention, it’s certainly not a high tension game.  Mostly you steer, check for hazards, and watch the pretty scenery going by. It’s strangely motivating to try to get to all the cities, or see your balance in euros grow.

And then there’s the radio! You can stream a wide variety of European radio stations as you drive. That goes a long way to making the driving fun once you’ve mastered the basics.  Plus, you can improve your French, German, Dutch, Czech, and so on!  Or add new radio streams of your own.

 

 

 

This has probably been done before, but here’s a consolidated map of Gotham City as depicted in the Arkham series.

Arkham-Gotham

(WordPress used to automatically make a link to a bigger version, but now it doesn’t, so click that link to get there.)

Weirdly, Arkham Knight (which we have to assume is Rocksteady’s last word on the subject) tilts the Arkham City portion of the map by 45°. If you don’t believe me, check the in-game map! You can identify the courthouse, the Peabody Institute, Wonder Tower, and the steel mill, and clearly see that the street grid is tilted relative to Miagani Island.

Arkham Origins gives the location of Wayne Manor and Blackgate.  The Origins portion of the map may be oversized here.

Seagate is from the Matter of Family DLC for Knight; its location relative to the city is not given.

The inset (bottom left) gives the Arkham City map; it has a little peninsula that doesn’t appear in Origins, and also makes downtown Gotham much closer than in Knight.

As a bonus, here’s a comparison of the same view in Arkham City and Arkham Origins.

Arkham-Ace

Not everything matches up, but a lot does. What you chiefly notice, I think, is that even with the snow effects, City was much clearer. Origins has way too much fog.

This is a thoroughly charming game, and it’s just $10… if you haven’t picked it up yet, why not?

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Valeting: Unsurpassed

It’s based of course on Jules Verne’s Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, first published in 1873. It’s not technically sf, but it’s in the ballpark– it’s like a 19C Wired, besotted with the transformative power of technology. Phileas Fogg is able to make his tour thanks to three recent events: the opening of the Suez Canal and the completion of railroad routes across India and America.  (I just re-read the first few chapters of Le Tour, which are amusing in an arch 19C way.  Passepartout signs up with Fogg because he is the most dependable, boring rentier in London… and only a few hours later Fogg returns with the news that they are departing that very night for Dover.)

Anyway, the game!  I’ve been marveling at the cleverness of its gameplay. It’s literally an open world– you can get to every part of the globe– but most of the cities and routes start out hidden. Knowledge becomes the hidden treasure of the game: as you explore and talk and buy and sell, you discover new routes, as well as new reasons to go to the places mentioned.

I’ve played the game through twice– each playthrough taking about 2.5 hours– and each was entirely different, as I took different routes.  Which is another enormously clever bit!  I’ll play a really good game several times, but usually it’s almost exactly the same experience.  Here, nothing at all need be the same, and it makes sense… of course a trip through Europe and Russia will be different from one through Africa and Oceania. There are 169 cities total, and it’s hard to visit more than about 30 in one trip, so the game is highly replayable.

At heart, the game is a text adventure.  Wait, come back!  This is actually a good thing.  It allows far more imagination and variety than could be done in 3-d models or even drawings.  In form, you get short descriptions (rarely more than a screenful), and choose the continuation. You can choose to be adventurous or fearful, friendly or disdainful; often you can stay out of trouble if you wish, sometimes you can’t. (You are Passepartout, not Fogg; Fogg will offer clues but he’s generally barely functional as a companion.)   I should also add that the game makes good use of the map and illustrations of your inventory, conveyances, cities, and traveling companions, so there is plenty of visual interest.

You get ‎£4000 to start with, but fares and hotels cost money, and you’ll need more. There’s a nice mechanism for this: you can buy items in various cities, and sell them for a profit later on, usually in a specific city.  Items may also be acquired to make the journey easier, to make negotiations on departure time easier, or to reveal routes.

Fogg is delicate and suffers through travel, so another mechanic is keeping him healthy.

My first playthrough went swimmingly: I got back to London in 66 days, and made enough money to afford a £5000 steamship ride back home. Highlights of the trip included getting engaged and delivering a baby (not to the same woman).  My second playthrough was a much closer shave: 76 days, and I almost ran out of money in Portugal, tantalizingly close to the final destination.  The trading had not worked out well on my route; I had to sell everything I had and do some extra work in the hotels, and we made it back with £31 in pocket.  (It’s possible to get emergency funds from banks, but this takes extra days. I also learned afterwards that you don’t have to sleep in a hotel.)

The writer,  Meg Jayanth, deserves a lot of credit for making every route interesting. You are of course not restricted to the route from the book. You’re also not restricted, well, to our reality. Realizing that the frazzled citizens of 2015 are not as enthused as those of 1872 by steamships and railroads, the developers have gone full steampunk… plus it’s a revisionist steampunk where Zulus, Haitians, and Maoris are as likely as Europeans to be building massive steam contraptions, walking cities, automata, and so on.  And why not?  If you’re going to upgrade the technology, you’d might as well downgrade the colonialism.

There’s reams of adventure created for the game, but there are also nods to Verne’s other novels… on my second playthrough, where I tried to keep to the southern hemisphere, I ended up being abducted by Captain Nemo.

I can’t even think of anything to complain about. There are times I didn’t end up where I expected to go, but that’s fine– it wouldn’t be true to Verne if the unexpected never happened. The game is just challenging enough (as my almost-failed 2nd playthrough showed), but it’s also not very punishing, so you can take chances and explore.

 

 

 

 

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