Monday, August 31, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #195 - Wing Commander: Privateer - New Constantinople




Soundtrack composed by: Laura Barratt, Marc Schaefgen and Nenad Vugrinec

The following track plays at one of the unique locations in Wing Commander: Privateer, a large space station called New Constantinople. Apparently you've got to do some missions that involve transporting contraband there. You can sell just about anything at the station but the only thing it really produces is art (which apparently sells well at Pleasure Planets). Consequently, it's probably no surprise that New Constantinople serves as the capital of the Gemini Sector and is the hub for all political and cultural events.

The music is graceful and beautiful with the harp used extensively. I also think there's a bit of oboe in there too (although it's hard to tell with MIDI instruments sometimes ;)).

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 36 - 2015


Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

This week (31st August to the 6th September 2015), unlike last week where there was only game that caught my interest, there's four for this coming week with a good mixture of indies and AAA titles:

NOBUNAGA'S AMBITION: Sphere of Influence

  • Release Date: 01/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
This is actually a series that's been around for quite some time and Koei is a Japanese game developer that has lots of experience when it comes to strategy games. In fact, this is the fourteenth NOBUNAGA'S AMBITION game and they've been developing games since the late 1970s. Sadly, my experience with Koei games has been rather brief, the only games I've really played being Genghis Khan II and one of the Uncharted Waters games but both of my experiences were good ones, so I'm always keen to see what they're releasing next. One reason why I haven't played many of their games is that the games don't tend to be translated into English but in the case of this next release, it apparently will! Set during the Warring States or Sengoku period in Japan, your job as one of the warlords is to unite Japan as one nation.

Sphere of Influence screenshot


Renowned Explorers: International Society

  • Release Date: 02/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order, GOG - Not available for pre-order
Wasn't there already another game about the great age of exploration released recently? Seems to be a popular topic! Anyway, this game is apparently a "strategy adventure game" and your job is to assemble a team that can use "beauty, brains or brawn" in order to resolve encounters and ultimately secure treasure in an alternate 19th century. Sounds like it could be fun.

Renowned Explorers: International Society screenshot


Act of Aggression

As mentioned in an earlier post, Steam is still the way to go if you want the cheapest price on Act of Aggression. The game is made by RTS veterans, Eugen Systems who were responsible for such games as Wargame: Airland Battle and Act of War: Direct Action. Act of Aggression promises to transport you back to the good ol' days of RTS games and is meant to be a tribute to Command & Conquer: Generals. I was a big fan of C&C: Generals and it even made #47 on the Choicest Games Top 100, so any game that claims to be targeted at that demographic is a winner in my books.

Act of Aggression screenshot


Company of Heroes 2 - The British Forces

  • Release Date: 03/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - $10.39 USD
I still haven't fully experienced Company of Heroes 2, only playing a couple of multiplayer matches and only managing to get to the third level of the single player campaign, but I'm somehow excited by the prospect of playing as British troops in this upcoming stand-alone multiplayer expansion. Apparently according to some chart on the Steam store page, the British Forces suit a more defensive play style, tend to have average size armies, tend to neither be specialised or a jack-of-all-trades and tend to have a mid-late game advantage - so definitely not a side to pick if you like to rush!

Company of Heroes 2 - The British Forces screenshot


So are you interested or excited about any PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Steam is no longer that cheap for Australians

Screenshot of Fallout 4 on Steam Store Page
Fallout 4's price is dearer on Steam when compared to even physical copies

Many of you are probably already aware of this but even though Steam was a great place to buy games if you were living in Australia, it's now no longer the case, at least when it comes to many high profile and AAA titles. This is because of two big reasons I can think of:

AUD/USD Exchange Rate graph courtesy of xe.com
AUD/USD Exchange Rate graph courtesy of xe.com

1. Favourable Exchange Rate

Up until the end of last year, Australians enjoyed a favourable exchange rate with the US Dollar. In fact, up until 2013 it was around parity and even in 2014 it was still around the 0.90c mark. However, that's not the case anymore and it's now around 0.70c or if you want to look at it the other way, the USD/AUD Exchange rate is about $1.40.

So during the past few years, it made sense to purchase games of Steam. Often they ended up being sometimes 50% less than the price you'd pay buying a physical copy at EB Games or JB Hi-Fi since they tend to always charge the same price for games (i.e. $70-90 for a full game, $50 for an expansion). The fact so many Australians were getting a discount thanks to the favourable exchange rate and the huge difference between prices for physical copies of games and their digital versions may have contributed to the second reason games are once again expensive for Australians...

2. The "Australia Tax"

I've noticed in the past couple of years a lot more games on Steam (especially ones from big publishers) being subject to "special" regional pricing. One such instance I've mentioned before with respect to Beyond Earth where when it was first available for pre-order on Steam the game was about $50USD but this was increased to $90USD only a few days later. Only for Australians though, which means 2K Games must've caught on to the fact that there was more money to be made from Australians if they just bumped up the price to be closer to physical copy prices. i.e. publishers charge more for Australians because they know they can get away with it. We already pay so much for everything so why contain it? s'cool!

While this was merely annoying while the Australian dollar was at parity with the US dollar it's now become highway robbery with the current exchange rate. I intend to demonstrate this by sampling the pre-order prices for a few high profile/AAA titles that are coming out in the next few months:


Fallout 4
Steam USD price = $79.95
Steam AUD price = $111.93
EB Games price = $89.95
JB Hi-Fi = $79.00
Ozgameshop = $59.99

In the case of Fallout 4 we can see that the Steam price is over $110 AUD! Even EB Games is $20 cheaper. If you want to get the best price though, Ozgameshop is the way to go at about $60.00: that's a difference of $50 people!


Beyond Earth: Rising Tide
Steam USD price = $26.99
Steam AUD price = $37.79
EB Games price = $49.95
JB Hi-Fi = $49.00
Ozgameshop = $35.99

Maybe 2K Games learnt their lesson when they originally released Beyond Earth on Steam and haven't applied the Australia Tax to the game's DLC – or they just haven't got around to it yet since it's still at a reasonable $37.79 AUD. You can still get it slightly cheaper from Ozgameshop though.


Need for Speed (2015)
Origin USD price = $89.99
Origin AUD price = $125.99
Ozgameshop = $72.99

There's actually not many places selling the PC version of this game: only Ozgameshop and Origin. However, Origin is charging a whopping $90 USD for the game which translates to over $125 AUD! You can get it for over $50 cheaper if you decide to buy it from Ozgameshop though.


Star Wars: Battlefront
Origin USD price = $89.99
Origin AUD price = $125.99
EB Games price = $89.95
JB Hi-Fi = $89.00
Ozgameshop = $66.99

EB Games and JB Hi-Fi are also selling the PC copy of this game along with Ozgameshop and Origin. Again, Origin is charging a whopping $90 USD for the game which translates to over $125 AUD. This means EB Games and JB Hi-Fi are cheaper (for once) by about $35. Ozgameshop is the clear winner again though with only $66.99.


Trackmania Turbo
Steam USD price = $53.96
Steam AUD price = $75.54
EB Games price = $59.95
JB Hi-Fi = $39.00

Ozgameshop doesn't seem to have any pre-orders for Trackmania Turbo but it's being sold on Steam, EB Games and JB Hi-Fi. In this case, the physical copies turn out cheaper, especially JB's price which seems really cheap being $20 less than EB Games and over $35 less than Steam!


Anno 2205
Steam USD price = $69.95
Steam AUD price = $97.93
EB Games price = $79.95
JB Hi-Fi = $69.00

Once again the physical copies trump Steam with JB Hi-Fi offering the game for over $25 less than the Steam price.


XCOM 2
EB Games price = $89.95
JB Hi-Fi = $89.00
Ozgameshop = $54.99

Curiously, there's been no pre-order price set on Steam for XCOM 2, at least for the Australian market. Currently you can only pre-order from EB Games, JB Hi-Fi and ozgameshop with ozgameshop being the clear winner at $54.99


Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege
Steam USD price = $60.95
Steam AUD price = $85.53
EB Games price = $89.95
JB Hi-Fi = $79.00

Rainbow Six Siege seems to have the lowest price discrepancy amongst retailers. While Steam's price seems expensive it's still slightly cheaper than EB Games. JB Hi-Fi is the winner in this contest though with a price of $79 for Rainbow Six Siege.


So what do you think about the price-gouging we Australians receive? Is it warranted or do you think something should be done about it? Where do you tend to buy your games nowadays?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

AntharioN Soundtrack Review

AntharioN Official Sountrack Cover Art
  • Name: AntharioN Official Soundtrack
  • Label: Orphic Software
  • Composer(s): Eric J. Gallardo
  • Number of Tracks: 25

As you know, I'm a big sucker for game soundtracks so usually if there's an option (and it's not too expensive) I'll pre-order games that come with the soundtrack included or, in the case of AntharioN, pledge at the level that comes with a soundtrack as a reward.

So just over a month ago, the soundtrack was finally delivered to those that pledged at a high enough level via a Dropbox link which I'll no doubt lose amongst the thousands of emails in my inbox (why couldn't they tie it to a Humble Bundle account or something?). Anyway, I managed to download the zip of 25 128Kbps MP3s (check if there are more formats) and was astounded by what I heard.

Obviously, half of the tracks I've already listened to while playing the game but never without some background noises so this was the first time I could just focus solely on the music. The soundtrack consists of all the music you'll hear in the game (or at least I believe that's the case, as I haven't quite finished the game yet) which is a mix of exploration and combat music, which is further divided into music that plays while travelling in a dungeon and music that plays while travelling out in the open.

I'm usually not a big fan of combat music on game soundtracks as they tend to be either pretty repetitive or lacking in any coherent melody, so it's probably just as well that there are only a few combat tracks on the AntharioN soundtrack, however exceptions to the rule include Raider's Folly since it reminds me of the music from Arcanum's classic string-quartet soundtrack and War Horn of the Raiders, since I always get a laugh when this brave, epic, heroic music plays while you're dispatching crabs and seagulls.

The rest of the soundtrack seems to be heavily inspired by Jeremy Soule's work on the Elder Scrolls games and to me that's a good thing. The Main Roads, Grand Vistas, Serene Scenery, The Sun Always Rises and Well Travelled are all epic, majestic themes where you'll usually hear a lot of violins and horns. The soundtrack also has some tracks that demonstrates Eric J. Gallardo isn't a one trick pony with the angelic, peaceful Below, the beautiful, exotic, Middle Eastern-influenced No Light, and the lovely clarinet in Visions of Home.

Score – 8/10

AntharioN's official soundtrack wouldn't feel out of place in a AAA title so it's truly amazing to find such high quality music in an indie game. The soundtrack is definitely instrumental (no pun intended) in immersing you into the world of Antharion but it also works well as a standalone high fantasy music album.

Now the bad news: I don't think you're able to acquire this soundtrack yet unless you were a Kickstarter backer! I've scoured the interwebs and while Orphic Software (the developer of AntharioN) has hinted that Eric J. Gallardo may be releasing the album on his own, it's been over a month now and nothing has happened. Fingers crossed he does indeed start selling the album but be sure to check out his Facebook page for updates in the meantime!

LINKS:
[ Eric J. Gallardo's Facebook Page ]
[ Eric J. Gallardo's SoundCloud Page ]

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Where are they now? - Glen R. Dahlgren

Real men explore the tunnels of Venus without shirts... or any regard for the boiling temperatures apparently

Although I never played the game when it was originally released, I did have a go at Frederik Pohl's Gateway several years later. While the game's interface and graphics looked dated by the late 1990s there was something appealing about playing an interactive fiction game with graphics, especially a sci-fi one based on an award winning novel. The music was also pretty good too and the main theme to Gateway as well as the Chapter 1 music still echo in my head to this day (I even made it my ringtone at one stage).

But who were the people behind the development of this game? Well they were obviously people from the now defunct Legend Entertainment, and the producers of the game were Michael Lindner, Mike Verdu and Glen R. Dahlgren. For today, I'd like to delve a bit into the career of Glen Dahlgren and we'll revisit the Mikes another time :).

Dahlgren completed a Bachelor of Computer Science at Penn State University in 1990. During the 1980s, he was already programming games for the TRS-80 Coco, one such game being 1986's Dragon Blade which was a fantasy interactive fiction game with graphics. After graduating from university he managed to secure a job at a fledgling development studio composed of Infocom veterans called Legend Entertainment. Dahlgren worked on a few projects during his first couple of years at Legend Entertainment (all Interactive Fiction DOS games with graphics) such as 1991's Timequest, 1991's Spellcasting 201, 1992's Spellcasting 301 and, of course, 1992's Frederik Pohl's Gateway.

In 1993, Dahlgren was promoted into more senior roles as a game director/lead designer. He continued to work on Interactive Fiction games with graphics such as 1993's Gateway II: Homeworld, 1993's Eric the Unready, 1993's Companions of Xanth and 1994's Death Gate.

The late 1990s marked a change of direction for Legend Entertainment as they abandoned the ageing interactive fiction genre for first person games. The company was also bought over by GT Interactive in 1998 and then acquired by Infogrames in 1999 (who eventually rebranded themselves as Atari). Dahlgren worked on the 1999 game adaptation of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time and also worked as a designer and producer for 2003's Unreal II. Dahlgren was promoted to Creative Director the year before and became part of the senior management team, but sadly it was only a couple of years after his promotion that Legend Entertainment was shutdown by Atari for good.

Dahlgren joined Perpetual Entertainment and worked there for three years on the game that would eventually become Star Trek Online (which is still running to this day - lots of Trekkies out there no doubt).

From 2007 onwards, Dahlgren worked at a variety of companies as a game designer and mostly for mobile games in recent years. He started his current job as Director of Game Design at KLab America in 2012 and he's still there to this day. So what exactly does KLab America develop? Well, they have a mobile game called Lord of the Dragons and a mobile game based on the popular TV series Glee. Can't say I'm exactly too interested in either game but if Dahlgren ever decided to develop a story-driven game on the PC again, I'll be watching it closely!

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Legend Entertainment ]
[ MobyGames: Glen R. Dahlgren ]
[ Official website for KLab America ]

Monday, August 24, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #194 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Pleasure Base




Soundtrack composed by: Laura Barratt, Marc Schaefgen and Nenad Vugrinec

The following track plays whenever you visit a Pleasure Base in Wing Commander: Privateer, which are like mini versions of Las Vegas dotted around the Gemini Sector. The worlds consume quite a bit but don't produce much in return, except movies (and you can probably guess what kind of movies they are too).

Out of all the music that plays for each base, the one that plays at the Pleasure Base is probably my favourite thanks to it's funky, light-hearted nature. You just gotta love that slap bass, piano and saxophone!

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 35 - 2015


Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

This week (24th August to the 30th August 2015), there's only really one game that has caught my interest and it's in a genre of its own:

Dead in Bermuda

  • Release Date: 27/08/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
This game is made by a French developer that has been around since 2005 called CCCP. They apparently tend to focus on educational games but they do have another (non-educational) game on Steam called Hospital Manager which received Mixed reviews. Criticisms centred around the game feeling like a mobile port, i.e. it's too shallow and more like a Theme Hospital lite. Now they're planning to release a game that's probably also very mobile friendly but I'm more optimistic about this one. Dead in Bermuda reminds me of games like Zafehouse Diaries or Gods Will be Watching where the game is all about managing people in order to survive.

The game focuses on the eight survivors of a plane crash that are trying to uncover the mysteries surrounding the island and apparently plays as a mixture of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and RPG (as the survivors all have skills they can improve and stats to worry about like hunger, fatigue and depression).

I love non-linear, turn-based games that focus on relationships between party members so this one looks like it could be worth a look.

The game is not available for pre-order for Australians but is available for $12.74 USD so it'll probably be that much on Steam too.



So are you interested or excited about any PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Choicest Games Top 100 GOGMix

Gotta love that GOGMix simply titled "War". What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

I thought it would be a good idea, not just for my own reference, but for anyone else who was curious, to have a list of which games on Good Old Games (GOG.com) happened to be on the Choicest Games Top 100 list. Turns out there are 28 on the list that happen to be also available on GOG.com (so just over a quarter). They are listed below:

  • Quest for Glory
  • Commandos 2
  • Wing Commander
  • Star Wars: X-Wing vs TIE Fighter
  • Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
  • The Longest Journey
  • SimCity 4
  • Baldur's Gate 2
  • Total Annihilation
  • Baldur's Gate
  • Planescape: Torment
  • Theme Park
  • Star Wars: X-Wing
  • Master of Orion
  • Master of Orion II
  • The Wolf Among Us
  • Worms
  • Grim Fandango
  • The Secret of Monkey Island
  • Battle Chess
  • Jade Empire
  • Serious Sam
  • Theme Hospital
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
  • SimCity 2000
  • Deus Ex

Valve games and more recent EA games seem to be missing from the list (and it's unlikely that we'll ever see them on GOG) so I don't expect to see the likes of Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Need for Speed, Battlefield or Left 4 Dead any time soon.

Although I wouldn't mind seeing these in the future and really think these satisfy the criteria of good, old games:

  • Curse of Monkey Island
  • Transport Tycoon
  • Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
  • SimCity 3000
  • SWAT 4
  • Full Throttle
  • Day of the Tentacle
  • Sid Meier's Civilization
  • Sid Meier's Pirates! (2004)
  • SimCity
  • Freelancer
  • Sid Meier's Civilization II
  • Call of Duty
  • Doom
  • Tetris
  • Wolfenstein 3D

Anyway, if you happen to be a GOG user, be sure to vote up the GOGMix :). Also, if you're into buying DRM-free games, what are you waiting for? :P

Choicest Games Top 100 GOGMix:
http://www.gog.com/mix/choicest_games_top_100

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Where are they now? - Jun Chikuma

Jun Chikuma
Jun Chikuma - Composer of many Bomberman games

Does this track sound familiar to you?




It might sound a little bit different to the original 8-bit version but this is actually a most choicest cover of the Bomberman theme which had its first (very repetitive) incarnation in the original 1985 game. While I vaguely remember playing the original game on some old console at a family friend's place (I think it was called a Pegasus - a rip-off of the Famicom) the Bomberman game I spent the most time with was the 1990 version that came to DOS and was also known as Dyna Blaster. I always loved the different variations of the main theme you would listen to while playing Dyna Blaster and it was all thanks to a Japanese woman named Jun Chikuma (aka June Chikuma).

There's not much information out there on Chikuma's life (and I suspect if there is, it'll all be in Japanese). What we do know is that she spent the 1980s and 1990s composing music for many Hudson Soft games. Overall, she's composed music for over 30 games with around half of them being Bomberman titles!

In the early 90s, Chikuma became interested in studying the Arabic Nay, an ancient Middle Eastern flute. She received instruction on how to play the instrument and how to compose Tunisian music from Prof. Slaheddine El Manaa of l'Institut Superieur de Musique de Tunis. She also learned the Oud (an Arabian lute) and Egyptian music under Prof. Ali Sriti as well as the Qanun (a Middle Eastern zither) under Zakia Hannashi from the same Institute.

It seems she eventually stopped becoming a full-time game composer to pursue her passion in Middle Eastern music and at some point she became part of an Arabic music ensemble called "Le Club Bachraf". They released an album in 2000 and another in 2013.

Throughout the 2000s until now, Chikuma performed many concerts in the Middle East in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain. She also became a part-time lecturer of the Kokushikan University in 2006.

So does she still compose music for video games? Well she is still quite active with social media and while most of her posts are about Arabic music (she does have a website called "Arab-Music" after all) she does occasionally post stuff about video games and her soundcloud page has various remixes of game tunes she originally composed! I thoroughly recommend you check them out as it just goes to show how diverse she can be when it comes to her musical styles.

LINKS:
[ Arab-Music: June Chikuma's Official Website ]
[ Wikipedia: Jun Chikuma ]
[ MobyGames: Jun Chikuma ]
[ Soundcloud: June Chikuma ]

Monday, August 17, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #193 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Refinery Base




Soundtrack composed by: Laura Barratt, Marc Schaefgen and Nenad Vugrinec

The following track plays whenever you visited a Refinery Base. This was the place to go if you ever wanted to purchase plastics, home appliances and construction equipment.

The Refinery Base music sounds like something you'd hear as background music for Frankenstein's monster or some B-grade science fiction flick, thanks to the Theremin sound used at the beginning. The track is interrupted by a somewhat out-of-place jazzy sax at 00:12 and then starts to sound industrial at around 00:28.

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Where to buy Act of Aggression in Australia?

Act of Aggression screenshot
Explosions that would make even Michael Bay jealous

Yes, I know we usually have a "Spotlight Sunday" post today but I just realised there's actually nothing I'm that interested in for next week (*gasp*!).

So instead of leaving you empty handed I've decided to check out where us Australians will most likely be buying a game on the Choicest Games upcoming games list. Act of Aggression, an RTS by Eugen Systems looks to be coming to PC in early September and the game is already available for pre-order from EB Games, JB Hi-Fi and Steam.

In terms of whether there are any special editions you can get by pre-ordering, there doesn't seem to be any difference between the physical or digital versions and there are no special collector or digital deluxe editions, so you're pretty much comparing apples for apples.

Act of Aggression Standard Edition:
  • Steam = $38.24 USD (~$52 AUD)
  • JB Hi-Fi = $69
  • EB Games = $69.95

It looks like Steam is the clear winner, offering a huge $17 discount (at least with the current exchange rate and using the 15% pre-order discount). So if you don't mind your games being digital then Steam is definitely the way to go (not to mention there aren't any physical goodies for pre-ordering the physical versions anyway). Otherwise, if you're one of those old-fashioned types that still prefer a boxed game, then it looks like there's only 95 cents difference in the price between JB and EB.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Where are they now? - Lawrence Holland

It's a trap!

For this week's Where are they now? I wanted to take a look at a game developer that was responsible for some of the best flight and space sim games of the early 1990s. Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe and Star Wars: X-Wing were truly immersive experiences for me, despite their graphics looking very dated by today's standards. Anyone else who appreciated these games have Lawrence Holland to thank but what did he do before he made these games? And what is he doing nowadays?

Judging by the fact Holland graduated in 1979 from Cornell University, I'm guessing he was born in the 1950s. But did Holland graduate with a Computer Science degree? Nope! Holland studied Anthropology and Prehistory Archaeology at university and shortly after graduating, spent two years travelling the world on archaeological expeditions (I'm surprised he didn't make games based on Indiana Jones, especially when you consider where he ended up...). Anyway, at some point, Holland realises that computer games were "the perfect medium for combining his professional and personal interests." In 1982 he studied programming in Assembler, COBOL and RPGII and the following year he got his first job in game development at a company called Human Engineered Software (HesWare). Here he worked for a couple of years on Vic-20, Apple II and Commodore 64 games such as a C64 port of the arcade game Super Zaxxon.

It wasn't until 1987 when he got his big break developing a trilogy of WWII air combat simulators to be published by Lucasfilm Games (later renamed Lucasarts). These three games would be 1988's Battlehawks 1942, 1989's Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain and (one of my favourites) 1991's Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. I learned quite a bit about the aircraft used by the U.S. Air Force and German Luftwaffe from this game, so it actually turned out to be quite educational! I also learned about some of the crazy experimental fighters the Germans had as part of their "Secret Weapons".

Holland wouldn't stop there with respect to the simulators but instead of fighting in the skies, the next batch of games he'd develop would be fought long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away. In 1993, Star Wars: X-Wing would be unleashed onto the world and remains one of my favourite space sims of all time (it ranked 64th on the Choicest Games Top 100). Holland would follow X-Wing up with 1994's Star Wars: TIE Fighter and 1997's X-Wing vs TIE Fighter which most importantly introduced multiplayer (the game ranked 90th on the Choicest Games Top 100).

In 1994, Holland's development team became officially incorporated and became Totally Games in 1995.

Holland continued to oversee the development of games in the 2000s such as being the Creative Director for 2002's Star Trek: Bridge Commander and 2003's Secret Weapons over Normandy.

In 2005, Holland made the switch to casual and mobile games and started working at a company called TimeLapse Mobile as its Chief Creative Officer. In terms of games developed by Totally Games, he was Creative Director on 2007's Alien Syndrome (for PSP and Wii) and Director of Development on 2008's PBR: Out of the Chute; neither game was particularly well received.

In 2010 Holland developed an aquarium management game called Oceanis that was published by Shockwave.

In 2013, Holland became Chief Creative Officer for another company focusing on the casual and mobile games market particularly casino games called Asylum Labs Inc. Games they've developed include Wild Party Bingo and Lucky Ace Slots available on iPhones and Android phones.

It seems that mobile and casual games are at the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to Holland's previous work on air combat and space combat simulators but hopefully he's happy with where he's at. Will we ever see another space combat or air combat simulator by Holland? If I were a betting man, I'd say probably not - but wouldn't it be great if Disney managed to provide funding for a third Secret Weapons game? Or another Star Wars space combat sim (considering they're working on the new film trilogy)? Wouldn't it be great if Holland was involved? One can dream.

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Lawrence Holland ]
[ MobyGames: Lawrence Holland ]
[ Totally Games About Page ]

Monday, August 10, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #192 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Pirate Base




Soundtrack composed by: Laura Barratt, Marc Schaefgen and Nenad Vugrinec

Sometimes you wouldn't be satisfied with the life of a merchant or bounty hunter; sometimes you just had to follow Guybrush Threepwood's dream of becoming a pirate. In Wing Commander: Privateer you usually had to seek out old re-purposed mining outposts in the middle of remote asteroid fields if you wanted to find the places pirates called home.

This track plays in the background while you're visiting a pirate base. It suits the pirate bases perfectly and you just gotta love the distorted guitar for no reason at 0:24.

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 33 - 2015


Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

This week (10th August to the 16th August 2015), there are only two games that have really caught my interest and both of them are heavily influenced by PC gaming/hacking culture:

Illuminascii

  • Release Date: 11/08/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
While this kind of game has been done before I believe (i.e. a rouge-like FPS) I've never seen one done with what looks like ASCII graphics. Taking a Tron approach to the plot (you're a "lowly @ symbol" inside the RNG or Random Number Generator) this should be an interesting take on the niche genre.




Hacknet

  • Release Date: 12/08/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
There have been quite a few so-called "hacking" games coming onto Steam in recent years so what's so different about this one? Well this one from the start claims it's meant to be closer to real-life hacking than the Hollywood version of it. For example, you'll have to use actual UNIX commands. Also, the game's soundtrack is apparently comprised of "killer tunes" including music by Carpenter Brut (who composed music for Hotline Miami 2). What's even better is this is yet another game made in Australia, just like Submerged which featured last week. Nice.



So are you interested or excited about any PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Choicest Games is now ad-free


The only advertisement I'll ever need.

At one point a few years back, I decided to run a single banner ad to see if I could earn some revenue by running a PC gaming blog. It was mainly done as an experiment since I was sceptical that one could really live off a blog's ad revenue.

Well, turns out I was right, at least in the case of my blog – which leads me to believe, while it might be possible to live off a blog's ad revenue, you've really got to be good at writing quality articles and marketing yourself, non-stop in order to succeed. So only the passionate, eloquent, determined and outgoing need apply.

After running the blog for around 7 years I made a measly $18 from ad income. The amount is so small I can't even cash it out!

I've come to the conclusion that there are pretty much three reasons ads failed to generate considerable revenue on my blog. I've listed them below:

1) Ignored recommended formats


Blogger/Google Adsense has recommend ad formats. For example, they suggest you place an ad on the sidebar and one under each post.

Blogger's suggested ad formats

Being the terrible marketing guru/businessman that I am, I thought "but wouldn't that really be annoying having all those ads all over the place? What happens if someone accidentally clicks on them?" I guess that's the whole point right? Nevertheless, this is why I ended up narrowing down the advertisement to just one measly banner ad.

2) Not an "A-list" gaming blog


Let's be honest here, Choicest Games is obviously not an A-list blog. With one part-time contributor doing blogging in his spare time (me) and a few other contributors that occasionally contribute every so often, there's no way I can compete in terms of the frequency of content or breaking news. Sure, there was that one time I managed to break the news about the Police Quest Kickstarter that was covered here, here, here and even here, and there are many other posts that are linked on reputable sites, but it's not enough to get the high amount of traffic needed to make ad revenue profitable.

3) Target audience are too savvy


My target audience are PC gamers and I like to think that PC gamers are generally a pretty savvy bunch (you need to in order to not only build a PC but to get the games to work on it)! Consequently, there's probably already many readers that are wary of clicking on any ads (I mean, if you're interested in something, why bother clicking on an ad when you can just Google the official website and go from there?) or they don't even see the ads at all in the first place (many users install ad blockers on their browsers so they don't see ads). Consequently, running these ads are in some ways insulting the target audience's intelligence (although that doesn't stop the aforementioned A-list gaming blogs advertising products like there's no tomorrow).

Obviously the fact I haven't been earning much ad revenue has been going on for a while. So why am I turning the ads off now? Well the final straw was this article that states that ICANN may reveal your personal contact details on the WHOIS database if your site is listed as a commercial site. How do they define a commercial site you ask? There are some suggestions that sites that even generate ad revenue could potentially be a commercial site. So even though my ad revenue is pitiful, it's still technically a commercial site, which means running the ads is more trouble than its worth. Obviously, no final decision has been made with respect to this (and hopefully it's thrown in the bin) but why bother continuing ads if they're not really generating that much revenue anyway?

That's why I finally decided to take them down.

Will I ever re-activate them? Maybe, if the offer is right and it's not too disruptive. But for the meantime, enjoy an ad-free Choicest Games!

What I am thinking of doing though (and who knows, this might also be considered commercial activity down the track) is re-opening a Choicest Games merchandise store hosted through Zazzle. I haven't done anything yet but expect to see some products (such as coffee mugs) in the near future!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Verdun Review


Sums up WWI pretty much.

  • Developer: M2H, Blackmill Games
  • Publisher: M2H, Blackmill Games
  • Release Date: 28 April 2015
  • Time played: 8 hours

There have probably been a lot of people like me that have wondered why only particular theatres of war have received attention in computer games. There are plenty of WWII games, Vietnam War games and "modern warfare" games out there but not many based on WWI or the Korean War. I always thought that WWI would be an interesting conflict to recreate in a computer game although the challenge would always be "how do you make trench warfare fun?" Okay, obviously warfare in real-life, isn't fun, especially trench warfare, but speaking from a gameplay standpoint, WWI wasn't a very "mobile" war when compared to WWII and consequently gamers could potentially find it boring if the safest option was to stay in a trench and take pot-shots over No Man's Land. Then comes along Dutch developers M2H and Blackmill Games with an Early Access game called Verdun, which happens to be set during WWI and is apparently fun to play.

I played the game during its Early Access stage and while it had promise it was very buggy so I never revisited it until it was officially released in April this year. The game has improved by leaps and bounds in its current state but is it worth the $22.99 USD asking price?

Plot (N/A)
The game is a multiplayer FPS so it doesn't really have much of a plot but a lot of effort has been taken in making the setting, costumes, weapons and forces historically accurate, which is always a good thing.

Gameplay (5/5)
There's really only two game modes in Verdun and one of them is team deathmatch, so I won't go into that. The other, more tactical game mode, is called "Frontlines" and involves four squads of four from the Central Powers (Germany and its allies) going up against another four squads of four fighting for the Entente Powers (UK, France, Canada, etc.). There are different squad types you can pick from which will determine which classes make up your squad. Usually a squad will have a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) who acts as the squad leader, issuing orders and calling in mortar strikes or gas attacks, a sniper, a machine gunner and a trench assault or rifleman class. Staying close to your NCO and following his orders often rewards bonus points or buffs to squad members so this helps to encourage teamwork. Not only that, but if you happen to play with the same players all the time (e.g. with your mates) you'll unlock uniforms used later in the war and upgraded abilities (such as more potent artillery barrages) by gaining "co-op xp".

In terms of the "Frontlines" game mode, here's how it works: the map has different lines of trenches and both teams start in the middle two trenches. One team acts as the attacker and is expected to cross No Man's Land to attempt and capture the enemy trench within a certain time limit. The other team's job is to of course defend against this attack and hold the line (you'll actually be shot for deserting your post if you attempt to stay in No Man's Land for too long). If the defenders successfully repel the attack, then what was formerly the attacking team need to retreat back to their trench and it's their turn to be the defenders. A team is declared victorious if they manage to push the opposing team out of the trench closest to their side of the map – any other result is considered a draw (which sums up trench warfare in general right?).

The smaller play area (maps themselves are large but you'll only ever be playing in a section of it at any given time), bolt-action rifles and the ability to do melee damage as a secondary attack is a bit of a culture shock after playing the Battlefield games in recent years but it's a refreshing change of pace. I haven't had this kind of fun since playing Day of Defeat and that's one of my favourite games of all time!

Another of the game's strengths is that it strongly encourages you to stick with your squad and play with the same players too. If you can manage to get three mates who enjoy the game as much as you do you'll have an absolute blast. It's actually quite satisfying when you, as an NCO, drop some smoke or gas in front of your enemy's trench enabling your squad to perform a flank attack. Tactics and teamwork are the order of the day in Verdun and that's a good thing in my books.

Sound (3/5)
Audio in the game is not as good as AAA titles and is reminiscent of older era games from the early 2000s, but the sound effects that are used are relatively authentic; the sound of the NCO blowing his whistle always manages to give me chills as it often signals your impending death as you vault over the trench into No Man's Land!

Music (4/5)
No music is played during the game except when a round is about to end and when you join a particular squad (for example, joining the Tommies means you'll hear a wonderful bagpipes tune – unless you don't like bagpipes of course - then it's just friggin' painful). Music also plays on the main menu with my personal favourite being the classic "It's a Long Way to Tipperary".

Graphics (3/5)
Maps are gorgeous (if you can call a cratered, muddy landscape, gorgeous) as the developers took a lot of effort in recreating the battlefields of WWI. However, the graphics themselves aren't going to be anywhere near AAA title quality (this is no Battlefield 4).

Replay (4/5)
I'd like to play this more but it really depends on server populations. So far it seems that there's always at least one full server at any given time (and often there's two or three) which means there's about 30-90 players playing at any given time. Most importantly (for us living in the middle of nowhere, aka Australia), the ping is bearable too.

Polish (3/5)
There are occasions when there's a bit of lag but I don't think this is a server issue and it's unfortunately more of an engine issue. Also the user interface is still a bit clunky and the game is still very much in development despite it being out of Early Access. You'll need to read forums and manuals to fill in the gaps, especially if playing as an NCO.

Score – 8/10

While the game is still buggy and the game doesn't look or sound as good as AAA FPS titles, it's arguably more entertaining thanks to its brilliant take on how World War I was fought called "Frontlines". The game should appeal to those brought up on shooters like Day of Defeat or anyone wanting to experience an FPS set during WWI.

Verdun is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $22.99 USD?: Yes, provided there are still people around to play with of course :).

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


[ LINK: Official Verdun Website ]

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Where are they now? - ICOM Simulations

Check out that retro styling.

Back in the early 1990s one of the first games I played to take advantage of my brand spanking new CD-ROM drive was a game called Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. The game was made by a company called ICOM Simulations and had rudimentary gameplay which basically involved visiting the correct people in the shortest amount of time in order to solve a case. The game was very FMV heavy too and although the video looks very grainy by today's standards it was truly amazing back in the early 1990s; all I cared about back then was the fact you could actually play a video on your computer! Anyway, years passed and I ended up always wondering what happened to that company called ICOM Simulations until I was directed to a Kickstarter project that managed to get me acquainted with its successor company (and the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective game again)! But first, let's start at the beginning.

ICOM Simulations actually started way back in 1981 by a chap named Tod Zipnick and was originally called TMQ Software. It wasn't until 1985 though that they released what would be a breakthrough game, their first so-called "MacVenture" by the name of Déjà Vu: A Nightmare Comes True. ICOM Simulations was one of the companies that were pioneering point 'n' click interfaces since this was a couple of years before Lucasarts joined the show (with 1987's Maniac Mansion) and a few years before Sierra got rid of the text parser entirely from their games (around 1990).

ICOM Simulations continued to focus on their MacVenture games during the late 80s such as the classic Shadowgate which was released in 1987. Eventually, ICOM Simulations would focus on pioneering another technology: multiplatform CD-ROM games. Their first CD-ROM game would be the one I mentioned earlier, 1991's Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Vol. 1. Unfortunately, 1991 was also the year that founder Tod Zipnick died of cancer.

ICOM continued to develop sequels to their games during the early 90s such as a couple more sequels to the Sherlock Holmes franchise and a sequel to Shadowgate on the TurboGrafx-CD platform called Beyond Shadowgate in 1993. 1993 was also the year the company was acquired by Viacom New Media and games from that point onward were often based on cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, Rocko's Modern Life, and Beavis and Butt-Head.

The company eventually disbanded in 1998 and for a long time there was some uncertainty as to what would be done with the ICOM Simulations IP (if anything at all). In 2012, that all changed when Dave Marsh and Karl Roelofs (former developers at ICOM Simulations) managed to secure the rights and form a new company called Zojoi. They also managed to successfully secure $137,232 USD of funding through Kickstarter from 3,468 backers (including me) to develop a remake for Shadowgate on 26 November 2012. The game was released in 2014 and has received "Very Positive" reviews from the Steam community after 309 reviews. Zojoi has also gone about re-releasing the classic MacVenture games and remade my beloved Sherlock Holmes games for modern PCs.

So what plans does Zojoi have for the future? I'm not entirely sure actually but I suspect they'll continue to port their classic games to as many platforms as possible in the meantime. What I'd really like to see them do is perhaps start making some new, original adventure games since you might as well stick to your strengths right? :) Whatever the case, none can discount the contributions Zojoi's predecessor, ICOM Simulations made to the gaming industry, especially with respect to point 'n' click adventures and multimedia in games.

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: ICOM Simulations ]
[ Kickstarter: Shadowgate ]
[ Official Zojoi website ]

Monday, August 3, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #191 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Landing




Soundtrack composed by: Laura Barratt, Marc Schaefgen and Nenad Vugrinec

We now return back to the Wing Commander: Privateer soundtrack since there are still many tracks left to cover! Regular viewers/readers may have noticed that a couple of VGM Mondays didn't have any any VGM - that's because Choicest Games was running its Top 100 feature during that time. However, we're now back to play some musical gems from classic game soundtracks.

This track accompanies a cinematic that plays whenever you land on a planet or station. Whenever you hear it, you're bound to breathe a sigh of relief as you're now safe from the dangers of space, at least for now. My favourite part is where the instantly recognisable Privateer theme fanfare plays at 00:18.

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 32 - 2015


Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

For those who regularly tune in to this post on Sunday, you may have noticed that we've the last two; this was because we were running the Choicest Games Top 100 feature during that time. This week (3rd August to the 9th August 2015), there are four games I think are worth a look at:

Adam's Venture Chronicles

  • Release Date: 03/08/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
Who wouldn't want to play an adventure game that looks like it's inspired by Indiana Jones (although it's set a bit earlier than the adult Indy's adventures)? The developer, Vertigo Games has also had a pretty good track record with World of Diving and The Perils of Man both being received well by the Steam community.




Submerged

  • Release Date: 04/08/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
This game's made in Australia so of course I'm going to feature it on Choicest Games :)! The game is apparently one where you can take it at your own pace and explore a city (possibly submerged thanks to climate change?) as a young girl trying to gather supplies to help her critically ill brother. Like Vertigo Games, the developer of Submerged, called Uppercut Games, has a good track record and the last game they released on Steam called Epoch, was well received. The developers also have experience working on AAA titles such as Fallout: Tactics, Freedom Force, Tribes: Vengance, Bioshock and Bioshock 2. The game also has award-winning composer Jeff van Dyck scoring the music.



Unfinished - An Artist's Lament

  • Release Date: 04/08/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
This game has an interesting concept: you play the role of an unfinished drawing called Sketch which is having an existential crisis. He doesn't know what he was meant to be and it's up to you to follow the artist's pencil as it draws in the distance. Apparently the game is very short (and can be finished in 30 minutes if you wanted to rush it) but if the price is right, it might be worth a look!



ADventure Lib

  • Release Date: 04/08/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I remember that the old encyclopaedia, Microsoft Encarta (yes kids, encyclopaedias used to come on CDs and before that, books!) had a trivia game called MindMaze which was kind of fun. As a reward for completing the game, you would be able to insert some random words that would then be substituted in a passage of text. Depending on which words you used, the passage could end up being quite reasonably or hilariously preposterous. It seems that ADventure Lib is trying to channel the latter and I only today found out that this kind of word substitution game is known as Mad Libs (hence the game's name) and has been around since the 1950s!



So are you interested or excited about any PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

First Impressions - Kentucky Route Zero


I guess in Kentucky the sun doesn't always shine on TV

I managed to get Kentucky Route Zero mainly because of my love of "story rich" games (to borrow a tag used on Steam) and after hearing so many glowing reviews (the game holds a Metacritic rating of 81 and a Very Positive rating on Steam after over 1,000 reviews). Described as a magic realist adventure game, Cardboard Computer (the developers) managed to raise over $8,500 on Kickstarter way back in 2011, making it the earliest video game Kickstarter I've heard of (even before the huge success of 2012's Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter). The game's first act was released in 2013 and as of 2015, two more have been completed (with another two still to follow).

So when I finished the third act of the game I was thinking "Haha! I have finished yet another game on my backlog that I can now review!" But alas, as mentioned there are still two more acts to go and considering Cardboard Computer's track record, it could be 2017 before we can finally complete the game! Oh well, at least I can do a "First Impressions" article on it right?

What I like:

  • Tribute to interactive fiction and early adventure games: Despite the game using a point ‘n' click interface most of the time, most of the conversations and decisions are done using a text-based menu system akin to visual novels, interactive fiction and early adventure games. You'll even come across some characters in the game which have suspiciously similar names to pioneers of the interactive fiction/adventure genre and a whole act dedicated to that nostalgic era of text-based gaming.
  • Excellent use of sound effects to create ambience: The sound effects are done so well you could almost imagine yourself being there. Music is used sparingly but to great effect.
  • Art style: The animations and artwork in the game seem to have taken inspiration from classic French games like Little Big Adventure and Another World, which isn't a bad thing.
  • You can pick your own lyrics to a song!: Not only that but the song has actual vocals. So you're basically choosing what you'll hear through your speakers next (not just reading what's on the screen like most of the game).
  • A surreal arthouse film but as a game: The game's greatest strength is the fact it's like a surreal arthouse film where you're not quite sure what's going on and it seems to be more about emotions and self-discovery than actually following a cohesive plot. This does have the effect of building up your curiosity so you'll want to return and learn more…

What I don't like:

  • A surreal arthouse film but as a game: But this is also the game's greatest flaw. If you're the sort to like "beating" a game or a person who likes their plots to make sense, Kentucky Route Zero isn't one of those games. The game is a borderline "walking simulator" in that you're just along there for the ride (along Route Zero. Huehuehuehue).
  • Camera angles: Sometimes the game has really annoying camera angles that obscure other parts of the game you're meant to explore (sometimes preventing you to continue).
  • Interface is sometimes cumbersome: At one point of the game the camera kept rotating in circles while I was viewing the map. The problem is, the mouse cursor also rotates as well making it quite difficult to select menu buttons
  • Still not finished: The biggest complaint you'll see if visiting the Steam store page for the game is that the game is still not finished. While I don't mind delays when it comes to games (I'd prefer a polished product than a half-finished one) it has been almost two years since the first act was released and that's a long time in the world of computer games.

Verdict:

I'm curious to learn more about the characters as you definitely become invested in their stories (as you're the one that is responsible for filling in the blanks, a bit like how Always Sometimes Monsters works). The game's magic realist setting definitely keeps things mysterious and consequently you'll want to stick around a bit longer to make some sense of it. Too bad it could be a while before I get to play the final two acts!

[ LINK: Kentucky Route Zero Official Website ]