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Posts Tagged ‘shooter’

I like music.  I like games.  Intersections of the two make me happy.

A good chunk of my musical library is game music.  I’m a fan of AudioSurf, a slick little “sound rider” game that can be played as a relaxing cruise through my favorite music or a skill-testing scramble.  Lately, though, maybe because I’ve had a lack of vitamin BSU in my gaming diet (Blow Stuff Up), I’ve really been enjoying Symphony.

Symphony takes your music library (or the one they provide) and asks you to clean out corruption in it, imposed by a malevolent digital entity of some sort.  You fly a ship with four cannons (you wind up with a variety of weapons that you can slot in), reacting to the algorithms that the game uses to make bad guys based on your music.  It’s a delightfully flexible system, with no two songs really playing quite the same way (and each song plays differently for each difficulty level).  The story and character are just kinda… there.  Not bad, just not all that compelling.  I’m not convinced you really need a reason to play a game that’s this simple at its core; just go blow stuff up and have a blast doing it.

The TRON-flavored visuals are excellent, if a bit overwhelming before you get used to filtering the visual chaff.  It’s really satisfying to upgrade your guns a few times, maybe angling them or using a spread cannon or shotgun, and throwing up a huge swath of happy, glowing death, blasting a swarm of bad guys into note-shaped shrapnel.

Most importantly, though, blowing stuff up is glorious fun.  For me, the visuals and story can make or break a game, but only at the margins.  The gameplay is what really matters, and Symphony is simply fun to play.  Set your cannons to autofire (holding down the mouse button for constant fire is a good recipe for carpal tunnel, so autofire is the way to go), and you can just concentrate on flying.  Or maybe try out a Subwoofer weapon that only fires according to the music (where a subwoofer would be used, of course, nicely demonstrated in the game’s trailer).  Or how about a Crescendo weapon, a “charge and release” sort of weapon, or a Missile Rack that functions much the same way, offering devastating firepower in a narrow arc.  Perhaps it’s best to put in that Shotgun or Spread Cannon and just dominate the play field.  Maybe even use that Dual Cannon that fires behind you for those sneaky bad guys that push you out of the “bottom of the screen pocket” that lower difficulty levels allow.

Speaking of difficulty, it’s also a forgiving game.  It presumes that you want to actually play through your whole song, so while your ship may be destroyed, you just respawn after a few seconds.  Your ship can also be partially destroyed, and picking up the “Inspiration” that bad guys drop repairs your ship.  So you can wind up with just one cannon as your wings get clipped, but you can get back in the game after you destroy some bad guys and pick up their offerings.  Of course, your score suffers if you do completely crash, both with a straight score penalty and with missed opportunities to score while you’re regenerating, but there doesn’t seem  to be a penalty just for ship damage that subsequently gets repaired.

Here’s a quick video that I found online that goes over some of the basics.  I kind wish I could make a video, but that’s way down the priority list.

There are some fun “progression/collection” mechanics that unlock the variety of weapons and let you upgrade them, and player-selected difficulty levels which unlock as you play through your library.  This incentivizes playing through different songs, as there is the occasional rare variant of a weapon that packs more punch.  I do wish there were more weapons that did different things, and more that interacted with the music itself, but the dozen or so weapons in the game do provide a good mix of attack options without becoming overwhelming, and simplicity in game design isn’t really a bad thing.

…there’s room for a sequel, that’s all I’m saying.

In the meantime, though, Symphony is a sweet game that even stole some time I might have been playing Torchlight 2, the other game I was really happy to pick up in the Black Friday sales.  I got Symphony at GoG.com’s “five for $10″ sale, along with the Blackwell Bundle, Botanicula, Resonance and Unmechanical.  …as if my game backlog wasn’t full already.  Still, for $20 I picked up 9 games that I’m really looking forward to playing.  I’ve dabbled with all of them except for the Blackwell games, and so far, I’m happy with them all… though Symphony is the one I keep coming back to.  Yes, yes, Torchlight 2 is a gem, packed with vitamin KSALI (Kill Stuff And Loot It), but it’s more involved.  With my rather constrained game play time of late, the quick play of Symphony really fits the bill.  I’d love to just settle into some marathon sessions of Torchlight 2 or Guild Wars 2, or even Tactics Ogre for the PSP that I got for my birthday, but my schedule is… squirrely.

At least there’s plenty of good gaming in the wings, when I can get to it.

Oh, and just because I wanted to get these out there while I’m thinking about them, I ran into some pretty crazy photographs lately.  Some very cool stuff can be done with very high speed photography and water, as Tim Tadder illustrates with these shots:

Water Wigs

Fish Heads

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XCOMeOn

As in, “come on, that’s just dumb” rather than a racy bit of textspeak.  It’s not like “XCOM, SchmeXCOM” would really have sounded much better, though.

Aaaaanyway, Gamasutra (sheesh, another innuendo-laced term) has a pair of blurbish articles up from the guys making a modern iteration of the X-COM IP.  (In finest literary form, they dropped the hyphen from the original, since that’s so BOLD and EDGY!)  Apparently, it’s supposed to be a shooter/strategy hybrid.

I had about the same reaction as Shamus.  It’s not quite a Darth Vaderish “Noooooooo!”, but pretty close.

Y’see, the original X-COM is a brilliant game from the golden age of MicroProse games.  (The era that brought us Master of Magic, MoO and MoO2.)  Even stuffy “journalist” types think it’s a great game, better than Half Life 2, the media darling.  To be completely honest, I played the sequel, X-COM, Terror from the Deep first and for longer, but it’s pretty much the same game anyway.  It’s a rock solid strategy game setting the player as an intrepid disembodied commander of a band of elite cowards enlisted to save the Earth from little grey aliens and their nasty attendants and technology.  In many ways, it still hasn’t been topped (again, like MoM and MoO) by modern games, largely because the gameplay is brilliant.  (Despite the severe lack of pixel shaders and polygons.)

So, naturally, when making a sequel using the IP, what do you do?

You focus on the “emotions” of the IP, “while changing the game fundamentally“.  (Quote ripped directly from the article, my emphasis.)

Newsflash, guys:  X-COM Interceptor didn’t do to well, and that was from MicroProse.  X-COM Alliance (Looky!  A first person shooter!) got cancelled.  Fans of the original don’t want a totally new game, they want a bigger, better version of the original.  That said, the original is still playable, so topping it is a tall order… especially if you don’t know what made it tick in the first place.  Those were the days when gameplay was what made a game great, and the visuals were icing on the cake.  Things have changed a little, both in the market penetration of careful strategy games (no, StarCraft 2 doesn’t count; “Strategy” and “Real Time Strategy” are different animals) and a bit more “style over substance” in the market.

So on the one hand, I almost feel bad for these guys.  I can almost look past the cash grab in using a beloved IP.  New ideas really do tend to be less sticky, and the X-COM name still carries weight.  I can almost look past the “look, another shooter!” mentality, since everyone else is doing it.  That’s not a good reason to do something, but that rarely stops people.  I can almost sympathize with wanting to do something other than what the original did, wanting to carve out a name for themselves.  I can almost sympathize with the devs not wanting to go too far out of their own skill set, having done BioShock and BS2, games that have met with some success and critical brownie points.  (Though, does that make them one trick ponies?  Ah, the balance between playing to strengths and getting stuck in a rut.)

And yet, if you’re adopting an IP to bootstrap your development and hype engine, hijacking it and running in a different direction isn’t really the way to either honor the IP or pull in the established fan base.  It might be more fun to develop, and it might be wise if you’re chasing market trends (itself a dubious idea, but it does look less risky than “blue ocean” strategies), but it’s not always good for the IP.

(Tangentially, this is why I loathed the Tom Cruise-infested Mission Impossible movie.  It took a beloved license then proceeded to stomp it into the ground in the first act, flirt with the fans in the middle, then spit on the corpse in the finale.  It could have worked as a nifty spy movie, but specifically as a Mission Impossible movie, it was a kick to the groin of the IP.  Working with an established franchise is a dual edged sword.)

On another hand, it really can be wise sometimes to spread an IP across multiple genres and even mediums.  (See:  WoW TCG, WoW Minis and WoW board games.)  That has a way of building a cohesive universe rather than a single-shot story, which allows for inertia to build in the IP, and opens doors for more projects and monetization.  All in all, that’s a solid long-term strategy, especially if quality can be maintained across the board.

So, while I do not have any interest in actually playing this new iteration of X-COM, I am at least academically interested in what it winds up doing.  If it’s a solid game, and it may well be, it might resurrect the X-COM brand, eventually paving the way for a real sequel to the beloved classics.  (X-COM Apocalypse was passable, but also easily passed up.)  If it winds up awful, it still won’t really tarnish the original and TFTD, and I can go back and play them.

I choose, then, to view this as a Good Thing, at least until proven otherwise.  It takes some effort to do so, since my reflexive reaction is one of incredulity and annoyance… but I think I’ll give them a chance.

…at least it’s not a 4X game, I guess.  That would have overloaded the innuendo meter.

But I still want a great turn-based strategic/tactical sequel.

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