Monday, October 20, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #153 - The Ur-Quan Masters - Thraddash - Culture 19

Composed by: Riku Nuottajärvi
Remixed by: Espen Gätzschmann & Tore Aune Fjellstad

For those of you that are sick of the Ur-Quan Masters soundtrack that's been playing on Choicest VGM for the past few months (thanks to the change in policy I made where I'm only posting Choicest VGM videos on Mondays), rejoice since this will be the last of them for awhile. We're going to be ending this soundtrack with a bang thanks to this remix of the Thraddash theme by Espen Gätzschmann and Tore Aune Fjellstad. The Thraddash are a race of stubborn, hornless rhino-like beings who seem to enjoy smoking cigars in their cockpits. That's how badass they are. Not only that, but their race only respects force, so much so that their civilization have gone through so many dark ages that they're currently at "Culture" number 19 (which is what the title of the track alludes to). Pretty aggressive bunch aren't they?

The hard rock/metal style of this track is a perfect match for the Thraddash due to their aggressive, war-like nature. As Gätzschmann says "we added the guitars that the Thraddash have been practically begging for since Star Control 2 was first released."

Special thanks to The Precursors for remixing the classic Star Control II tracks and making them available for download.

Stay tuned next week for some music from the legendary Westwood RTS, Dune II.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cook, Serve, Delicious! Review

You want a BEER? At 9:16 in the MORNING?

  • Developer: Vertigo Gaming
  • Publisher: Vertigo Gaming
  • Release Date: 8 October 2013
  • Time played: 13 hours (INCOMPLETE)

Cook, Serve, Delicious! is another one of those games that were developed using Game Maker Studio and made a bucketload of revenue. Consequently, saying I was a bit curious as to what the game was all about is an understatement. So sometime in December last year when the game was super cheap, I bought it and tried it out... and I was hooked for several days straight. I unfortunately never finished the game though, hoping to finish it when I got some spare time (ahahahaha! "Spare time". Ahahahaha!). Anyway as I'm actually running out of 2013 games to review (I've still got a lot to actually start playing before I review them) it looks like Cook, Serve, Delicious! is next!

Gameplay (5/5)
The gameplay in Cook, Serve, Delicious! is pretty unique - at least I've never played a game like this before. However, the developer claims that he's taken his inspiration from a Japanese cooking game called Ore no Ryouri or "My Cooking" in English. Basically there are two elements to this game: managing a restaurant and cooking food for your customers. The management part of the game is easily done via mouse-driven menus. You can purchase new food to serve at your restaurant or even spend money on upgrading them which usually means more options for your customers but more revenue too. You're also able to spend money on items that make running the restaurant more efficient during the workday. Besides that you've also got an email client which besides offering humourous comments about your restaurant, sometimes gives you extra challenges. Later on in the game, you'll also be able to compete in Iron Cook challenges and do catering missions to earn some extra dough. Okay so that's the management part in a nutshell, got it?

The second part of the game, where some element of skill is involved, is the cooking part. In this part of the game you'll receive orders from customers early in the morning until late at night which you'll have to complete in order to keep the customers happy and bring in the dough. You're given a limited amount of time to satisfy an order and you'll have to make sure you don't make any mistakes with the ingredients. So for example, if someone wanted a triple serve of Mint Chocolate Chip, Vanilla and Chocolate Ice Cream, you'd hit M, V and C on the keyboard then ENTER to serve the dish. Completing orders using a combination of keys reminds me of typing tutor games like The Typing of the Dead or games involving Quick-Time Events (QTEs) and since I'm a fan of games which take advantage of my 1337 typing skills, Cook, Serve, Delicious! has already won me over.

At first, the game will seem a bit difficult since you're only starting to learn the key combinations for preparing the various recipes you start off with and it's definitely no picnic during "Rush Hours" (i.e. the periods around meal times) where you'll be receiving new orders every couple of seconds. Eventually though, you'll be surprised at how adept you'll be at pumping out the orders only to go back to square one and learn new recipes whenever you upgrade an existing food or purchase a new one.

The ultimate goal is to become a five-star restaurant I believe and you work up the ranks by completing various criteria, such as serving food for a certain number of days, passing a certain number of safety inspections and achieving a certain number of combos. The only criticism I have about the game is that it sometimes feels like there's too much grind in between restaurant levels and the cynic in me thinks it's done for the sole purpose of artificially inflating the playtime.

Occasionally, your restaurant receives humourous emails like this one

Sound (4/5)
No complaints about the audio. Although only basic sound effects are used they're the sounds you would expect to hear while boiling soup, deep frying hashbrowns or pouring a pint of cold beer. Oh if there's anything to fault is that there doesn't appear to be any proper volume control but that's probably because this is a game aimed for the mobile platform.

Music (5/5)
The soundtrack by Jonathan Geer is an eclectic mix of funk, jazz, muzak and even chiptunes. Surprisingly, it suits the game really well and if you're into any of that sort of music, I recommend grabbing it for $2.99 USD off his Bandcamp site. Hmmm, I'm tempted to get myself a copy actually...

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics are pretty basic and in a cartoon style but that's absolutely fine for a casual game about managing a skyscraper restaurant.

Replay (3/5)
I've managed to play for 13 hours so far and I'm about half-way through the game with a 3-star restaurant. I'm guessing overall, it'll probably take around 26 hours of gameplay in order to finish the game and there's also a whole bunch of Steam achievements to earn and challenges to complete to increase the game's longevity. There are also leaderboards you can compete on too.

Polish (5/5)
I didn't encounter any serious bugs or issues while playing the game.

Score – 9/10

I don't often give 9 out of 10 for a game, let alone an indie game, but Cook, Serve, Delicious! well and truly deserves this. I cannot find anything to fault about this game besides potentially too much grind between restaurant levels but everything else is top notch. The music is jazzy, the graphics bright and cheerful, and the gameplay is a perfect blend of restaurant management sim with fast-paced, typing-tutor-like action.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! is available from these retailers:

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Vertigo Gaming website ]

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985 - 1993 Review

  • Title: The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985 - 1993
  • Author: Jordan Mechner
  • Publisher: Self-published
  • Number of Pages: 330

This will be the first time I've posted a book review on this blog - probably the first book review I've ever done one since high school to be honest. While with games there are several components you can rate it on (e.g. gameplay, music, audio, plot, replay value, etc.) and even films to some degree (e.g. cinematography, casting, acting, plot, etc.) there really isn't much to go on with books besides how well the author writes and whether the reader takes anything of value away after reading it; whether the reader is being entertained or gaining insight.

Another reason I've probably never done a book review until now is that there aren't actually that many books on the gaming industry as a whole considering how it's only really matured over the space of two or three decades. Most of the industry's pioneers have probably already taken to the Interwebs and posted their stories, making their experiences freely available to the world without the need to use this archaic medium.

While I'm sure Jordan Mechner, famous for Prince of Persia, The Last Express and Karateka has his fair share of interviews and stories online none are so intimate and personal as this book he published called The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985 - 1993 (which I'll call The Making of POP from now on). In fact, I have a new found respect for Mechner being brave enough to publish his personal diaries from 7 years of his life, warts and all. If there's people he didn't like, he mentioned about them in unflattering terms; if there were insecurities he had about his love life, his persona or even Prince of Persia's success, it's in the book.

When I originally read the title of the book I was expecting a rather dry but informative account on how a veteran game developer went about designing and programming a hit computer game. What I ended up reading was something quite a bit different but thankfully a book that exceeded my expectations. Mechner's humourous anecdotes, occasional comments about historical events, brushes with other greats of gaming (e.g. Ken Williams, Richard Garriott, Eric Chahi, etc.) and even comments about mundane things like owning his first 486, helps transport the reader back in time, to the early days of the PC gaming industry and how it was like to be one of its major players. Sure there is the occasional journal entry that talks about the design process but this book is more about what goes through a legendary game developer's head: How does he feel about stuff day to day, how does he see the competition, what are his hopes, dreams and fears?

You also learn a lot about Mechner's other passions, such as filmmaking and can start to see how his games turned out the way they did. Prince of Persia's rotoscoping technique for animation was lauded by critics of the day and The Last Express used this method extensively to give it that extra sense of realism. Mechner always wanted his first priority to be making films so we're lucky he actually ended up persevering with games as long as he did.

The book also goes into quite a bit of detail about what was happening behind the scenes at Brøderbund and the amount of politics involved in providing resources for game development, something Mechner thought was lacking with respect to marketing of Prince of Persia.

Score - 8/10

So would I recommend this book to others? Yes, I'd recommend it to almost anyone, although it'll obviously be of more interest to those who grew up playing PC games during the 80s and 90s (like myself). There are so many familiar experiences, names and events that you'll recognise during this pivotal era in the PC gaming industry and besides the nostalgia that goes with reading it, it's actually a pretty insightful book too. The only criticisms I have is that the book might be a bit light on the technical details for those of you expecting that kind of stuff and Mechner mocked one of my favourite game companies of the era, Sierra On-Line (just kidding :), I won't hold that against you).

You can grab a physical copy of the book for $15.29 USD or a digital copy starting from $7.29 USD via Jordan Mechner's website. You can also read the first 41 pages for free.