Saturday, August 31, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #9 Corey and Lori Ann Cole

Corey and Lori Ann Cole a few years ago

Famous for: Quest for Glory series
Affiliations: Sierra On-Line

Corey and Lori Ann Cole are a husband and wife team of developers who are most famous for their Quest for Glory series of adventure/RPG hybrid games. Corey and Lori were into role-playing games long before they joined Sierra On-Line in 1988 but their experience with RPGs shows in their first game, Hero's Quest. Hero's Quest (later renamed to Quest for Glory for legal reasons) was released in 1989 and they continued to create four sequels to the game, with the final game, Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire being released in 1998.

Last year, along with other Sierra alumni, the Coles launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for a new adventure/RPG hybrid game called Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. The funding campaign was a success and the game is now currently in development.

The reasons the Coles are on my list are for several reasons that could possibly be summarised by this video I made for a GOG competition awhile back:

If you don't want to watch the video the main reasons are:

  1. First Example of an Adventure/RPG hybrid that I've played
  2. First time I've employed alternative class-based solutions in an adventure game
  3. First time I've been able to import characters across several games

A combination of these factors meant the Quest for Glory games brought innovation to the graphical adventure game genre. It's also interesting to note that it was not until Mass Effect that I played a game where you were able to export your characters to sequels. This is why I consider the QFG series ahead of its time and which is why Corey and Lori Ann Cole are in the top 10.

Up next at #8 an industry veteran who is probably the most controversial choice on this list.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #10 Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe

The Two Guys from Andromeda - back in the good ol' days

Famous for: Space Quest series
Affiliations: Sierra On-Line

Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy (aka as the Two Guys from Andromeda) are the creative minds behind one of Sierra On-Line's most beloved adventure game series, Space Quest. Both of them started working at Sierra On-Line in the 1980s and the first project they worked on was Black Cauldron which was released in 1986. After completing a four-room demo for a new sci-fi game, they received the green light to create the first Space Quest game, the Sarien Encounter.

The two split up in 1991 after development of Space Quest IV and work on Space Quest V and 6 were done by Crowe and Murphy respectively. Space Quest 6 was the last official Space Quest game released and that was 18 years ago now. Last year, however, the two reunited as a team again and pitched a Kickstarter to create a new sci-fi comedy adventure tentatively called SpaceVenture. The funding campaign was a success and the game is currently in development with a demo being released not that long ago.

The reason these guys are on my list are the fact I've played every Space Quest game and while the latter games weren't terribly revolutionary, the stories, characters, puzzles, locations and of course, Roger Wilco, were all memorable. The success of their Kickstarter and the fact there are several fan remakes is a testament to how many Space Quest fans are still out there – even though almost two decades have passed since the last game.

Up next in the #9 slot, another Sierra On-Line duo.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers

One thing I've always wondered was if there was a way I could go through my list of PC games I've played and objectively rank the developers of these games based on how many of their games I've played and how good they were. Obviously, there's always some subjectivity inherent in judging how good a game is but it was an interesting exercise nonetheless to see if who I generally think are great developers matched the methodology I employed to rank them.

So basically, what I did was got my list of games I've played over the years and then determined who the main designer/developer/producer/writer was behind the game. Already there is some potential for inaccuracies here not to mention it's difficult to gather the credits for some games. Valve games for example are notorious in just lumping everyone's name together in the same group so you never truly know who is the main creative mind behind the game.

Anyway, on I went assigning developers to the games. Once I had done that, I went through each game and gave it a ranking from 0-3 with the following meanings:

0 = A game I played. Didn't think much of it.
1 = A worthwhile and good game.
2 = A game that redefined a genre – or one that revitalised it (e.g. what Diablo did for hack 'n' slash actions RPGs)
3 = A totally new concept or revolutionary game. Ones that start a genre.

After that I did a count of the score assigned to each of more than 250 developers then ranked it in descending order. I then picked the top 10 from this list although this was tricky for the last few since 6 developers (or developer teams) had the same rating. I then used personal preference to pick the remaining four, so I can tell you now that unfortunately John Romero and Tim Willits (both iD Software veterans) didn't make the cut.

Over the next few days I shall be posting a countdown of my Top 10 PC Game developers as a result of the analysis and will be revealing them one by one on this post. I will reveal the developers that make it in at #10 in my next post and these guys should be no stranger to sci-fi fans playing games in the 80s and 90s.

  1. Will Wright
  2. Sid Meier
  3. Chris Roberts
  4. Ron Gilbert
  5. Tom Hall
  6. Brett Sperry
  7. Chris Avellone
  8. Peter Molyneux
  9. Corey and Lori Ann Cole
  10. Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe

So who are your favourite PC game developers and why?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

EA trademarks life

I didn't know life was able to be trademarked. Worth a shot though hey?

Well that seems to be the case if the new The Sims 4 website is any indication. Checking out the "Ways to Play" section of the site has this to say about the game:

"Fulfill your Sims(TM) needs explore their aspirations and experience how they respond to life(TM)s moments."

Wow EA, I knew you guys wanted to rule the world and claim credit for everything but life itself?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Spiritual Successor to Police Quest put on hold for now

Bad boys bad boys. Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you...

Just over 2 weeks ago, Robert Lindsley and Jim Walls decided to cancel their Kickstarter project seeking funds for a spiritual successor to the Police Quest games known as Precinct. Instead of going through Kickstarter, the Precinct team decided to seek funding on their own website using a tiered staging model where backers would only need to pay $1 in order to get access to the full game.

This weekend, Jim Walls sent an email to all Precinct backers that the project has been put on hold for now. The email is below:

Dear Precinct Fans and Backers,

Unfortunately, it appears our timing for the presentation of Precinct just wasn't right. So, sadly, I'm writing to inform you that further production will be set aside at this time.

I want to thank each and everyone of you from the bottom of my heart for all the support and encouragement you have shown throughout this campaign. It was great fun hooking up and talking with some of the old fans once again. I have to say, Sierra fans are the greatest!

Also, I want to thank the Precinct team for their long hours and the many sacrifices they all made during our campaign. It was a labor of love for sure! I especially want to give two thumbs up to Tiny Castle Studios for the great job they did with the Precinct presentation. Your hard work, sacrifice and belief in the project was inspirational. It was great working with you all.

This is not the end! Precinct will rise again! It's too good not to.

Stay in touch!

Jim Walls

While I'm sad that progress has halted it's reassuring to hear that they haven't given up all hope yet on bringing Precinct to the table. Here's hoping they take the time to plan for a second Kickstarter project with better thought out tiers, increased communication with backers and more information about the game itself.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #95 - The Secret of Monkey Island - Ghost Ship Shuffle

Original Soundtrack composed by: Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell and Patric Mundy

This track plays when Guybrush visits LeChuck's ghost ship, deep under Monkey Island, in a lake of lava. Guybrush is of course invisible for the whole time so that the pirates aren't aware of his presence. This particular track, more than any other on the CD version of the Monkey Island soundtrack, demonstrated what was possible with the "new" (at that time) medium. The chilling sound effect at 00:31 blew me away when I first heard it. The high production values of the tracks is probably why this game's soundtrack is etched into my memory.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Four Ways of Saving Your Game

After finishing the zombie platformer Deadlight recently, I decided to have a bit of a rant about how games implement their save game systems. I've found that from the games I've played there are generally four kinds of ways that games are saved:

1. Invisible auto-save points only

With this approach the player isn't given any indication of where game’s save points are and they have no means of manually saving a game at any point in time. The game auto-saves at pre-determined points in the game that are invisible to the player. Usually many arcade games, platformers and console games employ this mechanic. Deadlight sits in this category.

Just realised that the current generation probably doesn't know what a floppy disk looks like

2. Visible auto-save points only

This is one step up from type 1 in that you’re still stuck with one auto-save file that’s overwritten however the player is aware with a visual cue where the save point actually is. This is also often found in arcade games and platformers.

3. Manual saving of game

This gives the player the freedom to save whenever they want. It doesn't have an autosave feature though which is bad if you happened to forget to save at a certain point but that’s why you learn to save early and save often. Often found in older adventure games, RPGs and strategy games.

4. Manual saving of game with autosaves

This is intended to give the best of both worlds in that the game autosaves your progress at particular points but the player has the option to also save the game whenever they want. Common in the RPGs and strategy games of the past decade.

Okay there's probably more than the four I've listed but they’re either uncommon or don’t exist as a modern save game mechanic (remember remembering lines of code in order to save your progress?).

You could also argue that by giving the user choice on when to save the game you’re also making the game much easier to beat. This is true which is why I believe there has to be some kind of compromise dependent on the game’s genre and difficulty.

Basically I believe that all options here are valid and bearable except for Type 1. Type 1 should not exist at all nowadays yet while playing Deadlight this is exactly what happened. At one point in the game, it took me maybe 50 times to get past a puzzle (thanks to dodgy keyboard controls) but shortly after that I had to go out. I was hoping that straight after the puzzle the game would automatically save itself however this wasn't the case when I returned which infuriated me to no end.

Type 1 could still exist if the auto-saves occurred so frequently that you wouldn't lose much progress if you had to restart (e.g. The Cave), however this was not the case in Deadlight. Ideally game developers will realise that Type 1 is not the way to go anymore and it’s quite simple to adopt less annoying save game mechanisms with minimal effort. Having the player punished by replaying several minutes (or even hours) of gameplay only to get to the same point they were in the first place isn't acceptable nowadays – maybe 20 years ago, but times have changed.

So what do you think? Has there ever been a time where you've been infuriated by the way save games work in a game? Or do you think they should make games more difficult i.e. all of them employing "ironman" mode as the only way to play?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Trine 2 Review

Rock me Amadeus!

  • Developer: Frozenbyte
  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Release Date: 7 December 2011

If it weren't for Steam Sales I wouldn't be so anxious when viewing my backlog of games – since it is indeed a huge backlog. However, when Trine 2 went on sale and I saw it was selling three-packs, it was an offer too good to refuse. Why would I say that? Well I've been meaning to find a good co-op game for me and my wife to play together; something which had relatively easy controls to use, no RPG-style statistics and preferably puzzles. Trine 2 seemed to tick all of those boxes so I decided to purchase a copy for myself, one for my wife and one for fellow reviewer, Choona as part of the three-pack. After playing through the main campaign and the expansion, Goblin Menace, I've managed to clock over 12 hours and am now ready to review the game.

Plot (2/5)
There isn't really much to say about the story except that three adventurers known as Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Warrior and Zoya the Thief are contacted by a mysterious magical object known as the Trine. The Trine leads these adventurers on a new quest to determine what has corrupted the nearby forest. There is also a Goblin Menace expansion included in the Trine 2 Complete version of the game which is a follow-up to the main story. The Goblin Menace features the party attempting to save Amadeus's wife who has been kidnapped by goblins.

The plot is pretty much told in the manner of a children's fairy tale so the language used is very simple, the tone is quite condescending, and cringe-worthy lines and humour abound.

Gameplay (4/5)
The game is a co-op puzzle platformer where you’re able to control three characters: Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Warrior and Zoya the Thief (the typical three archetypes in any fantasy RPG). Each of the characters have different approaches to solving the numerous puzzles and obstacles that stand in your way – some of them even require cooperation amongst the party members.

Puzzles in the game are generally physics based and most of them are fun to solve. I love it how Amadeus can conjure objects out of thin air so you’re able to create bridges to span chasms or boxes to climb on top on. The other characters have powerful abilities too; Pontius is arguably the best at combating lesser enemies like goblins and can use his shield to deflect incoming projectiles. Zoya is able to use a rope and grapple in order to swing to hard-to-reach places. She is also able to dispatch enemies with a bow and arrow.

At the beginning of the game the characters only have basic skills but as you collect blue elixirs that are dotted around the levels, you'll eventually gain enough to go up in level. When you go up in level you'll have the opportunity to select which skills you want from a skill tree, Diablo-style.

"The game probably has the best graphics I've ever seen in a puzzle platformer. It has exceptional, colourful visuals with awesome lighting effects."

Sound (3/5)
Voice acting is okay but most of it sounds like it belongs in a cartoon or children's show.

Music (4/5)
The game has good music. Nothing memorable but it’s what you'd expect from a magical fantasy adventure.

Graphics (5/5)
The game probably has the best graphics I've ever seen in a puzzle platformer. It has exceptional, colourful visuals with awesome lighting effects. The backgrounds for each level are also terrific giving the illusion of a great expanse.

Replay (2/5)
I'm unlikely to go back and play the game unless another friend wishes to experience the adventure. There are multiple ways to approach puzzles in the game but Trine 2's main narrative is still somewhat linear. There are a lot of achievements to gather, though.

Polish (3/5)
The game is generally well polished except I did encounter a couple of times where the cutscenes simply did not load or an object would become stuck in the terrain meaning you're unable to progress past a certain point. Thankfully, these occurrences are rare.

Score – 7/10

While Trine 2 usually has multiple ways of approaching puzzles, the overall plot is rather linear meaning it doesn't really encourage replays. The plot is also a cringe-worthy children's fairy tale but if you can get past these flaws, you'll find a beautiful and fun puzzle co-op game that is suitable for casual gamers, puzzle fanatics or your kids.

If you want to get the game, you can get it off Steam.

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


Friday, August 16, 2013

DICE reveals more about field upgrades in Battlefield 4

The Battlefield Blog was updated recently with even more information about DICE and EA's upcoming game, Battlefield 4. This post talks about a few things but mainly the way field upgrades will work.

Here are what I believe to be the highlights of the post:

  • BF4 will retain the same four classes as Battlefield 3
  • DICE claims the classes are more versatile and specialised at the same time. In reality I think it's leaning towards more versatile
  • Wire-guided Anti-Tank Weapons are back
  • The Support class now gets a remote mortar
  • Carbines and DMRs seem to be common weapons that all classes can pick
  • Both recon and support classes get C4 and claymores.
  • Snipers can now zero their sights
  • Instead of a SOFLAM, Recon now get a portable laser designator
  • Suppressing fire is back but its adverse effects are only more noticeable when it comes from a support class
  • Performing teamwork rewards points which go towards field upgrades.
  • There are four levels to the field upgrades and it looks like there will be two generic ones (attack and defense) and two class-specific ones for each class.
  • DICE have asked for fans to vote on a fifth field upgrade.
  • All field upgrades save for three are infantry based. The three vehicle ones are old BF2 abilities (e.g. ability to auto-repair nearby vehicles while in one)

It's a bit of a mixed bag. While I like the fact they've reintroduced old abilities/features (e.g. wire-guided anti-tank weapons, BF2 vehicle abilities, etc.) I'm actually not a big fan of the four-class model of BF3 nor do I like the idea that some classes are merging even closer together (e.g. both recon and support getting C4) meaning you'll end up with a team of jacks-of-all-trades. What do you think of the new BF4 features?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #94 - The Secret of Monkey Island - Following the Shopkeeper (Melee Forest)

Original Soundtrack composed by: Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell and Patric Mundy

This track plays whenever Guybrush visits the forest of Melee Island. Not only are you meant to search for treasure in the forest but you also follow the town's shopkeeper here in order to find the location of Carla the Swordmaster's cottage. Carla eventually becomes one of the three crewmates that accompanies Guybrush on his voyage to Monkey Island and she not only appears in the first Monkey Island but also the fourth, Escape from Monkey Island.

Another piece of random trivia for you: Did you know that the mugshot for the original Carla was based off a Lucasfilm employee also named Carla (Carla Green was head of product support)?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #93 - The Secret of Monkey Island - LeChuck's Theme

Original Soundtrack composed by: Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell and Patric Mundy

This is the theme that plays whenever Guybrush Threepwood's nemesis, the zombie pirate LeChuck, appears on the screen. I'm pretty sure the theme is used in just about every Monkey Island game in fact.

And now for some interesting trivia about LeChuck. Ron Gilbert, the creator of the character, was influenced by the characters in the novel "On Stranger Tides" - especially their heavy use of voodoo, which LeChuck loves so much. Also the "Chuck" portion of the name comes from a Lucasfilm general manager Steve Arnold who told Gilbert that he really liked the name Chuck and would like to see it appear in more games (Chuck the Plant anyone?)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded, FTL, World of Goo and Monaco soundtracks all for $1

As this guy in Robocop says:

"I'd buy that for a dollar!"

Seems that the latest Game Music Bundle (which is apparently up to number 5 - would be nice to know about the ones that came before it) have quite a few gems in it. Not only do they have the jazzy Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded soundtrack by Austin Wintory but it also has the brilliant sci-fi chiptunes of FTL thanks to Ben Prunty. Monaco's soundtrack (also by Austin Wintory) and the World of Goo soundtrack are also not to be sneezed at. For $1 you can get all the following soundtracks:

  • Monaco: What's Your Is Mine
  • FTL: Faster than Light - Original Soundtrack
  • FEZ: Original Soundtrack
  • Gunpoint - The Soundtrack
  • Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded
  • World of Goo Soundtrack

Pay a bit extra at $10 and you can receive these:

  • FZ: Side F
  • FZ: Side Z
  • Monaco: The Gentleman's Private Collection
  • The Forge
  • Hero of Many
  • Marble Time: Original Soundtrack
  • Super Panda Adventures
  • Anodyne Remix Album
  • Frog Factions
  • Little Inferno Soundtrack
  • Anodyne
  • Me and My Dinosaur 2 Official Soundtrack
  • Drox Operative Soundtrack

It's an absolute bargain at this price, considering normally you'd be spending $6 for one of the soundtracks (still awfully cheap but now it's insanely cheap).

Monday, August 12, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #92 - The Secret of Monkey Island - The SCUMM Bar

Original Soundtrack composed by: Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell and Patric Mundy

Ah the SCUMM Bar. A den of cutthroat, grog-swilling pigs... I mean pirates. This is where Guybrush learns about the Three Trials he needs to perform in order to prove he has what it takes to become a pirate. Incidentally, SCUMM is an acronym that stands for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion and was the scripting tool that was used in all early Lucasarts point 'n' click adventure games.

Today, you can play the following classic Lucasarts adventure games using ScummVM (which is an emulator of sorts):

  • Maniac Mansion
  • Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Loom
  • Passport to Adventure
  • The Secret of Monkey Island
  • Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge
  • Day of the Tentacle
  • Sam & Max Hit the Road
  • Full Throttle
  • The Dig
  • Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
  • The Curse of Monkey Island

They also support several other games.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #91 - The Secret of Monkey Island - Introduction (Main Theme)

Original Soundtrack composed by: Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell and Patric Mundy

And now onto the soundtrack of another classic Lucasarts adventure, the Secret of Monkey Island! This game is one of my favourite adventure games of all time and I really enjoyed the remake they did in 2009. In fact, I liked it so much it won Choicest Games of the Year award for that year :).

This particular music plays when the main credits roll at the beginning of the game with the starting island, Melee Island, in the background. Guybrush Threepwood starts off his adventure above the town as he introduces himself to the lookout. Unfortunately, even though Guybrush wants to be a pirate he's told he looks more like a flooring inspector.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

SimCity (2013) Review

City of Thamesbridge at night with a neighbouring city in the distance

  • Developer: Maxis
  • Publisher: EA Games
  • Release Date: 7 March 2013

I've played every SimCity in the main series since the original game was released back in 1989. For a bit over a decade, sequels to the original game were pumped out in 1994 (SimCity 2000), 1999 (SimCity 3000) and 2003 (SimCity 4). Not counting SimCity Societies (which was more of a spin-off than a true sequel to SimCity 4), SimCity fans have had to wait an entire decade for an official, Maxis-built sequel. So earlier this year, Maxis finally released a new SimCity game, with the same name as the original, implying that it's meant to be a reboot. Up until the months preceding release, all the press was really positive about the game. It was only after a couple of betas and the game's launch that doubts about the game started to emerge. Regardless, being a true fan, I decided to give Maxis and EA the benefit of the doubt and try out the latest addition to the ground-breaking SimCity series.

Gameplay (3/5)
The primary goal of SimCity remains the same, i.e. there is none. SimCity is a sandbox game where you play the role of a city mayor/urban planner. Your job is to provide the necessary infrastructure (roads, power, water, etc.), services (police, fire, health, etc.) and zoning (residential, commercial and industrial) to encourage the growth of a thriving metropolis. In the new SimCity you have to be logged in to the SimCity servers in order to play but arguably the biggest addition to the new SimCity is the ability to play with your friends. Friends can claim neighbouring cities in a region and then you are able to share money, services and commuters amongst yourselves. The new SimCity also allows your city to have one of six "specialisations": Mining, Petroleum, Electronics, Trading, Gambling and Tourism. Specialisations have unique buildings you can build which can greatly enhance your economy. Products from some of these specialisations also help in the construction of Great Works, projects that cities in a region can collaborate on such as an International Airport or Space Centre.

I have a love/hate relationship with the new SimCity. On one hand, the game still retains that addictive quality that its predecessors had – namely starting out with a small village and watching it grow and prosper into a metropolis (well maybe not quite a metropolis – the plots are too small for that). In fact, the new one feels even more like a living city thanks to the citizens (aka "agents") driving back and forth between workplaces and residences meaning each city will feel unique in this regard. I've spent more than 100 hours playing the new SimCity and this is even with the small plots you’re given to build your city on (although it may be because of the small plots that I've played it so much).

What I hate about the game are quite a few things though (besides the fact I couldn't play the game at all in the first few days – more on that later) and the list is so exhaustive that I had to address the status of these bugs and issues in a separate blog post. While it might be reassuring to know many of the bugs have been fixed, the major game design flaws are still there.

One of the major design flaws is that you’re no longer just the city council in charge of urban planning of residential, commercial and industrial zones and associated infrastructure. Thanks to the aforementioned specialisations, you’re now also in charge of coal mines, electronics factories and casinos – things that are usually in the domain of private enterprise. This just further reinforces the fact that the new SimCity is all about micromanagement instead of macromanagement. I like to think of the new SimCity as a bonsai bush and the old SimCity as a vegetable patch. In the new SimCity, just like the bonsai, you have a very small plot of dirt to work with which requires consistent attention and care. Veggie patches (the old SimCitys) were much larger patches of dirt that required minimal attention besides planting the seeds, giving them a little water and then watching them grow. Basically, the old SimCitys had a more realistic, hands-off approach than what you have now.

"I like to think of the new SimCity as a bonsai bush and the old SimCity as a vegetable patch.

Sound (5/5)
As you zoom in on your city you can hear all the background noises such as cars driving around, police car sirens blaring and crowds cheering at the Expo Centre. On the data/infographic layers you can hear switches being flipped on the power layer and taps turning on for the water layer. It really helps immerse you into the game and helps create the illusion your city is living and breathing.

Music (5/5)
I feel quite sorry for Chris Tilton, composer of the SimCity soundtrack. He put a lot of effort into the soundtrack but it’s sadly been overlooked thanks to all the focus on gameplay issues since the game’s release. The music in the game changes as your city and region become larger, starting off as minimalist country music and eventually turning into an grandiose orchestral piece. The music even plays in beat with what is happening on the screen on the slowest speed (or so Maxis claims). There’s pretty much only one leitmotif at play here but it’s a good one in a John Williams kind of way.

Graphics (4/5)
On the graphics front, the game is remarkably detailed and the cities look beautiful. You even have several filters to play with when taking screenshots (similar to Instagram) although the cynic in me says this proves even more what the focus of this game is – i.e. style over substance. You do encounter the occasional graphics glitch though, like buildings being built on roads (although I believe this has since been fixed), roads disappearing into the earth and objects in the foreground and background sometimes appearing blurry when zooming in. It's also a pity that you only get a low-res view of neighbouring cities in the distance.

The Orange and Teal filter applied to a SimCity screenshot

Replay (2/5)
I played SimCity a lot during my first run but then it quickly loses its sheen once you realise how much is broken behind-the-scenes. To be fair you'll probably end up replaying this game quite a few times and for tens of hours (I did) but that's probably more to do with the the plots being so small so it doesn't take long before there isn't much you can do with a particular city anymore. Also the several hours were probably due to simply waiting for things to happen. For example, it takes a really long time to wait for University research to unlock new technologies, probably an hour or two real-time, although this is dependent on how many students attend if I'm not mistaken.

Polish (0/5)
The game was a buggy mess for the first week which is inexcusable considering the betas they had; they knew that the server load was going to be an issue from the start. Many players (including myself) couldn't even connect to play the game in the first few days. Over time, the network connectivity issues subsided through a combination of feature disabling, patches and additional servers. However the damage was already done. Even now, a few months after release, there are still lingering issues with the game that haven't been addressed although thankfully the major ones that prevented people from playing at all have mostly been addressed.

Let this be a lesson on how not to resurrect a well respected franchise. Thanks to the bungled SimCity launch, I no longer have faith in Maxis making a decent gaming experience. It’s just not the same ace studio it used to be.

Score – 7/10

The new SimCity is a casual, online-only, sandbox game involving lots of micromanagement with little useful data to guide your actions. The pretty miniature cities means you can create great looking desktop wallpapers but that's about all it's really good for once you've figured the game out. This is fine if that's what you're looking for in this game but it’s about as far from the original SimCity formula as you can get. While Maxis should be lauded for being bold and trying something new the design and implementation was so poorly done they may have done irreversible damage to their reputation.

If you want to get the game, you can get it off Origin

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


Thursday, August 8, 2013

State of the SimCity aka "Is it safe to buy SimCity yet?"

It's always rush hour in the city of Thamesbridge

I'm just about ready to review SimCity which was released in March this year but there are actually quite a few gamers out there who have either
  1. bought SimCity at the start, /ragequitted after the serious launch issues and vowed to only return when all the bugs were fixed, or
  2. refrained from buying SimCity in the first place based on the feedback from group (a).
These people would undoubtedly be curious to know whether the game is any less buggier after five months. Surely Maxis have had enough time to make the game bug-free, right? I examine some of the most common bugs and issues that I have experienced and give the lowdown of where the game is now at after Update 6.0.

Connection/save game issues [FIXED]:
When the game was first released people couldn't even play the game and losing progress on your cities was common. With fixing of the netcode and heaps more servers (plus players leaving) this problem has more or less been fixed.

Education bug [FIXED]:
At one stage students attending your school would just dwindle into oblivion meaning if you ran a nuclear power plant, it would inevitably meltdown (not to mention crime skyrocketing, power consumption increasing, etc.). This appears to be fixed (after playing on Update 6.0 for a couple of hours)

Casino/Tourism bug [FIXED]:
Or at least the issue isn't as severe as it initially was. Last time I played there were still issues with the most expensive casino in the game but at least all the other ones were raking in the dollars. The cause of the bug were tourists not coming into the city until the others left meaning there was a lull where no tourists were in the city at all.

Trading between cities [FIXED]:
Apparently they have fixed this but I haven't actually tested it yet. I received some money from a fellow player in a recent game though :)

Traffic Pathing Issues [PARTIALLY FIXED]:
I think this will forever be a problem with SimCity although they did make some improvements early on. Originally, cars would only take the most direct route. That's still the case except now cars that notice a particular segment is clogged up will take an alternate route. I've received reports though that trucks coming from outside the city to replenish coal power stations can still get stuck though (another reason to stick with renewables and nuclear power) and freight trucks can sometimes not make it to businesses if traffic is too congested in your city.

Conflicting Messages [PARTIALLY FIXED]:
Some of the messaging is better but I'm still getting silly messages like a factory closing that says there are "No places to send freight to" and then my zoning button flashing red and the advisor saying "We don't have enough freight!" D: Obviously a traffic issue but maybe they should mention that's what the real issue is instead of misleading the player?

Inadvertent griefing [WILL PROBABLY NEVER BE FIXED]:
This just seems to be a "feature" of the game. Thanks to the inclusion of multiplayer, neighbouring cities can help yet also hinder your progress. i.e. if crime or pollution gets out of hand this will adversely affect your city. A great degree of cooperation is required if you want to function as a unit. Not exactly a bug but just a potential design flaw. Especially an issue when you abandon a city and you think the criminals will magically disappear: they don’t.

Only real-time data: No historical data [WILL PROBABLY NEVER BE FIXED]:
Similar to the Conflicting messages point. The fact you only get real-time alerts means you don't really know how well your city is doing in the long-term and whether things are improving or getting worse. This means you can’t actually do any city planning which is what the original SimCity games were all about. Instead you are reacting to any crises or issues that crop up.

Finite water [PARTIALLY FIXED]:
Rain apparently occurs more often (and I've noticed it occurs quite frequently on the current map I'm playing) so at least the water table has a better chance of replenishing itself in the recent patches. However, water along with the other resources, are still finite so if you end up with a huge city you'll probably still need a secondary city to provide utilities.

I can understand being online all the time in order to play multiplayer but considering this game can be played single player there should be an option for an offline mode.

Maxis claims that plots were made purposefully small so that people on modest systems could still enjoy the experience. While there may be some truth to this there's still a big enough backlash from fans to make this one of the numero uno complaints. Unfortunately, I can't see them fixing this anytime soon – unless they decided to introduce new maps with larger plots (with a warning to users that it may have an adverse impact on performance for modest systems).

TL;DR: Most of the major bugs have been fixed yet the game’s design flaws still remain.

So that’s my take on the current state of SimCity. Do you agree or disagree with the points made? What has your experience been so far? Are you planning to get back into SimCity or buy it for the first time?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Jim Walls's Precinct Kickstarter cancelled

I suspect Jim is shaking his head about the Kickstarter too...

Yesterday, Robert Lindsley, Executive Producer for Jim Walls’s spiritual successor to Police Quest known as Precinct, announced that the Kickstarter campaign was officially cancelled.

This doesn’t mean the end for the project though as Robert and Jim have relaunched the project on their own website and are seeking funds for a new "staged funding" model. The staged funding model is below:

  1. Playable Proof of Concept (PC and Mac) = $25,000
  2. Vertical Slice (PC and Mac) = $90,000
  3. Game Demo (PC and Mac) = $250,000
  4. Full Game Development Budget (PC and Mac) = $400,000

Apparently you can donate as much as you want – even $1 will get you a copy of the game.

Robert said that the reason they didn’t continue to use Kickstarter was for several reasons, however the short version is that not all money necessarily goes to development costs with Kickstarters thanks to special rewards for higher tiers and the funding campaign only goes for a finite time, meaning anyone wanting to back the project later, can’t.

Reaction from Kickstarter backers have been mixed with concerns about what happens if funding goals aren’t reached (e.g.. early backers are charged for nothing more than a demo) and how long the game would take to complete with a trickle of funding coming in. The more optimistic backers reiterate that you have to think of the new method as a means of donating money to a developer you respect, with the very real chance you won’t get a finished game – if you don’t have the disposable income though, don’t back it.

Robert has indicated that PayPal will become a payment method soon. Once that occurs I’ll probably chip in some money towards the project. Personally I’m still excited for this project and I’m probably one of those people that would prefer to just get the game instead of all the other Kickstarter rewards. What I did like about Kickstarter is that it could encourage those who wanted their 15 minutes of fame by being included in the game or credits to pledge more money. That option is going to be absent now so it’ll be interesting to see if they can still succeed without the perks that come with a Kickstarter.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #90 - Loom - The Blacksmiths

Original Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Transcribed by: George Alistair Sanger and Gary Hammond

For our final Loom track we have the music that plays when you visit the Guild of Blacksmiths. Did you know that they live in a giant anvil? Yeah I only noticed that recently - shows how observant I was when I was younger :). Rusty Nailbender is one of its members that you befriend (although it gets off to a shaky start, I won't reveal why).

Here's another bit of trivia: Brian Moriarty, designer of Loom actually considered making Loom the first in a trilogy of games thanks to some vague interest in continuing the story. If Brian had the time and the interest there would've been a game called Forge and The Fold with Rusty Nailbender and Fleece Firmshanks as the protagonists respectively. However they never saw the light of day.

Brian Moriarty is apparently not in the game business anymore. As of 2009, he was appointed Professor of Practice in Game Design in the Interactive Media and Game Development program at Worcester Polytech.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gratuitous Space Battles Review


  • Developer: Positech Games
  • Publisher: Positech Games
  • Release Date: 17 November 2009

I actually dabbled a bit with this game initially and while I liked the idea that you got to design your own ships and then fight with them, I didn't think the scope of the game was enough when compared to the likes of say, Master of Orion, where you also got to do the empire building part. I was also ambivalent about not being able to control your units during combat. On one hand, this is realistic if you’re a ship designer. It’s the place of the admirals and their officers to conduct warfare after all. You’re just a helpless observer to the carnage. On the other, it could potentially mean the game is not fun.

Thanks to the addition of Steam Trading Cards to this game though, I decided "what the heck" I’ll give this game another shot. Maybe I was too harsh with my early and short assessment of the game?


Plot (N/A)
There are some background stories related to each of the type of fleets you can design but that’s about it.

Gameplay (1/5)
The gameplay seems pretty basic: design ships, fight battles with the ships, gain honour for winning and then use that honour to unlock more weapons and ships. Repeat. However due to the huge number of combinations of weapons, armour, shields, gadgets, ship hulls and tactics – the game is far from simple for your average player.

Unfortunately, as much as I respect Cliffski, I simply just don’t find the game fun. While there is feedback in the form of pie charts to show how effectively (or ineffectively) your fleet fought, it’s not very intuitive. Since the battle is in real-time too, unlike the Master of Orion games where it’s turn-based, you aren't given enough opportunities to digest how effective certain designs are. So the game pretty much becomes an exercise in trial and error until you discover a good combo.

Mmmmm pie... wait this is meant to help me win battles?

Sound (3/5)
Sound effects are fine; they consist of the typical sound of lasers firing and ships exploding.

Music (3/5)
The game contains appropriately epic space opera battle music.

Graphics (4/5)
Graphics aren't 3D but you don't really need them to be and the high-res 2D graphics serves the game well. Explosions and damage taken from hits have great animations.

Replay (1/5)
The only thing that would tempt me to play the game again is multiplayer with friends. The game doesn't really have a storyline campaign per se – just a series of battles to fight.

Polish (4/5)
The UI isn't too bad. It has tooltips on mostly everything although it is an old-school interface of sorts, i.e. stats are readily available which is good but it’d be nice if there was a more intuitive way or even simple tips to show the pros and cons of each weapon, i.e. which situations you would use them and which ones you wouldn't.

Score – 5/10

While initially a game that takes the best parts of the Master of Orion series, namely the ship design and combat sequences, sounds like a great idea on paper, it’s a tricky thing to implement well. Gratuitous Space Battles does the ship designing component admirably and while I can understand and appreciate the player not being able to micro-manage the battle (you are a ship designer after all) the game is unfortunately less fun. This is exacerbated by the fact that when losing a battle it’s not terribly clear why, even with pie charts staring at you in the face.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam .

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


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #89 - Loom - Crystalgard

Original Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Transcribed by: George Alistair Sanger and Gary Hammond

The world of Loom is set during the Age of the Great Guilds. Consequently the world is organised into groups of people by what their profession is. The main character, Bobbin Threadbare, is a member of the Guild of Weavers. This particular track is played when Bobbin meets Master Goodmold for the first time, a member of the Guild of Glassmakers. One interesting legend that Master Goodmold asks Bobbin is whether peering under a Weaver's hood brings instant, agonising death. Bobbin is unable to give a definitive answer. Like a good salesman, before Goodmold departs he tells Bobbin:

"And remember, if you break it, you buy it!"

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Karateka Review

MORTALLL KOMBAAAT. Dun dun dun dun du-dun dun dun dun dun du-dun....

  • Developer: Liquid Entertainment
  • Publisher: Karateka LLC
  • Release Date:4 December 2012

Awhile back I vaguely remember playing the original Karateka. It had blocky CGA graphics which seems very primitive yet the animations were surprisingly fluid for its time. This is mainly thanks to rotoscoping which Jordan Mechner would use in probably his most famous game, Prince of Persia. The game’s premise was simple. Run from one screen to the next fighting any enemies along the way using karate as your weapon. Obviously, this was easier said than done and you only had one life. Once you died it was game over (permadeath is such a rarity in games nowadays).

So almost 30 years later, Jordan Mechner has made a remake to his 1984 classic. As I never really progressed that far in the original, curiosity got the better of me to rediscover what Karateka was all about.

Plot (2/5)
Okay there’s not really much to say about the game’s plot as it’s the clich├ęd damsel in distress scenario. Basically you play one of three characters: the True Love, the Monk and the Brute. You start off playing as the True Love but if he is defeated he is replaced by the Monk and if the Monk is defeated he is replaced by the Brute. All three are trying to rescue a girl named Mariko who has been kidnapped by the evil Akuma. Along the way to Akuma’s palace, you will fight against countless enemies in martial combat.

Also the pedant in me doesn't understand why the powerful strikes in the game require chi (or "qi" as it’s spelt nowadays) when it’s a Chinese concept. It’s like the reverse of the Karate Kid remake being set in China. Coincidentally, the original Karate Kid was also released in 1984, just like the original Apple II release of Karateka.

The big boss - Akuma.

Gameplay (3/5)
Okay. On one hand, I enjoyed timing my blocks to ensure I could counter-attack my opponents. That’s basically the game in a nutshell. Keep defending against opponent attacks, counter-attack, defeat opponent then move on to the next opponent. Eventually your next opponent will be Akuma himself.

Some might deride this as Quick Time Events (QTE) which is only half-true. With QTE you have to hit different keys and they usually give you substantially more time. This is more like a rhythm game except you have to interpret the right visual cues. Against opponents at the beginning it’s relatively easy to counter their attacks but later on it becomes a bit more difficult since the opponents perform feints to lure you into blocking too early. Timing is everything in this game, just like real martial arts. Although, unlike real martial arts you only need to worry about timing the block not which direction it’s coming from.

Sound (4/5)
There’s no talking whatsoever in this – similar to the original I guess! It’s good since they really didn't need to – also means they could save money on translation costs I suppose :)

Music (4/5)
Christopher Tin was responsible for this soundtrack and while it’s pretty minimalist and not as memorable as his efforts on Civilization IV (Baba Yetu) he's done a good job with incorporating authentic Japanese instruments into it. Even better is that there are musical cues for when the enemy attacks giving you a hint of what is in store (if you can distinguish between them that is).

Graphics (4/5)
Cut-scenes seem lower quality than the game itself and it might be due to this game being a console port. It’s a bit rough around the edges but the animations are fantastic and the art-style is great, thanks to Jeff Matsuda.

Replay (2/5)
Normally I’d rate this higher as I’ll probably play this game a couple of times more (in order to unlock achievements). However considering the game is so short I had to reduce the score slightly as it won’t be long until you’re done playing this game.

Polish (4/5)
The game is an obvious console port with not terribly intuitive controls and a message saying you have to not turn the computer off while the save icon appears! Thankfully these are only minor quibbles.

The Monk finally reaches the palace

Score – 6/10

While I've never thoroughly played the original I get the feeling that this is a more or less faithful remake although probably with toned down difficulty for today’s audience, thanks to the addition of audio cues during combat and several “lives” (instead of just one). The only thing I can fault with the new Karateka is that they’re asking $10 for a (literally) linear game that can be completed in just 30 minutes. If you can grab this game on sale or if you’re a die-hard Karateka fan then it may be worth a look.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam .

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #88 - Loom - Main Theme

Original Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Transcribed by: George Alistair Sanger and Gary Hammond

This theme plays when you first boot up the game and is the one I hear in my head whenever I hear the game mentioned. It's also the last piece of music you'll hear in the game too and is often associated with the flying of the swans.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #87 - Loom - Overture

Original Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Transcribed by: George Alistair Sanger and Gary Hammond

Ah Loom - a game that was all about music. Not only was the entire soundtrack based on the classic Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky, but the actual game mechanic used to solve puzzles involved the use of "drafts" where you would use four notes in order to accomplish things from opening a door to setting a dragon's tail on fire. The Overture that is heard here is probably one of the most famous segments in Tchaikovsky's ballet. Makes the game all that more melodramatic :).