Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Where are they now? - Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III

Screenshot of intro to Star Control 2
Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III developed the classic sci-fi RPG Star Control 2

Considering I just reviewed Interstellaria I thought why not go back to where it all started (well, at least for me)? For today's "Where are they now?" why don't we go back to Star Control 2 and see what happened to its developers? Well the developers of Star Control 2 happen to be Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III but their stories obviously start a bit earlier than that (although there's unfortunately very little on Fred Ford so it'll mostly be on Paul Reiche III for starters).

Paul Reiche III was born in 1961 and during his teens befriended future Dungeons & Dragons artist, Erol Otus. Both of these guys really got into roleplaying games, so much so that they eventually released several games of their own before working for TSR itself.

In the 1980s, Reiche made the switch to computer game development and started developing games for Electronic Arts as an artist, designer and programmer. One of his greatest contributions in the 1980s was 1983's Archon: The Light and the Dark which became a full blown franchise. Reiche continued to develop games in the 1980s until in 1989 he co-founded a new company with Fred Ford called Toys for Bob.

The first game to be developed by Toys for Bob was Star Control which was released in 1990 where both designed the game but Ford did the programming, and Reiche the audio and graphics. The original Star Control was solely focused on combat so it wasn't until 1992 that the classic Star Control 2 would be released which not only incorporated the combat mechanics from the first Star Control but a whole universe to explore and alien cultures to meet. The game was a critical success and is arguably the most famous DOS game developed by Toys for Bob.

Both Reiche and Ford continued to develop games and grow their company in Novato, California, the company even being bought out by Activision in 2005 (and it remains a subsidiary of this company to this very day).

Reiche and Ford eventually struck gold twice by developing 2011's Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, the first of a new wave of "toys to life" games that would become a huge success. In fact, Disney and Lego have now joined the bandwagon with Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions having entered the fold. As Yoghurt says:




Reiche and Ford continue to work at Toys for Bob to this very day meaning the company has been around for well over two decades. No mean feat in the game development industry. Reiche is the CEO and Director of Development while Ford is Chief Technical Officer (CTO).

Will Reiche and Ford ever make a new Star Control game? It's looking very unlikely at the moment. Stardock managed to acquire the I.P. a couple of years back and are apparently at the very early stages of developing a new Star Control game, which is good news. But it seems unlikely they'd invite Reiche and Ford aboard to help develop it - although wouldn't it be fantastic if they did?

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Fred Ford ]
[ MobyGames: Paul Reiche III ]
[ Wikipedia: Toys for Bob ]
[ Wikipedia: Paul Reiche III ]

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interstellaria Review

Screenshot of ship being destroyed in Interstellaria
Only after playing for 15 hours does this happen to me. Bye bye ship. Hello void of space.

  • Developer: Coldrice Games
  • Publisher: Chucklefish
  • Release Date: 17 July 2015
  • Time played: 15 hours (INCOMPLETE)

Interstellaria is probably not one of the typical games I'd back on Kickstarter. In fact, I think I only heard about the game when it was mentioned by another one but when I read what the game was trying to achieve, I jumped at the chance to support it. As pitched on Kickstarter, Interstellaria turned out to be a 2D sim/RPG/Sandbox game "inspired heavily by games like Starflight and Star Control" (although I believe they're referring to Star Control 2 as the first one didn't have RPG elements). The Kickstarter project was a success, raising $28,805 USD on the 7 December 2013, despite the goal being only a modest $15,000 USD.

A year and a half later, the game was finally released in July 2015 but did it live up to my expectations of being a new Star Control 2?

Plot (3/5)
In Interstellaria you play the role of a human captain working for an intergalactic company called Trade Co. The company isn't as popular as it was back in its glory days but it seems to be the most multicultural of the factions in the game, employing aliens from around the known galaxy. Like Star Control 2, there are several alien empires nearby with differing cultures such as the Groot-like Suna, the octopus-like Kursha and the noble savage lizardmen called the Anoa. Apparently the galaxy used to be run by the Old Empire but they were defeated and hence why you have several fragmented empires today.

You're just about to start going about your business when you receive news that humans from your home planet have mysteriously been abducted and so begins the main storyline (if you choose to pursue it) where it's up to you to uncover a horrible conspiracy and ultimately discover who is behind the abductions.

The game is peppered with the occasional funny joke and while the plot is okay it's fairly derivative and reminiscent of other games such as Mass Effect 2 and Star Control 2.

Gameplay (2/5)
As the game is heavily influenced by Star Control 2 it's hard not to make comparisons – although this might be a bit unfair for Interstellaria considering how much of a cult classic Star Control 2 is. Like Star Control 2, Interstellaria has the sandbox element of you exploring the planets in the known galaxy to either extract minerals from planets (instead of a top-down rover mini-game like Star Control 2, you get a platformer where you control your crew with mouse-clicks) or meeting new cultures and learning more about them. In terms of combat, Star Control 2's top-down, real-time, Asteroids-like combat has been replaced with a mouse-driven, tick-based affair similar to the game FTL: Faster than Light, the only difference being you have control of where your ships move during combat.

The aim of the game is to complete the main storyline but you'll probably want to expand your fleet (you can control multiple ships), upgrade your weapons and level up your crew. This requires you to invest time and money, and with respect to money the usual way of generating this is via trading or selling any resources you come across planets.

From the way I described the game just then, it doesn't actually sound too bad right? Unfortunately, the game in reality is micromanagement hell, despite there being functions to alleviate it. Why?

Firstly, let's talk about what happens when your crew lands on planets. You control where your crew goes by using the mouse which is fine except that the AI to determine which paths your crew takes always leads them via the most dangerous way possible. Since the planetside part of the game is a platformer that means your crew will sometimes mistime their jumps or they're instead interrupted by environmental hazards resulting in them plummeting to the bottom of the map only to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Technically, you could pause the game every few seconds to ensure your crew times their jumps appropriately but that means you're micromanaging them and defeats the purpose of functions such as "Return to the Ship" or "Harvest Resources" since you can't trust them to do their job (it also would've been nice if they had a "Return to Ship and Drop Resources" button but alas they don't).

It also took me a while to get the hang of combat (and I still don't think I understand it completely yet). Originally I thought clicking on enemies would direct your crew to attack and usually they do but only with one shot. After that they tend to just stand there until they die. It's only after I found that moving a few steps and pressing the "Guard" key helped – but yet again, this involves micromanagement.

It was also very hard in the original version of the game to select the correct crewmember especially when they were all bunched up on top of each other. This was eventually fixed when a crewmember selection box on the left-hand side of the screen was implemented but now it prevents scrolling the screen when you have the mouse cursor in that vicinity (although to be fair, it'd be pretty annoying if it did that when all you wanted to do was select a different crewmember).

And those are just my gripes while you're on a planet.

While the combat is very similar to FTL which I thought was okay, again Interstellaria makes the experience worse by trying to be too smart for its own good. In FTL you only ever controlled one ship while in Interstellaria you have the choice to control a fleet of ships. Since you have complete control of which direction you want your ships to fly in the combat zone you're able to dodge (and probably expected to dodge) enemy fire. While this is simple enough to do with one ship the complexity increases exponentially each time you add an extra ship to your fleet. Consequently, you'll be pausing the game a lot and re-issuing orders a lot of the time which results in more micromanagement! Oh and did I mention the fact that the aiming of your ship's guns is in the hand of RNGesus?

While the combat is very similar to FTL which I thought was okay, again Interstellaria makes the experience worse by trying to be too smart for its own good.

Due to the complexity of having multiple ships I spent most of the game playing with only one ship and eventually splurging on two but gearing up a ship is a problem in itself. Each ship has different energy reservoirs which you require to power up components but more advanced components (e.g. navigation computers, tactical consoles, etc.) require more energy. Unfortunately, this meant that by the time I purchased my second ship for the fleet I was in an area which only sold advanced consoles which my ship could not use due to the energy requirements for these consoles being too high. Ultimately, I had to trek all the way back to the beginning area of the game to get the right components but during that time I had to make sure my crew's requirements were met (that's right folks, you get to play The Sims in this game too). This involved even more micromanagement where I had to transport ship crew members that either felt bored, tired or hungry to the other ship – wait until their needs were met, then move them back to their actual ship before continuing the journey. ARGH!

Sound (5/5)
The game has an assortment of retro sound effects that are not exactly high quality, but work well with the game's retro graphics.

Music (5/5)
One of the game's highlights has to be its excellent retro chiptune soundtrack by Chipzel. It even bears some similarities to Star Control 2's soundtrack meaning lots of early 90s goodness.

Graphics (2/5)
The game has a retro pixel art style which I find generally appealing but pixel art graphics aren't for everyone and I actually believe the graphics are somewhat of a "demake" of graphics from the early 1990s (i.e. it looks even older). Maybe it's something to do with the limited colour palette?

Replay (1/5)
As already mentioned, the game was a real struggle to play but the best part was yet to come. After playing for about 15 hours I managed to finally get to the "end-game" which starts off with a boss battle in space. Unfortunately, being a boss battle you can't escape and the boss happened to have weapons that could destroy my puny ships in one hit. After trying a few times it seemed there was no way of beating the boss except for reloading the game from an earlier save game and grinding the requisite amount of credits to buy bigger ships and more of them. The problem is, the game up to this point had lulled me into a false sense of security. Prior to the boss battle, I was mostly avoiding combat where I could since I felt it was a waste of time and didn't really give much of a reward (besides repair plates which I didn't really need unless I happened to be fighting ships). It would've been nice if some mini-boss battles were introduced beforehand so that it set you up for the big boss battle and get you into the routine of trading to upgrade your ships.

Anyway to cut a long story short I wasn't tempted by the prospect of grinding for several hours the cash needed to build an impressive armada so I gave up there and then. If the gameplay was less cumbersome and the plot more enjoyable, I might've been persuaded.

Polish (3/5)
The game has a very clunky interface, as already mentioned, which makes it difficult to have any control of your characters or ships – which is a big problem as the only way to be sure your commands are followed is if you micromanage each and every ship and crew member every second. The game occasionally has other weird stuff happening too such as when all my characters died in the tutorial but the ship kept on drifting in space (surely you can post the "GAME OVER" screen right about now?).

Score – 6/10

While I like the idea and I love the tribute to games like Star Control 2 the concept wasn't well executed. I'd still like to see Coldrice develop games in the future though but maybe the next one needs significant focus on the user interface even if it means simplifying the game as a result.


Interstellaria is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Yes, considering there's probably at least 20 hours of gameplay here if you decided to explore everything, I think it's a fair price.

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


[ LINK: Official Interstellaria Website ]

Monday, September 28, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #199 - Solar Winds - Intergalactic Travel 1



Soundtrack composed by: Dan Froelich

We now move away from the classic space trading sim Wing Commander: Privateer and on to... well another spaceship game except one with a top-down perspective, a shareware model and I assume a smaller budget. While the game had a pretty choice concept I think it suffered from having a low budget (I'm still mighty impressed though that the game was developed by just one man: James Schmalz). The music was done by Dan Froelich who also composed music for the platformer game Jill of the Jungle. While I don't think I got very far with Solar Winds, probably because I never ended up buying the game and just playing the shareware version, I still remember the particular music featured in today's Choicest VGM post. Gotta love the syncopation.

Thanks to Teppica for providing these memorable tracks.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #199 - Solar Winds - Intergalactic Travel 1 ]


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 40 - 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 (28th September to the 4th October 2015) the number of games that I reckon are worth looking at is epic; there are 8 games in the coming week which look like fun and there's a good mix including visual novels, adventure games, an RPG, a board game and a blast from the past:

Orion: A Sci-Fi Visual Novel

  • Release Date: 28/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I like visual novels that try to be different and since I like sci-fi it seems like Orion: A Sci-Fi Visual Novel will be worth a look. What's interesting to note is that the developer, Cylight Studios, is actually an audio production company so I'm expecting top notch audio and music from this game.

Screenshot from Orion: A Sci-Fi Visual Novel


80 Days

  • Release Date: 29/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order, Humble Store - Not available for pre-order

Every good science fiction fan worth their salt should read Jules Verne as he is indeed the grandfather of the genre. While his book Around the World in 80 Days is probably the least fantastical of his works (such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon or A Journey to the Centre of the Earth) it was still considered very unlikely anyone could've achieved the book's namesake in the 19th century. So it's quite exciting to see that there's a game based on this classic book that challenges you to do the same. The game is already out on mobile platforms, so it's going to be a mobile port no doubt but hopefully that won't detract from the fact the game has received many award nominations and was awarded TIME Magazine Game of the Year in 2014.

Judging by the price of the mobile versions of the game, I'm guessing the PC version will be between $5-10 USD.



Jerry McPartlin - Rebel With a Cause

  • Release Date: 30/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I like point 'n' click adventures and this one is set in the 1950s - could be worth a look :).



Swords & Crossbones: An Epic Pirate Story

  • Release Date: 30/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
While the cute graphics might be a turn-off to any hardcore PC gamers, I like just about any game that involves pirates, city management and turn-based tactics - which this game apparently has.



Keen Dreams

  • Release Date: 30/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I grew up on the Commander Keen games as a kid - well at least the main series of games but I never got a chance to play this one. Apparently Keen Dreams is considered the "lost episode" of the Commander Keen series so it's good to see they have it available for all us who are Keen for a nostalgia hit.



Lost Horizon 2

  • Release Date: 01/10/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I've never actually played the first Lost Horizon but here we are with a sequel! The game is a point 'n' click adventure (which I like) and the series seems to be a tribute to Indiana Jones which is always a good thing :).



Heroes of Normandie

  • Release Date: 01/10/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I like board games and I like games set in WWII. Heroes of Normandie manages to merge both of these likes into one game.



Omnipresent

  • Release Date: 01/10/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
While the graphics don't look too impressive in this game I am intrigued by what it's about: Omnipresent has you playing as the evil A.I. running amok on the Internet hacking into various organisations in order to do mischievous things such as manipulating the stock market, upgrading your hardware/software, building drones, tanks, death robots, and ultimately building bases to protect you from destruction. It's like Skynet Simulator 2015.



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

Saturday, September 26, 2015

First Impressions - World of Warships


Screenshot of Erie class cruiser in World of Warships
This old American rust-bucket is one of the two ships you start off with

I must sound like a broken record when it comes to MMOs but as you know, I tend to avoid them - especially free-to-play ones as usually they tread a precarious line between having a fair business model or one that is play-to-win. So I was hesitant on even giving World of Warships a try given it is a free-to-play MMO. Two things swayed my decision though: (1) Many of my friends have got into the game and (2) it's a game all about WWII naval battles which is just too tempting to resist. I've now played 9 battles in the game (which is probably at least two hours) so how is it?

What I like

  • Unleashes my inner naval captain: "Full steam ahead! Enemy destroyer spotted on the port bow! Incoming torpedoes! Brace for impact!" these are all things I can't help but vocalise on TeamSpeak despite it potentially annoying my friends to no end. However, there aren't many games where you get the opportunity to do so - I mean how many internet multiplayer WWII naval combat games are there?
  • Simple to pick up: Although there is some strategy involved if you want to play the game well, it's relatively easy to pick up since it's mainly an action game. The WASD keys are used to steer the ship and the mouse is used to aim and fire - and that's it.
  • Quick games: When you have little time remaining in your life to play games any more (such as myself) you want games that don't take too long yet you still feel like you've achieved something. World of Warships fits perfectly in this regard as each game only takes 10-15 minutes to complete.
  • Faithfully restored ships: Okay I'm no expert on WWII ships but they all seem to be rather detailed and look like the real deal. Always helps to have a bit of authenticity when doing historical war games!

What I don't like

  • Music: It's a minor quibble but while the music in the game might work well in an 80s action flick thanks to the wailing guitars and synths, it sometimes feels out of place in a WWII naval game.
  • A bit grindy: I've played 9 battles so far and haven't unlocked any new ships. I'm assuming it can only get worse from here (since usually the required XP to unlock things in MMOs increases exponentially). To be fair, I have unlocked some extra kit for my current ship so it's not entirely a boring grindfest - not yet
  • Lack of aesthetic ship customisation options: It would be nice if there were more customisation options for your ships in terms of aesthetics - you know like maybe different decals or even the ability to name your ship.
  • Needs more foghorn: Yep.

Verdict

I'm keen to continue trying this game out. I'd at the very least like to see how the other ship types work (i.e. the destroyer, battleship and aircraft carrier). The only thing that could possibly be a downside is if the grind gets way too much for me.

[ LINK: World of Warships Official Website ]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Where are they now? - Bob Bates

Screenshot from Frederik Pohl's Gateway the computer game
Bob Bates was a designer and system architect for Frederik Pohl's Gateway

There's just one more person I'd like to talk about who worked at Legend Entertainment, even though I've already typed up three "Where are they now?" posts about ex-Legend Entertainment employees. This man has been in the game industry for almost three decades, publishing over 40 titles and even writing a few best-selling books on game design. For today's "Where are they now?" I'd like to talk about Bob Bates.

Bates was born in 1953 in Maryland. His father was a mathematician and moved Bates, his mother and many siblings (he was the fourth of eight children) to England from 1963 - 1967. He eventually moved back to the United States and graduated from high school in 1971. He then went to Georgetown University to pursue a double major in philosophy and psychology (an interesting education for one who would eventually enter the world of game development). After graduating from college, Bates got a job as a tour guide in Washington, D.C. since it afforded him time to pursue his writing ambitions. Bates met his future wife Peggy Oriani in 1977 and married her the following year. He also started his own tour company called Potomac Tours.

In 1982, he sold the company so he could spend time writing a novel but he never finished. Bates's father gave him an old TRS-80 computer to help with his novel-writing but Bates discovered something bundled with the computer that would change the course of his life forever: a copy of the interactive fiction game Zork. He saw the interactive fiction genre as a good fit with his writing aspirations and so begins Bates's journey as a game developer.

In 1986, Bates started a company with a friend called Challenge Inc. with the purpose of developing interactive fiction games. Bates managed to negotiate a deal with Infocom where he would be responsible for designing games, another company would code them and Infocom would be the publisher. He designed two games for Infocom: 1988's Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels and 1989's Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur. Unfortunately, his job of designing further games for Infocom was cut short when Infocom was dissolved by parent company Activision in 1989.

Bates and Mike Verdu (who was responsible for helping Bates develop his games published by Infocom) decided that they weren't done with making interactive fiction games and both of them founded Legend Entertainment a few months later. Bates worked on several interactive fiction titles during the early 90s which I consider the golden years of Legend Entertainment. He was a producer, writer, designer and programmer on 1991's Timequest, a designer and system architect on 1992's Frederik Pohl's Gateway, a designer of 1993's Companions of Xanth as well as responsible for designing and writing 1993's Eric the Unready (and this is only a small selection of the games he worked on).

In 1998, Legend Entertainment was acquired by GT Interactive which was in turn acquired by Atari. With the change in ownership, Legend Entertainment also changed their focus from interactive fiction games to action games such as the First Person Shooter, Unreal II.

Bates continued to work on games at Legend Entertainment until its demise in 2004. He then became an independent consultant for a few years, helping to design a few games such as 2006's Tortuga and 2008's Sacred 2.

In 2010 he became Chief Creative Officer of Zynga's External Studios. He worked at Zynga for a few years but eventually left in 2014. Bates is now working as an independent consultant again but is he working on any new games? I haven't heard but considering how receptive the audience is nowadays to retro-styled games such as indie interactive fiction and visual novel titles, I think there's a market there for Mr Bates to make a comeback (if indeed that's what he wants to do - maybe he just wants to write more game design books instead :)).

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Bob Bates ]
[ Wikipedia: Bob Bates ]
[ Personal Website: Bob Bates ]

Monday, September 21, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #198 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Perry Naval Base




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

Some of you will probably be glad to know that we've now reached the end of our Wing Commander: Privateer soundtrack marathon! We've covered 15 tracks from this classic space trading sim and for the 15th track we have the track that plays when you visit the military hub of the Gemini Sector: Perry Naval Base. This imposing star base also happens to be the one you see on the game box cover - the one with the Galaxy class trading vessel flying towards it.

In Wing Commander: Privateer, Perry Naval Base is situated close to the border between the Terran Confederation and the Kilrathi Empire, and also happens to be a good place to purchase weapons (army surplus I guess!).

The tune is appropriately a military-style march and... there's not much else to say about it.

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #198 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Perry Naval Base ]


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 39 - 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 (21st September to the 27th September 2015) there's a three indie titles that I'm interested in and one of them is even free!:

Concrete Jungle

  • Release Date: 23/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order (but will most likely be $16 USD)
I actually followed the development of this game quite a while back and only recently after seeing it on Steam I thought "oh wow, it's the next game by that dude which made that addictive puzzle version of SimCity game using Multimedia Fusion". The game I'm talking about is MegaCity and it's one of the best games I've seen developed using Multimedia Fusion 2. The game is available on most smartphones and you can even play it for free Flash version online. Concrete Jungle is I guess a spiritual successor of sorts to MegaCity - it's gone for the 3D isometric look and it's looking pretty sweet. The developer, ColePowered Games, actually went to Kickstarter to secure £3,000 in funding at the end of 2014 - he got much more than his goal with £13,870 being the final result. The funds were apparently used for not only financially supporting ColdPowered Games during development but for licensing music used in the game's soundtrack. Anyway definitely one to look out for and the game is apparently going to be about $16 USD on release.



Missing Translation

  • Release Date: 24/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Free
The game is free! AND it's an adventure game! What more else is there to say? :) Oh like another game that was released recently called Dropsy, this game apparently has no text so, as the developer puts it "Everyone can enjoy it regardless of the language they speak :D".



Else Heart.Break()

  • Release Date: 24/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order, Humble Store - $17.49 USD
Okay, I admit - the inner software engineer in me was instantly drawn to the title of this game. Apparently this game is a "reimagination" of the adventure game and despite the funky looking graphics has you adopting Neo-like powers by changing the reality of the game through programming.



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

Saturday, September 19, 2015

So what's the difference between the Eagle Mk II and the Imperial Eagle?

Screenshot of an Imperial Eagle
Screenshot of an Imperial Eagle

The next major update for Elite: Dangerous, version 1.4, is currently in beta so it won't be long now before we see it deployed to the live servers. I covered two new variants for the Federal Dropship not that long ago but there's a third new variant coming soon: the Imperial Eagle (aka Eagle Mk III). For today's post, I thought it'd be good to examine the preliminary stats of the Imperial Eagle compared to the original Eagle and other ships in general.

Cost

The Imperial Eagle is more than double the price of the standard Eagle Mk II at around 111,000 CR. This puts it in Adder (88,000 CR) and Viper (143,000 CR) territory with respect to price.

Speed

The Imperial Eagle is built for speed. It has the highest boost speed in the game at 403 and a very high top speed of 302 (only beaten by the Viper's 320). Definitely wins hands down against the original Eagle Mk II which has a top speed of 240 and boost speed of 350.

Agility

The Mk II Eagle remains the most agile ship in the game. While the Imperial Eagle is the same hull mass it has a manoeuvrability of 6 instead of 10. This means it's probably comparable to a Viper in terms of manoeuvrability (as a Viper has a similar manoeuvrability rating and is only 10t heavier).

Shields

The Imperial Eagle has impressive shield strength (104) compared to the Mk II Eagle (60). It is comparable in terms of shields to the Viper (105)

Cargo

Eagles are not cargo vessels. It has the same cargo space as its Mk II counterpart which means there's only 2t of cargo space by default.

Fuel

Just like the Mk II, the Imperial Eagle's fuel tank is tiny with only 4t capacity.

Hull Mass

The Imperial Eagle has the same hull mass as the Eagle manufactured by Core Dynamics: 50t

Damage

The Imperial Eagle has slightly better damage potential than the Eagle Mk II thanks to replacing one of its small hardpoints with a medium harpoint – i.e. 2 small and 1 medium hardpoints in total. This means it has similar damage potential to an Adder but it's not quite as good as a Viper or Cobra.

FSD

FSD capabilities for the Imperial Eagle is similar to the Mk II – which is pretty average due to the small fuel tank.

Verdict

The Imperial Eagle is better than the Mk II in terms of pure speed and damage potential, but you'll have to pay the premium. The ship is more like a poor man's Viper in that it has similar shields, similar manoeuvrability, comparable speed, slightly less damage potential yet is over 30,000 CR cheaper. If you've already got a Viper or Cobra, there's probably no practical reason getting one but if you're just starting out and happen to have done a mission or two for the Empire already (to get Outsider rank) it might be worth a look. It also looks damn sexy too, like most Imperial ships.

So what do you think? Are you likely to get the Imperial Eagle?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What will it take to make Australia's video game development industry grow?

Screenshot of Australian Senate website


Submissions are closing tomorrow for a Senate inquiry into the future of Australia's video game industry. I have added my two cents worth with respect to the terms of reference:


a.how Australia can best set regulatory and taxation frameworks that will allow the local video game development industry to grow and fully meet its potential as a substantial employer,

b.how Australia can attract video game companies to set up development operations in Australia and employ local staff,

c.how export opportunities from Australia's local video game industry can be maximised, and

d.any other related matters.


Ultimately, I came up with about five recommendations based on anecdotal evidence and online studies/articles which I thought would encourage growth of Australia's very small video game development industry.

1. Generous Tax Incentives

The Federal Government should take the lead in offering generous tax incentives to video game developers but not only on a federal level but encouraging the states to follow suit too. When Screen Australia's Interactive Games Fund had its funding cut last year by the Abbott Government, I believe Film Victoria did the right thing in ensuring they still offered a means for (Victorian) game developers to request financial support.

Australia should look to countries like Canada where it now has the largest gaming industry in the world on a per capita basis: there are over 329 gaming companies employing over 16,500 people and it's mainly thanks to generous tax incentives on a state and federal level. For example, the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) offers to pay back 35-40% to gaming companies for any dollars spent on developers, artists and marketing. The ODMC also supports new game projects through the Interactive Digital Media Fund which covers from $150,000 up to 50% of a game's development budget. In the last year, apparently 23 games have received this fund. There are also generous federal funds for game development.

Australia should also open up generic innovation and research funds to game development as well as they do in Canada and the United States. Australia could also encourage the acceptance of graduates and interns into game development studios by providing tax breaks or funding to the companies that encourage it.

2. Reinstate the Interactive Games Fund

I am not exactly sure about the current state of Screen Australia's Interactive Games Fund but I'm assuming that the funds have run dry. In places that have become game development hubs such as Canada, the United States, UK and Sweden, there are often generous game development funds. I say "generous" but in reality they usually make a very small percentage of a state's GDP. For example, Texas, one of the gaming hubs of the USA (which also happens to be where Cloud Imperium Games, the developer of the largest crowd-funded game ever, Star Citizen, is situated with $89 million+ in funding) allocated $85 million to fund games development this year. Considering the Gross State Product is around $1.6 trillion, that's about 0.005% of it. The UK has earmarked $171 million over 4 years towards game development, so if we say that's about $42 million per year that's 0.0014% of the UK's $2.9 trillion GDP. In comparison, Australia had the Interactive Games Fund which contributed $20 million over 3 years, although half of it was cut. If Australia wishes to remain competitive when it comes to promoting home-grown video games development, I would recommend somewhere between $20 million - $65 million per year given these figures.

3. Make Australia attractive for game developers to live in

Software engineers and computer scientists are at the forefront of technology and so it makes sense that they would find countries that are similarly forward thinking and progressive as ideal places to live. In order for this to happen, some of Australia's current policies need to be changed and priorities shifted. With respect to the Internet, a proper National Broadband Network (NBN) would be beneficial to future proof Australia's network infrastructure (or at the very least, ensure we do not fall behind when compared to other nations). We should also repeal draconian measures such as Australia's policies with respect to Internet censorship and mandatory filtering.

While Australia already has some of the most liveable cities in the world thanks to our cities having relatively clean air, wide open spaces and being close to nature, there is still room for improvement especially with respect to public transport and our over-dependence on motor vehicles to travel to just about anywhere. Telecommuting should be encouraged whenever possible to help reduce traffic on our already congested highways.

4. Educate those with capital

Those with the money to invest may not realise that the video games industry can be a very profitable one and that some video games can now earn more money than blockbuster films. By educating those wanting to invest in new businesses and showing that the video games industry (worth billions of dollars worldwide) is only going to get bigger, this would encourage more investment into the video games industry from the private sector.

Gamers also need to be treated with dignity and respect. There is an old perception here in Australia that gamers are all children, most likely a significant factor in why the R18+ rating arrived so late in Australia. We need to foster a positive gaming culture since if we can do so, a more diverse group of individuals will enter the world of video gaming and the more people you have playing video games, the higher the chances of seeing some of these gamers pursuing careers in the video games development industry themselves.

5. Promote Software Engineering/Games Development Courses

This suggestion not only applies to video games development but software engineering/development in general. Software Engineering needs to be seen as a valid profession and not a means to an end. Often, computer programmers are seen as individuals that only build software or technology to support existing primary or secondary industries such as mining, meaning there is very little demand for software engineering or innovation in Australia, resulting in many individuals finding better employment opportunities overseas where the work is either more challenging or their skills are actually valued.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Where are they now? - Mike Verdu

Intro cinematic from the game Frederik Pohl's Gateway
Mike Verdu was Designer and Producer on the game, Frederik Pohl's Gateway

Continuing on from previous "Where are they now?" articles, I'd like to talk about another of Legend Entertainment's key personnel - and one who has continued to be involved in the game development industry unlike Mr Lindner from last week. This week I'd like to talk a bit about Mike Verdu (who was another fellow involved in the production of one of my favourite Legend Entertainment games, Frederik Pohl's Gateway).

Verdu grew up in Washington, D.C. during the 60s and 70s where his father worked for a trade union helping labourers in the developing world and his mother was a dance instructor. Verdu was big on creative writing as a child but soon he developed another passion when he discovered computers. He saved money up from mowing lawns to buy his very own IBM PC and felt that video games was the "perfect fusion of art and technology".

Verdu started studying at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute but never ended up finishing his college studies as a defence contractor was desperate for programmers so he was able to get a job straight away. Despite him claiming he would return to finish his course, that never quite happened, at least not yet.

At the young age of 20, he founded his own software development company that serviced the Defence and Intelligence community. From 1985 - 1989, he would continue to work in this industry until there was a slump in Defence spending towards the end of the Cold War meaning a shift in focus was needed. Tapping into his early love of video games, Verdu managed to move software engineers into developing computer games after co-founding Legend Entertainment with Infocom veteran Bob Bates.

Verdu was more of a producer and designer for the rest of his career and led the development of over 10 games at Legend Entertainment including 1992's Frederik Pohl's Gateway, 1993's Eric the Unready, 1994's Death Gate and 1997's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. He did however contribute music to 1994's Superhero League of Hoboken as well as 1995's Mission Critical. He also helped program 1995's Shannara.

Legend Entertainment was acquired by GT Interactive in 1998 which was eventually acquired itself by Atari. Verdu served as Studio Head until 2002 and Legend Entertainment focused on FPSs such as 1999's The Wheel of Time (which Verdu was a producer for) and 2003's Unreal II (where he was designer and producer).

Verdu eventually left Legend Entertainment and worked at Electronic Arts from 2002-2009 as a Vice President and General Manager of Electronic Arts Los Angeles (EALA). Here he was Senior Producer of 2003's Command & Conquer: Generals as well as Senior Producer on the Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth games. He was also Executive Producer on 2007's Command & Conquer 3.

Eventually he left EA to join the Facebook game company, Zynga in 2009 and served as the Chief Creative Officer there until 2012. While at Zynga, he was responsible for the development of new games such as FrontierVille, CastleVille and Empires & Allies. Can't say I've heard of any of them, but I'm not really a big fan of Facebook games, I'm more of a PC gamer as you all know :).

Verdu started up his own mobile strategy games company in 2012 called Tapzen which was eventually acquired at the beginning of this year by Kabam - a multinational company that develops AAA mobile free-to-play games.

So will Verdu ever return to more "serious" PC game development? ;) He's definitely got a lot of experience in developing games and if he ever managed to make story rich games again such as the ones back at Legend Entertainment, I'd be keen as mustard.

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Michael Verdu ]
[ Kabaam Official Website: Michael Verdu ]
[ Los Angeles Times: How I Made It - Game firm exec fuses art and technology - dated 1 Mar 2015 ]

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

So what's the difference between the Federal Dropship, Federal Assault Ship and Federal Gunship?

Screenshot of the Federal Assault Ship from Elite: Dangerous
A screenshot of the Federal Assault Ship

The next major update for Elite: Dangerous, version 1.4, is currently in beta so it won't be long now before we see it deployed to the live servers. As part of the update the there will be three new ships: the Imperial Eagle (or Eagle Mk III), the Federal Assault Ship and the Federal Gunship. For today's post, I thought it'd be good to examine the preliminary stats of the two variants of the Federal Dropship and see what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Cost

The Assault Ship and the Dropship are around the same price at about 20,000,000 CR whereas the Gunship is around 46,000,000 CR which puts it firmly in the premier 40,000,000+ CR tier of ships (along with the Orca, Fer-de-Lance, Python, Type-9 and Anaconda)

Speed

The Federal Dropship is still one of the slowest vessels in the game, but the Gunship is even slower ("IMPOSSIBRU!") at a top speed of 174 and a boost speed of 287. The Assault Ship on the other hand is faster with a boost speed comparable to a Fer-de-Lance (350) although its top speed is much less at 210 instead of the Fer-de-Lance's 260.

Agility

Both new variants are apparently more agile than the Federal Dropship. The Gunship has only slightly better agility than the Dropship ("2" instead of "0") but with the same hull mass. The Assault Ship however has a reasonable "6" and a hull mass of 480t. It's still not quite as agile as a Fer-de-Lance or a Python but it's slightly cheaper and it's no longer one of the least agile ships in the game.

Shields

The original Dropship wins hands down when it comes to shields (200) which is interesting since the Gunship which is meant to be a beefier (and more expensive) variant of the Dropship has less shields at 186. The Assault Ship also has less shields at about 133 which makes its shield capacity only slightly better than tier-1 fighters like the Eagle, Diamondbacks and Viper.

Cargo

If you're wanting to haul cargo, you might as well stick to the Federal Dropship. The Assault Ship only carries 32t by default and the Gunship is even worse at 16t. But then again, you're probably not buying the other variants if you're wanting to do some trading...

Fuel

They all have the same fuel tank size of 16t.

Hull Mass

The Gunship and Dropship are the same weight at 580t. The Assault Ship shaves off 100t at 480t although this still makes it one of the heavier ships in the game.

Damage

The Fed Gunship, as its name implies, can carry quite a bit of weaponry. While it doesn't sport a huge hardpoint like the Anaconda or Fer-de-Lance, it can carry 2 small weapons, 4 medium weapons and 1 large weapon. The Dropship has a similar loadout except for the extra 2 small weapons. The Assault Ship, despite it being more combat oriented, has less hardpoints at 2 medium and 2 large – although 2 large hardpoints are not to be sneezed at considering the other two variants only have one.

FSD

Considering the Dropship, Gunship and Assault Ship are all still pretty heavy with small fuel tanks, it's not the best ship to use on long voyages. The Assault Ship is probably slightly better thought due to its reduced weight.

Verdict

The Assault Ship seems the best variant of the bunch if you want to focus on combat. The only thing that bugs me is its low shields (although it does have a whopping 540 armour compared to the Dropship's 300). While the Gunship does have a whopping 630 armour (the most of any ship in the game) and slightly better maneuverability than the Dropship, it only has two extra small hardpoints over it and paying more than double for that seems a bit pricey.

So what do you think? Are you likely to get the Dropship, Gunship or Assault Ship?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #197 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Oxford




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

The planet Oxford which incidentally had a university named after the famous Oxford University, is a centre of learning in Wing Commander: Privateer's Gemini Sector. The planet is a large agricultural planet and its imports and exports are similar to other agricultural planets in the Gemini Sector - the only difference being its export of books.

The tune is very regal and very English (as you'd probably expect) employing many orchestral MIDI instruments. It's peaceful, playful and one of the most memorable tracks in the game - especially considering some of the main story campaign missions are based here.

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #197 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Oxford ]


Sunday, September 13, 2015

So what games are part of GOG's Indie Piñata sale?

Screenshot of GOG website with Indie Piñata sale


And what exactly is this GOG Indie Piñata sale?

Well GOG is having a sale on a whole bunch of indie games at the moment. Currently there's 25 indie games with discounts ranging from 30% - 80% off. As I haven't actually played most of the indie games that are on offer I can't speak for all of them, but a real steal is Hotline Miami at 80% off for only $3 AUD - it's just a pity there's no way to get the excellent soundtrack off GOG.

Games I am tempted to get though are A Bird Story (developed by the brilliant Freebird Games who also developed To the Moon) which is going for just under $3 AUD, Deadnaut (an Australian made squad-based tactics game) for just under $6 and NEO Scavenger (a highly rated post-apocalyptic simulation game which is a mix of sandbox and story play) for just under $11 AUD.

"Okay Mark," you're probably asking. "But WHAT DOES THIS SALE HAVE TO DO WITH PIÑATAS??!" I'm just getting to that part you impatient jerk, geeze. Apparently you can pay $3 USD (which is about $4.29 AUD at the moment) to try your luck at getting a free indie game (separate to the ones that are on sale). The indie game you get from the piñata can either be normally worth $9.99 USD and go all the way up to $44.99 USD (if you're lucky)! So you're getting a good deal regardless - provided the game you get is the kind of game you'd want to play. So far, according to the official thread on the GOG forums, this is what you're likely to get from the piñatas at the moment:

1954 Alcatraz
Aarklash: Legacy
Blackwell Bundle
Dreamfall Chapters - Season Pass
Dust: An Elysian Tail
Eador Masters of the Broken World
FTL
Gods Will Be Watching Special Edition
Guacamelee
Halfway
Jazzpunk
Legend of Grimrock
Lumino City
Machinarium Collector's Edition
Outlast
Randal's Monday
Republique (Standard Edition)
Shadow Warrior 2013
Shadowrun Returns
Shelter
Spelunky
Terraria
The Book Of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles
The Last Federation
Volgarr the Viking

So far, the two punts I took scored me Dust: An Elysian Tail (which normally retails at $21.49 on GOG) and Volgarr the Viking (which is normal $17.19 on GOG). So not bad for about $10 AUD.

Also, GOG changes the list of potential games you can get every so often. Apparently the next switch will be done in about 19 hours. The sale itself ends on the 18th September 2015.

Oh and you may have also noticed that there's no Spotlight Sunday post today - that's because there's nothing that I really fancy next week (again)!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Where are they now? - Michael J. Lindner

Screenshot from Frederik Pohl's Gateway
If you take this trip as a lawyer, there's no turning back!

As promised in my Where are they now? post on Glen R. Dahlgren, I'll now delve a bit into the careers of the other developers on the game Frederik Pohl's Gateway. One of these other developers was Michael J. Lindner which I didn't really have much information on besides what is displayed on MobyGames. However, thanks to some interwebs detective work, I've been able to piece a bit more about Michael J. Lindner's career after computer games.

So apparently in the 1970s, Lindner started a Bachelor of Arts in history at Kenyon College and managed to graduate in 1981. I'm guessing that during the 1980s he must've got into computers since shortly after Legend Entertainment was formed in 1989, he was already working on games for them.

"Star Control 3 seemed to be a big project for him as he was involved in video post production, audio production, programming character design, story, art and he was also the project leader."

One of the earliest games Lindner worked on (probably the first at Legend Entertainment) was 1990's Spellcasting 101 where he was responsible for producing its music. He continued to work on several of Legend Entertainment's 1990s Interactive Fiction/Adventure games such as 1992's Frederik Pohl's Gateway as a producer, programmer and composer, and 1993's Companions of Xanth (where he was responsible for almost everything). 1996's Star Control 3 seemed to be a big project for him as he was involved in video post production, audio production, programming character design, story, art and he was also the project leader. One of the last games he worked on at Legend Entertainment seemed to be 1997's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon where he contributed to its design.

1998 was when Legend Entertainment was acquired by GT Interactive. Coincidentally, this was also the same year Lindner studied a Juris Doctor degree at the American University, College of Law. In 2001 he started his own private practice focusing primarily on criminal and traffic defense and he's been practicing law ever since. This year, Lindner became a judge at the Fairfax County General District Court, so it's definitely quite a career change from his days as a game developer!

While it's unlikely Lindner will ever get back into game development it seems he's doing quite well for himself in his new career. To us PC gamers though, he'll always be remembered as one of the most important names at Legend Entertainment - a company that produced quality interactive fiction and adventure game titles.

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Michael Lindner ]
[ Michael J. Lindner's Law Office Webpage ]
[ Wikipedia: Legend Entertainment ]

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Broken Age: Act 2 Review


Shay from Broken Age's Act 2 converses with a tree
Dad jokes aplenty

  • Developer: Double Fine Productions
  • Publisher: Double Fine Productions
  • Release Date: 28 April 2015
  • Time played: 8 hours

Well it's taken over a year to finally receive the second act of Broken Age but in late April it was finally released! While a lot of controversy surrounds the development of Broken Age, especially it going over-budget when it received $3.3 million in funding and even Tim Schafer and other Double Fine games in general, I'm going to try to keep the politics aside for this review and judge the game on its own merits.

While I really enjoyed the first act of the game, giving it a rarely awarded 9/10, does the second act of the game conclude in a satisfactory manner? Is it in any way more challenging than the first act?

Plot (4/5)
It goes without saying that there are going to be spoilers so don't read any further if you haven't finished Act 1 yet. In Act 2, all the conspiracies are revealed for what they truly are and both Shay and Vella (our two protagonists) are thrust into alien worlds: Shay ends up traversing around Shellmound and Meriloft meeting characters that know Vella and Vella ends up traversing around Shay's floating ship, the Bossa Nostra (aka Mog Chothra).

While from a gameplay standpoint, the puzzles are more challenging than Act 1, Act 2 seems pretty light on the story. There isn't much focus on character development and I think that's partly why the ending itself isn't very satisfactory – you just don't care what happens to the characters. Despite a short epilogue of pictures playing during the credits, there are still too many loose ends and you'll be wondering “is that it? Surely there's more to this tale..."

Gameplay (4/5)
Remember when I wondered what was the point of switching characters in Act 1? Well there is a point to doing it now (I'm not going to tell you why though because it's part of one of the puzzles). The reason why you need to switch characters in Act 2 is a bit convoluted and breaks the fourth wall but I guess I shouldn't complain since I got my wish in the end!

Other than that, the game obviously works the same way as in Act 1 however some will be thankful that the puzzles are slightly more difficult (except for the aforementioned puzzles that involve breaking the fourth wall). I even had to look up a walkthrough once despite the answer staring at me in the face (I knew what I had to do I just couldn't see where on the screen the vital information was)!

"The reason why you need to switch characters in Act 2 is a bit convoluted and breaks the fourth wall but I guess I shouldn't complain since I got my wish in the end!"

Sound (5/5)
As it was in the first act, you've still got top notch voice acting thanks to professional voice actors and famous screen actors such as Elijah Wood, Wil Wheaton and Jack Black.

Music (5/5)
Once again you've got great music thanks to veteran composer Peter McConnell and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I especially like a jazzy number called "Vella's Mission".

Graphics (5/5)
I love the 2D painting art style. Not enough point 'n' click adventures are taking this approach and I reckon more should.

Replay (3/5)
Remember when I was wondering why they didn't have Steam Achievements for this game? Well, there are now Steam Achievements for this game. Consequently, I'm tempted to replay Act 1 if only to get some more Steam Achievements (gotta catch 'em all!)

Polish (4/5)
The game still has a clunky inventory system but overall the game is pretty well polished.

Score – 8/10

Act 2 of Broken Age ramps up the difficulty of the puzzles slightly but in an unsatisfying way. The ending itself isn't terribly satisfying either but high production values helps to save this game from being just average.


Broken Age is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $24.99 USD?: Yes, this is about the right price for an adventure game with high production values.

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


[ LINK: Official Broken Age Website ]

Monday, September 7, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #196 - Wing Commander: Privateer - New Detroit




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

Ah New Detroit - another one of the unique locations you could visit in Wing Commander: Privateer; like the real city of Detroit in its heyday, New Detroit is a manufacturing hub and is probably the most important industrial planet in the Gemini Sector - although that's not surprising considering the entire planet is urbanised! If you like dark, dystopian, cyberpunk megacities with acid rain bucketing down and hover cars zooming about, this is the place to be!

The music itself is rather ambient and acts more like background noise more than anything else. I especially like the fact you hear sirens every so often - probably a nod to the real Detroit's really high crime rate.

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 37 - 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 (7th September to the 13th September 2015) there's a couple of indie titles that I'm interested in; an apparently historically accurate action game called Cross of the Dutchman and a non-conventional point 'n' click adventure called Dropsy:

Cross of the Dutchman

  • Release Date: 10/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
Now when I heard that this game was going to be finally released on Steam I almost fell out of my seat. You see, I first heard about Cross of the Dutchman many years ago - in fact if you check out this blog post, you'll realise that this game has been in development since 2009. So six years later and we finally have a game we can play. So what interested me about this game in the first place? Well I always like media that's based on true stories, or even myths and legends, and apparently this game is about a Dutch folk legend called "Piers Gerlofs Donia". The game is set in the province of Frisia at the turn of the 16th century. During this time, Frisia is apparently occupied by Saxons and eventually Pier and a band of farmers takes the fight against the Saxon oppressors which is what the game will be all about. From early footage and screenshots, the game looks to be a Dutch, medieval version of Diablo which might not necessarily be a bad thing provided they really flesh out the story since I suspect that will be the game's main draw card.



Dropsy

  • Release Date: 10/09/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order, Direct - $9.99 USD
As you know, this happens to be one of the games I backed on Kickstarter way back in 2013. Since then, Jay Tholen has managed to get someone to publish the game, one that often publishes weird and wacky indie games: Devolver Digital. I hate clowns and I'd probably feel a lot like the kid in the screenshot below if I ever met Dropsy in real life, but I've had a short go of the game during the beta and it's definitely a non-traditional take on the point 'n' click adventure but in a good way. One benefit of the game is that conversations are done through pictures which means the game has the potential to transcend any language (and save on translation costs at the same time too)!

Considering the game is $9.99 USD if you pre-order the game direct, I'm guessing it's going to be about $15 AUD when it releases on Steam.



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

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Where are they now? - Allister Brimble

Allister Brimble composed the soundtrack for Chris Sawyer's Locomotion

Just the other day I gave a listen to an old favourite game soundtrack of mine: Chris Sawyer's Locmotion. Yes, I know the game wasn't a hit with the Transport Tycoon fans and admittedly, I found the game a bit too fiddly compared to the original (probably due to the game sharing too much in common with Rollercoaster Tycoon instead) but I still have a soft spot for it, especially when we talk about the soundtrack. While the original game's soundtrack by John Broomhall is very good and I'm still waiting for when he finally decides to release his reworked Transport Tycoon tracks as an album, the composer for Chris Sawyer's Locomotion, Allister Brimble, did something really choice; he composed music in the style that was popular for each era of the game. That's really hard to pull off since I suspect composers are usually good at filling a certain niche but it's almost impossible to cover a multitude of musical genres - but that's something that Brimble manages to achieve. Ragtime, jazz, rock 'n' roll, prog rock, funk, synthpop and modern electronica all make an appearance on this soundtrack and it definitely hits the right notes.

So while I was enjoying the Locomotion soundtrack, it got me wondering what Mr Brimble has been up to recently - and when did he get involved in this game music composition business?

Well turns out that Brimble was born in London in 1970 but it wasn't until the mid-1980s that he started to develop music for games professionally. In 1987 the game Thunderbirds was released on the Amiga, the first commercial game he composed music for (although MobyGames claims the game was released in 1989). Brimble would continue to compose most of his music for home computers during the 1980s and early 1990s, especially the Amiga platform. One of his most loved soundtracks is the one he composed for 1989's Alien Breed. The first DOS game he composed music for was 1992's Superfrog (another game by Team 17) and the first game I've played where I got an opportunity to hear his music was 1993's Body Blows Galactic (yet another Team 17 game). The music he composed for the game, especially the main theme ("Come on!"), was on par with a lot of dance music of the era and reminds me of the Mortal Kombat theme aka Techno Syndrome by the Immortals. Coincidentally, he ended up composing the music for the home computer version of Mortal Kombat as well.

Brimble continued to work as a composer and sound designer on a whole variety of platforms but his final PC game that he composed a soundtrack for was, you guessed it, Chris Sawyer's Locomotion! He did work as sound designer on more recent PC games but never again as a composer (apparently).

Around 2005 I believe he started Orchestral Media Development (OMD - no, not Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) with another video game composer and sound designer called Anthony Putson. I only say I think the company started around this time because the copyright on their homepage is from 2005-2015 (so 10 year anniversary this year, yay!). OMD apparently offers "custom sound design from original source material..." and "full dialogue/voice over management".

Brimble has continued to work on game audio to this very day and now has over 400 games under his belt (wow! That's a lot of games - and he must be wearing a big belt) . While he's still working as a composer, and even now is working on games aiming to be delivered later this year and in 2016, it would be nice if he got back to developing a soundtrack for a PC game :).