Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wishing You All a Choicest 2016!



The end of the year is a time for reflection and a time for looking towards the future.

It's been a pretty busy year here at Choicest Games, here are some of the stats:

  • 232 posts, the second most in a year ever (the year with the most posts was 2014, and third most was 2008 with 230 post)
  • We added the Choicest Games Top 100 - a huge undertaking that took several months to compile with four contributors acting as judges; I'm reasonably happy with the result.
  • The annual 10 Most Anticipated PC Games list was completed for 2016
  • This year was the busiest with respect to "Where are they now?" posts as there were 47 completed in total
  • A Free VGM repository was added that allows people to download legitimately free PC game soundtracks.
  • 24 game and soundtrack reviews were completed this year

In terms of resolutions I made in the previous year, I think I have cut back with my Steam spending, which is a good thing. That's not to say the backlog didn't increase at all so unfortunately, I'm probably in no better position than I was about a year ago. I also failed to play 100% of my Steam library because the backlog actually grew.

In good news, it seems I just made it on my third resolution which was not to go crazy with the reviews; I managed to publish 24 reviews which is the exact number I set as a goal! Hurrah!

I'm still way behind with the Game of the Year articles since I still haven't done one for 2013. I don't think it's feasible I will get there any time soon so my 2012 Choicest Games Game of the Year post may have been the last one.

So for 2016 my resolutions will be:
  • To again aim for 24 reviews in the coming year
  • To continue "austerity" measures on my Steam library
  • To focus on indie game reviews more since it seems there's a greater demand for them than AAA game reviews (everybody covers them after all).
  • To continue the Most Anticipated PC Games List for 2017
  • To continue with my weekly segments: VGM Monday, Where are they now? Wednesday and Spotlight Sunday

Anyway, to all my loyal readers, I wish you all a choicest 2016! Thanks for checking out Choicest Games :).

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Where are they now? - Betrayal at Krondor

Betrayal at Krondor was set in Raymond E. Feist's fantasy world of Midkemia

Once again, I've come up with another idea on how to change the "Where are they now?" posts on Choicest Games and this time it's kind of a compromise of what I had originally done before.

In my original "Where are they now?" posts, I would often examine one particular computer game developer or composer and give you guys an in-depth look at how they got into the gaming industry, where they've been and, of course, where they are now.

Ultimately, the only important part of information (and what the title of these posts suggest) is where all these great developers and composers have ended up, and whether they're working on any choice PC games still. So I'm going to focus on that now, but instead of just looking at one person, I plan to look at teams of people or at least key personnel that worked on a particular game.

My guinea pig for this new style of "Where are they now?" post is going to be the key personnel behind the development of a classic Dynamix RPG called Betrayal at Krondor. This game was released in 1993 and is set in the fantasy world of Midkemia, developed by author Raymond E. Feist, famous for the Riftwar series of books. Despite the game being licensed from Raymond E. Feist, he only oversaw plot development at a high level and Neal Hallford and John Cutter were the ones primarily responsible for the game's story. Feist eventually wrote a novelisation of the game that is considered canon with some of the events in the game even being mentioned in the Riftwar novels.

In terms of what these three are up to nowadays (i.e. Raymond E. Feist, Neal Hallford and John Cutter), Feist is still writing fantasy books. He concluded the Riftwar Cycle in 2013 with the release of the book "Magician's End" and is currently working on a new saga called "The War of the Five Crowns" with the first book, "King of Ashes", to be released next year.

In terms of those working for Dynamix, Neal Hallford and John Cutter, Hallford now works for a company he created in 2001 called Swords & Circuitry Studios which is apparently a "multimedia development company" that specialises in the development of "entertainment properties for gaming, television, film, the web, and other traditional publishing outlets". He states that he works regularly as a game designer, film producer, media consultant and fiction writer. Earlier this month, a short horror film that Hallford worked on called "The Case of Evil" was released for online viewing.

Cutter, who served as the designer of Betrayal at Krondor is still working on games but nowadays it seems like he's focused on Facebook games at a French development studio called Pretty Simple Games. He joined the studio in September as a Senior Game Designer.

Oh, and whatever happened to the composer of the music, Jan Paul Moorhead? Well he's apparently a Professor of Contemporary Writing and Production at the Berklee College of Music nowadays. Not sure if he's still composing music for games any more though.

Happened to be part of the original Betrayal at Krondor development team? Let us know, we'd love to hear your stories and anecdotes! :)

LINKS:
[ Official Raymond E. Feist Website ]
[ Swords and Circuitry Official Website ]
[ John Cutter's Official Website ]
[ Jan Paul Moorhead's Bio @ Berklee College of Music ]

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Broken Age Original Soundtrack Review


  • Name: Broken Age Original Soundtrack
  • Label: Double Fine
  • Composer(s): Peter McConnell
  • Number of Tracks: 30

Just as it was with the AntharioN soundtrack, I managed to grab a copy of the Broken Age soundtrack thanks to me pledging a bit more than the standard price of admission when it came to the Kickstarter project. Whenever there's an option to get a copy of a soundtrack, my love of Video Games Music forces my hand and I can't help but pay a bit extra.

So several months ago, I noticed a copy of the Broken Age soundtrack sitting in my Humble Bundle library. I decided it was time to give the soundtrack a proper listen to so here's the low-down on the soundtrack.

There are 30 tracks altogether and both Act 1 and Act 2 are well represented. There's an eclectic mix of styles to be heard on this soundtrack including Country 'n' Western, jazz and, of course, epic orchestral music thanks to the talents of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra! There are even a few tracks that seem to have taken inspiration from McConnell's previous works such as the jazzy and playful, The Situation Room, the epic, Hero (which somehow manages to sound like Day of the Tentacle at times, especially around 0:58), the menacing and tense, Battle at Shellmound (where despite my best intentions, I hear a bit of LeChuck's Theme at 0:57), and the Carribean rhythms of Shellmound Festival (Peter McConnell worked on the soundtrack for Monkey Island II).

My favourite track on the album has to be Vella's Mission though. It has such a cool, jazzy, stealthy, spy-flick vibe to it. Consequently, I believe It suits the capable and determined Vella well as a theme.



Score – 7/10

Broken Age's soundtrack is a delightful addition to Peter McConnell's repertoire and the music really does sound better with a live orchestra, thanks to the talented Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of Country 'n' Western, jazz and epic orchestral music with some nods to McConnell's previous work. Recommended for fans of orchestral soundtracks, Lucasarts games and Peter McConnell.

You can get a digital copy of the soundtrack in either MP3 of FLAC from the Double Fine Bandcamp page here. Also, if you happen to buy the game on Steam you're able to get the soundtrack for $6.99 USD (and currently, thanks to the Steam sale, it's only $1.74 USD).

LINKS:
[ Bandcamp: Broken Age: Original Soundtrack ]
[ Steam: Broken Age Soundtrack DLC ]

Monday, December 28, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #211 - Global Domination - Select Players Screen



Soundtrack composed by: Christopher J. Denman

Hooray! Here's a track that isn't a rearrangement of a famous piece of classical music! Well, at least I think it is, since my knowledge of classical music isn't that great. However, it does have a 3/4 time signature and sounds a bit like a waltz, so who knows, maybe it is? Anyway, this music happens to play on the "Select Players" screen where you pick the AI opponents (or human opponents) you wish to challenge in your fight for global-global-global domination-tion-tion....!!!! Opponents available include:

- Abraham Lincoln
- Queen Victoria
- Otto von Bismarck
- Napoleon Bonaparte
- The Caveman
- General Custer
- Julius Caesar
- Genghis Khan
- Henry V

The tune is a favourite of mine as it's so catchy I often find myself whistling the theme while I work.

The music was recorded through DOSBOX and consequently this is DOSBOX's emulation of OPL3 I believe, the FM synthesis sound chip used in a lot of old Soundblaster cards. Also, since the track is really short, I actually ended up making it play the passage three times before fading it out.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #211 - Global Domination - Select Players Screen ]


Sunday, December 27, 2015

7 Reasons to Back Night City Assault


Damn punks.

Usually, I would be typing up a Spotlight Sunday post today based on games being released in the coming week. There's usually a lull in the release of games post-Christmas and I suspect this is what's happening at the moment since there are no games that seem interesting me which are scheduled for release next week.

This led me to check out my old haunt of Kickstarter though, to see if there were any promising projects. I stumbled across one called Night City Assault and was impressed with what was on offer, so I decided to back the project. Here are my reasons why:

1. It's a tribute to Streets of Rage!

This is the primary reason I backed. I love the game Streets of Rage and considering this has a similar aesthetic and gameplay style, it's hard to resist.

2. It's a beat 'em up with a difference

However, don't go thinking this is just a Streets of Rage clone, the game also happens to incorporate elements of RPGs such as experience points and a level up system as well as an extensive set of combat moves. The game will also feature Metroidvania-style exploration and a mission-based campaign.

3. It's made by an Australian developer

Xtra Mile are situated on the Gold Coast in Queensland. It's your patriotic duty to support Australian developers! ;) But seriously, if it means I'm helping our very small games development industry, then hell why not. Also, since it's from Australia there shouldn't be any problems in terms of the language/cultural barrier in accepting the game.

4. They've got the voice of Honest Trailers guy

You know the guy that does the voices for the hugely popular "Honest Trailers" videos on YouTube? Yep, they've got Jon Bailey signed up as a voice actor on the game! They promise to have other professional voice acting talent too such as Kira Buckland (aka Rina-chan) and Rick Whelan.

5. It's a PC game

First and foremost, this game is being developed for the PC. However, the developers do plan to port the game onto the Xbox One and provided they reach stretch goals, they will port the game to PS4 and Wii U (this is a big reason they developed using Unity).

6. It has co-op!

Well, you'd normally expect this from a game based on Streets of Rage right? But it's probably worthwhile confirming that this feature is included :).

7. It's been given the "Kickstarter Staff Pick"

That must count for something, right? :)

The guys at Xtra Mile also have a demo available of the game, so if you're not convinced by the spiel on the Kickstarter page alone, you can try it out :).

[ LINK: Night City Assault Kickstarter Project ]

Saturday, December 26, 2015

AntharioN Review

Main sto-ry, story story quest. Ma-in story quest where are you?

  • Developer: Orphic Software
  • Publisher: Orphic Software
  • Release Date: 15 July 2015
  • Time played: 15 hours (INCOMPLETE)

As I mentioned in my First Impressions article for AntharioN, I don't really know how I ended up backing AntharioN but I ended up doing so, and actually on the second Kickstarter campaign (the first AntharioN campaign failed to get funded). The game was released a few months ago and it's described as an "epic old-school fantasy RPG that combines tactical turn-based combat with the freedom of a huge living-breathing open world." I'm not quite sure why there are a lack of commas with the adjectives or if "living-breathing" is an actual word, but I'll stop being a grammar nazi for the time being and agree on most of what they say in their description, except I don't believe really feels epic. So, let us see why.

Plot (2/5)
If you told me to recite what the plot for AntharioN is right now, I couldn't tell you - suffice to say you're a bunch of prisoners (Elder Scrolls trope anyone?) that somehow get given a quest in preventing an ancient evil being resurrected to take over the world - so it's basically your typical, throw-away fantasy plot that's pretty much forgettable right? Oh alright, just to satisfy my interest I'll look up what the plot is again. Here we go:

.... oh wait, it doesn't seem like there's anywhere that the developers give a summary of the plot either. Guess they probably didn't care too much as well?

Okay I'll stop being a hard-ass now. At the very least I felt that as the developers mention, each of the five provinces seem to have a bit of character along with their major towns. You can tell they've taken the Elder Scrolls way of building lore by providing you books to read about Antharion's history and culture, but they're much shorter than their Elder Scrolls counterparts and obviously the lore isn't as fleshed out as that franchise (but the guys at Bethesda had a head start by a few decades).

Gameplay (2/5)
AntharioN works like your typical oldschool CRPG in that just about everything can be driven by the mouse! Hurrah! The game also bears some similarities to games like classic dungeon crawlers like Wizardry 8 or custom party RPGs like Icewind Dale as you can indeed customise your party of four in AntharioN. You'll be able to choose the race, sex and class of your characters and assign attribute/skill points accordingly. So far so good, this is what you'd expect from a CRPG.

Unfortunately, like oldschool CRPGs, it can be quite easy to get yourself in a position where you only realise too late that you have a deadbeat party of incompetent fools and the only solution is to restart the game (or restore a previous save game, if you're lucky). For example, you'd often think mages are pretty awesome to have in a party right? Not quite so in AntharioN thanks to RNGesus. Mage spells are potent there's no doubt about that, but considering that each time you cast a spell it has a pretty high chance of failure (and Murphy's Law dictates these should occur at pivotal points in the battle) there'll be lots of facepalms, rage and restoring of save games. Your time in this game is better spent on ditching the mages, bringing in some warriors or archers and investing points in alchemy where you can create potions.

For example, you'd often think mages are pretty awesome to have in a party right? Not quite so in AntharioN thanks to RNGesus.

I also found out that thieves are pretty useless as a class. Sure the lockpicking comes in very handy but that's the only thing you'll be relying on him to do. In a fight, especially if you pick melee for your thief, he seems to be more of a liability than an asset. I thought "surely thieves could backstab or something, right?" Wrong again, Mark! Wrong again. Maybe I should've read the manual on this... oh wait, there's no manual! Silly me!

Also, since all resources are finite in the world (once you've killed enemies no more will spawn so you can keep killing for loot, like Diablo) and you actually need to consume food to even rest, this means you could potentially reach a point where you get stuck and you'll have no choice but to restart the game. It's harsh yet at the same time very similar to games of old. So it really depends on what you deem as fair or annoying with respect to whether this is a good thing or not.

So overall, I'm not a fan of the gameplay, although I'm kind of conflicted since many of these criticisms are traits that were commonplace in old CRPGs; not only that, but some players cherish these traits and want to see them make a comeback. Consequently, all I can say for certain is that I didn't enjoy the game while I played it, but others might. Maybe I'm getting too soft in my old age? :)

Sound (5/5)
No complaints about the audio. You've got some nice environmental effects that trigger at the right times and the yawning sound that is heard every time your party rests is one of my personal favourites (unfortunately, if playing AntharioN late at night, resting the party prompts me to yawn as well).

Music (5/5)
This is by far the best quality of the game. Just read my review of Antharion's soundtrack here if you want a more in-depth look at it. Eric J. Gallardo creates a soundtrack for an indie RPG that rivals some of Jeremy Soule's work on the Elder Scrolls games. It's that good.

Graphics (2/5)
What you see is what you get: the game has pretty basic graphics reminiscent of games in the 1990s (although admittedly the graphics are higher-res at least). The animations are also basic too in that your party don't actually walk - they kind of just glide around Antharion like they're Marty McFly on a hoverboard. Finally, the game has only the introductory cut-scene but no more after that - well at least 15 hours into the game anyway, so maybe that should be rephrased to a "low occurrence" of them. Graphics is definitely not one of the game's strong points although it has its retro charm that some may find appealing.

The animations are also basic too in that your party don't actually walk - they kind of just glide around Antharion like they're Marty McFly on a hoverboard.

Replay (1/5)
I really tried to like this game, partly because I'm a backer and partly because I love these style of games - well at least role-playing games with turn-based combat, in the same vein as the Ultima or Wizardry games. However, due to the way I decided to setup my party and its skills, along with RNGesus working against me, it meant the game turned out to be a laborious grind. Since monsters were way too hard in certain areas, I had to ensure I killed every other monster on the map which was at a lower level in order to give my party a chance to level up. I felt like I was playing a typical JRPG where grinding is a necessity to succeed instead of something that's "nice to have" (i.e. makes you party a more efficient fighting machine). I spent many times reloading the game and eventually, the grind got to me and after playing the game for 15 hours, I couldn't motivate myself to play the game any more. I'm guessing at the rate I was going, the game would've taken me 60 hours to complete. Worse, I could've got to a stage where despite killing all monsters I could find, I would still not have enough experience to go toe-to-toe with more challenging foes.

Polish (4/5)
The game went through a flurry of changes and bug fixes when the game was first released although it seems to be more stable now. I don't really have many complaints except with the quests. Firstly, the quest log is only filtered by completed quests and current quests. It doesn't bother to identify which out of the several quests is the quest for the main storyline or not. Also, I encountered an instance where I inadvertently failed one quest but had no idea how. Only after asking through the forums did I realise I had consumed an item that was actually a quest item. It would've been nice if they actually marked it as a quest item or if they didn't want to do that (since it's apparently a choice between using the item or giving it and gaining a reward) they should've at least notified you that you had failed the quest.

Score – 6/10

If you like oldschool RPGs that punish you for using the wrong party setup (think old 1990s D&D RPGs), where combat is turn-based and heavily dependent on RNGesus, AntharioN may well be worth a look. On the other hand, if you're tired of these old RPG mechanics and you're wanting a game with an involving plot and better visuals, you'll want to give this game a miss. Whatever you end up deciding though, be sure to check out the soundtrack by Eric J. Gallardo!

AntharioN is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $14.99 USD?: Yes. Despite me probably not enjoying the game as much as I hoped, there's quite a bit of content here and many hours of entertainment if it indeed is your sort of thing.

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

[ LINK: Official AntharioN Website ]

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas! Here are the soundtracks to SimCity 3000, Lords of Magic, King of Dragon Pass and Warcraft II



Merry Christmas everyone! Tis the season to be jolly and receive presents, so here's four free VGM soundtracks I've added to the Free VGM Repository. Be sure to check them out if you're interested!

King of Dragon Pass

These 27 tracks were available separately for download from Stan LePard's soundcloud page and are in 1411kbps .wav format. The tracks featured in the 1999 game King of Dragon Pass.

[ Download 1411kbps .wav soundtrack here ]

Lords of Magic: Special Edition

These are 8 tracks that represent each of the factions you could play as in the fantasy strategy game, Lords of Magic. The soundtrack was released for free on Sierra's website at one point but the link no longer exists. Keith Zizza, the composer of the soundtrack, still has samples of the soundtrack on his official webpage. The tracks are 128kbps .mp3 files.

[ Download 128kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]

SimCity 3000

Jerry Martin was the primary composer for this soundtrack but had assistance from Marc Russo, Kirk Casey, Anna Karney, Robi Kauker and Kent Jolly. The SimCity 3000 soundtrack was originally available from EA's SimCity website but is no longer available from this link since the site was closed down.

[ Download 128kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]

Warcraft II

This pack was originally hosted on Fileplanet as the "Warcraft II - Official Mp3 Pack". It contains 15 128kbps .mp3 files which are recorded from the original MIDI files.

[ Download 128kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]

To check out more free VGM, visit the link below:
[ LINK: Choicest Games Free VGM Repository ]

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth - Rising Tide Review

Screenshot of Beyond Earth - Rising Tide
Oh that cannot be good.
  • Developer: Firaxis Games
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Release Date: 9 October 2015
  • Time played: 24 hours

When the base game Beyond Earth was released the game received positive reviews from the critics but received mixed reviews from the gaming public with a 52% (Mixed) rating on Steam from over 13,000 reviews. Despite the game not being the next Alpha Centauri I liked the hard science-fiction backdrop, the epic soundtrack, the greater Civ customisation options and the non-linear tech tree. Consequently the game rated well on Choicest Games, receiving an 8/10.

So when Firaxis announced they were releasing an expansion pack called Rising Tide, I was pretty excited. After purchasing the expansion pack and playing for about 24 hours (which consisted of a few games in single player and multi player) I am now ready to review it. So is the expansion pack as good as the Steam user reviews make it out to be (83% of 404 reviews) or have they irrevocably ruined the original formula?

Plot (5/5)
Rising Tide is actually meant to be set an undefined number of years after the first wave of colonists have made planetfall and consists of factions that were more focused on fixing Old Earth instead of running away from its problems (such as INTEGR and North Sea Alliance) or decided to leave too early before better propulsion technology was developed (such as Al Falah who left on generation ships instead of cryogenic "sleeper" ships). Factions such as the North Sea Alliance (NSA) also bring better colonisation technology such as floating cities (which gives them the ability to start the game with an ocean city).

Just as it was with Alpha Centauri and Beyond Earth, Firaxis have done their homework and each faction, leader and technology has a fleshed-out story behind them. What's even better in Rising Tide though is how discovering Old Earth artifacts adds to your knowledge of what happened to Old Earth. Discovering an ancient coffee machine is especially hilarious.

"Discovering an ancient coffee machine is especially hilarious."

In Rising Tide, each planetary biome has their own chain of quests which when completed will confer benefits to you (such as certain hexes having increased yields). This is not only a pretty choice gameplay mechanic but it also makes each planetary biome you play on somewhat unique which in turn helps with immersion.

Gameplay (4/5)
There's been quite a few changes to the core gameplay formula, similar to what happened between Civilization V and its expansions. The main changes I'll talk about though are the Diplomatic Capital/Traits system, artifacts crafting and ocean cities.

So, the biggest change to Rising Tide is how diplomacy has been revamped. Gone is the diplomacy system that was just about copy+pasted from Civ V, and instead we have a system that is reliant on an intangible commodity called "diplomatic capital". Diplomatic capital reminds me of faith in Civ V, probably because just like faith, you can use diplomatic capital to purchase improvements and units instead of energy. Also, certain improvements and wonders can generate diplomatic capital, similar to how religious buildings created faith in Civ V. "What exactly is it used for?" you're probably asking. Well, besides rushing things in the build queue as I mentioned earlier, you also need it in order to "level up" your relationships with other leaders (provided you have the requisite "fear" and "respect" ratings) and you also need it to sign up for diplomatic agreements that grant benefits to your faction, such as increased city strength or free workers. Finally, you can also use the diplomatic capital to level up your personality traits.

Each leader has four personality traits: political, domestic, military and one that is unique to your faction leader (for example, Daoming Sochua's unique ability is that the first wonder built in a city is free). Each of these traits have three levels and each time they're upgraded they become more powerful. So Rising Tide really gives you greater opportunities to mould your faction and even more strategies to experiment with.

Another change that Rising Tide brings to the table is the ability to craft benefits to your faction once you find some artifacts to merge together. Depending on the quality of the artifacts and what the artifact actually is (you're able to discover Old Earth, Alien and Progenitor artifacts) you'll receive different benefits such as a once-off bonus to your units or the unlocking of a new improvement to build in your cities, such as the Frontier Stadium. It's a good mechanic in that it actually encourages the player to explore the planet even more, as that's what you should be doing when discovering a new world right?

The final change I want to talk about is the addition of ocean cities. Since the maps in Rising Tide now have new resources to gather from the oceans, you're now able to build floating cities. Unlike their terrestrial counterparts, floating cities expand their borders by moving the city itself instead of acquiring hexes through culture (you're still able to purchase tiles though). I'm of two minds on this. On one hand, it seems like a waste of time to move your city, especially early on in the game, as the number of turns it takes to move a city means you can't build anything in the city during that time. However, since you gain a few more hexes each time you move the city, that seems better than the one hex at a time you get through culture. It does offer some interesting strategies too since you could technically move your city around as if it were a mobile bastion!

Overall, I feel the gameplay in the expansion is by no means perfect, but it's definitely an improvement over the base game.

"Unlike their terrestrial counterparts, floating cities expand their borders by moving the city itself..."

Sound (5/5)
Voice acting is of high quality and as good as the original. Also, they seemed to have fixed the issue with repetitive greetings being uttered by the leaders or at least it seems so (although that could just be the result of the new diplomacy system).

Music (5/5)
I'm impressed they were able to add so much new music in this expansion; in fact, you're able to download a whole new soundtrack when you purchase this game, just like you were able to with vanilla. The "Three Gs" (Geoff Knorr, Grant Kirkhope and Griffin Cohen) return with a soundtrack that sounds more alien than the original yet also more hopeful and optimistic too. The soundtrack is on par with the soundtrack that accompanies the base game; a truly epic sci-fi soundtrack.

Graphics (4/5)
Graphics are on par with vanilla Beyond Earth although it's good to see more artwork in the game in general. Since you're able to settle cities in the ocean now, there's obviously a lot more detail in the oceans too. Victory screens are now actually cut-scenes too, although they're rather basic and nothing like the awesome introduction videos.

Replay (5/5)
In total, I've played Beyond Earth vanilla for 47 hours and combine this with the time I've played Rising Tide, then that's 71 hours, which isn't too bad. I'm also tempted to replay since Rising Tide offers not only more achievements to hunt down, but also more diversity with the maps you play (as different biome types results in different side quests and aliens) as well as multiple trait customisation options with your faction leaders.

Polish (4/5)
Rising Tide seems to be more polished than the vanilla version of Beyond Earth although there are still some minor annoyances such as notifications cutting quotes mid-sentence and the fact there's no way to choose which diplomatic agreement requests to ignore (seriously, how many times do I have to say "no" to your request for "free" workers?).

Score – 9/10

For those that thought Beyond Earth lacked character, Rising Tide brings it in spades. The addition of leader traits, artifacts crafting, an uplifting soundtrack and even simple things like more artwork, helps immerse the player into the sci-fi future conceived by Firaxis and ensures each play-through is unique. A must-buy if you already own Beyond Earth.

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth - Rising Tide is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $29.99 USD?: No. Despite this being a much needed expansion to Beyond Earth a fairer price would be $20 USD (considering the exchange rate is no longer at parity any more).

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

[ LINK: Official Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth - Rising Tide Website ]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Where are they now? - Ron Gilbert (Part 2)

Basically, I don't really have the time tonight to do a new "Where are they now?" post (not to mention I'm starting to feel a bit ill) so instead let's take a look back at one of my earliest "Where are they now?" posts which was posted back on 17 June 2008 (wow, I've been running this blog for more than 6 years!).

How far the humble "Where are they now?" post has come

Back then, the "Where are they now?" post wasn't a regular feature like it is nowadays and I also didn't really have much to say back then either - meaning I had more time to research for the posts yet I didn't have the higher standards I've placed on some of the more recent posts. This was countered by me posting a lot more frequently in the first year of the blog though (so I've perhaps made the switch from quantity to quality - at least I hope so).

Anyway, back to Ron Gilbert. Back in 2008, he was still working on an action, hack 'n' slash RPG called Deathspank. Since then, Deathspank has been released as well as a couple of sequels. He also worked on a platformer game called The Cave which was released in 2013. Both games had the trademark Ron Gilbert humour, but as I mentioned in my 2013 review of The Cave, "I still [didn't] understand why Ron Gilbert [didn't] just make another point 'n' click adventure game!"

Well, my prayers have been answered since towards the end of 2014, he launched a Kickstarter project with artist Gary Winnick to create a new Maniac Mansion-like, retro point 'n' click adventure called Thimbleweed Park. Thimbleweed Park is due for release mid-2016.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Quest for Glory - Shadows of Darkness: Official Soundtrack Review




  • Name: Quest for Glory - Shadows of Darkness: Official Soundtrack
  • Label: Aubrey Hodges
  • Composer(s): Aubrey Hodges
  • Number of Tracks: 100
Being a fan of Sierra adventure games and game soundtracks in general, I was ecstatic when I heard the news that Aubrey Hodges, a composer for many of Sierra's games during the 1990s, was going to remaster the soundtrack to Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness and sell it on his bandcamp site. I loved all the Quest for Glory soundtracks since they all managed to have their own distinct styles; Hodges managed to bring together a mix of rock (complete with wailing guitar solos) and traditional, Slavic sounding pieces – it's a mix that works surprisingly well. The rock music is mainly used during the battle sequences, I guess to help get the adrenalin pumping, but you'll also hear the electric guitar for peaceful themes such as "Erana's Garden". I guess the only problem with the original soundtrack (if you could call it a problem) is that it was all done in the MIDI format which means no live instruments; this of course, is why Hodges has created this new album.

There's a whopping 100 .mp3 tracks on this album so you're probably immediately thinking it's going to receive a low score as this is what happened when I reviewed the Skyrim soundtrack, which similarly had a lot of tracks. Why do albums with lots of tracks tend to score lower on Choicest Games? It's because albums with lots of "filler" or "ambient" tracks tend to do poorly and if you have an album with lots of tracks, there's a high likelihood many of those tracks are going to be ambient pieces. Thankfully, the Quest for Glory IV soundtrack has very little in the way of ambient tracks with almost all of the tracks containing a melody of some sort. There's also a lot of duplication (at least in terms of a general tune) as many tracks are remastered tracks despite the originals also being included. You see, 42 out of the 100 tracks are new, remastered tracks using live instruments while the remaining 58 are recordings of the original MIDI tracks but played back through a high-end sound card (a Sound Canvas I believe). So if I enjoyed the original MIDI soundtrack, there's a good chance I'll like the remastered tracks too.

Overall, the remastered tracks tend to be superior to the originals especially ones that have taken advantage of a live electric guitar to replace the MIDI equivalent. Notably good examples include the Main Theme - Soundtrack Version (Real Instruments), Battle: Necrotaur - Soundtrack Version (Real Instruments) and Erana's Garden - Soundtrack Version (Real Instruments). There are a couple of exceptions though such as Battle: Wyvern - Soundtrack Version (Real Instruments) where the samples sound a bit scratchy earlier on and Thieves' Guild - Soundtrack Edition (Real Instruments), which despite being a pretty cool and jazzy piece, you can have too much of a good thing, as it drags on for way too long (obviously Hodges had a bit too much fun making it!). I also question why there was the need to remaster Hero's Death and Win Battle since they're only a few seconds long.



While a good majority of the remaining tracks (which are basically recordings of MIDI tracks played through a Sound Canvas) sound as good as you'd expect MIDIs to sound, there were a few tracks that sounded a bit discordant such as Dr. Cranium's Hallway - Game Version, Dr. Cranium's Laboratory - Game Version and Battle: Revenant - Game Version (so these tracks definitely benefited from being remastered). I also noticed there were quite a few tracks which I thought deserved a remaster but never made the final cut such as Meeting with Katrina, the Gypsies Medley and the The Burgomeister (how good would it have been to have something akin to the Red Army Choir singing his tune?).

Score – 8/10

Amazingly, despite this being such a huge album (100 tracks) there's actually very little in the way of filler or ambient tracks. I guess this is partly due to how the Quest for Glory games were designed and partly thanks to how talented Aubrey Hodges is in composing a soundtrack that encompasses many styles of music that can fit any occasion. While it's great to hear the old MIDI tracks using an upmarket sound card (well, most of the time), it's even better when you hear the remastered versions with live instruments, especially on the electric guitar! A must-buy for the QFGIV, Sierra and VGM fans!

If you're interested in purchasing the soundtrack, it's available in digital format for $15 USD from Hodges's Bandcamp page.

LINKS:
[ Aubrey Hodges's Bandcamp Page ]
[ Aubrey Hodges's Official Website ]

Monday, December 21, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #210 - Global Domination - Jupiter (World Creation Theme)



Soundtrack composed by: Christopher J. Denman

This is the second track to feature from Global Domination and again it happens to be a rearrangement of a "classical" piece of music: Jupiter from Gustav Holst's The Planets. You'd almost think that Christopher J. Deman only does rearrangements of famous classical works but let's not be so hasty yet, as we'll get to some original stuff very soon. It's probably fitting that this music happens to serve as background music while you're waiting for a new world to be created from scratch so that you can wage global domination on (instead of using the default Earth map).

The music was recorded through DOSBOX and consequently this is DOSBOX's emulation of OPL3 I believe, the FM synthesis sound chip used in a lot of old Soundblaster cards. Also, since the track is really short, I actually ended up making it play the passage three times before fading it out.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #210 - Global Domination - Jupiter (World Creation Theme) ]


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Highest Rated 2015 Games on Steam

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is the highest rated 2015 game on Steam

Usually I would do a "Spotlight Sunday" post on Sunday where I would feature a bunch of games being released next week that look interesting. However, next week there aren't any games that have really caught my attention (unless you can count the ridiculous fan service in Sakura Santa, but that series is infamous for that anyhow) and overall, there aren't many games being released during the Christmas period - probably because a Steam sale is imminent.

So I thought that I'd try and discover an objective way of determining which games this year were popular or critically acclaimed, and then use that information to give my readers tips on what to buy for Christmas. I first had a look at the games released this year on Steam ranked from highest rating to lowest and recorded the top 10. I then had a look at Metacritic for their top 2015 and took the top 10 from that list. As you'd expect, the lists are not identical as Metacritic aggregates review website scores and only ones they consider worthwhile. Also since review websites tend to review AAA titles, consequently there were quite a few on the list. As Steam has a lot more PC-centric, indie titles, it's no surprise that there are some indie titles on the top 10 list - what I didn't expect though was that there were no AAA titles!

I thought that was pretty interesting in itself and since most lists on other review sites would give you the usual tips of what to get for Christmas (e.g. Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid V, GTA V, etc.), I thought I'd do one based on Steam's top 10 which are all indie games. So you could consider this a buyer's guide to indie PC games for Christmas since that's basically what it's turned out to be!

Top 10 Rated Games on Steam 2015

In terms of how the games on this list relate to my circle of Steam friends, Kerbal Space Program is owned by 8 of my Steam friends meaning it has sold the best (at least out of my Steam friends) and it also has six on my friends list that want it, meaning it's the most sought after too. Undertale and Crypt of the Necrodancer follow closely behind though at 5 friends wanting both of these games.

So do you own any of the top 10 games on that were released in 2015 on Steam? What do you think about the ones that have been rated so highly? Do they deserve the acclaim they have received? Let us know!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Why I think Dragon Valley 2015 is choice

How can we drive when our bridges are falling... the time has come, to say fair's fair, to take care of the bridges, make sure their repaired...

Well I finally got to play the new "Legacy Operations" map which is an old Battlefield 2 map called "Dragon Valley" but remastered (sort of). Despite it being based on an old BF2 map, the map is so large that it has the distinction of being the first Battlefield 4 map that cannot run on the Xbox 360 or PS3.

Size does matter

To me, the map being large is a good thing because it brings a concept that is kind of foreign to the most recent Battlefield games: the concept that you can't be expected to walk every where if you want to get into the battle. As was the case in Battlefield 2, there was often a long trek involved travelling between points meaning it made sense to find some transportation. This changes the gameplay somewhat in a few ways:

1. You get to use vehicles more which I think is a good thing because that's generally what Battlefield is about

2. You get to experience the weird dichotomy that is war - i.e. lulls in combat where you can admire the scenery and beauty of the valley you're in, interspersed with adrenaline-pumping battles where you're fighting for survival.

3. The long distance between the points means it basically opens up different fronts and zones all across the map. It's quite a bit different to a lot of newer Battlefield maps where there is effectively only one or maybe two fronts at most, as they tend to direct forces into a meat grinder in the middle.

Anyway, in total there are 8 points, so the most I've seen on a BF4 map.

Hands off that copy+paste

Ironically, since DICE had to copy a pretty old map that hasn't been touched since BF2 days, the buildings on the map look unique and have their own distinct flavour when compared to other BF4 maps. The usual case with BF4 maps is that you'll notice certain buildings tend to have the same floor plan - you know, things like staircases in the same places, windows in the same places, doors in the same places, etc. The most likely reason is that the map designers decided to just copy+paste these buildings to save time. While it might save time it makes the maps seem less special or unique.

Brings out the team players

This is a slightly controversial one, especially considering my sample size in making this theory is just one game but I've never had a game where I've been actually able to rely on PUGs to work as a squad and ultimately as a team. I don't know whether this was just a coincidence although I'd like to think it's because all the old BF2 players are coming out of the woodwork and realise that this is how you played BF2 so once placed in an environment looking similar to that old BF2 map, all the memories of knowing how to play a proper team game, flooded back.

Comments from other players

I think the reaction to the new map has been mostly positive according to players on my usual haunt of Whirlpool, but there are critics such as this chap here:

"yeah not a fan of the new map, it just feels so big yet so packed in small areas"

I kind of understand where he's coming from but not at the same time.

While there are many positive comments about the new map, there are caveats that usually mention the game is fun if played in well-coordinated squads or teams (which is what I thought Battlefield was all about, surely?)

"Dragon Valley is massive so you need to Squad up to make the best out of the game and use Team speak"

"Yeah Dragon Valley is epic! Requires team work to win though."

"I think that an effective commander would help too. I've not played as a commander so I don't know if it works."

Conclusion

I really like Dragon Valley 2015 and am hoping DICE considers releasing more BF4 maps based on BF2 maps in the future. If they don't though, could they just make BF2 on the Frostbite 3 engine? kthxbai.

(I also couldn't help but feel nostalgic when the map loading music started as it was the same map loading music from BF2! Ah the good ol' days.)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sid Meier's Starships Review


BOOM! BOOM! SHAKE SHAKE YOU'RE DOOMED!
  • Developer: Firaxis Games
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Release Date: 13 March 2015
  • Time played: 3 hours

Despite the mixed user reviews for Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth (52% out of 13,767 reviews), I actually enjoyed the game, giving it an 8/10 in my review. So when I heard about Sid Meier's Starships coming out and that it would be basically a continuation of your Beyond Earth empire but in SPAAAAAACE, it seemed too good to be true.

So I guess that's why you're here now: to learn if it actually is too good to be true. The game definitely looked promising from the screenshots, like a Sid Meier version of Master of Orion, however when you read the fine print and realised the game was also being developed for mobile phones, it dawned on me that this game was probably going to be more like Sid Meier's Ace Patrol. So the real question is does this game have enough depth to keep you entertained? Or is it just like many other mobile games out there?

I also wanted to thank my mate DAN-
NO for gifting a copy of this game for my birthday. I'm truly fortunate to have such choicest friends!

Plot (2/5)
Sid Meier's Starships is set far in the future when the factions in Beyond Earth have taken control of the planet they've colonised and are now setting out into space with a fleet of ships to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before! *Ahem * Okay, not really, but you do have a fleet of starships that are apparently answering a plea for help against aggressors, so you're really going into space to fight for the meek and then influence them enough to join your empire/federation/alliance/tea party.

What do I think of the plot? It's a throw-away plot which has been developed just to give an excuse for the factions in Beyond Earth to venture out into space and (more often than not) fight each other. There's much less lore here than what exists in Beyond Earth and it's a shame because they could've definitely expanded on this aspect, but I guess they just wanted to focus on the gameplay. So you'd hope the gameplay is actually pretty damn good right? RIGHT?

Gameplay (3/5)
Starships actually shares quite a bit in common with Master of Orion, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in my books. You have a strategic game mode which shows all the potential planets you can control and a tactical game mode where your fleet of spaceships battles one another on a hexagonal grid. In the strategic game mode you can move your fleet of spaceships from planet to planet but each jump between planets results in fatigue which makes your fleet less effective in combat. Consequently, fatigue will be the limiting factor, at least early on in the game, on how much you can do per turn (since just about every mission you do involves combat). From this view you can do things you'd expect from a 4X game such as research new ship technologies, upgrade your ships weapons and systems, or develop planets by building cities and improvements. You can even build “wonders” which confer benefits on your fleet. If you want star systems to join your empire/alliance/federation you need to complete missions for them and build your influence. Eventually they will join you once you've maxed it out (usually after completing a couple of missions for them).

Missions usually come in the format of fighting pirates and this is done in the tactical game mode. Here it becomes very reminiscent of Ace Patrol except without the aerial manoeuvres. Combat is just a matter of getting your ships to have line of sight on the enemy (by peeking through asteroid fields) and firing. There are some other abilities you can use but I found that I rarely used them since most combat engagements are relatively easy.

So usually over the course of an hour or two you'll be sending your fleets around the cosmos, picking fights with any ruffians bullying nearby planets and then befriending the colonists living on these worlds. Eventually, you'll win the game by achieving a population victory, science victory, wonder victory or the good ol' domination victory, and then it's game over.

Despite the game being relatively basic and the mechanics not being as complex as a game from the main Civilization series or Beyond Earth, it can get addictive at times but overcoming the initial hurdle, that motivation to even start playing the game, is the issue, especially after you've clocked the game once or twice, since everything is going to be pretty much the same. There's no real character to the game, there's not really enough to distinguish one side from another, the maps consist of randomly generated (and named) planets and the combat is often formulaic.

"...it kind of feels like Master of Orion and plays a bit like it, but ultimately it's not going to satisfy the hardcore 4X fans."

Now while I did say the game has a lot in common with Master of Orion, it's only skin-deep. Yes, you can research technologies but they're solely focused on improving the capabilities of your ships. Yes, you can upgrade your ships but it's just a matter of assigning points to shields, guns, thrusters, etc. to increase their level. Yes, you can contact other civilizations but it's mainly to gather information and diplomacy is almost non-existent. You get the picture. This is why I like to think of Starships as Master of Orion-lite; it kind of feels like Master of Orion and plays a bit like it, but ultimately it's not going to satisfy the hardcore 4X fans.

Sound (2/5)
Game audio is okay, although if you keep clicking the advice button you'll quickly get sick of the phrase "Scanning Database..."!

Music (3/5)
The music is okay and besides the main title theme and maybe the combat music, are mainly recycled ambient tracks from Beyond Earth.

Graphics (3/5)
The game has serviceable, low-res graphics that you'd normally expect from a mobile game. In fact the engine looks very similar to whatever was used for Ace Patrol.

It does have cut-scenes for the beginning of the game and the ending though, which is more than can be said for vanilla Beyond Earth!

Replay (3/5)
I'm willing to give the game another couple of tries for the achievements but there's not really much depth in it for it to be a meaningful, long-term prospect. As a mobile game, it does what it does well in that it's a casual time waster.

Polish (4/5)
The game has a play guide but it would've been nice if it contained better tutorials. Also, moving in the map screen is achieved by left clicks while on the tactical battle screen you move around the screen using right clicks: it can be confusing at times when you're switching between modes.

I'm also not exactly clear what the relationship between Beyond Earth and Starships is. Apparently achieving certain things in Beyond Earth unlocks extra missions and bonuses in Starships I believe but it's never really clearly explained.

Score – 6/10

While Sid Meier's Starships isn't a bad game, I think it's better suited on its target platform where you just want a casual game to pass the time. The game lacks character and the battles can become somewhat repetitive, despite the apparent variety with the objectives. If you want a more rewarding sci-fi 4X experience, I'd recommend picking up one of the classic Master of Orion games instead. In fact, you can get Master of Orion and Master of Orion 2 for less than $9 off GOG!

Sid Meier's Starships is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $14.99 USD?: No. Considering this is essentially a mobile game (i.e. one with cut-down gameplay, graphics, etc.) a fairer price would be $10 USD or less (considering the exchange rate is no longer at parity any more).

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

[ LINK: Official Sid Meier's Starships Website ]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Where are they now? - Celestial Software

Utopia: The Creation of a Nation was developed by Celestial Software

It's been a while since I checked out development studios for my "Where are they now?" posts so I decided to get back into them. For today's post, I wanted to check out who the actual developer of Utopia: The Creation of a Nation was and whatever happened to them. It turns out the game was developed by a UK based company called Celestial Software although you see very little mention of them just about anywhere.

MobyGames lists them as having developed five games that were released between 1989 - 1994 on the following games:



But there's no further mention of them.

It's interesting to note though that two developers which worked for Celestial Software (Graeme Ing and Mark Glossop) mentioned that they actually worked for Gremlin Interactive so perhaps at some point Gremlin acquired Celestial Software or indeed it was always one of its subsidiaries. Since my lead runs cold in the early 1990s for Celestial Software, let us check out what happened to Gremlin Interactive and the two developers I mentioned, Graeme Ing and Mark Glossop.

Ing was involved with the programming of 1990's Spacewrecked: 14 Billion Light Years from Earth and Glossop joined Ing shortly after on the development of 1991's Utopia: The Creation of a Nation (it was released on DOS, however, in 1992). Both contributed to programming the game but Ing is also credited with coming up with the original concept. Glossop and Ing then helped to develop Gremlin games such as 1992's CD-ROM version of Zool and 1993's Litil Divil. They both developed 1994's spiritual successor to Utopia: The Creation of a Nation called K240 which unfortunately (for a DOS gamer) only ever found its way on the Amiga (Ing was also credited as a designer). They also both worked on another Gremlin game that was released in 1996 called Normality but after this it seems that their paths converge.

Ing leaves Gremlin Interactive in 1996 and moves to the United States to work for Sony on the hugely successful MMORPG, Everquest, its sequel, Everquest II, and another MMORPG, Star Wars: Galaxies. He eventually leaves Sony and the games development industry only to return to it this year for a company called the Daybreak Game Company. He's also got into writing books in the meantime.

Glossop on the other hand stayed in the UK and continued to work for Gremlin Interactive which was eventually acquired by Infogrames in 1999. He continued to work at Gremlin Interactive until it was finally disbanded in 2003. A new development studio took its place with many of the "refugees" from Gremlin Interactive/Infogrames Studios Sheffield joining it, including Glossop. He worked there until 2009 and served as a producer on games like Outrun 2, Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, Virtua Tennis 3, Virtua Tennis 2009 and SEGA Superstars Tennis.

So where is Celestial Software now? Well it's definitely long gone but when exactly that happened is anybody's guess. Perhaps in the mid 1990s if you consider the fact that one of its major contributors, Graeme Ing left for the United States in 1996 - or maybe when Gremlin Interactive got bought out by Infogrames in 1999. When Infogrames Studios Sheffield was closed down in 2003 though, that was a pretty good sign that it was done and dusted. However, when you consider that one of the members of the Celestial Software team, Anthony Casson, was still working for Sumo Digital in 2014 - then maybe there's still a bit of Celestial Software DNA left at Sumo Digital after all.

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Celestial Software ]
[ MobyGames: Graeme Ing ]
[ MobyGames: Mark Glossop ]
[ Wikipedia: Gremlin Interactive ]
[ Wikipedia: Sumo Digital ]
[ Graeme Ing's Bio ]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Universe at War and 5 other soundtracks added to Free VGM Repository



I've added the following soundtracks to the Free VGM Repository. Be sure to check them out if you're interested!

Fallout and Fallout 2 (Vault Archives)

This is a collection of 24 remastered tracks originally composed for Fallout and Fallout 2 by Mark Morgan. The tracks were remastered by Vladislav Isaev as mentioned here and released for free on 10 May 2010. Apparently, some of the music here is re-used in Fallout: New Vegas.

[ Download 320kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]

The Longest Journey

The soundtrack for The Longest Journey is composed by Bjørn Arve Lagim and Tor Linløkken. This album of 37 tracks was originally released for free on Funcom's website but at some point was pulled down as accessing the link now gives you a 404 error.

[ Download 192kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]

Portal 2 (Songs to Test By: Volumes 1-3)

The Portal 2 soundtrack was released for free in three stages, corresponding to the three volumes, in 2011. The soundtrack contains 64 tracks composed by Mike Morasky with the exception of the credits theme, "Want You Gone" by Jonathan Coulton.

[ Download 320kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]

Torchlight II

Torchlight II's soundtrack is composed by Matt Uelmen of Diablo fame and contains 28 tracks in total. An announcement on the official Torchlight II blog on 28 September 2012 notified fans that the "CD-quality" soundtrack was free to download.

[ Download .mp3 soundtrack here ]

Universe at War: Earth Assault

The Universe at War: Earth Assault soundtrack by Frank Klepacki was originally released for free on the Petroglyph Games forums but since the shutting down of the forums (since the release of Grey Goo) the link no longer works. Klepacki, however, still has a free download link to the soundtrack on his website. The soundtrack has 37 tracks spanning over three volumes/CDs that correspond to each of the three sides: The Hierarchy, the Novus and the Masari.

[ Download 160kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]

World of Goo

World of Goo's soundtrack was composed by Kyle Gabler. There are 27 tracks in total and Gabler has offered a lossy (.mp3) and lossless (.FLAC) version of the soundtrack on his website. The soundtrack is free for your listening pleasure but as it's a copyrighted work, so it may not be used in movies, games, TV shows, etc.

[ Download 256kbps .mp3 soundtrack here ]
[ Download lossless .flac soundtrack here ]

To check out more free VGM, visit the link below:
[ LINK: Choicest Games Free VGM Repository ]

Monday, December 14, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #209 - Global Domination - Ride of the Valkyries (Main Menu Theme)



Soundtrack composed by: Christopher J. Denman

Christopher J. Denman is a man who is often associated with composing soundtracks for Amiga games, but according to MobyGames, he's responsible for the soundtrack for a little known game called Global Domination. The game is obviously inspired by the classic board game Risk but it's much more complex than that, even giving you the option to lead your troops into battle in a primitive Real-Time Strategy mode!

This also happens to be the second time I recall "Ride of the Valkyries" by Richard Wagner featuring on Choicest VGM; the first time it featured it was on Frontier: Elite II's soundtrack as arranged by Dave Lowe. Seems to be a popular piece of "classical" music! This track is heard when you boot up the game and when you're on the main menu screen.

The music was recorded through DOSBOX and consequently this is DOSBOX's emulation of OPL3 I believe, the FM synthesis sound chip used in a lot of old Soundblaster cards.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #209 - Global Domination - Ride of the Valkyries (Main Menu Theme) ]


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 51 - 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 the regular followers of this segment you may have noticed we didn't have a spotlight on any games last Sunday but that's because I was still running the The 10 Most Anticipated PC Games of 2016 feature instead.

This week (14th December to the 20th December 2015) there's a whopping six games coming out that I think are worth checking out (in fact, if I included Early Access releases, there'd be even more). I'm guessing developers are trying to take advantage of Christmas in order to sell their games perhaps? Anyway, all games to feature this week are indie games and there's a mixed bag of genres here:

Gulf of Aden - Task Force Somalia

  • Release Date: 14/12/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I've never played any of the new crop of tower defence games but I do remember playing the Warcraft 3 mod of it, and I am aware that it's one of the most popular game genres in the past few years. So another one couldn't hurt right? Well Gulf of Aden - Task Force Somalia has a couple of differences; firstly, as you can tell by its title, it's (somehow) based on recent world events with respect to the rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia. Secondly, apparently the game has implemented some RTS elements too. So depending on the price, this could be a good one to pick up!



Star Nomad 2

  • Release Date: 14/12/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
This game is, as you can probably tell, a sequel to the game that Huy Phan (or Half Geek Studios) released in 2014. While the first one received mixed reviews on Steam (63% rating out of 30 reviews), I'm still keen to give it a shot since it seems to be a mix of space trading games like Privateer but with similar visuals to games like Solar Winds. Star Nomad 2 has been described by the developer as a "space trader" and "combat sim set in a dynamic sandbox". It apparently has tactical squad combat gameplay and random encounters inspired by Fallout, Star Wolves and FTL, dynamic factional conquest inspired by Mount & Blade and space trading/simulation in a dynamic universe inspired by Escape Velocity, Privateer and Freelancer. There are a lot of games in that list that I love so this whole Star Nomad series sounds like something I should jump into soon.

(As an aside, I also now hate Huy Phan - because he's an Australian developer with kids who still manages to find the time and motivation to develop indie games! If only I was that awesome!)


Gigachess

  • Release Date: 16/12/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order but likely to be $3.99 USD, Direct - Free, although $3.99 USD for "full" version
The game sounds like an interesting concept despite being based on a very old game... namely chess. Gigachess has you trying to prevent waves of pawns trying to cross the board. You use a customised party of rooks, bishops and knights. Sounds like one of those games that are simple to learn but hard to master... just like standard chess.



Pay2Win: The Tricks Exposed

  • Release Date: 16/12/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I had a lot of fun with the game DLC Quest and this seems to be the MMO version of it - basically a parody game that pokes fun at some of the more unpopular gaming industry practices.



Sinless

  • Release Date: 17/12/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
Science fiction? Check. Visual Novel/Point 'n' click adventure? Check. Inspired by classics of the genre like Rise of the Dragon? Check. References to other games like Deus Ex and Sleeping Dogs? Check. Okay, where do I sign-up?



Aviary Attorney

  • Release Date: 19/12/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I remember first seeing this game on Kickstarter and was very tempted to back it but for some reason or another, I didn't at the time. Fortunately, it seems that the game is finished and will be released next week! It looks like to be a mix of Ace Attorney, Hatoful Boyfriend and several Sherlock Holmes games, although set in 19th century Paris with gorgeous visuals and soundtrack to boot. I'm probably most keen to play this one out all that have featured in this post.





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

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Choicest Games launches Free VGM Repository


This has been an idea that has floating in my head for sometime but it's only now that I've finally found the time and motivation to do it.

While I'm by no means the first site or webpage to have a list of download links to legitimately free Video Game Music (VGM), I've noticed that some of the music from older games are starting to become harder to acquire, as the sites that used to host them are now becoming defunct. Consequently, I thought it would be a shame to lose these awesome gifts to the gaming community, especially soundtracks from PC games, so I decided I would start my own Free VGM Repository.

It's not much to look at yet, as it only consists of four soundtracks, namely the soundtracks for Arcanum, Cthulu Saves the World, Deus Ex: Invisible War and E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy - although ultimately I suspect there aren't going to be too many soundtracks listed here anyway since they'll all be (a) soundtracks that are legitimately free and (b) generally soundtracks from PC games that I've played.

There are more game soundtracks in the pipeline; I intend to at least add the following soon:
  • The 39 Steps
  • Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 by Mark Morgan
  • King of Dragon Pass
  • The Longest Journey
  • Portal 2
  • SimCity 3000 by Jerry Martin
  • Torchlight 2 by Matt Uelmen
  • Universe at War by Frank Klepacki
  • The Ur-Quan Masters by the Precursors
  • The Witcher
  • World of Goo

Currently I use a cloud/online storage service called PCloud to store these files and I trust that nobody will have issues in downloading them. Let me know if you do.

[ LINK: Free VGM Repository by Choicest Games ]

Friday, December 11, 2015

World of Warships Review

This ship has seen better days
  • Developer: Wargaming.net
  • Publisher: Wargaming.net
  • Release Date: 17 September 2015
  • Time played: 18 hours

As a father of a young child and working full-time, I don't get as much time to play games as I used to but I keep convincing myself that one day it'll be totally awesome because my child will be old enough to play with me (at least that's the theory, she'll probably be sick of computers by then and would rather never see one again). Anyway, until that time I have to be mindful of how much gaming I do and more importantly find games that suit my current circumstances. This is why I usually play games like Battlefield 4 or short, point 'n' click adventures since I can still feel like I've achieved something in a fraction of the time. This also means I don't tend to like open world, sandbox games or MMOs and... am I going to get around to reviewing World of Warships (WOWS)? Yes, yes, I'm getting there.

Anyway, my friends who have a bit more time to play games (or at least try out new ones) came across World of Warships and since they're awesome friends, they realised that in order to get me to play multiplayer games with them, like Battlefield 4 it had to be a game that was easy to pick up, play for a few minutes and yet still feel like I've achieved something, or at least had fun with. They believed World of Warships ticked all these boxes and since the game is free-to-play, the only thing I would waste by giving it a go is my Internet quota.

So is World of Warships a worthwhile game for those with a small amount of gaming time? Is the game worth playing considering the market is saturated with free-to-play titles, port, starboard and centre? Steady as she goes, dear reader!

Gameplay (4/5)
WOWS is quite simple to pick up and provided you know how to play FPSs, you shouldn't have any problems. Your ship is controlled with the WASD keys and the mouse; the WASD keys control which direction your ship steers as well as its acceleration/deceleration, while the mouse controls the direction your turrets face as well as their elevation. Clicking the mouse button fires your guns and that's about it!

Of course, there's a bit more to the game than the simple explanation I offered above, but that should be enough to get you going. There are a few other crucial commands (such as the SHIFT key pulling up binoculars, the number keys corresponding to different weapons, the "R" key repairing your ship, etc.) but as I've mentioned already, the layout shouldn't be too dissimilar to what you'd expect while playing an FPS.

Usually you will play on a team of ships versus an opposing force of equal number. The objective is usually to destroy all enemies or control sectors on the map in order to win a points victory. Sounds easy enough, but unlike FPSs your projectiles are firing over a longer distance, tend to move slower and tend to arc more than a bullet. Consequently, I like to think that the game is a bit like an artillery game, such as Worms but only in 3D, and on the ocean, and er… without worms.

Games tend to be pretty quick and are over within 10-15 minutes. If you managed to get some hits on enemy vessels or even sink a few, you'll gain experience points which you can then use to either upgrade your ships or unlock new ones. There are four classes of ships to unlock (destroyers, cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers), each with their strengths and weaknesses, and there are ship trees for several navies (although as I type up this review, only the Japanese and American navies are fully fleshed out).

So the game is easy to pick up and each match tends to be pretty quick – perfect for gamers who have busy lives and are short on time (or have many interruptions)!

So the game is easy to pick up and each match tends to be pretty quick – perfect for gamers who have busy lives and are short on time (or have many interruptions)! However, this game is Free-to-Play so there has to be a catch right? Is the game full of grind? Is it pay-to-win? These are valid questions.

In terms of grind, I definitely can feel it, since I'm only at Tier III and I've only just unlocked my first battleship! I've yet to unlock my first aircraft carrier because the ship tech tree forces you down a certain path where you have to unlock different classes of ship first before giving it a go. To some degree, I can appreciate what they're doing in that it's forcing the player to learn the ropes with potentially "easier" ships before using ones which are harder to master. However, it doesn't help if you're already a veteran player that has already made his/her mind up about which is your favourite class and have to go through the whole process again for another navy. However, if grind was the only big problem with WOWS then that's not too bad considering it's a Free-to-Play game after all; you still at least have the choice to acquire things for free besides the obvious shortcuts involving real money. And on the topic of shortcuts using real money, is WOWS "pay to win"?

I have to be honest that personally, I can't definitively answer this question as I've never played PvP in WOWS, which is where "pay to win" would become an issue. It's definitely not "pay to win" for the PvE component (which I've enjoyed with friends) because you're fighting against bots anyway that mirror your side exactly in terms of its composition. From the players I've interviewed though they (thankfully) say the game isn't "pay to win" but that the grind gets even worse with higher tier ships. Basically, once you get to higher tiers your rewards from battles are sometimes not even enough to cover the costs of re-arming and repairing your ships! Usually you'll have to play with lower tier ships in the meantime to generate enough "income" to maintain your higher tier ones! Or (of course) you could pay real money to speed up the process.

So grind is still probably the biggest issue with the game but this is pretty commonplace with the MMO genre.

Sound (5/5)
There's actually not too much in the way of sound effects besides the guns firing, explosions going off and the ship creaking after taking damage – but I suppose that's all you really need and they all sound authentic enough. Would've been nice if they had a foghorn although I suspect if it were introduced it would be prone to abuse…

Music (3/5)
The music in the game might work well in an 80s action flick thanks to the wailing guitars and the high adrenaline synths but it sometimes feels out of place in a naval game set in WWI/WWII. There's even a track in there that sounds a bit like the Mass Effect theme (hmmm now there's an idea, a Mass Effect naval space battles game!).

Graphics (4/5)
Wargaming have done a good job in faithfully restoring the ships and there's quite a lot of detail in the models. The animations are great too from the smoke billowing out of the funnels (in-sync with however fast you're travelling) to the concussive effects on the ocean whenever a battleship fires a broadside. The textures used when the ships are damaged however seem to be rather low-res and the trees on the islands look like cardboard cut-outs, but I guess you can't have everything :). There's also a distinct lack of ship customisation options such as decals or paint jobs (although maybe that's the point of the Premium ships).

The animations are great too from the smoke billowing out of the funnels (in-sync with however fast you're travelling) to the concussive effects on the ocean whenever a battleship fires a broadside.

Replay (3/5)
I'm of two minds about this, hence the above score. While I've definitely played quite a bit of the game in the past few weeks I've only really ever played it when friends were online as I'm not motivated enough to play MMOs by myself unless they have some kind of storyline or campaign to follow, which World of Warships doesn't. Also, as already mentioned, the game is a bit grindy so it takes a while to get enough XP to unlock new ships and I'm only at Tier III at the moment! Whether I continue to come back and play World of Warships in the future is consequently dependent on whether my friends continue to do so and whether the grind becomes intolerable or not.

Polish (4/5)
The game's interface is pretty intuitive, the only issue I had was actually trying to figure out how to setup divisions with your friends since you have a "Create Division" button at the top of the screen but clicking on that only doesn't show your contacts list. Instead, you have to go to the contacts list in order to invite friends to a division. It's also quite easy in World of Warships to sell your Premium ships by accident (which occurred with one of our contributors). This can be quite an expensive mistake as some premium ships can go for over $60 USD. Thankfully, in the case of our contributor, his ship was reimbursed but apparently you only get one chance to do this with Wargaming.net otherwise if you happen to do it again, it's bye bye real money.

Score – 8/10

If you want an action-packed, multiplayer game that allows you to unleash your inner naval captain, what are you waiting for? World of Warships is free and it's worth giving a shot. Continued enjoyment with the game would depend on whether you can tolerate the grind or not but I suspect that's the point with a lot of Free-to-Play titles, including World of Warships.

World of Warships is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official World of Warships Website ]