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Posts Tagged ‘Game Design’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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…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.

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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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Operation: Backlog is still proceeding, I just don’t have tons of time to do any of it, from the playing to the documenting.  Still, it’s good for the very fractured gaming schedule I have.  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.

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First up is one of the drive-by games:  Batman: Arkham Asylum

This is an excellent game.  I played it to completion and then some on the XBox 360, not on PC, but it’s one I highly Recommend.  It’s not perfect, but it’s great fun, and really nails the feeling of Batman, at least, as I have come to expect it as a fan of the character since the mid-90s.  It has fantastic combat, excellent worldbuilding, really, really good graphics, fun mobility, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and, well, it’s tons of fun to play.

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Second, we have the sequel, Batman: Arkham City.  I’ve only played this one for about 45 minutes, so I don’t know how well the open world nature of the game actually works in the long run.  Catwoman is a bit too skanky and the political setup seems contrived, but it still seems like the core of what made Arkham Asylum works is still present.  It’s a game that I’m leaving installed, and Recommend, though with the usual caveat that I haven’t played all that much of it.

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Third, I did try to play Birth of America, but it flat out refused to work.  So, dump that in the Regret pile.  I don’t have time to wrangle dysfunctional games.

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Fourth, the Blackwell Deception almost ran into the same fate, with some weird tech issues popping up thanks to my dual monitor setup, but the second time I fired it up it behaved.  This one’s a bit tricky, as it’s an adventure game in the vein of the LucasArts classics.

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I did love that era of gaming, for all its quirks, and this game would have fit well in those days.  I consider that to be praise, though it does mean that I just don’t have time to give it a proper playthrough.  I’d like to someday, along with the rest of the Blackwell Bundle that I picked up at GoG.com, but for now, I’m lumping them all together with a Remember rating, noting that I do like adventure games, I just don’t have a lot of time.

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I love that Wadjet Eye Games is making games that feel like classic adventure games.  The voiceover work is adequate, if not stellar, the art and animation is solid, and the writing that I saw was pretty good.  The game plops you into an investigation with little fanfare, effectively dropping you into the deep end, but it’s designed well enough that there’s not much trouble getting up and running.  It’s a well designed first 15 minutes, I think, and it does leave me wanting to play more someday.

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Fifth, Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition.  I picked this one up on deep discount due to my passing interest in the WarHammer tabletop wargame.  I have some of the sourcebooks, but no models and nobody to play with.  I just study the books and dissect the game design.  Blood Bowl isn’t really the same thing, but I’ve heard enough good about the board game incarnation of the title that I figured I’d check out the digital version.  (I still wish there was a digital version of the WarHammer tabletop game so I could play with someone online.  Not a RTS, not a card game, not a shooter, just a literal translation of the tabletop game.  This is one reason why I backed WarMachine Tactics for its Kickstarter campaign, but we’ll dig into that later.)

Without a history with the board game, I hit the learning curve hard in Blood Bowl.  It seems to be well designed and the visual design is solid, if a bit too skanky and “grimdark” for me.  (I have very little interest in any WarHammer 40K titles for the same reason.)  I puttered around a bit with setting up a team, fired up a match and promptly lost horribly.  There are a LOT of options and rules to the game that I’m just not up to speed on.

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That’s not a bad thing, really, so long as the game can be mastered with some honest effort, but I just don’t have the time to make that effort.  This is a failing in my schedule, not the game, though it would be nice to have a bit more guidance for those early learning moments.  Being tossed in the deep end is OK so long as there’s a good learning feedback cycle.  That seems to be a bit obscured in this title, though it is clear that it builds on the board game.  I should see if I can find the rulebook somewhere in a used bookstore, perhaps.

As such, I’m giving it a Remember rating, and maybe I’ll pick it up later.  I don’t dislike the game, I just have to move on and it didn’t really grab me.  There does seem to be a lot of meat to chew on and a fun, snarky sense of humor, though, and that’s promising.

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Sixth, Braid.  I’ve written about this before, I think, having played it years ago, but in a nutshell, it’s a decent little platformer with great art design and solid game design.  The story is pretentious, dreary, and takes itself way too seriously, but the game is fun.  I give it a Recommend rating, if only to see the visuals and design in action, just with the caveat that it’s not really the revolutionary masterpiece that it often gets credit for.  It’s fun, it’s solid, it’s full of itself.  I’m done with it, but I do think it’s worth playing if you haven’t.

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Seventh, Cargo Commander.  I got this one in a bundle, one of those games that just sort of tags along with other games I actually cared about.  (I don’t remember what it was bundled with at the moment, though.  Oops.)  It’s not that Cargo Commander looked bad, just that it seemed a bit too twitchy for me.

It’s a platformer with variable gravity and a ticking clock.  The design is actually pretty solid, I’m just not all that interested in this sort of game any more.  Maybe as a teenager I’d have loved it, but I prefer more thoughtful, careful, tactical games these days.  That’s not a failing of the game, since it does what it sets out to do well.

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You play as a corporate lackey, stuck on a space station in some far off garbage zone, tasked with dragging cargo containers in to crash into your habitat, and then go invade them and grab any valuable salvage before the timer runs out and everything falls apart but your base.  You have to scramble into these other containers, platform through them fighting baddies and the structure, and grab what you can.  It’s fast, frantic and not very forgiving.

The controls are tight, platforming with the keyboard and aiming with the mouse, a bit like A.R.E.S., but much more fluid and fun.  There’s an upgrade system and a “completion” rating, with the ability to replay levels to try to do better.  The visuals are adequate, nothing amazing, but not bad.

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All in all, I give this a Remember rating for myself, but it’s really something that might be worth picking up if you’re into variable gravity direction, crazy quick-on-your-feet action.  It’s a slightly silly premise, but it winds up being pretty fun to play, so long as you’re up for fast paced gaming.

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Eighth, Chains.  This is a light puzzler, very clicky like AVSEQ was, but not quite as fast and much more interesting given its physics and variable levels.  It’s a decent little game, one I give a Remember rating since I remember it in a positive light.  It’s not even close to my favorite puzzle game, but for all its apparent simplicity (the visual style really isn’t all that great), there’s a bit more going on under the hood than screenshots might suggest.

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Ninth, Chime.  This is one I’ve mentioned in passing before.  I really like Chime.  I do wish that I could flip pieces like I can in Puzzle Pirates’ Carpentry puzzle, as that would make it a more complete puzzle game, but for what it is, Chime works well.  It could use more music options, too, but what it has is good in my book.  I give it a Revisit rating, since it’s not as great as others I’d put in the same mental “music/puzzle” game niche, but it really is a good game.

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Tenth, Cogs.  I’m a fan of steampunk design.  Hence the Tinker products I’ve been working with for almost two years now.  (Go visit the shop, please, and spread the word!)  I love old, beat up, lived in machinery, and I love puzzle games.  Cogs scratches all the right places for me.  It has smart puzzle design, great visuals, simple play rules (at heart, it’s just a bunch of sliding tile puzzles with some nice 3D aspects), and it really embraces its own steampunk design ethos.  It’s not arrogant, it’s not silly or trying to be ironic, it’s just a well-themed tinkerer’s box full of puzzles.

Some are easy, some are really tough, and most are somewhere in the middle.  They always feel fair, though, and there are some great uses of the 3D aspects that introduce nice quirks with sliding tile puzzles.  Sadly, when my computer crashed last year, I lost my screenshot collection, but there are some puzzles that I played again and again, just for how fun it was to see the mechanism come together as I solved the puzzle.  I wish I had some of them as real, physical devices.  (These puzzles are later in the list, and I didn’t have time to get to them for this project.)

Cogs earns a hearty Recommend rating from me, as it’s one of my favorite light puzzle games.  It’s available for Android devices, too, which is nice.

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That’s all for this post.  There are plenty more where these came from, the most notable for next time being Dear Esther, Defense Grid and The Dig, one of LucasArts’ finest adventure games.  Until next time, then!

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Operation: Backlog rumbles on, and I’ve run into a point or two I forgot earlier.  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.

First up this time is AVSEQ

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This is a weird little game.  It’s a puzzler of a sort, but more of a reflex clicky thing.  It doesn’t seem to have much depth, but maybe it opens up later.  The 15 minutes I had with it were, well… clicky.  As in, I clicked on a lot of stuff, but didn’t feel like I was making many decisions or planning strategies.  It was more reactive than anything.  That’s not a terrible thing, but when I’m in the mood for a puzzle-ish music-based game, I’ll play AudioSurf (Recommend), Chime (Revisit), Lumines (Revisit) or Symphony (Recommend), all really great games.  AVSEQ is just sort of there.  I’m giving it a Regret rating, but it’s really more of a “forget” than a regret.

***

Then there’s Back To The Future: The Game

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This game really scratches the nostalgia itch, with voice actors, music and incidental sounds that just nail the feeling of the movies.  Sure, it’s sort of a weird cartoon version, but this is Christopher Lloyd we’re talking about, and he’s something of a living cartoon, so it works.  It starts off with some serious callbacks to the first movie and its era, gives a sense of the conversation mechanics, and sets up some weirdness that ol’ Doc Brown has become mired in again.

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Biff gets a little more depth (he’s still a peon in George’s presence, but a punk to Marty), you get to explore Doc Brown’s house a bit, and a new mystery fires up with Einstein arriving suddenly, alone in the deLorean, with a mysterious message from the Doc.

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The characters are appealingly stylized, the voices are great, the visuals capture the time of the movie… all in all, it certainly seems like a love letter to the movies.  I didn’t see a lot of the story, so maybe it falls apart, but the first 15 minutes of the game really got their hooks in me, and I want to play through all 5 chapters at some point.  This gets a Revisit rating as a result.  I’m not itching to get back into it right now, but I like it.  A lot.

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***

Speaking of a game I do want to play more right now, though, we have The Banner Saga.

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Oi, I was right.  15 minutes isn’t nearly enough for this game.  In that time, you barely get through the worldbuilding intro and the first tutorial fight, then a conversation movie or two.  It proceeds at a stately pace, weaving together some interesting fantasy lore and Norse flavored Eyvind Earle vikings.  Oh, and a stationary sun that throws everyone off, and has for months.  Yeah, it’s a bit weirder than I expected, but that’s a nice twist.

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It really, really wants to be, well, a saga, a big story, presented in a beautiful old Disney Sleeping Beauty style.  It’s packed with lore and characters, many of which are quickly appealing.  For crying out loud, your main character is an old, vaguely grumpy scribe-tax collector, one of the “Varl”, the horned giants.  That alone gets bonus points in my book, since it’s not just “plucky band of teens save the world”.  I do love my Final Fantasy games, but The Banner Saga aims for something different and more resonant.  I like that.  A lot.

It throws a lot of worldbuilding stuff at you and expects you to keep up or shrug and expect that it will all make sense later.  Sometimes that doesn’t work, but I liked it here, as I appreciate worldbuilding.  I can see that it might throw some people off, but I like it.

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The tactical game play is pretty solid, though I’m still getting a handle on the best approach.  There’s enough there that I want to do more, though, and that’s a good sign.  There are some subtleties afoot, which is really good.  The interface is a little… tiny.  That’s not terrible, but the designer in me would have liked to do things a little differently.  The art style is great and consistent, I just think the UI could use a little more usability work.  I do give bonus points for a really nice world map.

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I give this game a Recommend, though, like other games with significant depth, that’s qualified somewhat because I haven’t played through the whole thing.  What I have played, though, that’s great stuff, and I want to play more.

So, in passing, this episode goes by AudioSurf, noted above as a Recommended game, and the other 4 chapters of the Back to the Future game.  All in all, this was a pleasant week, with two of three games being ones I really like.  Would that I had more time to play, but the Operation moves on.

Next time, I’ll dig into Birth of America (no longer on Steam, perhaps, or maybe changed to this one that the site’s search engine gives me?), Blackwell Deception (whee, an adventure game!) and Cargo Commander, with more than that mentioned as drive-by “played already” games.  See you then!

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To make this Operation: Backlog thing work, I’ve decided to put the handful of games I’ve been playing more or less on the shelf, as it were.  Slingshot Braves on my smartphone and Flight Rising in a PC web browser are what I think of as “chore” games, in that they have daily tasks to do, part and parcel of many free-to-play games.  I’ll probably still log into those and do a little bit here and there often, but that’s mostly because I play them with my kids.  Ditto for Minecraft, our family XBox 360 game.  We used to play on the PC, but the local multiplayer on the 360 trumped the PC’s moddability.

Other than that, I’ll be putting Smash Brothers (3DS), Professor Layton and the Last Spectre away for a while.  Batman Arkham City will also have to wait, as will Uncharted 3, Flower and Final Fantasy XII, though I haven’t played them for more than an hour or two each since I was downsized in April of last year.  They are just my “want to finish” games that are already on the back burner.

World of Warcraft will have to wait, but that’s fine, since I don’t want to pay a subscription anyway.  Maybe I’ll qualify for a scroll of resurrection promotion one of these days, or Warlords of Draenor will go on sale for under $10, and I’ll drop back in for a bit.  Yes, yes, I do have a “trial” account I can putter around endlessly and mostly uselessly if I really want a WoW fix, but since I’ve seen most places that I can in the lower levels, and I’m all about Exploring, it’s not really that big of a draw.

…we’ll see how this goes.  I’ll be playing with mouse and keyboard, only reluctantly using my wired XBox 360 controller when it offers significantly better usability.  Perhaps that’s the purist in me, since I didn’t have PC joysticks or controllers when most of these games were new.

This might wind up even more relevant when I dig into my GoG.com library, but that’s way down the list at this point.

I’ve decided I’ll also be giving each of these 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 up on my trek through my Steam library, then?

A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda

AI War: Fleet Command

Aquanox

A.R.E.S.

On paper, I should love this game.  It’s sort of like MegaMan X, one of my all time favorite games, if the blue bomber could aim in any direction with the mouse instead of charging his shot, and didn’t have a dash or wall slide, but a double jump and shoulder roll instead.  OK, it’s not exactly like that, but that’s the high level impression.

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The art style is all over the place, the camera feels like it’s in a little too tight, the levels are too short, ARES feels clumsy and his grenades aren’t controlled well, but this plucky little game really wants to be a spin of the MegaMan formula, and I give it points for aiming high.  It’s very nice to be able to aim in any direction, though that’s something that I want to use the mouse for.  It’s almost like I wish I could use a SNES controller in my left hand and a mouse in my right to really get it working like I want to.

Level design is somewhere between MegaMan and Metroid, though I think it would have been better to embrace the “Metroidvania” aspect more to really give the game its own identity.  It’s a 2D platformer, gameplay-wise, but with 3D environments and some oddments, though oddly, the player character and enemies are more of a Spine sort of thing, animated from 2D images, perhaps derived from 3D toon renders in some places.

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It’s a fun little game, but it certainly needs polish (and an art style guide!).  I give it a rating of Remember only because I wish I had time to see more bosses and see if the game opens up later, and I think that a MegaManX Metroidvania sort of game could be really cool.  The initial phases of A.R.E.S. were competent but not all that exciting.  It feels more like a proof of concept from a freshman dev team than a finished game.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that I’d rather go play MegaMan X again and dream of what this game could be with more work.

AI War

Hoo boy.  This one is nigh impenetrable in 15 minutes.  It’s supposedly a Real Time Strategy game set in outer space, with plucky humans fighting a malevolent AI.  OK, cool.  I like that.  It’s just… there are so many moving parts and tons of little things to learn about.  It’s a game that I probably would have loved playing back in the day, after finishing StarCraft and when I got burned out on Master of Orion’s interminable endgames… but today?  Eh, I don’t have time for this.

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I managed to play the first of 7 tutorials, just getting a hang of navigating the User Interface.  It fought my Maya and Photoshop muscle memory, so I can’t imagine really wanting to master it, but it seems to be designed well enough.  The visuals are good, though the sheer volume of data involved in the game means for some small details in the UI that were just so much static at first glance.

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I get the feeling that this would be a good game for me if I had the time to dig into it.  I give it a Remember rating as well, since I want to check out some other reviews of it to see how the game handles itself beyond the tutorials… but there’s no way it fits into my schedule to actually play it.  That’s a bit of a pity, really, but hey, at least I’m left with a feeling of wanting to know more.  That’s a good sign.

AquaNox

This game really, really wants to be Elite/Privateer/Freelancer, but underwater, with a dash of cyberpunk and social commentary.  That’s not a bad working premise or goal.  It’s just… the first ten minutes of the Story portion of the game were talking (both the video and the dozen or so text-plus-voice bits you have to get through) and a mishmash of mixed up art, from FFVII-like 3D computer graphics to anime-ish portraits to grainy FMV proto-Bioshock underwater city… stuff.

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And talking.  So… much… talking.  I’d give them a pass if the voice actors were even passable, but, well… they are not.  I like watching Star Trek, the one from the 60s, and while all the cool kids rag on that show now for its kitsch and stage-like hamminess, it’s a masterwork compared to this game.  I never want to hear this game again.  (For crying out loud, they pronounce “Succubus”, a key ship in the game, as “Zuko Boose”.  Yes, Zuko was a good character, but that’s just… wrong.)

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That’s not a killer, though, if the play is worth it.  The two missions I had time for once I got through the backstory were a brief “shoot the underwater junk” mission to get a feel for moving a little and firing weapons, and a brief escort mission for a tanker that was trying to just bulldoze through a junk field.  I had to clear the way and shoot a bad guy that popped up.  So, nothing all that exciting, nothing all that bad, though it loses points in my book giving me an escort mission so early.  I hate escort missions.

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That said, I really like the feel of the controls, actually.  The sub drives a bit like what I’d expect, with good WASD controls (A and D sliding/strafing like Minecraft, not turning), augmented by using R and F to go “up” and “down” respectively for the full 3D movement.  Mouse sensitivity is a little high for my taste, but I could probably tweak that.  Shooting feels pretty good, targeting is solid, movement feels right for being underwater, with inertia and drag giving a good impression of actually navigating through something much thicker than the outer space sims I’m fond of.

The “I’m-actually-playing-something-finally” graphics are good, far better than the intro video and talky graphics would hint at.  Explosions underwater seem a bit silly, undermining the look and feel, but all in all, it could be fun.  If only they would… stop… talking… and get on with it.  I just wanted to go blow stuff up and zip around underwater.

I give the game a Regret rating overall, even though I do love the idea of an underwater game in the Privateer mold, one of my other all time favorite games.  This game just isn’t it.  I hear there’s a sequel, so maybe the game gets better, and maybe the sequel is even better… but I won’t be spending any more time to find out.

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So, three games out of… um… more than 100.  There are a few other minor grievances I dealt with, but out of the gate, I have to say that it’s about what I’d expected.  I’m a firm believer in style guides and making a good, quick first impression.  That doesn’t preclude depth, but gamers today have to be intrigued and having fun fast, or they will move on to another game.  These games just aren’t up to par.  They might be worth playing if you don’t mind their shortcomings, as none of them are actually bad, they just are behind the curve a bit.

We’ll see what these titles have in store next time:

AVSEQ

Back To The Future: Ep 1

The Banner Saga

…I’ll admit, I really, really want to like The Banner Saga.  I am not even close to unbiased on that one.  I love the music I’ve heard, and I love tactical and strategic games.  The Eyvind Earle art style is gorgeous.  I sort of want to give it a lot more than 15 minutes, but we’ll see how it fares with a nibble instead of a Viking feast.

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I’ve played video games since Bowling on the Atari 2600 back in 1980.  I’ve played on most major consoles here in the U.S. (the Neo Geo is the one I skipped… that thing was stupidly expensive, though I loved some of its games in the arcades of the day), though I’m still stuck in the PS3/XB360 era due to lack of funding.  I’ve played PC and Mac games, from simple DOS games like Sleuth up through Star Control 2 and The Dig, and later, Batman: Arkham Asylum (I know, it’s a port, but it’s my most graphically intensive PC game) and Minecraft.

I discovered a taste for design in the Dark Castle days, drawing out new levels on graph paper.  I further refined my interest in mechanics when I did some serious work designing a world and game systems for a RPG in the King’s Quest days, though it wound up being more of a Final Fantasy Tactics sort of game.  I really, really wanted to make a good sequel to Chrono Trigger, and made many notes on what I’d do.  Chrono Cross, great game that it is, just didn’t scratch the same itch.

I’ve always enjoyed games, both playing and designing.  In many ways, creating new games is more satisfying, since I’m a creative sort and would rather produce than consume.

My BFA is in Computer Animation, and while some of my classmates have worked for Pixar, Rhythm and Hues, Blue Sky, Dreamworks and Weta, I wound up in the game industry.  I’d have loved working at Pixar making Disney films, like I planned to do as a kid, but circumstances led to other choices.  I still love animating, though I’m most experienced at modeling, texturing and solving weird tech issues, since I’m  a “Technical Artist”, comfortable with tech and art.

I worked for Headgate Studios, largely working on EA’s Tiger Woods games.  Then I worked at Wahoo Studios, making a few Kefling games along with a smattering of other projects both internal and contract work.  I have a list around here somewhere of the 15 or so games I am credited in, which qualifies me as a veteran of sorts. That said, as is so often true, time and economics caught up with me, and I’m now “retired” from the industry after almost a decade working on the art in games, with a bit of dabbling in design.

These days, I design my own games, write about what I’d do if I had pie-in-the-sky budgets to design games, do graphic design, make cool game accessories and try to find ways to make a living in a freelance world since there just aren’t career opportunities at the moment.  Once in a while, I even get to play games (though some of that time is just playtesting my games… I really need to update Chromaround).

Games and I, we have history.

Anyway, I’m in between serious contracts, and while I’m scrambling for something new to pay the bills, I have a few minutes here and there.  So, given that I’ve been collecting games over the years, adding to my Steam collection and assorted game bundles, I have more than a few games to fill that time with.

So, I’m going to be systematic about it and just start plowing through my game backlog.  I’m going to give each game 15 minutes to really grab me, then do a quick writeup of what happened, probably with a screenshot or two, and with some commentary about the design and art.  Pith may be present.  I might revisit the games, but I probably won’t.  Still, I want to do a bit of exploration.  It’s good to see what’s out there, and how other games are designed.

I’ll post those writeups here, though I’m not committing to any regular schedule or format.  Perhaps this is the sort of thing YouTube is for, but I hate being in videos and hearing myself.  Writing, that I can do.  We’ll see how it all settles out.

I know, I know, some games really need more than 15 minutes to get a proper shakedown, but, well, I can’t be the only one who only barely has time to graze games.  I could devote dozens of hours to the latest Final Fantasy when I was in high school, but these are different times.  I think it’s a good game design that has the ability to do something to earn further attention within those 15 minutes.  I simply won’t be doing some games justice, but that’s life in this saturated, cutthroat market.  There are still lessons to be learned, I think.

See you next time with a bit of commentary on what I’ve been playing, then I’ll mostly shelve those games and start trekking through the wilds.

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I’ve written about finishing World of Warcraft before, and I’ve written about business models more than a few times.

Alternative Chat has a good blog post up ruminating a bit on the potential that Blizzard has to take the existing World of Warcraft and blow it up, starting over with all the bits they want and jettisoning the cruft of the last decade.  They did a version of this with the Cataclysm expansion, which I’ve also written about a few times.

So, I just wanted to put my finger in the stream again and post pretty much the same thing I noted in a comment over at Alt’s place, and something I’ve written here before…

If Blizzard really wants to shake things up and leave the old WoW behind for a brave new world, they should branch the game.  Cut everything that’s presently in the game off from the dev teams (save for bug fixing), package it up as a “buy to play” subscriptionless game in the vein of Guild Wars, and bravely stride off into WoW 2.0 as their premiere flagship subscription game.

It’ll never happen, just like Vanilla servers won’t happen and Pre-Cataclysm servers won’t happen, but hey, I can dream.

Edited to add:  This amuses me.  As Jay over at The Rampant Coyote points out, “Buy Once and Play” is making a minor comeback.  As if it’s something radical.  This industry is weird.  Even Forbes just can’t resist the satire.

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