Friday, 28 September 2012

I-Warred

Just a quick post to say that I finally finished the I-War campaign. There wasn't actually that much more to do from my previous post. I did get a couple of decision points, but I ended up forming a new breakaway faction rather than joining with the indies. I realised that the reason I didn't get to become an indie pilot is because coming up next is the expansion disk - Defiance, which is basically the same background campaign, but this time played from the indie point of view, which I'm actually quite looking forward to. The missions are really nice and varied, so as long as the expansion disk carries on in the same vein then it should be fun. I also noticed that there is an obvious stat on the mission breakdown that lets you know which path you took in that mission. Looking back through my mission history, there are actually a lot of missions that had different paths...I'm afraid to say that I'm not going to go back and explore them. You could argue that I'm not really completing the game if I don't play through every bit of it, but I want to move on. Anyway, I've played through one story to the end, and that's enough for my rules. So yeah, next game in the series is the Defiance add-on, which I'm guessing will probably take as long to play as the first game if it really does mirror the main background campaign. Unfortunately, it doesn't count as a finished game until I've done the add-on as well. Bah.

In the meantime I'll be turning my attention to Fantasy General and trying to get through that. I've just finished the second continent (of 4, I think), so I'm roughly half-way through, although the later continents have way more (and much longer) battles than the first couple, so there's still a good chunk of game to go. And it really is good fun. I'm having to become a bit more strategic as the enemies get tougher, so I'm trying different troops as some of my earlier guys perish (which is actually not a good thing, as troops gain experience while they fight on the battlefield).

Monday, 24 September 2012

The little game that could

Quick update to say I completed Velocity over the weekend. I mentioned before that it's a PlayStation mini that I've been playing on and off in early morning time before Max is up. It's a really lo-fi, cheap game - nothing you couldn't have made in Flash back in the day, but it's full of great ideas and perfect execution. I said it could have been made in Flash, but actually it needs a controller. The precise controls and natural muscle memory are essential.

I guess it's ostensibly a shooter, but it doesn't really feel like one. You play a space ship and you fly around shooting things and rescuing hostages, but the really important central idea is that you can teleport. There are two different types of teleport, short form and long form. Short form is for zipping around the screen - jumping out of trouble (or into it), leaping over obstacles or reaching far away rescue pods. Long form works slightly differently: here you drop a marker that you can then teleport back to at any time. This is used when the path splits and you need to hop back so you can take both branches, or when you need to shoot a switch that opened a barrier further back in the level. It's all introduced slowly and naturally throughout the early levels, and the level design throughout the game's 50 levels is exemplary. Everything is designed perfectly to make use of your crafts unique abilities. You also have a couple more of those abilities - an infinite supply of speed boost for zipping through the levels (and some of the levels are timed, so you'll need that extra speed), and an infinite supply of bombs. The bombs are another neat feature; you have lasers, but they only fire forward, whereas your bombs can fire along any of the four compass points. So you'll often have to fling bombs down thin side passages, or bunny-hop over a switch then flick a bomb behind you to hit it and open up the electric barrier just in front of you. And the levels combine all of these things to perfection. The pace is wonderfully varied - some levels will be panicky, hair-raising races with the boost button held down all the way, others are slower-paced explorations with multiple long-form teleport marks dropped behind you so you can jump back and forth around the level visiting all of the branches to rescue all of the survivors. It's great.

There are also secret capsules you can find that open up bonuses - challenge levels or even mini-games like Space Invaders and Thrust that you can play. There's also a nice system to unlocking the normal levels. When you finish each level you get a certain number of XP for the time you finished it in, the amount of survivors you rescued and the amount of points you earned (from shooting bad guys and picking up pods). Each of the normal levels requires a certain amount of XP before you can open it. At the beginning of the game you don't really notice this at all, as pretty much as long as you complete the previous level then you'll always have enough XP to open the next level, but as you near the end of the game you start to notice that you no longer have enough XP to open the next level so you have to go back and replay the previous levels to earn a few more precious XP. Normally I'd absolutely hate something like that, but it's done really well here. For one thing, the levels are short and fun, so they don't outstay their welcome, but the best bit is that you don't have to do all of those things - survivors, points and time - in one go. You can do one run at super speed, just getting the minimum amount of survivors and rushing to the end, another to explore and pick up all of the survivors, and a final run to shoot everything and gain the maximum amount of points. And you don't need to get a perfect score on every level to open up all of the levels, so you can pick and choose which bits you want to do. If you like the speed runs then you can focus on those and just pick up a few extra points here and there from getting more survivors; if you want to spend time exploring and getting maximum points then you can do that and ignore the speed runs. It's a really nice system and works exactly how you'd want it to - lesson to designers, if you want to make a player go back and replay your game, then think about it from their point of view and make it fun for them.

So yeah, this is the smallest, shortest, and cheapest game I've written about so far and I've written loads about it. Why? Because it was great fun. The whole thing perfectly captured that elusive 'feel' that makes a great game great. It was focused on its idea and didn't spread itself too thinly or jam too much in. It even has a well-written back story that you learn more of as you play through it. All in all, a lovely little 10 out of 10 gem, and one I'd highly recommend.

Friday, 21 September 2012

I-War update

Nothing completed this week, so just a progress update. Both games on the go are pretty epic, so I may be here for a while. I'll start with Fantasy General, as I haven't done much of that. I've just got off the first island which mostly contained training missions. I think there are four islands in the game, and things are already starting to get tricky. It's a fun and absorbing game, though, with some nice touches. In my last battle, for example, I rescued a guy who can make mech units, which massively increased the amount of troops I can enlist and research - I wasn't expecting that at all, as I already have a pretty massive quota of normal and magic troops that I'm experimenting with and researching. Options wahey!

Independence War is amazingly hard, amazingly complicated and amazingly engrossing. I don't think I've ever played a game where I've died so many times on the training missions, let alone the rest of it. Even the very first training missions caused me many restarts. It's only a simple 'fly through the hoops' affair, but a) if you hit the hoops then you die, and b) I kept losing track of the final hoop and running out of time trying to find it again. The next training mission was similarly tricky - you had to make use of the Newtonian physics to dock with container pods then accelerate and undock them so they carried on going in a straight line at that velocity. Essentially you had to use this process to fling a bunch of pods through a ring. Good fun once you get the hang of it, but again, it took me quite a few goes to clear it. Anyway, I'm making progress through the game slowly but surely. I've no idea how big it is, but it seems to have been going for a while now. It definitely hasn't outstayed its welcome, though, and the reason for that is the engrossing storyline and the excellent mission structure. The missions are immensely varied, I don't think I've had to do the same thing twice, and there hasn't been a single straight 'fly here and shoot this' mission. Admittedly a lot of the missions are disrupted by 'indies' attacking you, but that's kind of the fun of it. A few of the things I've had to do...weapons test a new super gun, fly scientists to investigate an asteroid, repair a broken navigation satellite, safely 'catch' an antimatter pod that was on a collision course with a space station...oh, and I've met aliens a couple of times, but they've only been really fleeting encounters. On the story front, I fly a navy ship, and we're in a battle against the 'indies' or independents. Normally, I'd have expected a plot twist where I'd realise the navy is evil and the indies are fighting on the side of right, and I'd switch over and blast the oppressors, but that hasn't happened - or even been hinted at - yet, and I've been playing for a while now. I'm pretty sure this game does have a branching storyline, so it would make sense if I could go indie or navy...maybe it's already happened and I wasn't aware of it? (Hmmm...that reminds me of a song...indie navy, you can sail the seven seas, indie navy...etc.) So yeah, story-wise, there's the whole background battle going on, the aliens - who I'm sure are going to play a larger part, and I've picked up some kind of ghost-in-the-machine AI with the personality of a long-dead war hero, so presumably that's going to go somewhere, too. To be honest, I've got absolutely no idea where the story's heading right now, but I'm enjoying the ride. Until next week, then, or until I actually complete something.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Back from the future

A quick mini update to say that I finished Telltale's Back to the Future series over the weekend. I played a bit of it during my bathroom fitting gaming week and have finished it off in the early mornings when I've been up with (or before) Max. It's a nice gentle non-violent game, so I don't mind him seeing it, and there's no action really, so I can easily drop it if he wants me to go off and help him teach an elephant to fly. In fact, Max just calls it television, I don't think he's even realised it's a game.

I played and enjoyed Telltale's Sam and Max series a while back, and this was much the same in process, though the story and puzzles felt a lot more natural. I didn't get on with it at all to begin with, but as soon as the story kicked in I started to enjoy it more and more. If you like graphic adventures, I reckon it's one of Telltale's best.

In other brief news, I couldn't resist trying both games and doing their first training missions. Fantasy general was great fun - it felt a lot like HoMM and its ilk. I can see it getting very complex very quickly, though. I-War wasn't quite what I expected. I think I was getting it mixed up with Freespace when I though that it was an arcade game. It's actually a simulator with a full Newtonian physics model, and looks like it's going to get incredibly complicated (with a 118-page manual!). I think it's one of those games that's going to demand a lot of attention, so I'll try and stick with it for a bit.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Noid avoided

Well, for a quick CGA platformer it wasn't too bad. Ridiculously frustrating, as games of that age often are, but still very playable. The game involves you delivering a pizza to the top of a skyscraper with a 30-minute time limit. The tricky thing is that along the way, the 'noids' are trying to stop you. They do this either by knocking you over and then jumping up and down on the pizza, or they simply fire bazookas at you, which seems a little more extreme. You come equipped with a pretty decent jump, so they're not too bad to avoid, unless they come in massive clumps - which they often do. In those situations you have a limited supply of 'noid avoiders', which basically kill everything on the screen. They're also a life saver when you have to open doors with keys and have to sit through the key fumbling animation before the door opens. You can still be hit during this animation, and if you try to move at all then you have to go through the whole thing again. Luckily, using a noid avoider doesn't count as moving, so they're a life-saver when you're trying to get through a door and hundreds of noids are jumping at you. The other major obstacles are falling floors. Certain sections of floor will drop you down to the level below, but you have no idea where they are until you walk over them. It's annoying when you do run into them, as they usually end up dropping you down right into the path of a missile on the level below, but actually they're not quite as frustrating as they sound because you soon learn that the safest way to traverse the levels is by jumping anyway, which means you usually leap right over them without even knowing they're there. Then we come to what I found was the most annoying part. There are also telephones sprinkled throughout the game that you can answer. As far as I could tell, you have no way of knowing who's going to be at the other end until you answer it, and 9 times out of 10 it's a noid who immediately blows you up. The other times it's a bonus life or noid avoider. No problem, you think, I just won't answer any of them, but the other thing you get from the phones is a code to open one of the final doors, so you have to take your chances and get blown up a lot. For all I know there might be one phone that always gives you the code - I didn't play it enough to find out - but if it's random then it seems hugely unfair to me.

Anyway, it's another one done. I love these quick games! Next up on the randometer is...Fantasy General. It doesn't seem that long ago I was wondering what the game was that would get me into strategy war games. This could be it. It's basically SSI's acclaimed Panzer General but with a fantasy coat of paint. It's not going to be a quick game by any means, but will hopefully be a fun one. I think I definitely will jump into I-war next, though, and give that a blast.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Rai-done

Not much to say about Raiden. I had a quick go on it today, but it keeps crashing after the third level and it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to get any further. Turns out it's the same game I've played a bit before on the Megadrive, called Raiden Trad there. No idea what the official difference is, but I don't remember the MD one being quite as hard as the PC one. Generally, a lot of that's down to the system (and emulation thereof), the PC just isn't made for vertical shooters - the keyboard is a terrible input device for it (though I did finally get the joypad working), and suffered wildly varying slowdown, being incredibly fast when nothing was on the screen and incredibly slow when there was tonnes on there. That's probably a Dosbox fault, but it still didn't make it much fun to play.

As for the game itself, it's a fairly typical and fairly difficult shooter. You have to shoot everything that moves while trying to collect power-ups wafting around the screen. As far as I could tell, there are two types of main fire (laser and fire), and two types of missile (homing and straight - make your own jokes there). That's not a great deal of variety, but every additional power up you get adds a power level to the weapons, so they get a bit more exciting every time. Except if you're anything like me then you'll only see the first couple of power levels before you die again. Also, normal missiles seem utterly pointless, homing ones are infinitely better. I guess that's why the power-ups run in sequence, so once you kill a certain craft then it will start as M for missile, then after about 10 seconds it'll switch to H for homing, so you need to avoid getting the power-up for long enough until it's changed to what you want. So there's all that stuff putting me off it. Although it's nowhere near a bullet hell shooter, there are still enough bullets and enemies around to make it really hard to get anywhere without running into something, and I'm rubbish at shooters. But the thing that I hated most about it is that it has enemies that fly in from behind you. I'm one of those cautious back-of-the-court types who likes to only move forward for pick-ups, etc., but if you do that in Raiden you'll generally be dead in seconds without even knowing what hit you. The game forces you to take on an aggressive play stance, always fighting up the field and attacking the enemy bullets rather than running away from them. I guess that was my biggest problem with it - I'm a shooter coward, and the game wanted to change me. As (someone) once said, you can't change the nature of a man.

Anyway, enough of that. Good to get another quick one out of the way. Next up on the list is...Avoid the Noid. Hmmm, this was a promotional game for Domino's Pizza back in the 80s. No idea what it's going to be like! Not sure whether I'll hit this next or try I-war. If this looks like a quick one, then I might just push through it quickly and add another one to the done list.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Septerra Cored

It's finally done. I won't write too much about it here, as I've already done a couple of posts on poor old Septerra, but I can't tell you how glad I am to have finally beaten it. It definitely did outstay it's welcome a bit. By the end there was just way too much backtracking through samey dungeons, and every one was full of exactly the same kinds of switch maze...walk to one end of the dungeon to flick a switch that opens a door at the other end of the dungeon, so walk all the way over there to find another switch that opens another door back at the other end of the dungeon...repeat ad nauseam. They did a few things to try and lighten the tone - some combat initialisation sequences were quite fun and the backgrounds were always quite nice, but the mazes were just...ugh. The story and setting were good, and they did just about carry the weight of the game, it's just a shame the gameplay couldn't have had the same level of uniqueness. The ending when it came was quite quick and a little odd. The developers were obviously banking on the game being a success and they'd planned for a sequel, but that unfortunately wasn't the case. So in the end, the game is left with a bit of an enigmatic conclusion...things that happen in the final scene aren't explained, and the final prophecy isn't at all what you expect, but unfortunately isn't at all explored either. I won't spoil what it was, as I'm sure you're all going to rush out and buy the game right now...but it was a bit of an anticlimax. Ho hum.

Next up on the game pile is...ooh, the SSI Buck Rogers games added to the series list - looking forward to those, but the next single game is...Raiden. It's a top down shooter, which'll be an interesting change of pace. Unfortunately I've also just read a review saying it's "one of the worst shooters I have ever played". Should be fun.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Three core years and 10

I'm trying to do a post a week, but I really don't have much to report here. My folks have been down on holiday, so off a few days this week seeing them and the rest of the time in the office has been manic. Still, the point of this blog is the games, so on to them! I've only had time for a couple of quick sessions of Septerra, but I've made a little progress. One thing I can't fault the game on is the story - there are lots of twists and turns (maybe a few too many) with characters following their own motivations and affecting the story. I am getting a tiny bit of quest fatigue, though. There are too many instance of "Aha, well done for bringing me the the great Ankh of X, now if only I had the great Seal of Y we'd be able to use it. The great Seal of Y, you say? Oh, it's just a little trinket, to make it you'll need to locate the two parts of the supreme Fishing Rod of P and combine them with the Tricorn of Q, which can only be done at midnight in the forest of A, to enter which, you'll need the Key of B." And so it goes on. I don't mind that too much, as it generally moves the story along, the biggest problem is that it involves interminable back-tracking.

A key element of good game design, as far as I'm concerned, is to keep the game moving and not bore the player. If I've just fought through a massively long dungeon filled with evil (EVIL) switch mazes, and I've just killed Eric B. Badguy, then whatever you do, don't make me trek back through the whole dungeon (doing the switches in reverse...again) just to get back to the world map. That is not, never has been, and never will be fun. It's incredibly tedious, slows everything down, and bores the heck out of me. It's not really even worth it for the grind at this point, as I feel like all of my characters are at a good enough level now (they've all learned all of their abilities, so more XP is just a case of a few more hit points). So, that part of the game I'm finding hard. In general, though, I'm still enjoying the game, and I think that is mostly due to the story and the characters. It is starting to feel like it's outstaying its welcome, though, so hopefully the story will start to wind up soon. Oh, and I also read another review of the game where the reviewer commented on the fact that he also didn't find the map button until half-way through the game, so it wasn't just me being dumb. Ho hum. Maybe next week's post will be more exciting.