Game Clash

  09:39:22 am, by   , 140 words  
Viewed 25071 times since 20/04/11
Categories: Games

Q: Which are my two favourite game series on the PC?
A: Elder Scrolls (Morrowind, Oblivion, etc) and X (X2:The Threat, X3:Terran Conflict, etc)

Q: Which two series have new games coming out in the fourth quarter this year?
A: Elder Scrolls (Morrowind, Oblivion, etc) and X (X2:The Threat, X3:Terran Conflict, etc)

Gah!!! Part of me is elated, but part of me is horrified. Both games are likely to require hundreds of hours of time, and I still have to do things like eat, sleep and work (washing can be skipped at weekends - this is an emergency!)

I assume you've all watched the Skyrim trailer by now, but you probably haven't seen this: the trailer for X:Rebirth. It's only a little one, but the game is already looking pretty good.

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Steam's Potato Sack Part 4

  05:14:10 am, by   , 1525 words  
Viewed 9053 times since 16/04/11
Categories: Games

The penultimate post about Steam's Potato sack sees yet another game I hate, one I quite like, and one that's "Meh". In this case, though, the "Hate" was "Meh" for a while, and the "Meh" is so close to being both a "Hate" and a "Like" that it's almost in a category of its own.

The Wonderful End of the World
For a while, I was going to give this a "Meh" rather than a "Hate" but 1) I hated to break the pattern, and 2) Since I never actually enjoyed this game and was only going to give it a "Meh" because it was a little different, I decided to play it again and realised that what was different after one 5-minute play was already boring after a 10-minute play.

You start out each level as a tiny little.... thing. No idea what. It's probably specified somewhere but I really can't be bothered finding out. You gain size by eating things smaller than you, and because there's a set of objects in just the right sizes you keep getting bigger and bigger until you've consumed the whole level. Now that might not sound enough even to justify a "Meh" but I did quite like the way in which the perspective shifts pixel by pixel until you realise that what was small is now tiny and what was big is now munchable. The trouble is that it's so repetitive. On the second screen you find yourself in a maze filled with eatable pills and ghosts that will hurt you (make you smaller) until you get big enough to eat them. And the walls. Yes - you're playing first-person Pac-man. Now I'm just about old enough to remember Pac-man the first time around. I wasn't old enough to go to arcades and play it for real, but I had a Mini-Munchman during my primary school's craze for them (this would be... 1981ish [and BTW - Wikipedia is dead wrong: the ultimate achievement was to get HHH with six lives without completing a level, but I can't add that as it would be original research]) and I really have no desire to go back to it now.

It's worth pointing out that this makes a perfect 3/3 on "Hate" for Dejobaan games. I'm sure they don't care, but I certainly won't be thinking buying anything from them in the future.

BIT.TRIP BEAT
I live in a small flat. Very small. But I appreciate it a lot more after having played this game because the bathroom has a great feature. When you turn off the hall light, close the bathroom door, and turn off the light in there too, it's dark. Perfectly dark. Pitch black. There's not a single photon by which to see. I discovered this phenomenon a little while ago by accident, but I'm incredibly grateful my house has such a feature because I needed it after playing this game.

Last time's "Like" was Audiosurf, a game that starts with one of those "Flashing lights can be dangerous" warnings that are always so annoying (unless, presumably, you suffer from epilepsy, when they're probably quite useful). I don't suffer from that particular condition, but I came damn close to a seizure while playing this baby. On my first playthrough, the relentless flashing lights got the better of me after about 10 minutes, and I had to quit and head to the afore-mentioned bathroom to stand in total darkness for a short time before my head cleared.

At first glance, BTB is a Pong game missing a paddle. Blocky balls come from the right of the screen and you use your blocky bat to hit them back. In the background, things start to explode, fire lasers, flash and do anything they can to put you off. Eventually, you're trying to return balls that fly through elegant parabolas, in groups, with changing speeds whilst doing it all through a fog of pixels caused by the various explosions going off in the background. If you miss enough hits, the same level continues but in black and white form and without the music. In other words, the sensory overload is part of the whole deal. It's intended. If you miss too many balls while in BW mode, the game is over.

As well as just hitting back a ball when you hit it, you play a note in an 8-bit style tune that goes on throughout the game. This is a brilliant feature, and the way in which incoming projectiles are scheduled to hit particular beats is genius.

Scoring is the ultimate bitch. When you hit your first ball back, you get a point. Your second gets you two; your third, three. You can probably tell where this is going. By the time you hit your 250th consecutive projectile back, you're getting 250 points per hit... which is roughly where I stop being able to do it. As soon as you miss one ball, it's back to 1... 2... 3... so obviously the big scores come by never missing a hit. I completed the first set of levels with a score of around 77000. The leaderboard showed that two people had got scores of ~68000000 - that's getting on for one hundred times higher than me. In other words, I suck.

You might have noticed that this is longer than any of the other reviews so far, and it's because - as I said from the start - I'm not trying to give you a full review, I'm just trying to write down my thoughts, so let's do that now. If I was playing this 20-25 years ago, I'd probably be awesome at it. One's reactions slow down with age, and a predilection for neat whisky doesn't help. This is a game at which I know I will never be any good. The constant flashing is enough to drive me to a darkened room. The graphics consist of big blocks of pixels. I hate this game. Every time I quit, I do it in a feeling of high dudgeon. On the other hand... I keep coming back. The music isn't brilliant in itself but the way in which the blocks you hit influence the tune is damnably clever. It's... fun! And why else do we play games?

Defense Grid: The Awakening
I've saved the best until last. This is the game that wins the rpeh "Nobody Cares What I Think" award for best game in the potato sack. The concept is fairly simple. There are MacGuffins called Energy Cores. Most of the time you need to stop some bunch of aliens stealing them but occasionally you have to steal them from the aliens. To achieve this, you build towers. These towers hurt the aliens in some way, and when hurt enough the aliens die, dropping any cores they hold. These towers start with simple guns that fire bullets, go through "Inferno" towers that are big flame-throwers, lasers that fire... lasers, to advanced things like "Temporal" towers, which cause enemies to slow down, and "Meterors" that hurl huge balls of energy at the invaders.

There are several catches. First, towers can only be build in certain places. Next, they only have a certain range - that varies from tower to tower - so you need to work out your killing zones. A gun tower only costs 100 "resources" but a laser costs 200, so you need to judge when to buy the expensive towers. Towers can be upgraded, so you also need to judge when one cool tower is better than two new towers. Later levels let you upgrade twice, but the cost is huge.

As you progress, you get enemies that can fly, and are immune to certain weapons; enemies that have shields, and are immune to "heat" weapons like lasers until those shields are gone; and huge powerful enemies that just take a huge amount of hittin' to kill.

Early levels are easy to complete, but there's a medal system that means you have to save a certain number of cores and get a particular score to really win. For instance, though I completed it on my first go - and it's almost impossible to fail - it took me seven goes to get a gold medal on the very first level

So far my one complaint is that the difficulty curve isn't quite right. I was doing pretty well until I hit a level (fairly early on - I'm really not very good at computer games!) where almost every square let me build a tower. I got my pasty white ass kicked all over the map.

You can learn from your mistakes, though, and there's a "checkpoint" feature that even lets you rewind within a level, so you can play around a bit with your strategy.

I suppose you can argue that this is another case of me liking the logic games, because when you only have a small number of options, it boils down to a set of choices that can be determined through fairly logical choices. There's much more to it than that, though. Definitely my favourite game. In fact, I feel an urge to play it again.

On Skyrim V: Stronger Together

  11:30:18 am, by   , 746 words  
Viewed 89703 times since 09/04/11
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

One of the features of The Elder Scrolls from Daggerfall onwards has been Factions; organisations that you can (often) join, each with an associated set of quests, and a hierarchy of ranks through which you can progress. Fighters, Mages and Thieves all have guilds; Daggerfall and Oblivion allowed you to join the shadowy Dark Brotherhood while Morrowind featured the slightly more honourable Morag Tong; Daggerfall had Knight orders and Temples of the Eight Divines; Morrowind had the Great Houses of Vvardenfell; Oblivion had several small factions such as the Order of Virtuous Blood and the Knights of the White Stallion.

What can we expect in TESV: Skyrim? Todd Howard seems to have confirmed that the Dark Brotherhood is back, but there's no word on the others. Presumably we'll see the Fighters Guild again. It would be a real shame to have stopped the Camonna Tong taking it over in Morrowind and the Blackwood Company driving it out of business in Oblivion only for it to gently fizzle out during the next two centuries. I imagine we'll see the Thieves Guild again. The increase in visibility and prosperity brought about by the ending of Nocturnal's curse should help keep it going, and its only serious rival, the Camonna Tong, is almost exclusively a Morrowind operation, although we did see a couple of its operatives in Cyrodiil so you never know...

The Mages Guild, of course, is a different matter. We know from The Infernal City that the guild is no more, and has split into the "Synod" and the "College of Whispers". Of course, Skyrim is set over 150 years after TIC, so the guild might have reformed, but either way I hope we'll learn more about the split and the reasons for it. It seems likely to me that necromancy was the cause, and "College of Whispers" has a more necromantic sound to it, so my guess is that's where the necromancers went with the Synod being the anti-necromancy faction. We shall see.

The problem I've always had with the factions is that, apart from giving you some extra quests, a free bed, and a quantity of free goods... there's not much to them. The members hang around their guild halls or hideouts complaining about the lack of work, or how there's no time for research but don't do anything else. Why can't I bring along another Fighters Guild member on a quest? Yes I'll have to split the fee, but so be it.

In the Mages Guild people were always reading books, mixing potions and so on but never learned anything new. How about letting them teach players new skills? Not just the sort of ability training we had in MW and OB, but - for instance - why not make it a requirement to talk to a guild alchemist when you level up to learn about the new properties that are available with plants? It doesn't really make much sense when you hit 75 alchemy you suddenly know ''all'' the properties, having had no idea about the fourth property mere moments ago.

For the Thieves, let me hire one to steal something for me. Or to open a door I can't unlock yet. Or sneak up and pick somebody's pocket.

The other problem is that you can gain ranks too quickly. In about two weeks, you can go from a prison ship/prison cell to champion of the Fighters Guild, Arch-mage of the Mages Guild and head honcho of the Thieves. I know you can't really slow this down too much because it'll be annoying, but how about introducing rough timing rules like you can't become Arch-mage in less than two months? On a related subject, gossip and rumours shouldn't spread instantly: you can complete a quest in Cheydinhal, run faster than any other living entity straight to Anvil, and find people there talking about it like it's old news.

Anyway, back on topic.

I can't really begin to speculate as to what the faction quest lines will be about - or even if there will be an overarching quest line for each guild. The reunification of the Mages Guild is one idea that springs to mind, or a huge battle between the two successor factions, perhaps. It's difficult to see anything more engaging than the Dark Brotherhood story from OB - the secret internal traitor idea was perfect for that faction. Perhaps this is the time for the showdown between them and the Morag Tong?

Steam's Potato Sack Part 3

  05:11:12 pm, by   , 573 words  
Viewed 9772 times since 06/04/11
Categories: Welcome, Games

Part three of my trip into Steam's Potato Sack sees the same formula as the last two. Three games; one I hate, one I like and one that comes in the middle.

Killing Floor
I suppose this might actually be quite a good game, but I hate it. The trouble is that you need to play it with friends and I don't have any that play this game. You can go on the Internet to find people willing to play with you but I've done this kind of thing before, going right back to playing Quake over a 28.8kbps modem back in roughly 1997. You can find people it's worth playing with, but it's much more likely you're going to run into a bunch of idiots instead. I tried to play it on my own and was overwhelmed after about two minutes, and quit. Sorry, but games need to have a decent single player mode so that misanthropists like me can enjoy them. This doesn't so it goes on my hate list. Tough.

Super Meat Boy
I almost put this game in the "Hate" category, but it's got just about enough going for it that I put it in "Meh" instead. The story is that you're Meat Boy and someone called Dr Fetus has captured your girlfriend, Bandage Girl. You have to guide Meat Boy through a series of levels and rescue her. It's a platformer, and I'm not a huge fan, but there's quite a lot of skill involved, so it's more than a simple Mario game where jumping around at random will usually get you quite a long way. If you're interested in platform games, the Wikipedia article will tell you more. Apparently the game has a rating of over 90% on MetaCritic, so there must be plenty of people who like this kind of thing, but I'm not really one of them. The music's good though.

Audiosurf
To be honest, this is a pretty dull game with a really good twist, but the twist makes it brilliant. The idea is that you are moving along a road that twists and turns, and bounces up and down, and you have to pick up different coloured blocks to form groups of colour that then count for points. The fun part is that the shape, incline, and length of the road, as well as the location of the blocks, is determined by a music track that you give the game. If you play some kind of thrash metal in the background you're going to be in for a pretty busy journey, while playing Clannad is likely to produce a largely empty one. When I gave it Yes' version of Simon and Garfunkel's America, the road bounced up and down like it was full of potholes. As one final twist, you get to see who else has played on certain tracks, and it's interesting to see that there are obviously a load of old rockers like me out there because even Yes and King Crimson tracks had been played before. So the idea is really basic, but I can see it being quite fun to play at parties, and it's a good excuse to bring out some old tracks from the ol' MP3 collection and hit the road. This is one of the few games in this set I can see myself playing again and again, so it's got to get a "Like" rating, hasn't it?

Steam's Potato Sack Part 2

  04:08:41 pm, by   , 682 words  
Viewed 6074 times since 06/04/11
Categories: Games

Time for the next set of three games from the Potato Sack. See here for part one if you missed it. It's worth saying that I'm not trying to write proper reviews: I'm writing down my initial feelings after playing the game for a few minutes (or as long as I can stand it, in one or two cases). Last time I picked a game I hated, one I liked, and one somewhere in the middle so let's try that again.

1... 2... 3... KICK IT! (Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby)
Yes, that's the game's name - and a more stupid name for a game I have never heard. Like last time's "AaAaAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity", this one is by Dejobaan games, and I hate this game even more than I hated that one. The first five times I tried to load it, it gave me an error screen saying that Steam was down. No buttons on it, no close box, nothing. Luckily, ALT-F4 worked but this was hardly a great start. Eventually I got the thing to load and found that just about everything was covered with messages saying that the game was still under development. After fighting my way through those, I discovered that the game is basically the same as the other one except there's some way of linking your music to it. I played for two minutes before becoming so sick of it that I quit. Why do people release garbage like this?

Toki Tori
The first of two games from Two Tribes software. This one is basically a platformer and I have to confess that I didn't play it for too long, partly because I grew out of platform games with Jet Set Willy, and partly because it's far too cute. You play something that looks like an egg with wings and feet, and collect other eggs to complete each level. To help you, you can build bridges, use other items and gain weapons to kill the baddies on each level. I didn't get past the bridges though because the music drove me nutty, even if I turned it right down, and the constant cuteness was just wearing. I can't help think that this is a game my 5 year old niece would like and that it really isn't suitable for 37 year olds. Check out the website if you're interested. To be fair, it seems fairly well-done, and I'll try it on my sister's kids next time I see them and see what they think.

RUSH
Like last time's Cogs, we have a logic game as a winner. RUSH is even better than Cogs, though, because it doesn't have a timer going - something that I always find a bit annoying. In this game, each level consists of a 3D landscape made up of featureless white blocks. In this scape are one or more tiles that produce coloured blocks, and other tiles to which these blocks must be guided. Once a block is created, it moves in one direction until it hits a wall whereupon it turns to the right. You have other tiles, which cause the blocks to change direction, pause for a moment, slide to one side without changing direction, and one or two other, more complex things. The tutorial is incredibly helpful, and then the game is split into easy, medium and hard levels to make playing a learning process. And wow, is it a learning process. The easy levels are all pretty easy, which is how I guess they got the name, but some of the medium ones are already damn hard, and having unlocked the hard levels, I'm struggling to work out where to begin on most of them. The absence of timer, however, means you can take your time working through a solution, and there are a pair of Hint buttons if you get really stuck. I've played this game for longer than any other except Amnesia, so it's definitely doing something right. Again, if you don't like logic puzzles it might not be for you but I love it.