Gunman Taco Truck: Refreshing!

Gunman Taco Truck HeaderAfter the monotony of Wasteland Angel and the abject failure of The Underground Man, I was delighted to learn of Gunman Taco Truck from Romero Games. The ultimate surprise came when I looked at the game on Steam and found that it was designed by a 9-year-old boy. With that said, Gunman Taco Truck is an addictive arcade game with a great sense of humor and a steep difficulty curve.

Gunman Taco Truck Story

The premise is simple. Scientists accidentally set off nuclear bombs, killing or mutating almost everything in the United States. One mysterious food truck driver must embark on a cross country trip from San-Diego to Winnipeg, Canada. Gasoline is expensive in the apocalypse. To make ends meet, our hero must slaughter mutants, harvest their meat, and sell delicious tacos. Continue reading

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In the Belly of the Beast

Well, this isn’t so bad,

10f7365ae3a83129b412f4aeb2ba0b0d  There I was, trapped in a cage like a common animal. My captor was busy nursing a crackling fire. With the cave illuminated, I was able to orient myself to the exit portal. Looking around, I found a mattress, a chessboard resting on a table of stacked car rims, and even a carved china cabinet full of knick-knacks.

I was then distracted by an unpleasant pattering sound that scratched the back of my mind and caused my eyebrows to twitch and my neck muscles to tense. Turning away from the fire, I spotted a collection of drying pots and pans. Licking my cracked lips, I watched as precious water droplets rhythmically plopped into a tin dish. Though my head was still pounding from dehydration, I knew that my captor had must have a sustainable water source if he was willing to waste such a valuable commodity on washing dishes.

A monstrous humanoid shadow appeared on the wall in front of me, growing larger and larger as the sound of crunching sand grew louder and louder. Trembling, I turned around to formally meet my kidnapper. I don’t know what I was expecting.

Grabbing the iron lattice, the mutant revealed himself in all his horrific glory. My captor stood nearly seven feet tall. His flesh was a sickly yellowish green that had the consistency of fresh mucus. His whole body unnaturally oozed and festered, yet not a single drop of slime fell from his body. An odd explosive glow churned in his bloated belly. He wore little more than leather boots, tattered cargo shorts, and a pouch bandolier that seemed fused to his chest.

My captor introduced himself as Urmit, apparently of a race called the hulking horrors. My teeth chattering, I silently nodded my head. Suddenly, the mutant’s body made a grotesque crunching sound, similar to splitting wood. His muscular left arm atrophied until it was little more than a five fingered stump, while his right arm turned into a tentacle, slithering into the cage to meet me with a handshake.

Retracting his right arm and re-growing his left, the horror noted that I was extremely dehydrated. He picked up the tin dish full of drippings and slid it into my cage. As I emptied the curved plate, Urmit asked what I was doing out in the desert without any gear. I plainly told him that I was looking for a water source to help the people of Abundance. It was the truth after all, mostly.

“You mean like dat?” the mutant asked, pointing behind me.

I turned around once again to find a reflective pool that stretched as far back into the cave as I could see.

Now I just need to play my card right and get out of here.

-Joe Junkman

Deja Vu

I’m really not cut out for this.

I woke up to a sharp pressure just below my eyebrows. I was being dragged uphill. My whole body was sore. My arms were all ripped up after being dragged through the rocks. My legs would have been worse if I had been wearing shorts. I had no idea where I was going. That seemed to be happening a lot lately.

Trying to keep my cool, as I had in the spider’s web, I remained perfectly still. The pressure on my skull was such that, I felt whatever was dragging me could blind me or smash my head in at any moment. I did not want to startle my captor. Although I couldn’t look up to see the creature’s whole body, I could tell that it was humanoid as it angrily mumbled to itself. Its fingers were moist and sticky.

Before long, the moonlight and stars over my head were replaced by impenetrable blackness.  I was being dragged into a cave and a fairly nice one at that. My hands drifted through soft sand. It reminded me of the beaches of Brazil. Once all natural light disappeared, I was assaulted by the unsettling creak of rusty iron before being thrown into a cage. This was exactly like my last trip to Brazil.

I heard distinctive click of a padlock followed by the mumblings of a raspy congested voice. Aside from insane gibberings, I could make out “boil da water, add da meat, cook up some’fing real neat.”

Moments later, I could make out a series of sharp clicks coming from my right. The first spark revealed a monstrous silhouette, like that of a body builder. The second spark ignited the kindling, gradually revealing the creature in its entirety. The monster cracked his knuckles and turned to me.

This would be a really good time for Gray to show up.

-Joe Junkman

The Underground Man: Smoke and Mirrors

Underground Man header

I’ve played a lot of AAA games and I’ve played a lot of indie games, but I’ve never played a game quite like The Underground Man. The game is tagged as a “story rich RPG.” Although the character creation screen is reminiscent of old pen and paper sheets, this is most certainly not an RPG. The Underground Man relies on an old school vibe, similar to Kung Fury or Far Cry: Blood Dragon. Don’t be fooled, this game is a far cry from those it tries to imitate.

Continue reading

All Tied Up

I have a headache…

I woke up upside down. I had no idea how long I had been hanging here, but all the blood had rushed to my head. I tried to squirm free, but my entire body was bound in something strong, silky, and sticky. To make matters worse, it was pitch black; I couldn’t see a thing!

After what seemed like maybe half an hour or so, a beam of white light appeared, revealing my surroundings. The walls of my tomb were made of solid rock and wooden pillars, but everything was covered with streams of white silk.

Then I noticed the spider hanging from the ceiling. It was the biggest most grotesque thing I had ever seen. This monster looked like a black window, but was the size of a coconut crab! I tried to stay still as the light came closer, hoping that the creature wouldn’t notice me. Still, I felt sick to my stomach and my eyebrow wouldn’t stop twitching.

“Wakey wakey,” a woman’s voice called out. She shined the flashlight right in my face. I couldn’t see a thing.

When my eyes readjusted to the light, I was able to clearly see my captor. She wore a glossy cat suit and half of her head was shaved, revealing an awful rash or maybe an acid burn. The woman clicked her tongue, causing the spider to crawl up her body and rest on her shoulder.

She turned her head to the darkness and said “Is this the one?”

“Yeah that’s him.” a familiar voice replied.

The woman hissed and clicked at the back of her throat.  The spider leapt off her body and starting biting at my sides. I felt something cold flowing through my veins. I couldn’t even squirm. I thought my heart was going to shut down.

Then I dropped to the floor. My captors helped me to my feet. I thought I was being poisoned but there wasn’t a scratch on me. I still had no idea what these two wanted from me.

As my eyes adjusted again, I was able to make out the distinctive slouch hat and safari gear that could only belong to James Gray. The Australian brushed me off and said that this was the last time he was going to save me.

I really hate this guy.

-Joe Junkman

Radiation as a Gameplay Mechanic

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You can’t have a post-nuclear setting without radiation. Many films overlook this crucial aspect or at most offer a token Geiger counter scene (She Wolves of the Wasteland). This is largely because radiation cannot be seen, felt, or heard. Generally, special equipment is required to detect the presence of radiation. While this element of world building is often overlooked in film, radiation serves as an important gameplay mechanic in the majority of post-nuclear video games. However, with gamification comes new challenges. Radiation typically does not kill outright. Even several lethal doses will not result in immediate death. Therefore, because radiation attacks the body slowly, game developers have approached this mechanic in a variety of ways.

To further explore this mechanic, we’ll be analyzing three game series that make extensive use of radiation.

  1. Metro 2033
  2. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
  3. Fallout

metro-2033-mushrooms

The Geiger counter in Metro 2033 is primarily used for immersive world building. Small set pieces such as bioluminescent mushrooms or pools of bubbling green slime will cause the Geiger counter to tick. These pockets of radiation are mostly harmless, though Artyom can die if he stands in a hotspot for a few minutes. Although subtle, this gameplay mechanic immerses the player into the setting. Without radiation, the world of Metro 2033 could be mistaken for a sci-fi setting similar to Gears of War, especially since Moscow’s surface is considered poisonous rather than radioactive. This is why so many post-apocalyptic movies have an obligatory Geiger counter scene: it puts the audience in a survivalist mindset. The Metro games take this a step further, subtly reminding the player that the world above the tunnels is not like the world in the postcards.

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Though technically not post-nuclear, fans of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise are constantly aware of their radiation exposure. Contrary to a handful of contaminated puddles and mushrooms in post-nuclear Moscow, the Zone is positively covered with fields of radiation. Players who wander into these hot spots will find their vision distorted by grey TV static.

Radiation damage is pretty simple: the more radiation you’ve absorbed, the faster your health decreases. Radiation can be removed either with a radiation absorbing artifact or a dose of anti-rad. Because artifacts drain radiation slowly and anti-rad is somewhat rare, players are forced to respond quickly after absorbing deadly amounts of radiation.

Stalker loner patch

Although the Zone’s radioactive hotspots (and anomalies) seem like a nuisance, they actually encourage exploration. Artifact hunting aside, anomalies and pockets of radiation act as landmines, encouraging the player to take the long way (usually ending up at a lootable location), rather than risk wasting resources or instant death.

Moreover, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. encourages a high risk/ high reward style of gameplay when dealing with artifacts. Although artifacts grant stalkers special abilities, they also emit deadly amounts of radiation. Before obtaining high tier anti-radiation artifacts, players will occasionally be forced to balance their health, elemental resistance, carry weight, and radiation levels. Having artifacts emit radiation was a brilliant idea and one that makes the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series all the more satisfying and rewarding.

fallout radiation

Finally, there’s the Fallout franchise. Radiation sickness has been a gameplay mechanic since the first Fallout, but it originally didn’t effect much. In the first game, there were only two ways to get irradiated: Get smacked by a glowing one or wander into The Glow.

Fallout The Glow

The original Fallout has the most complex take on radiation sickness, requiring a chart to fully understand what it does. Every part of the character is effected: HP, healing, and SPECIAL (with skills as a result). If either HP or any S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute drops to zero because of radiation sickness, the character will die. However, as I said previously, I don’t think radiation was used to its full potential in  the original Fallout. Two doses of Rad-X makes the player completely immune to radiation, giving them 24 hours to explore The Glow without worrying about any side effects. Even if the player took a few points of radiation damage on arrival, they can use a single Rad-Away to instantly cure themselves. Allowing the player to reach 100% radiation resistance detracted from the danger of The Glow as the lore (and environment) shows that even Brotherhood Paladins have died due to the intense radiation exposure.

Fallout-nuclear-anomoly

Fallout 3 streamlined the mechanic of radiation sickness. Instead of effecting several variables, radiation sickness only lowers endurance (at minor sickness), agility (at advanced sickness), strength (at critical sickness) and finally caused death at 1000 rads. Additionally, radiation was far more present in Fallout 3 than previous games in the franchise. The Lone Wanderer could not eat or drink  without absorbing at least a few rads. Additionally, radiation resistance was capped at 85%, making it challenging to approach areas like Vault 87.

As a side note, rads are a real (if outdated) unit of measuring radiation. 1000 rads delivered in a short period of time will usually cause death.

With Fallout 3 and New Vegas came special perks associated with radiation sickness.  These perks are often overlooked as the majority of players want to keep their rads as low as possible. However, the brave few who uses these bonuses will find their gameplay dramatically shifts toward min-maxing.

  • Rad Regeneration: Offers the player free healing of crippled limbs in exchange for advanced radiation sickness (-2 EN, -1 AG). This perk comes free with the “Wasteland Survival Guide” quest, but is lackluster compared to admantium skeleton, which decreases limb damage by 50%. Perhaps this perk was ahead of its time. It would have been great for survival mode in New Vegas (as rare doctors bags are required to heal limbs), but in a game where a single stimpack instantly heals crippled limbs, this is a useless perk.
  • Rad Child: This perk is where high risk/high reward shines through. Each level of radiation sickness increases health regeneration. In exchange for minor radiation sickness (-1 EN), player are treated to +2 health per second. At advanced sickness, players receive +4 health per second. Again, this is often overlooked simply because it relies on radiation, which brings S.P.E.C.I.A.L. penalties. However, by utilizing Wasteland outfits (which provide +1 EN, +1 AG) the effects of advanced sickness are practically nullified, while the Courier still benefits from extreme HP regeneration. While this perk should bring a lot of risk, it actually provides far more protection than power armor or a higher damage threshold while still allowing players to travel at maximum speed.
  • ATOMIC: This perk grants players a faster run speed, +2 strength, and +2 damage threshold while being irradiated. Additionally, action points regenerate much faster based on level of radiation sickness. This synergizes amazingly well with Rad Child. The challenge is that the best parts of the perk are only available while being irradiated. Luckily, New Vegas has coyote steaks, which irradiate the player over time and whose effects stack. If the Courier should buy coyote steaks at every opportunity, they will become more powerful than any wastelander could possibly imagine.

Although overlooked, New Vegas’ radiation perks are definitely worth the penalties they bring, especially when combined with wasteland outfits and the Travel Light perk.

Fallout-rad-child

Most recently, there is Fallout 4 and Fallout: Shelter where the mechanic of radiation sickness was streamlined once again. Radiation sickness now merely reduces maximum health by 1% per 10 rads (making 1000 rads still lethal). This eliminates the complexities of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system as a whole and reduces roleplaying opportunities.

At a first glance Fallout 4 seems like it moved away from the aspect of radioactivity. Although the game moved away from player interaction with radiation, it expanded on NPC interaction in the form of weapons that utilize radiation damage. These weapons reduce the max health of an enemy, making it more difficult (if not impossible) for them to heal. What’s interesting in this new gameplay element is that some enemies are immune to radiation while others are highly resistant. This is a big shift from Fallout 3, where all NPCs were immune to radiation and could approach the door of Vault 87 without any trouble.

Fallout-gamma-gun

Overall, each game (even within the same franchise) deals with radiation differently. It’s a difficult feature to include in a game and it’s even harder to get right. There’s no right or wrong answer to the inclusion of radiation sickness in a video game or movie. Metro 2033 uses radiation merely to set the tone, while S.T.A.L.K.E.R. uses radiation to make players think about resource management and navigation, and the gameplay mechanics of the Fallout franchise continue to mutate in entirely new directions. Radiation is a necessary part of the post-nuclear atmosphere and I hope game developers continue to experiment with this genre specific gameplay mechanic.

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How would you like to see radioactivity and radiation sickness used in video games?  Tell us in the comments!

Hi Ho Silver!

hi-ho

I hate my life.

So I’m walking through this desert pass, climbing high into the hills surrounding the valley, when I spot another town. As I got closer, I realized that all the buildings were old, rusted. Most of them had collapsed roofing. A sign outside the town read “SILVER MINE.” Being an enterprising man, I decided to go have a look. I was hoping to find signs of ground water to point me in the right direction.

As soon as I stepped onto the main street, I knew something was wrong. I should have turned around right there. I heard rustling coming from a two story tin building to my left, but I figured it was just a rat or maybe a lizard. The point is I really didn’t think any of it. Like an idiot, I continued down the street, looking for anything that might be useful. It was obvious all the buildings had been stripped clean decades ago, probably before the apocalypse.

I admit, I was lost in thought. Visions of scrap crews tearing the place down flashed before my eyes. I considered what I’d do with all that metal. If Saul Fore was still alive, I could probably get the Blacksmiths to buy all the tin. Maybe I could go back to the Boulevard. If not, I could build a wall around Abundance and charge traders a fee to enter the town.

I was caught off guard by a pressurized hiss from a second floor window. I didn’t have time to turn my head before I was caught under a net. The more I struggled, the faster the lace tightened. It was tearing at my skin like razor wire! I couldn’t move. I could hardly breathe. My lungs were caught in a vice. All I could do was helplessly gasp for air.

I saw the silhouette of a woman standing over me.

Then, everything went black.

-Joe Junkman