Thursday, July 30, 2015

First Impressions - AntharioN

Don't ask him about his little red book.

Just like Interstellaria, AntharioN happens to be another game I managed to back via Kickstarter yet not remembering how I originally found out about it. The first Kickstarter funding campaign was unsuccessful but the second one happened to successfully raise $22,508 (of a $10,000 goal) thanks to me (and 729 other backers ;)). AntharioN advertised itself as an old-school, turn-based, party-based RPG so it definitely piqued my interest (I love turn-based games).

The game was released only recently so now that I’ve managed to clock a few hours into the completed product I’m ready to give my first impressions on it:

What I like:

  • Tribute to classic RPGs: Despite the isometric viewpoint and cute graphics, the game actually reminds me of games like Ultima VI. Exploring the world is "tick-based" (i.e. NPCs only move one step when you move one step) and in combat you revert to turn-based mode. The game also allows you to build a custom party which reminds me of games like Wizardry or Icewind Dale.
  • Music: The game has excellent music thanks to Eric J. Gallardo. His work on AntharioN actually sounds very similar to Jeremy Soule's work in the Elder Scrolls games. No mean feat!
  • Turn-based: As already mentioned, the game is turn and tick based, so you can play the game at your own pace!
  • Not overly complicated: Unlike a lot of D&D CRPGs, the game isn't that complicated and has a fairly intuitive interface. You'll be able to figure out how 90% of the game works without needing to search for help. There are also preset classes you can choose from when creating characters for your party.

What I don’t like:

  • No real explanation on how classes work: While you've got the typical classes you'd expect in RPGs sometimes it's dangerous in assuming they work the same way as RPGs you've played before. For example, I have a thief in my party and he seems to be pretty useless except for being able to pick locks. Apparently he's got some skill in pickpocketing but I'm not quite sure how you're meant to do this. Also can thieves sneak? Can they backstab? Or are they meant to be a ranged character? Some questions I don't have the answers to, yet.
  • No manual: For many games nowadays, manuals aren’t really required but you still can’t really get away from it with RPGs, simulation or strategy games. Apparently one is in the works thankfully.
  • Derivative plot: I haven't got far enough yet but seems to be your typical fantasy plot where an ancient evil is awakening and your intrepid party needs to stop it!
  • Cumbersome trading interface: You can't at a glance tell what you can afford and what you can't. You also can't sort items in price or category order (they're all displayed in the shopkeeper's inventory) and there's no way to distinguish the stuff you just sold and other items.
  • Game can be quite difficult at start: ... but persevere! It does get better and easier as you continue - or at least where I'm up to anyway (probably because my characters have levelled). You need food to rest which means you can't just rest ad infinitum to restore your health and energy. One saving grace is that at least there isn't permadeath if one of your party members is still alive at the end of a battle...

Verdict:

While the plot seems rather barebones at the moment and I haven't come across any memorable characters yet I am keen to explore the world of AntharioN and the turn-based, custom party RPG combat is a blast from the past which will keep me coming back for more. The developer is also continually updating the game to make it more user friendly (e.g. better explanations on what are ingredients and what are not, how difficult particular locks are, etc.) so that's always a good thing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Where are they now? - Wendell Hicken

Whoa! What just happened? Did I fire an Ion Cannon or something?

Today's "Where are they now?" post is going to be a relatively short one, mainly because there isn't really that much information out there for the creator of one of the most addictive little shareware games of the 1990s - an artillery game called Scorched Earth. Developed in Borland C++ and Turbo Assembler by a chap named Wendell Hicken, I wasted many hours playing this game during my school years. The game was released as shareware in 1991 (although I played it much later when Worms, another artillery game, had already surfaced). Like Worms, you're able to pick from a long list of weapons but only if you have enough money to purchase them in between rounds (you earn money by defeating enemies). Despite its primitive graphics, the game was quite addictive and obviously a blast when it came to hotseat multiplayer (artillery games tend to be :)). The last version of Scorched Earth, 1.5 was released in 1995 and you can still grab the shareware version of this from Hicken's official Scorched Earth webpage, 20 years later! You can also pay what you want to get the official registered version.

So what happened to Mr. Hicken after Scorched Earth? Where is he now?

Well, Mr. Hicken's online presence is rather limited, or more to the point, out-of-date - so while he was relatively active online during the 2000s, there hasn't been much since then. He did run a personal blog between 2006 - 2011 and is apparently still running it but he hasn't posted anything since 2011. He also has a Twitter feed but hasn't really tweeted anything regularly since 2012. The most recent bit of information I can find is that he developed a mobile phone app called Dark Prevailer for a miniatures game called Dark Age and that was in 2013.

Hicken has apparently been working at what used to be known as Yellow Pages (it's now simply known as "yp" in the United States) since 2014 as Vice President for the Ad Platform so while it's great to hear he's still in the business of developing software it's too bad it doesn't happen to be a new game :). Will he ever develop another game or even another Scorched Earth? Who knows but whatever happens, I'd like to thank Mr. Hicken for developing one of the classic DOS games of the 1990s.

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Scorched Earth (video game) ]
[ MobyGames: Wendell Hicken]
[ Wendell Hicken's Official Website ]

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

First Impressions - Interstellaria


We come in peace. Shoot to kill - shoot to kill - shoot to kill. We come in peace...

I can't quite remember how I originally heard about Interstellaria but I most likely heard about it from a Kickstarter project I backed. Anyway, Interstellaria originally went to Kickstarter for funding in 2013 and successfully raised $28,805 USD from 1,773 backers (and I was one of them, of course). So why did I back it?

Interstellaria advertised itself as being similar to old school space games like Star Control 2 yet with modern mechanics. You're able to explore a galaxy filled with alien cultures so I was totally down with that especially considering the very affordable $10 USD price for admission :).

Fast forward to one and a half years later, and Interstellaria is now a reality. I've managed to clock a few hours so far and here are my first impressions:

What I like:

  • Tribute to sci-fi classics: Interstellaria is based on games that are considered sci-fi classics with the game being mostly influenced by the classic Star Control 2. In Star Control 2 you got to explore worlds, gather resources, meet alien races and fight hostile ships; Interstellaria has sought to do the same although it has also been influenced by more recent sci-fi classics, such as Mass Effect 2 with respect to its plot, and FTL: Faster than Light with respect to the ship combat.
  • Music: A game that pays tribute to classics of yesteryear like Star Control 2 wouldn't be complete without an appropriately retro soundtrack. Chipzel does a fantastic job in this regard managing to inject some groovy chiptune dance tracks whenever exploring planets and fighting other ships. Remember when you used to dance to the Mortal Kombat-like dance music that would play every time you fought ships in Star Control 2 (No? That was just me? Whatever)? The music in Interstellaria is that good you'll probably be doing the same.
  • Mouse-driven controls: I love games that can be controlled exclusively using a mouse and Interstellaria is one of those games. You can use shortcuts on the keyboard if you so desire although the only one I tend to use is the spacebar (which is used for pausing the game).

What I don't like:

  • Grind: When you're collecting resources on a planet it can sometimes take quite a while to gather all the resources. It feels like an eternity but it's probably close to 5 minutes I guess and it involves automating your crew to pick up things and then clicking the Fast Forward button. To be fair, Star Control 2 and Mass Effect 2 were kind of guilty in this regard too but it's a feature the game could've definitely done without.
  • Confusing gameplay: I still don't completely understand how to play the game such as how to select one crew member once they're all standing on top of each other (I usually use the arrow keys on the top but it's time consuming to cycle through crew members... hold the train! A most recent update to the game now gives you a crew member selection panel which is a welcome addition. Unfortunately you can't seem to scroll left while it's open though). I also have no idea how combat works since sometimes your crew members fire on hostile fauna but other times they don't do anything.
  • Lack of variety: While each of the planets I've landed on so far seem to differ enough space stations are often pretty bland and the differences between crew members is hardly noticeable (at least among the Humans). I guess it doesn't help that the game is animated using pixelated retro graphics either.
  • Primitive, linear conversation tree: Conversations are similar to games like Diablo, i.e. your input doesn't really matter and it's mainly for information purposes. Don't expect to find complex conversations trees that you often get in point ‘n' click adventures or RPGs
  • Lots of micromanagement: The game requires a lot of micromanagement so Thank God they've got the pause button since it'd be otherwise impossible. Imagine the combat in FTL: Faster than Light except with five ships! That's right, five ships. That's a lot of crew members scurrying around to their respective stations, putting out fires, sealing holes in the hull and fending off intruders. Oh, and unlike FTL you can move the ships around in combat too adding even greater difficulty!
  • Some extra polish needed: The game has a few typos and you're also able to die in the tutorial (without the game letting you know it): one time my entire crew died except a “dronecopter" so the game thought I still had crew left when realistically I didn't since the dronecopter is unable to man the navigation station meaning I was destined to drift in space forever!

Verdict:

There's still many more worlds left for me to explore so I'm going to continue giving Interstellaria a go for the immediate future. Hopefully it can keep my interest long enough to even finish the main storyline, but that will be dependent on how difficult the remainder of the game is and how much grind I'll have to endure. At least the music is good… too bad I didn't back at that level in the original Kickstarter!

[ LINK: Official Interstellaria Website ]