Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hate Plus Review

Apparently, in the far future, it only takes three days to travel over 25,000ly!

  • Developer: Love Conquers All Games (Christine Love)
  • Publisher: Love Conquers All Games (Christine Love)
  • Release Date: 20 August 2013
  • Time played: 7 hours

Hate Plus is another of those games I managed to grab as part of a Valentine's Day Humble Bundle almost a year ago called "For Lovers (of games)" and despite finishing it quite a while ago, I've finally got around to reviewing it!

I've been slowly going through the games I purchased in this bundle and reviewing them and to date, I have reviews for WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01, Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, Roommates and this game's predecessor, Analogue: A Hate Story.

As you can see, I've reviewed a majority of the 7 games that came in the bundle, which is good, but don't expect to see a review of the critically acclaimed (and puntastic) Hatoful Boyfriend any time soon since I just couldn't roleplay a high school girl trying to get it on with male pigeons – it's a bridge too far for me (but kudos to those that can)! Long Live the Queen is probably the only game in the bundle (besides Hatoful Boyfriend) that I've left to review and it's actually not a bad game at all (albeit extremely difficult). So I might get onto it since it'd be nice to have a sense of closure by completing all games in the bundle (minus one).

So, as mentioned, Hate Plus is the sequel to Christine Love's Analogue: A Hate Story. The reason for the weird title is because Analogue: A Hate Story is a play on words on the title of an earlier game by Love called Digital: A Love Story. It continues assuming you didn't prematurely end the first game (like I did) and even gives you a chance to determine what your relationship with the ship AI is, a la Knights of the Old Republic II style.

So is Hate Plus a visual novel worth sinking your teeth into? And is it any better than its predecessor?

Plot (4/5)

Just like the previous game, Analogue: A Hate Story, you continue your role as an investigator in the distant future aboard a Korean generation ship (i.e. a ship where generations of people used to live on), poring through various logs with the help of the ship's AI, trying to determine what happened to the ship. The previous game focused on the events that occurred while the current AIs (Hyun-ae and Mute*) were active, but this game focuses on the ship's history, prior to the development of these AIs. Reading the logs will reveal what happened to society on the generation ship Mugunghwa and how it devolved into a patriarchal Neo-Confucian culture based on the extremely restrictive Joseon Dynasty in Korea.

I quite enjoyed most of the plot, especially the political intrigue and learning about Korean culture in general, but I switched off during the romantic escapades that cropped up every so often. In retrospect though, that's probably one reason why this game was included in the Valentine's Day Humble Bundle…

Gameplay (3/5)

Reading emails is what this game is all about (okay, technically they're ship logs). You occasionally get an opportunity to "converse" with the ship AI but this usually involves answering questions with one of three answers. The choices you make will affect your relationship with the AI.

And that's the bulk of the game. Thankfully, I actually managed to finish the game this time so it's not as easy to "die" in this one compared to Analogue: A Hate Story.

Oh, I also think it's worth mentioning that there is a Steam achievement that's only awarded when you actually bake a cake and submit the photo to the developer; this is an example of how the game takes roleplaying to the next level. It's an interesting social experiment but can also be annoying for those that do not want to participate since even if you want to "cheat" and pretend you baked a cake, you still have to wait for the several minutes it would take to actually bake the cake in real-time! It's very much a case of go hard with the roleplay or go home!

Oh, I also think it's worth mentioning that there is a Steam achievement that's only awarded when you actually bake a cake and submit the photo to the developer

Sound (5/5)

No problems with the minimal audio that is used.

Music (5/5)

As you may already know, I reviewed the soundtrack for Hate Plus quite a while ago and wasn't convinced that it worked well as an album on its own. However, the soundtrack works as a perfect accompaniment to the game as most of the music that plays are minimalist, ambient pieces which are appropriate while you're trying to read long passages of text.

Graphics (3/5)

Graphics are quite similar to the previous game, which means it's very minimalist, but what do you expect when you're viewing what is essentially a glorified email client? Sure, the ship AI/avatars are drawn well enough in their manga style but they're not exactly anything new since the same kind of artwork featured in the previous game. The only difference I've noticed between this game and its predecessor are the photograph-style portraits for each of the characters in the story, which is a nice touch; I've always found that I remember faces better than names, so for anyone like me, this is a welcome feature.

Replay (3/5)

Just like the previous game, Analogue: A Hate Story, Hate Plus contains multiple endings and Steam achievements. The problem with visual novels in general (and especially wordy ones like Hate Plus) is that the motivation is somewhat hard to muster when you want to replay the game since despite the possibility of a different outcome, 90% of the game is going to be exactly the same and involve a lot of reading. Not a problem if you love the story or have forgotten the details but it's a bit of an uphill battle otherwise.

Polish (5/5)

I didn't encounter any serious bugs and while the GUI can feel clunky or busy sometimes, it's done intentionally to give yourself that sense of immersion as you navigate through the ship's computer (it's one of Christine Love's strengths I believe).

Score – 8/10

While the plot isn't always my cup of tea, Christine Love has to be given credit for actually improving on Hate Plus's predecessor in terms of the graphics and audio. Not only that, it's probably one of the few games out there where it takes roleplaying to the next level, requiring you to patiently wait in real life in order to access a new batch of emails or while you bake a cake. For those without patience, having to wait before continuing with the game will seem like an infuriating gimmick; to the rest though, it's a brilliant way to further immerse the player into the world of Hate Plus.

Hate Plus is available from these retailers:
  • Steam - $9.99 USD (currently on sale for $4.99 USD)

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Not at the current exchange rate. It's a bit on the pricey side and I think it's worth $10 AUD. So it's definitely worth it if you can get it on sale (like it is now for $4.99 USD).

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Hate Plus Website ]

Monday, February 8, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #216 - SimCity 2000 - Track 2 (SimCity 2000 Theme)

Soundtrack composed by: Sue Kasper

The more astute readers of my blog would've probably noticed that I missed out on posting a new Choicest VGM video last Monday. Yes, that actually happened and I apologise but due to technical difficulties (namely a power outage) I was unable to keep to my original schedule. No matter though, as today we get to hear some music from the classic city builder SimCity 2000.

SimCity 2000 isn't probably a game that is synonymous with a great soundtrack, especially when you compare those primitive MIDIs to the game music of today, but they definitely ended up being memorable, perhaps through a combination of the sheer hours spent playing the game as well as the fact that many of them had a catchy beat.

This first track, simply called "Track 2" is one that usually plays at the beginning or while viewing the game credits and hence why it gets the de facto title of "SimCity 2000 theme".

Thanks to Simtropolis community member Biff for hunting down the SimCity 2000 soundtrack.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #216 - SimCity 2000 - Track 2 (SimCity 2000 Theme) ]

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where are they now? - Frontier: Elite II

An Imperial Courier prepares to take off in Frontier: Elite II

So for today's "Where are they now?" post I thought I'd take a look at a little space trading game I loved back in the early 90s called Frontier: Elite II. I was way too young at that stage to have ever got into the original Elite which was released in 1984, but I did get a chance to play this gem of a game. Sure, the graphics look crude by today's standards but the game retained the same open-ended gameplay as Elite (apparently) and featured realistic physics as well as an accurately modeled galaxy. In fact, thanks to procedurally generated star systems, Frontier: Elite II had millions of star systems, and not only that, it all managed to fit on a single floppy disk! The wonders didn't cease there since you could not only fly through space between planets, but you could land on the planets themselves too.

While games like Wing Commander: Privateer probably had nicer looking graphics, a plot and generally more character than Frontier: Elite II, it couldn't beat the sheer size of Frontier: Elite II's sandbox and the amount of freedom you had in exploring the universe (History seems to be repeating itself with rabid fans comparing the more modern games Star Citizen to Elite: Dangerous which have similar differences, but that's a story for another day). And yet I love both Frontier: Elite II and Privateer as I can appreciate their strengths and weaknesses.

So who were the brains behind Frontier: Elite II? Well, I found it quite surprising at how small the team actually was since besides Chris Sawyer (of Transport Tycoon fame) who helped with porting the 68000 assembler code into 80286 assembler code and Dave Lowe who composed the music, David Braben, a man who probably needs no introduction, was responsible for the design, programming and graphics.

I've talked a bit about where Chris Sawyer ended up in a previous "Where are they now?" post and as far as I know, he's still overseeing any developments with the iOS/Android version of Transport Tycoon. Dave Lowe has also been mentioned on this blog before as I was a backer on his project to remake several of his old game music, including an orchestral recording of the Frontier: Elite II theme (which I'm quite excited about).

But what about David Braben? Well, not content to rest on his laurels, shortly after the release of Frontier: Elite II, he started up a company called Frontier Developments in 1994. Frontier Developments worked on all sorts of games on a variety of platforms including 2004's Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, 2006's Thrillville, 2010's Kinectimals and 2011's Kinect Disney Adventures. 2012 was a busy year for Braben as not only did he launch a Kickstarter project for the latest game in the Elite series, Elite: Dangerous (which successfully secured £1,578,316 in funding), but he was also a co-founder for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity focused on promoting the study of computer science in schools and responsible for the development of the single-board computer known as Raspberry Pi.

In 2014, Elite: Dangerous was released and Braben was also appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Braben continues to serve as CEO of Frontier Developments to this day and besides releasing new content for Elite: Dangerous, the company is now working on yet another rollercoaster construction and management game called Planet Coaster which aims to be released at the end of this year.

I unfortunately don't have the time to cover what happened to the entire development team but if you happened to be part of the original Frontier: Elite II development team, then let us know! We'd love to hear your stories and anecdotes! :)

[ MobyGames: Frontier Elite II credits ]
[ Wikipedia: Frontier: Elite II ]
[ Kickstarter: Elite: Dangerous ]
[ Wikipedia: David Braben ]
[ Wikipedia: David Lowe (video game composer) ]
[ Official Uncle Art Music website ]
[ Kickstarter: Uncle Art - A Temporal Shift ]
[ Wikipedia: Chris Sawyer ]
[ Official Transport Tycoon website (for iOS, Amazon Kindle and Android) ]