It’s been a while since I actually had enough time to play anything on my Steam backlog.  I still haven’t since last time I posted about this project, but I have been playing a few smartphone games and even a PS3 game, so I’m splicing them into the project.  Gaming is gaming, more or less, and it’s worth writing a bit about these.  Standard boilerplate disclaimer/description, with a rider that most of the images this time around are swiped from the ‘net, since I couldn’t get screenshots:


I’m going through my Steam list (and then some, as it happens) alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.


First, I’ve mentioned Slingshot Braves before, which I’ve played on my Android smartphone and an Android tablet.  It’s a fairly solid game, as far as actual combat goes, but the progression system and gear acquisition system is… not good.  If you’re up for some good combat-billiards…ish sort of gaming, it’s worth checking out for a bit.  Just don’t spend any real money on it, and don’t expect to make much progress once the leveling curve ramps up.  The “Gacha” system, popular in Japan but with all the stink of F2P underbellies, is kin to the lockbox system we see in many Free To Play MMOs, where you can pony up about $5 worth of premium currency (earned either slowly in-game or via cash purchase) to open a thingamabob that might have a small chance of being useful instead of something you will just break down into materials you could literally earn in a three minute mission.  It’s a waste of money.  I’m not above wasting money, but this just itches in all the wrong places.  It’s a game I Regret, but only because it could have been so much better, not because it was awful to actually play.

Embracing Diversity

Yes, that’s his best armor.  Optimus Striptease, The Chief and Tutu Gogo.  The game’s gear design is largely the same old ridiculous chainmail bikini sort of crap, but once in a while they do something cool like steampunk armor, so there’s gold in there somewhere.


Automatic RPG is silly.  That’s OK, as the charm of the goofy writing takes mild jabs at badly translated Japanese games and other RPG tropes.  The gameplay is minimal, even banking on the “it plays itself” mechanic to sell itself, and it’s kin to mildly entertaining time wasters like Candy Box and Candy Box 2.  It was fun for a while, seeing what gear the team found and what conversational malaprops happened, but there’s not really any meat on the game’s bones.  The Fire Emblem-like minimal graphics are good for what they are, and the competent music is probably out of a game dev bundle somewhere, but they serve their purpose well enough.  Again, not something to spend money on, but it’s fun to see what people do sometimes.  I don’t exactly Regret playing it, but it’s close, and it won’t last for more than another week or so, unless I forget I have it installed.



Random aside:  The current (for another 12 hours) Humble Weekly Bundle has some game-making programs and assets that are worth investigating, if you’re itching to dig into making games.

There’s also a ton of stuff in this bundle:

Game Makers Mega Bundle


Terra Battle is my current favorite mobile game.  It’s from the Mistwalker crew, complete with Nobuo Uematsu and Yoko Shimomura music, as well as art from stars in the JRPG community, so there’s more to it than Just Another Mobile game.  The core design is derived from the Puzzle And Dragons mechanic of swiping a unit around, nudging other units into place for some sort of attack, but the increased depth in its tactical considerations of placement and team composition is much more satisfying than games of that ilk.  Sure, there’s a Doctor Who and a Mario P&D variant if those are your IP hooks, but Terra battle takes the core design further, and does a great job at making it more satisfying.

The goal is not to line up units or whatzits to match three in a row and have them pop, but rather, to move your fighting units around to pincer enemies in, since the only way you attack is if you can set up your units in that sort of pincer.  This spreads things out, rather than clumping them as in a match-x sort of game, which shakes up the formula nicely.  Also, units that are lined up with the units initiating the pincer can lend some support, especially mages and healers, so mastering the entire battlefield and positioning is critical.  It’s rewarding to learn the system and plan things out well, making the most of your assets.


(Image from this review, complete with a customer complaint.)

Mistwalker has also promised to do a console Terra Battle game, though the last time I checked, they didn’t know what sort of game it would be.  I’d love to see them tackle a Final Fantasy Tactics sort of game using that IP.  I can dream.

I Recommend this game, with the caveat that the bog standard “free to play” shenanigans pop up with its own sort of “gacha” system for character recruitment.  Extremely rare mages are somewhat overpowered, but I was able to finish the game’s main storyline without needing them and without spending money.  Rare characters are not critical to success in the game, and the game is more generous with its premium currency than most, but still… it’s not something I want to spend money on.  I’d be perfectly happy to pay $15 or so for a faster leveling pace and guaranteed recruiting (say, in given story missions) in a Buy-And-Play version of the game, though.


It’s a solid game, fun to play, at least until frustration sets in with a slow leveling curve and some of the game’s more annoying bosses or level hazards (spiked floors in chapter 18 are eeeeeeevil) pop up.  I finished the main storyline without spending a dime, and I think I have a good feel for what the game offers.  I played way more than the 15 minutes I’m budgeting for this project, but I love just playing the game, so I don’t mind.


And then there’s the biggie.  Motorstorm: Apocalypse.

I love this game.  I Recommend it.  It’s ridiculous, entertaining, and just a blast to drive through crazy, shattered locations.  Yes, I’m a sucker for apocalyptic land-and-cityscapes, and the overall look of the game is really what sold me, but the gameplay is really, really solid in my book.  The challenge of driving any of a fairly wide variety of vehicles through tracks that don’t always stay in place is just fun.  They really embrace the post-apocalyptic setting, but only as a vehicle for making sweet places to drive in absurd scenarios.  Drive through an earthquake, a hurricane, or just a huge rainstorm, all while plowing through buildings and skating across roads that break as you drive on them.  Drive anything from a semi truck to a superbike, taking advantage of the terrain and your ride, which makes replay interesting as the same track plays differently according to your vehicle.  Sure, it’s all contrived, and Michael Bay-like explosive events conveniently happening as you drive by are sort of silly, but it’s all so goofily fun in a wonderfully conceived and realized world that it’s hard to complain.


The “comic book” storytelling is weak, with palpable yearning to be Image Comics in video game form and a thin story with cliche characters.  It’s not offensively bad, but it doesn’t really add to the game.


I was hooked in the first five minutes of driving through a broken city, though.  I’ve played through about half of the story and driven on about a third of the open “free race” tracks.  There are more tracks that  I get to unlock, but out of the gate, there is plenty of fun to be found.


It’s not quite as great as Burnout Revenge in my driving library, but it’s easily in second place, just edging out Burnout Paradise.  And yes, all of these edge out any Mario Kart game I’ve played.  Perhaps that’s sacrilege, but the pure mayhem in Burnout Revenge (crash events, especially), gorgeous explorable world in Burnout Paradise, and the broken, beautiful world of Motorstorm: Apocalypse are just more fun for me.  Sure, I had a blast with the original Mario Kart on the SNES back in the day, just like I had a lot of fun with Goldeneye, but these days, the field is a bit more stuffed with options.  I also haven’t played more than a few glorious minutes of DIRT 3, which seems like it might fit in the top 5 somewhere with a proper review.


This is also a good excuse to share a few of my favorite short films.  First, there’s Ruin, which is most on-topic.  This post-apocalyptic short film is apparently a “tiny” piece of a bigger world, and I’d love to see more of it.  The character is a bit JRPGgy, in that he’s slightly oddly proportioned and moves in some regular cycles, reminiscent of Final Fantasy characters in their prerendered movies, but that’s the animator in me nitpicking.  The sense of world and place is great in this film, and I’m fond of the world building that the creator indulged in.

Then there’s World Builder, which scratches my film-making and game dev itches at the same time, and is just a sweet little story to boot.

And then there’s Carousel, one of the best CG short films I’ve seen to date.  The clowns are creepy, the “moment of time” hook is brilliant, and the story told really works well for what could have simply been an exercise in showing off fancy image-smithing.


Until next time, then!  I’m hoping to dive back into Steam, but the Tinker Plastic Dice should be at my place this week or early next week, so I’ll be busy again with that for a while.

Once upon a time, I designed a small “area control” tile-capture game for a game development exercise.  I called it Alpha Hex, a simple, abstract name for a simple, abstract game.  It has evolved over the years, and I’m looking for ways to bring it to market as a tabletop board game.  Perhaps someday it can be released as a tablet game as well, but for today, it’s a Print and Play game in what I call a “Paper Beta” format.  We would greatly appreciate your help in taking a look at the game and seeing just how well it works, or doesn’t, as the case may be.  It’s been fantastic so far in our experiments and testing.

Please print out the files below and give it a try!  If you will tell your friends about it, all the better!

It’s ready to play, though we are keeping an eye on how well it plays, and we are trying to make sure it has sufficient depth to offer good value.  We have plans to add another wrinkle to this particular game, the Deity Cards, but at the moment, I’d like to get this out into the wild to see what sort of feedback we can gather.  If you have the time and inclination, please take a look at the game, and if you can tell us how it played for you, we’d love to hear it.

Pantheon Wars: The Fall of Ra is an “area control” game played on a 39-cell board.  You can play a shorter game on the 19 cells in the middle, which is how we have done most of our testing to date, but both work well.  Players compete to control the most tiles, with ties decided by control of the Nile river and delta cells on the board.  Tiles played on the board stay where they were played, but control of those tiles shifts as the game proceeds.  Success comes from smart play and careful planning.


If you have played Triple Triad, you will probably easily understand the core mechanics, but I’ve tried to keep the rules clean enough and the basic ruleset simple enough that it doesn’t require knowing that game.  Pantheon Wars: The Fall of Ra is designed specifically around being easy to learn, but with enough complexity in play decisions and circumstances that there is room for careful thought and skill testing.  Players find that to be true in testing, and it’s my hope that getting some new people to look at the game will let us refine it further where needed.

I call the game a “beta”, but it’s really one that has been through several cycles of development already.  I’d be happy with the game being released into the wild as-is, since we’ve had a lot of fun with it and so have our testers to date.  Still, there is room for polish, and when we get the Deity Cards polished up, we will need to give them a thorough period of testing as well.

We would love to get this made as a commercial product, too, and I’ve been investigating options for a Kickstarter project to make that happen.  Before we do that, though, testing the game some more is in order, and the more people we can reach to get this tested, the better.  More eyes can also mean a better launch for the game if we do get to take it to Kickstarter.

If you have the time and interest, then, please download the files below and print them out.  It should give you all you need to play the game with 2 to 6 players.  I print the board and tiles on photo paper and then mount them on matboard, then cut them out, to give a better feel to them and more durability, but you should be able to play the game if you just use simple paper on everything.  I’m happy to answer questions about the game, either here or over on our Facebook page:

Project Khopesh

I would also love to ask you questions about how the game worked for you.  If you are willing to let me ask you some questions, or just want to ask some, please contact me at tishtoshtesh@gmail.com with “Fall of Ra” somewhere in your email subject line.

Thank you all!

If you want these all in a single .PDF file, it’s presently hosted over on Dropbox at this link:

Pantheon Wars: The Fall Of Ra Print and Play

Rules (minus the optional rules, which are described on a different page below)


Board in 3 parts for printing on 8.5″ by 11″ paper




Board combined for larger format printing


Tiles and Control Markers







Three if by Air

A few more points on flight in World of Warcraft that have come up that I wanted to note in a bit more detail since last time:

1.  A “smaller world”.

I’ve written it before, but I consider this to be an inaccurate statement.  Flying doesn’t make the world any smaller, it changes how quickly you travel through it.  That will probably make your world feel smaller if you’re only interested in Point A and Point B, but if that’s all you’re looking for in the first place, the interstitial points (like fights with bad guys or weird pathing issues) are just filler (time sinks) anyway, and the points off of the beaten track are irrelevant to you and how you view or feel  the world.  Flight doesn’t remove any content, it lets you access places that you never could before.  If anything, it makes the playable world, the part you can get to and the sights you can see, much, much larger.

No, a smaller world is one that’s just Potemkin villages and a tight, controlled experience that doesn’t let you explore the world at large.  A smaller world is one where you play the developers’ story and don’t explore the world around it.  The game’s title is World of Warcraft.  It has been lamented before by me and others, but the World part keeps contracting, and I believe it’s a detriment to what the title has to offer.  (Tangentially, Final Fantasy XIII is perhaps the most maligned of the post-SNES era of Final Fantasy games, and that is mostly because it’s a very controlled experience.  Gamers like freedom to explore.  This is not an MMO problem, it’s a game problem, since games are all about player autonomy.  This is a problem that savvy developers leverage instead of fight.  It’s part of why Minecraft is so huge.)

2. Game development costs.

I am not privy to the costs of developing World of Warcraft.  I have, however, worked on Tiger Woods video games and smaller titles that are heavily invested in facades.  It is not a huge time saver or money saver to make them instead of making full 3D worlds.  Designers still have to find ways to curtail player viewlines, which takes time and possibly engine work with programmers.  It takes finesse and massaging to try to keep the boundaries organic instead of arbitrary.

Artists still have to find ways to make all possible views interesting.  They have to make buildings and terrain anyway, and often, it takes more time to go back and prune polygons on the “back” of objects, or to go make more pieces of geometry to be used specifically as facades.  It is often actually faster and easier to have instanced buildings and oddments that look good from different angles and then place them strategically.  The data footprint is smaller since you can reuse objects in more places, and savvy programmers can make use of that bit of savings.  An object that can be viewed from many angles instead of a select few is more useful in the long run.  There are even savings with LOD (Level Of Detail meshes that pop in to save processing cycles by having lower-polycount items on display at certain distances) construction that way, as a building need only have one set of LODs instead of making a variety of buildings with different geometry needs, each with their own LODs.

There is also a larger problem with players being able to see “behind the curtain”.  If devs miss an angle, a place where the facade falls apart, it’s more obvious in a Potemkin village.  Perhaps paradoxically, but entirely in keeping with the mental gymnastics our mind goes through to “fill in the blanks” that make the Uncanny Valley approachable with low fidelity art, the more controlled an experience is, the stronger the distraction effect if something doesn’t look just right.  And yet, on the flipside, if a place in-game is presented as a fully explorable 3D space, some of those distracting little details are often ignored in the sheer amount of information on display and the freedom the user has to look at it from different angles.  In more pithy phrasing, there are no curtains to look behind.  All the warts are out there in the open, or easily discovered, and as such, are instinctively more forgivable.

I say this as an artist who has had to deal with making things look just right, and having parsed a lot of publisher feedback, it’s very interesting to see what people pick up on and what they gloss over.  It’s very, very easy to swallow even big bits of weirdness in large if imperfect presentations, but smaller, more intimate content walks a much tighter line, and it takes time and money to make both styles work.

I’m sure they have crunched numbers to make an argument to the board members, but down in the trenches of development that I’ve seen, the differences aren’t huge.

Also, as a brief aside, speaking again as a 3D artist, I’d much rather players see my work from a variety of angles, rather than make a widget that looks right only in tightly controlled circumstances.  It lets me show off my abilities more when I can make a component that has a more holistic appeal.  This, to me, is the appeal of sculpting (digitally or physically) in the first place.  If I wanted to just show one angle, I’d simply make a painting.

3.  Player costs.

WoW is still a subscription game.  As such, it is in the company’s best interests to make players take as long as possible to get through content.  If they can be strung along for long enough, the next subscription time period ticks over, and the financials look better.  Players trudging through ever-respawning enemies to get anywhere will take more time to play through the developer stories.  I’m cynical enough to think that there’s a bit of calculus involved to discover the best way to string players along so they pay for one or two more months than they might with flight as a travel option.  At least, the players who do the content once, don’t look around much off the beaten trail, and unsubscribe when done with “the story”.

Speaking of content, if players are skipping your content by flying over it, the problem is not the player.  The problem is the content that they do not want to engage in.  Going through yet another rebel/pirate/demon/enemy camp to kill the leader, then muddling back out, fighting every few steps… it’s just not interesting gameplay content to someone who has done it many, many times before (and almost anyone in Draenor is in that position).  That’s a problem with the design, and it’s not going to be solved by making players do more of it.

I firmly believe that the best stories in MMOs come from the unique ability they have to let people interact with each other and with the world.  The sense of place is important to these fictional worlds, or it should be.  Emergent play is important.  Weird nooks and crannies make a place seem more interesting, and they need to be experienced at their own pace.  Players need to be able to take in the sights and get a sense of the world.  Cities offer this, quiet spots offer this, and flight offers this breather space.  If players are constantly being prodded through the narrow “developer experience”, they simply don’t get a sense of what the world has to offer.  They are too busy dealing with the cardboard enemies that are all too often neither interesting nor challenging, merely time sinks.

Those moments when things are different, when something unique happens, those are often the best memory making moments.  A sternly guided experience will have these moments, if done correctly, but there is little room for the sublime accident, the quirky discovery, the quiet moments of awe that come from momentarily buying into the idea of being in a different world and seeing something new.  Those can happen on the ground, certainly, but flight facilitates them both by allowing more angles to see the world from, and more opportunities of quiet reflection.

It’s not the quests or the endless killing that are the best that WoW has to offer.  Blizzard’s work on this sort of content is entertaining enough for a while, but it’s not amazing, and it’s not engrossing, at least, not for long.  Letting players poke around to see what is off the beaten track can help fill in the world, give it context, and breathing room.  If a player has to be on their toes dealing with “danger” all the time, they will not relax, they will not find the world welcoming or worth exploring.  They will burn out faster.

The World of Warcraft has never been high on verisimilitude, and I’m simply not convinced that putting players into ever-more-controlled experiences will help that in any way.  That’s quite apart from flight purely as a mechanic, but as flight is a way for players to take their time and manage their approach to the game, it’s highly relevant.

Developers do have to manage expectations and design a stage for players to play on.  That’s part of game design.  I simply believe that the more controlled an experience, the more a game is like a movie, and less adroit at leveraging the true strengths of games as a medium.  Players want control, otherwise they would be watching a movie or reading a book.  Designers need to ease off the reins and let players play.  Flight has allowed that, and taking it away isn’t going to make WoW better in the long run, not for players.  It will absolutely make it easier for developers to manage the presentation, but I believe that’s missing the point, and players and the World of WoW will be lesser for it.

On Wings of Ravens

I’ve written about this before, but I really love flying in World of Warcraft.  My Druid’s raven-like Flight Form is my favorite part of the game.  It’s the source of some of my best memories in the game.

When Blizzard removed flying from Pandaria I was annoyed.  Sure, we could fly at the level cap, so I could still flit around eventually, but it was a slog to get there.

Draenor doesn’t have flying.  It’s possible WoW never will again, at least in newer content.

The thread about this change on the official forums is pretty epic, running fast and furious since its inception, though it’s locked now.  Closing it off is sure to spawn more, hydra-like.  The sequel is already off to a roaring start.

I’m on record as being a fan of flight.  I think this is a Bad Idea on Blizzard’s part.  It will be most interesting to see if it matters, either in the short term or the long term.

It has mattered to me already, though.  I won’t be buying Warlords of Draenor.  I was considering it, and almost did last time it was on sale.  At present, though, with the “Facebook-ization” of the game via Garrisons and the cancellation of flight, it just doesn’t have enough draw to get me back into new content.  I might revisit Pandaria or Northrend at some point, since they are beautiful to fly around in, but the newer stuff just doesn’t cut it.

I’m not saying “Nevermore” just quite yet, but it’s ever closer.

Life’s busy around here, so while Operation: Backlog is still running, we have other wheels to turn and it’s stalled a bit for a moment.

The big news today is the launch of our new Kickstarter project:

Tinker Dice II – Plastic Steampunk Dice


We started out on Kickstarter with plastic dice, and while those didn’t get enough traction, we’re hoping we can make another run at it and get them made this time.  Please check it out and we’d really appreciate it if you’d spread the word on this!  We have big plans to unlock some new colors, and the more the merrier!


As noted last time, I had a secondary backlog to deal with in this Operation: Backlog project; my collection of Humble Bundles that I’ve gathered over the years.  It turns out that there were about 60 games I had tucked away in their system that hadn’t been added to my Steam list.  So, I went through and bulked up my library.  There are a few that were part of these bundles that were included, but that I’ll never play, like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Penumbra Overture (I very strongly dislike horror games, but hey, if that’s your thing, they do show up in bundles here and there), but there are still more than a few that will get the 15-minute treatment as I’ve done before.


I’m going through my Steam list alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.


Since I’m dealing with a new influx of games, I’ve gone back to pick up the ones I skipped over in the alphabetical list.  First up is Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers.

I’m just not a flight sim fan.  I’d rather play something like Privateer or Freelancer, out in space with a bit of whimsy.  Air Conflicts is a historical combat flight simulator built around carriers in the Pacific theater, specifically in the second World War.  You can fly for Japan or the U.S., piloting planes that look decent over terrain and ships that look decent.  I have little idea whether or not they are meticulously accurate to real history, but the visuals look good overall.


The play is what I’d consider to be an “arcadey” combat flight sim.  It’s not a cartoony flight game like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (we’ll get to that later) or Pilotwings (those were the days), but it’s not really trying to be a hardcore simulation of flying these planes.  I’m OK with that, since flying real planes can be a very complex procedure sometimes, from what I understand.


Just speaking to how fun the game is on its own, though, flying around is fun enough, though I’m just not very good at the combat portion.  Controls are decent if a bit “floaty” and imprecise.  Stuff blows up nicely.  The sounds serve their purpose well.  There are different options to play, from a campaign to Instant Battle, which was nice to just jump into.

I don’t have any big complaints other than just the simple fact that this isn’t my sort of game.  It’s not a bad game, it’s just one that I have no interest in playing again.  I’d be the sort that just flies around the arena, looking for screenshot opportunities.  I just don’t follow orders well, and I’d get tired of being shot at.


I’d say I Regret this game, but really, it’s not something I paid much for, since it was part of a bundle.  I had a bit of fun with it, but it’s not one I’ll play again.  If arcadey flight sim WW2 games are your thing, it should be good.


Then, in a significant shift, I tried And Yet It Moves.  I used my XBox 360 controller for this one.  It’s a quirky platformer which lets you rotate the world.  This relatively simple concept changes a lot of how you move through the world, and I find that I’m rather fond of the twist.  The controller makes it easier to sort the controls intuitively, which is important.


The visuals are unique and consistent, though it’s not quite the sort of style I’m really fond of.  Still, I give them credit for staying true to their vision and really embracing their design.


Controls are decent (though the character feels a little floaty and doesn’t jump all that high), platforming around is good fun, and learning how to handle the world (and your character’s motion) is a nice change from something like Braid, which, for all its time-bending gameplay, is still relatively static.


I give this one a Revisit rating because I probably won’t play much of it, since Dust fills my platformer impulse at the moment, but AYIM is a solid little game.  If you’re into platformers with some thoughtful design, it’s a good one to check out.



Anomaly 2 is the next game I tried.  I have the first one around here somewhere, probably from a non-Humble bundle, but now I can’t find it.  I’ll just pretend that the two are more or less designed similarly, and hope that’s right.  “More of the same, but better” isn’t a bad thing, and Anomaly 2 should offer at least some idea of what both titles have to offer.  They are “tower offense” games, where you’re not controlling the towers to defend against enemies as in tower defense games (GemCraft, Defense Grid, etc.), you’re assaulting the bad guy towers with your squad and commander.


That’s enough to Recommend the game if you’re a fan of tower defense games.  If you’re just looking into the game with no particular interest in the genre, know that it looks really good, controls are excellent, and the core design is solid.  Your commander usually has to stick with your squad, escorting them through hot zones and making the most of their abilities to finish missions, though you can wander off if you consider the reward to be worth the risk.


Different units and layouts mean finding ways to stay on your toes and keep on top of the tactical situation.  It can get a little twitchy at times, but it rewards fast thinking and situational awareness rather than just reflex tests, and I appreciate that.  I find that I don’t mind needing to execute fast controls at times if I have enough time to anticipate them well, and Anomaly 2 works well for that.


One quirk is that each unit can “morph” between two different forms.  They have different abilities, like the first unit which changes from a tank with a killer cannon into a two-armed flamethrower “urban warfare” unit that can target multiple foes.  Juggling the morph states gives your six-unit squad more flexibility and keeps things from getting too repetitive.


It’s a game that is great for fans of the tower defense genre, and I think it would be good even if you’re new to the genre.  I really like the time I spent with it, about 25 minutes, and would someday like to play more.  The game eases you into its design and has multiple difficulty settings for a variety of players.  It’s easily one of the better games I’ve played in this project.



Aquaria was up next.  I’m pretty sure I have this at least three times from different bundles.  It’s a pretty game with a good sense of style, good voice work, good music and decent controls.


It’s really nice to be able to just swim in any direction, though Naija doesn’t turn as quickly as I’d like.  She feels a little… floaty… which is odd, perhaps, for a mermaid, but still, moving her around is nicely freeform, just a bit imprecise and sluggish feeling.  She has the ability to sing songs that help her in what I assume are various ways.  The only one she starts with is Shield, which didn’t actually seem to shield all that much.


The reviews I’ve read of this bill it as a Metroidvania game, and it does feel a bit like Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (another such game, and a good one).  It’s really, really slow to start off, though.  It’s rather fond of its narration, but I just wanted to get on with the game.  Metroid Prime spoiled me on that, I guess.  There’s a good Reddit thread on it over here.


Perhaps it gets better and more interesting down the line, and a slow start does fit the ambient lackadaisical sort of mood they seem to want to evoke, it’s just… it doesn’t show all that well in the first 15 minutes.  If that was all I played, I’d have to give it a Regret rating.  As it is, I played for about 25 minutes, and eventually found a sort of “combat flashforward preview” thing which hinted that the game might get more interesting, so I’ll Remember it and move on.

This game, more than others I’ve played in this project so far, seems to suffer the most from a slow start.  It was easier to get away with this in days long past, but in today’s more saturated market with more ADHD customers (and/or just time-starved like me), your game has to make an accurate and good impression as soon as possible.  It’s just not as likely that customers are going to play for 3 hours before your game gets good.  We don’t have time for that.  Get to the point, developers!  Even if it’s a tease like Metroid Prime, where you’re given lots of toys to play with up front, but then you lose them and have to find them again, players will know in short order what the game has to offer later, all within a few minutes.  Even the super-dense Endless Legend makes a quick good impression, and they have more depth and play options to get through.


Atom Zombie Smasher isn’t a game I’d buy on its own, but since it came with a bundle, I figured I’d give it a shot.  It’s… not a typical zombie game.  It’s more of a Real Time Strategy game with minimalistic visuals.  That’s not a bad thing in itself, and it certainly cuts down on the cliche gore that zombies usually show off.  You try to protect little yellow dots (humans) from little pink dots (zombies) in a city, using a variety of weapons from your “eye in the sky” tactical view.


It could really be about any two groups of things where one tries to escape the other.  The theme isn’t strong, but that’s OK.  The gameplay is solid, and that’s more important to me anyway.  The art style, simple as it is, is consistent and clear.


That yellow dot on the right is not going to come to a good end.


Send in a chopper to save yellow dots, protect them with green dots (soldiers who fire on pink dots within range/sight), maybe use some land mines or artillery (remember that explosives can open new avenues for pink dots), and maybe even some pink-proof barriers.


Those land mines leveled buildings that could have kept the pink dots controlled a bit.


It’s a solid game, one I’ll Remember.  If you’re into RTS or zombie games, it’s worth picking up and playing for a while.


aaaaand that’s it for this time.  I’m still not through the secondary backlog, but should get through it next time.

Thanks again for stopping by, and here’s hoping you have time to dig through your list.  There are a LOT of great games out there, and tons of good ones.  It’s a good time to be a gamer.

Operation: Backlog is getting a bit messy this time, but it’s all in good fun.  As usual:

I’m going through my Steam list alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.


One thing before diving into the new list, I forgot to mention Bret Airborne last time.  It’s a nice little match-3 combat puzzler, a bit like Puzzle Quest, but with a curiously shifting battlefield.  It’s not as deep as Puzzle Quest, but it’s a game I Recommend if you’re interested in match-3 puzzle game variants.  (My current favorite is Gem Spinner 2 for a more pure puzzle game, and Puzzle Pirates Bilging is my gold standard for playability.)  It’s an indie game, so it’s not the beneficiary of an enormous art budget, but the play’s the thing, and Bret Airborne is fun to play.  I picked it up from the designer, so it’s not on my Steam list, but I wanted to mention it as I went through the list.


First up for the 15 minute treatment this time is Deadly Sin 2.  I loved JRPGs as a teen, playing through all of the Final Fantasy, Star Ocean and assorted other goodies I could get my hands on.  Chrono Cross is my champion there, but there are a lot of gems in the genre.  Deadly Sin 2 is a RPG Maker game, one of approximately… a lot.  It’s an indie game, so it’s not going to compete with the latest Japanese opus, but that’s OK.  I picked this up in one of my bundle purchases somewhere, not as the prime motivator, but hey, I’ll take a look at it.

I did have to run it in windowed mode due to technical glitches, and it’s… teeny.  560×454 with the Windows frame.  That’s not something I’ll ding it for, it just surprised me.  It’s built around big-headed sprites and a walking grid, like FF2 or 3, but with the RPG Maker’s greater resolution.  Combat looks like Dragon Warrior games of old, which is rather below what I care for, but plays more like FFX (turn-based, listing who is up in the next few turns) with a dash of WoW (threat, cooldowns).  That’s kind of cool, actually.


I could nitpick the visuals, but the art that’s there is decent for what we’re dealing with, and it serves the story well enough.  There’s not a consistent art style, but I suspect it’s leaning heavily on prepackaged tile art, so that’s not a surprise.  It does amuse me that the main character is named Carrion.  It seems like a warning… not quite “Dogmeat”, but a sly reminder of the fate of many young adventurers.

The character growth system takes a few pages from early WoW, with passive and active skills that can be improved by sinking points into them.  The team is a trio of magic users (one “magic knight”, a cleric/fighter and a mage) and a bruiser/tank.  That’s also pretty standard fare, but hey, it’s not going to be too hard to pick up and play with.


As a story-driven, long RPG, 15 minutes really doesn’t do it justice, but from the short time I took with it, I can say that it seems to be unremarkable but playable.  Youngish hero and his friends caught in a war, take off on a quest to Save The World.  Again, not something I’ll ding it for, but neither is it all that amazing.  Maybe it opens up later on into something awesome, but I’m not sure I’ll bother.  I don’t regret buying or playing this game, but I can’t give it any higher than a Remember rating.  I love that middleware tools like RPG Maker XP exist so that these games can be made, though.  It’s exactly the sort of thing I might have done in high school, if the tools were available then.


This is one of those games that might rate higher if I really dug into it, so if that’s something you’re willing to do, I can say that it starts off with the characters reacting to a crisis, and they are capable of handling it, so it does get moving without too much frontloaded padding.  It might be awesome, it might be mediocre, I just can’t tell more than “generic JRPG with some modern twists” from the first 15 minutes.


Dear Esther is a weird sort of entry.  I really like this “exploration game” for some reasons, mostly the visuals and the feel of the island.  It has a good sense of place, and it really scratches my Explorer itch.  At least, mostly.  It’s certainly on rails, in a way, with a linear, directed path, and only a few little places to wander around a bit.  Still, it’s great to look at and I took a lot of screenshots.  I can’t find any of them now, that’s just my luck, but there are these three I had lying around (I’m not sure where they came from) that give a decent sense of the place.




There’s a middle section of the game in a weird cave, and for all its glorious detail, it’s a bit… silly.  The story isn’t much to speak of, trying way too hard to be ambiguous and mysterious.  Still, for a self-directed “art exhibit exploration”, Dear Esther is worth checking out.  It’s not really much of a “game”, in that there aren’t really any choices to be made or obstacles to overcome, but it’s an experience I Recommend.


Another drive-by game is Defense Grid: The Awakening.  I’m not a tower defense expert, but I like them on occasion.  GemCraft is one of the lighter ones that I find I like, but Defense Grid has a bit more meat to it.  I never did finish the game, but I had a fair bit of fun with it.  It has a great art style, solid design, and a nicely paced learning curve.  It’s a game I Recommend for fans of the genre, and it even serves as a decent introduction if you’re new to tower defense games.


I hadn’t played Demolition Inc. before this project, and I find that I like it.  I’m a big fan of the crash events in Burnout: Revenge (a really great game, by the way), and this reminds me a bit of those.  It’s simpler, a bit goofier, but still good fun.


You’re an alien, tasked with flattening Earth’s surface and “revegetating” it so it can be refurbished as an alien recreation area.  You use a collection of tools to manipulate passers-by and cause all sorts of ruckus to flatten cities.  It’s cathartic, ridiculous fun.  The visuals aren’t anything incredible, but the stylized cartoonish work makes the whole silly premise work.  Hyper-real visuals on this could just ruin the tone.


I give this one a Recommend rating.  Setting up a destructive chain reaction just hits all the right mayhem notes.


And then we come to another game I’ve played long ago, but really, really love.  The Dig.

Man, this is a great game. I consider it to be one of LucasArts’ masterpieces.  The art, the animation, the story, the voice work, the character development, it’s all great.  It’s a science fiction tale, starting simple and grounded, as it were, and then it goes way off into weird space.  I don’t have any screenshots handy, but this is a game that I highly Recommend, whether or not you’re into adventure games.

Go get it and play it.  If you have any interest whatsoever in adventure games, science fiction and/or LucasArts, you will be pleased with the experience.


Then there’s DiRT, a great rally driving game that is apparently no longer on the Steam store.  DiRT 3 is, however, and it’s close enough.  I did play DiRT 3 via OnLive shortly after that system came out (I was given a console and two games by my then-employers, NinjaBee), and I like that title better since it’s updated and upgraded, but DiRT is just good, non-clean rally racing fun.  I Recommend it for anyone interested in driving games.  It’s a bit more hardcore in its driving simulation than the excellent Burnout series, but it’s great fun and it looks really good.

GamesRadar has some good shots of DiRT 3 over here.

I love rally racing, at least, in video game form.  I don’t have the skills to do that sort of crazy driving in real life, but man, it’s just fun to go careening about when there’s really not much at stake.  It’s almost as much fun executing a tricky drive as it is flying off of the track.  (Tangentially, MotorStorm Apocalypse on the PS3 scratches many of the same itches.  I find that I’m a big fan of mayhem in my driving rather than strict simulation-like driving.  It must be my Mario Kart roots showing.)


And then there’s Disciples 3: Resurrection.  I really liked Disciples 2, even though it’s simple compared to my beloved Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, when it comes to tactical games.  Still, give me a good game with strategy and tactics involved, and I’ll probably have fun with it.


This game is a bit like Disciples 2, in that it has great paintings and a nice, consistent art style, a strong focus on developing small squads instead of processing huge armies, and moving about on a world map.  The 3D art isn’t always as good as the 2D art, but overall, it’s impressive.  The intro was lengthy and the voice work isn’t all that impressive, but it’s skippable.  The painted 2D art they use for the movies is really good, with a strong sense of style.  2D art has always been a strength of the Disciples games.


There are actually several Disciples 3 titles, and this one is built around the Undead faction.  (It’s not my first choice for a faction, but it’s the game I picked up in a bundle, so it’s what I play.)  As such, it’s a bit creepy for my taste, but I like that the design is more about a dusty and dessicated look rather than gory and horror-movie-schlock.


The combat is deepened a bit by the inclusion of a hex grid and unit movement, which is nice.  In Disciples 2, you just had your party fight other parties, each lined up in a 2×3 grid for tactical considerations, but otherwise really simplified.  Melee units attacked the opposing front lines, mages and archers could hit either front or back lines.  The new hex grid opens up the tactical play a lot, and I appreciate that.  It does mean that it’s trickier to protect the Undead magical units, since melee isn’t their strength, but that’s not a design flaw so much as it is a tactical consideration.


There’s also a new character progression scheme, a sort of skill tree/maze that reminds me of character progression in Allods Online, FFXII and FFX.  That’s a nice addition to the series in theory, though I’m not sure how well it will play out, since there’s little indication of what’s really important and I didn’t see a way to respec if you decide to play differently.


I wound up playing it for almost a half hour since I really wanted to dig into the game.  I’m not sure that I’ll spend a lot more time with it, if any, but it’s definitely something that I’d have played a lot of a decade or so ago when I had more spare time.  I give it a Recommend rating, noting that it’s one of those deeper games that might not merit such a rating, but at first blush, it plays well and looks good.


Dream Pinball 3D was up next.  It’s… a pinball game.  I’m not familiar with all the pinball games out in arcades, but I did play my fair share of them in the 90s, and I like them.  As near as I can tell, the tables in this game aren’t clones of real tables, so there aren’t gems like The Addams Family table, but the visuals are good and the table I played was designed decently.


Starting the game for the first time requires the CD key, and the interface isn’t kind to copy/paste, so that’s annoying, and a separate “activation” process, which you can bypass… sort of.  You can start the game without activation, but only in “Demo Mode”, which means you can play one of the five available tables, and only for 5 minutes.  Yeah, I didn’t even give it the full 15, since I don’t like putting up with that kind of stupid.  It’s stumbles like this that make a first impression less than savory, even though the gameplay itself is good.


I’ll give it a Remember rating, since the activation thing really annoyed me, but if you’re into pinball games, it’s worth a look since the game design seems solid, so long as you can put up with the goofy admission procedure.


Droplitz is in my Steam list, and I remember it as a decent puzzle/tile game… but I can’t find it on the live Steam pages.  It’s a decent game, worth trying if you’re a fan of puzzle games.  It plays a bit like a simpler version of Puzzle Pirates’ Alchemistry.  Nothing incredible, earning a Remember rating, but a good little diversion with a decent art style and game design.


Dungeon Hearts isn’t a game that I’d buy normally.  I picked this one up in a bundle with other games I wanted.  I’m not really a fan of games with a strong timing component with constant pressure, but this is a decent puzzle-clicky game.  It’s certainly more fun than others I’ve played lately.  There are combos and timing to consider, giving it more depth than just clicking on what shows up.  There are some tactical considerations to deal with on the fly, so it has some depth.


I give it a Remember rating since there’s just enough there to make it more appealing than something like AVSEQ, but it’s just not my kind of game.  It’s too reliant on twitchy reflexes, and I prefer slower gaming most of the time.  You can move pieces around and manipulate the battlefield to make big combos, which seems to be key to really mastering the game, and you can use your attacks to delay the enemy’s attacks, so all in all, I think the design is solid.  It’s just one of those games that I don’t care for because of what I want in games.  “It’s not you, it’s me”, or something like that.



Dust: An Elysian Tale is a beautiful game, made almost entirely by one guy.  It’s an indie darling, for good reason.  It looks great, plays really well, and is good fun.  The writing is good, the voice work is better than most games (indie or otherwise), the art style is consistent, and consistently good.  It’s a solid platformer with good skill testing without being abusive.


At least, so far.  Maybe it gets mean later on, but the early parts of the game have a good learning curve and a lead character that seems powerful and fun.  His sword is sentient and talkative, and it has a guardian that can provide some seriously flashy firepower as all three characters combine talents.


There are lots of different items to gather, equipment to use, moves and combos to learn, levels to be acquired, and it even looks like some Metroidvania influence, with what looks like a tunnel, placed as a tease for future use, after learning some new tricks.  (I’m not sure if that’s what the tunnel actually is, it just makes me think of that.)  So, it looks like it combines some of the best elements of platformers, brawlers, Metroidvanias and RPGs, all with gorgeous animation and appealing characters.


I Recommend it.  I haven’t played all the way through it, so it might be frustrating here and there, but what I played, I liked.  A lot.  I did play it with an XBox 360 controller, which seems to be a Good Idea, though it’s not the only way to play.  It’s worth noting, though, since that did mean I wasn’t fighting to learn the keyboard/mouse controls.



Endless Legend was part of Steam’s “free play weekend” games, so I gave it a shot.  It’s a game that I might pick up later on sale, since it’s a solid 4X game, and I do love those.  It looks great, though it’s hard to get a good bead on how well it plays in just 15 minutes.


The game does have some introductory missions, which are helpful, but there’s just so much there to plow through that 15 minutes isn’t enough.  I consider that a Good Thing, just like I did with The Banner Saga.  There’s depth to the game, and I love that.  I want to dig in, I just can’t at the moment.


…this is a game that I really want to spend more time with, though, even after cheating a bit and playing for a half hour, so I’m giving it a Recommend rating.  This review I ran into gives me hope that such a rating is warranted.  I did notice that the came connects to a server when doing the tutorials, so I hope it’s not one of those “single player online” backhanded DRM situations like EA loves to pull, but the game itself just seems like a perfect addition to my collection.




That’s it for this time.  More than I expected to do, but at the same time, I just went through my backlog of Humble Bundle keys, and expanded my Steam collection by about 60 games, so I’m not really getting ahead, not yet.

Thanks for stopping by!  Here’s hoping that there’s something here you find interesting.  I realize that most of these games will be Old News to most of you, but that’s my life; behind the curve, but amiably so.  See you next time!


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