Monday, February 29, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #219 - SimCity 2000 - Track 8

Soundtrack composed by: Sue Kasper

Despite another track being dubbed the "SimCity 2000 theme" by fans, to me, this is the real theme since it seems to be the funkiest of the bunch. Besides, the so-called "SimCity 2000 theme" plays during the credits, so it really should be called the "Credits Theme". Anyway, this is definitely one of the more memorable tracks from SimCity 2000, so much so there's a remix of it on OCRemix:

Thanks to Simtropolis community member Biff for hunting down the SimCity 2000 soundtrack.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #219 - SimCity 2000 - Track 8 ]

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Week 9 - 2016

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 (29th February to the 6th March 2016) there are a couple of interesting Early Access games being released on Steam such as The Sentient and The Last Days of Old Earth, but as I'm keeping the tradition of only featuring non-Early Access games, there's three I think are worth considering coming up next week:

Deponia Doomsday

  • Release Date: 02/03/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
Now this one came out of nowhere, at least to me. The Deponia franchise is a well known series of point 'n' click adventure games which I have still not got around to playing (despite owning the first three games) but there's a good chance this one will be as good as its predecessors with Daedalic Entertainment at the helm.

Tank Battle: 1944

  • Release Date: 02/03/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order but likely to be $14.99 USD
I usually avoid hex-based war games since they're usually too complicated for my little mind to comprehend (well, except for Civ), but I was drawn to Tank Battle: 1944 for some reason. Maybe because I played Valkyria Chronicles recently? Anyway, it looks interesting but be mindful that a previous effort by HexWar called Russian Front rated poorly on Steam - so hopefully they've ironed out some of the issues that plagued their previous attempt.

Sunrider: Liberation Day

  • Release Date: 05/03/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
One thing the developer recommends you do is to try out the free-to-play Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius if you're unsure of whether to get this game; incidentally, Mask of Arcadius is another game on my wishlist that I haven't got around to playing yet! Both games seem to involve typical Japanese visual novel tropes coupled with turn-based strategy segments involving mechs, which sounds a-okay in my books!

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #218 - SimCity 2000 - Track 5 - Budget Screen

Soundtrack composed by: Sue Kasper

At only 15 seconds long, I'm not really sure you could call this a proper track, and yet it's such a memorable piece of music in SimCity 2000 because it plays whenever you visit the oh-so-important budget screen. Balancing the budget was a crucial skill in SimCity 2000, unless you used money cheats of course, but since I never cheated (I mean, what's the challenge then?) I always found myself dreading the budget screen, because everybody complained about not having enough money, and it never helped when your power plant was due to explode too.

I always felt sorry for the Tax Adviser, since unlike the other advisers whenever you clicked on him for advice he would automatically get booed - even when he wasn't advising you to raise taxes!

The track is actually short enough to be a ringtone come to think of it... now there's an idea...

Thanks to Simtropolis community member Biff for hunting down the SimCity 2000 soundtrack.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #218 - SimCity 2000 - Track 5 - Budget Screen ]

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Week 8 - 2016

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 (22nd February to the 28th February 2016) there are quite a few games coming out - again some on Early Access including Master of Orion. If we exclude the Early Access games there are six that I'm keen on that are being released next week:

Talisman: The Horus Heresy

  • Release Date: 22/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - $21.24 USD
BRATHA! I am PINNED here! Oh look, it's yet another Warhammer 40,000 game. Seems like The Games Workshop is intent on saturating the market with their IP as much as Disney has in recent years. I've never really played any Warhammer 40,000 but this seems to be a good fit considering Talisman is actually a board game.

The Walking Dead: Michonne

  • Release Date: 23/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - $13.49 USD
I really enjoyed the two The Walking Dead games by Telltale, so I'm keenly anticipating this "mini-series" featuring one of the major characters from The Walking Dead franchise called Michonne.

Hitman GO: Definitive Edition

  • Release Date: 24/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order but will likely be $7.99 USD
I believe that this game is a port of a mobile game but what's interesting is that it's a turn-based strategy/puzzle game set in the Hitman universe - and it actually sounds like it could work. I'm not sure what's so special about the "Definitive Edition" but as it's being released on Steam there will be the usual Steam achievements and Trading Cards included.

ComixPlay #1: The Endless Incident

  • Release Date: 25/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order but will likely be $6.99 USD
ComixPlay #1 is apparently a 124-page comic mixed with strategic, turn-based battles where you get to play as the heroes! It's not just any comic either as it's produced by accomplished comic writers/artists including Al Sirois, a former Marvel and DC illustrator.

Heaven's Hope - Special Edition

  • Release Date: 25/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order

The Germans seem to love their point 'n' click adventure games... which is just as well since I love them too! The game looks gorgeous and it's apparently got a soundtrack by an accomplished composer too. Now all that remains to be seen are if the puzzles and plot are just as good.

Stardew Valley

  • Release Date: 27/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order but will likely be $14.99 USD

This seems to be a JRPG style life sim game where you've inherited your grandfather's old farm and it's up to you whether you can make a living or not by growing crops and raising animals. It's open-ended and you can meet over 30 characters, and you're even able to court and marry 10 potential partners.

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Where are they now? - Doug Brandon (one of the composers of Gateway II)

Doug Brandon contributed to the music of Gateway II: Homeworld

I've already gone through many of the designers and producers on the original Frederik Pohl's Gateway such as Glen R. Dahlgren, Michael Lindner, Michael Verdu and Bob Bates; all of these guys were also involved in the development of the sequel, Gateway II, however someone who wasn't involved with the first but was involved with the second (at least according to MobyGames) was Doug Brandon, a composer.

Brandon has been composing music for games since the early 1990s. One of the earliest games he worked on was 1991's The Rocketeer (developed by Novalogic), which also happens to be a game I played in my youth. He continued to compose music for games such as Stunt Island, Gateway II: Homeworld (of course), Panzer General, Great Naval Battles Vol. II, Silent Hunter and Outcast.

Apparently, according to MobyGames, he had a bit of a hiatus from composing game music for several years after the 1990s but he was audio director for a company called Hijinx Studios which released a game in 2010 called Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement. Since then, there's been little information on Brandon (or Hijinx Studios for that matter) so his current status is a bit of a mystery - hopefully he's still composing music for games though!

[ MobyGames: Doug Brandon ]

Monday, February 15, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #217 - SimCity 2000 - Track 4

Soundtrack composed by: Sue Kasper

Here we have another track from the SimCity 2000 soundtrack that has been stuck in my head for a very long time. While the first 51 seconds aren't anything to write home about as it's mostly just ambience (check out the sirens at 0:39), to me, the track starts in earnest around 0:51 and it's definitely a funky, toe-tapping affair. Too bad it's really short, like a lot of the tracks on the soundtrack.

Thanks to Simtropolis community member Biff for hunting down the SimCity 2000 soundtrack.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #217 - SimCity 2000 - Track 4 ]

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Week 7 - 2016

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 (15th February to the 21st February 2016) there are plenty of early access games that have caught me eye such as Heliborne and The Ship: Remasted, but I'm going to keep Spotlight Sunday simple and just focus on games that are actually being released (instead of early versions of it). Consequently, there's only a couple of games I'm looking forward to this week and they're called My Name is Mayo and Californium:

My Name is Mayo

  • Release Date: 15/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
This game is bound to grab someone's attention, the same way I am Bread or Shower with your Dad Simulator or a whole bunch of weird, goofy sounding games - I mean seriously? A game about tapping a mayonnaise jar? So I guess I'm wanting to play this game more out of curiosity than anything else. Also, one reassuring fact is that the developer, Green Lava Studios, has developed games before and the ones he's released on Steam, Fenix Rage and Dream Tale, are rated well. The developer has also taken a lot of effort in filling out the minimum system requirements such as "Graphics: Anything that can run solitaire.", the sound card requirements being "whatevs" and the Mac storage requirements being "100000 GB of available space" compared to the modest "20MB available space" for Windows.


  • Release Date: 17/02/2016
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
Californium is apparently a first-person exploration game ("uh, oh. That sounds like walking simulator") where you are a writer trapped in shifting realities. And that last part is what intrigues me the most, being able to access alternate universes which means it's a science-fiction first-person exploration game, which makes it sound more palatable than your average walking simulator (and I'm hoping I'm wrong about applying that label). The game has been nominated for several awards and even won an award at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival for "Best New Media". Wait, a game winning an award at a film festival? What was a game doing at a film festival? Anyway, just like My Name is Mayo, I guess I'm just really curious to see what this game is like and if it is in fact a game at all.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valkyria Chronicles Review

A somewhat blurry cut scene, featuring Squad 7
  • Developer: SEGA
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Release Date: 11 November 2014
  • Time played: 38 hours

Along with Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition, I also managed to get Valkyria Chronicles for Father's Day (I'm one lucky Dad!). I heard good things about the game from Choicest Games Contributor Luke and I was amazed to find what looked like a JRPG set in the European theatre of World War II. Of course, I turned out to be only half-right, but it was enough to colour me intrigued and so Valkyria Chronicles ended up on my Steam wishlist, and eventually in my library thanks to the generosity of my wife (although choosing to buy me single player games when I don't spend enough time with her as it is, was probably a foolish move on her part ;)).

Anyway, 38 hours later, I've finally finished the game and it's time to see if this game is worth your time or not. And what is a Valkyria anyway (I don't actually answer this question, just letting you know. You'll have to play the game to find that out ;))?

Plot (4/5)

Valkyria Chronicles is basically set in a fictional Europe called "Europa" during a tumultuous period of history called the Europan War 2 (EW2). This is obviously modelled after World War II as there are similar powers vying for control of the continent and similar technology used to wage the war (except for the fact that everything is powered using this fictional resource called ragnite instead of oil). To the east, you have the Eastern Europan Empire (or just "the Empire" for short); an authoritarian regime that has advanced weapons and tanks, and is seen as the aggressor in the conflict. They also commonly use a race of people known as the Darcsens as slaves so you can see that there's a lot of parallels between the Empire and Nazi Germany. To the west, you have the Atlantic Federation; a commonwealth of allied democracies that often bicker amongst themselves often using bribery and extortion in order to achieve results, not really having the same level of technological superiority as the Empire. The Atlantic Federation is obviously a fictional representation of Western Europe or the Allies during WWII (although they're not exactly shown in a positive light in this fictional universe). The neutral kingdom of Gallia, which is where the main character, Welkin Gunther hails from, and where most of the game is set, seems to be a mixture of the Netherlands and Switzerland and at the beginning of Valkyria Chronicles, the Empire commences their operation to annex the nation.

In terms of weapons technology, semi-automatic rifles, sub-machine guns, gatling guns and anti-tank rockets are common along with WWII-style tanks. Unlike WWII though, in EW2 aeroplanes have not been developed yet which means the tank definitely rules supreme in this game.

I love the faux-WWII setting and the story of Valkyria Chronicles is told in the form of reading a book called "On the Gallian Front" containing several cut scenes. Usually the cut scenes are just of the visual novel format using the in-game engine, but there is also the occasional pre-rendered action cut scene as well.

The only criticism I have with the plot is that it can sometimes see-saw between solemn, moving and profound, to childish, trite and patronising.

The only criticism I have with the plot is that it can sometimes see-saw between solemn, moving and profound, to childish, trite and patronising. An example of one of the more ridiculous "episodes" is when your squad decides to have some R&R at the beach which is mainly just an excuse for some fan service by having the female squad members wear their bikinis. It didn't really do much to advance the plot and is definitely an oddity.

There are also a lot of situations you come across that can be considered trite or clich├ęd since they happen in just about every WWII film created. However, I think Valkyria Chronicles can be forgiven in this regard since I don't think the Western Front in WWII is common subject matter for the original target audience (i.e. the Japanese) and despite most of the plot being clich├ęd, it's countered by some very moving scenes, like when the squad mourns for a friend or when two soldiers from opposing sides show respect for each other.

Gameplay (3/5)

Valkyria Chronicles is at its heart a turn-based tactics game with RPG elements, similar to games like Jagged Alliance or X-COM, however there are some subtle differences; one difference in particular is how "overwatch" or interrupts work. In Jagged Alliance saving up action points before you end a turn gives you the opportunity to interrupt an opponent while they're moving during their turn, usually by taking a snapshot at them. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you have a similar means of doing this by placing your troops on "overwatch". So how does it work in Valkyria Chronicles? Well, provided the enemy is within line of sight of one of your soldiers and is in range of their guns, they will automatically fire on them when they pass by. They also get an opportunity to shoot back if they're still alive after the enemy has their go attacking them. Sounds easy enough right? Well the only problem here (especially when you're first learning the ropes) is that unlike other turn-based games where you get time to ponder your moves, you have to be prepared before you take your turn in Valkyria Chronicles since everything happens in real-time. You can't just stop next to an enemy and have a look around since the longer you sit there, the more chances they'll have to keep automatically firing on you. You'll get used to it soon enough but it's something to be aware of.

You can't just stop next to an enemy and have a look around since the longer you sit there, the more chances they'll have to keep automatically firing on you. You'll get used to it soon enough but it's something to be aware of.

Anyway, each side has a certain number of action points they can use to execute their turn (determined by which officer units you have in the game) and it costs one action point to move and/or shoot with an infantry unit and two turns to do the same with a tank. Objectives for each mission vary but it usually involves defeating a certain enemy or capturing a certain camp without losing your own camp. Camps can be captured using infantry and provide forward spawn points for more soldiers (although you only can field a certain number of soldiers at a time).

Speaking of capturing camps, there are a few different classes of soldier in the game and the best at capturing camps are the scouts. Scouts are armed with a rifle and tend to not be weak but they're able to run further than any other infantry class in the game (which is why they're ideal for capturing camps). Other classes include the Shocktroopers who are armed with sub-machine guns which are perfect in close range engagements, the Lancers who are armed with anti-tank weapons, the Snipers who are equipped with sniper rifles and the Engineers who are armed with rifles, just like the Scouts, but are able to replenish ammunition, remove mines and repair tanks (quite handy). Usually using a mix of all these classes will ensure victory, especially considering infantry tend to use less action points than tanks. It's also worth mentioning that no two soldiers of any class are identical; they're both fully-fleshed characters with their own background, likes and dislikes (as well as different stats). Just like Jagged Alliance where each mercenary have their own idiosyncrasies, the same applies for Valkyria Chronicles. These can be positive ones such as when Jann, a gay former babysitter now turned Lancer (I'm not making this up), is near Largo, he will perform better in combat. Conversely, you have the deadbeat engineer Herbert who has a chance of becoming moody and refusing to do anything resulting in you missing a turn. This can be especially annoying if your tank is going to blow up and the enemy has their go next. Overall, I think it's a good feature and one that encourages replays, although you have to be careful who you pick.

Like Jagged Alliance and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Valkyria Chronicles has permadeath although it's potentially more forgiving than other turn-based tactics games in that you're given an opportunity to revive fallen teammates if you're able to get another teammate to them within a few turns. The wounded teammate is evacuated from the field of battle which then opens up a spare spot in your roster if you want to receive a new reinforcement next turn. Alternatively, you can wait until the next turn and then request the same soldier as a reinforcement. Pretty easy to do if you're all within running distance of other teammates but you'll find that the reason your troops die half the time is mainly due to level design.

The designers of Valkyria Chronicles must love puzzle games because ultimately, this is how each level of the game feels like.

The designers of Valkyria Chronicles must love puzzle games because ultimately, this is how each level of the game feels like. Unlike Jagged Alliance or XCOM: Enemy Unknown where each map has similar objectives and similar rules, the rules keep on changing from level to level in Valkyria Chronicles. So just when you've become comfortable with a certain style, you'll get trololololed on the next level, because those rules won't apply anymore; You'll discover that a certain weapon is ineffective (e.g. when I tried using mortar support on a guy pointing an anti-tank gun, does he have an invisible shield over his head or what?) or that a certain elevator ride will lead you to your death or that you're meant to shoot a hole in the wall to make a bigger hole in order to drop a gangway to open up a new area. All these little "features" of the map you have to discover through trial and error usually means having to continually restore a save game and trying again (you have been saving the game regularly, right?). This is not a problem if the game was your typical puzzle game where each puzzle only takes a matter of minutes; since it's a turn-based tactics game though, it means battles can take a long time, even a couple of hours towards the end of the campaign. Just don't try playing this game on Ironman mode first up okay? I can foresee ragequitting in your future.

Sound (5/5)

I was surprised at how many high profile voice actors were recruited for the game. I was able to spot Steve Blum's voice immediately but he has a very distinctive voice and… really, I'd be more surprised if his voice wasn't featured in a video game – that guy gets around. Others include Dwight Schultz (The A-Team, Star Trek, etc.), Kari Wahlgren (prolific video game voice actor), Fred Tatasciore (Zertaul in Starcraft II!), April Stewart (South Park), Robin Atkin Downes (Prince Rurik from Guild Wars, as well as many others) and even John Di Maggio (Bender from Futurama).

Music (5/5)

When I first started playing the game, the music didn't seem that special to me. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with it; it just seemed like generic battle music. However, the soundtrack has definitely grown on me especially because Hitoshi Sakomoto masterfully incorporated certain themes and leitmotifs into his music later on in the game, which is a nice touch.

...the soundtrack has definitely grown on me especially because Hitoshi Sakomoto masterfully incorporated certain themes and leitmotifs into his music later on in the game...

Graphics (3/5)

The original game came out in 2008 on the PS3 and it shows (can you believe that it's almost been 8 years since the game was originally released?); cut scenes are of a low quality and I get occasional frame-rate drops on my Radeon HD 7850. Besides these minor gripes though, the graphics are great. I love the smoke effects; I love the comic book style onomatopoeia and I love the pencil-style shading (just pop a smoke grenade in the game to see what I mean).

Replay (4/5)

The PC version of Valkyria Chronicles has a lot of content; so despite me playing 38 hours to just finish the main campaign, there's also a whole bunch of "skirmish" missions I could've played not to mention you get a whole bunch of bonus missions that used to be separate DLC for the PS3 version of the game. You're also able to earn Steam achievements and Steam trading cards.

Polish (4/5)

In recent weeks, when quitting the game, it often crashes to Desktop for some reason and I'm not quite sure why – but since it doesn't seem to do much harm, I've just been ignoring the issue. Besides the issue with CTDs though, I didn't come across any bugs. I did find the interface a bit annoying for PC players though but I've come to expect this from games that are ported to PC. Navigating menus has to be done using the keyboard instead of a mouse, despite you being able to use the mouse in-game in other circumstances (e.g. mouselook while moving your troops or selecting units on the tactical map)! This is very cumbersome as what would normally take one click takes a combination of keystrokes instead. Also, if you're like me and often forget which key is which, you might accidentally end the turn, which often means having to manually close the game using Task Manager and restoring a previously saved game, since there's no way to access the main menu during an enemy's turn!

Score – 8/10

If you managed to take a turn-based tactics game that merged the mercenary management of Jagged Alliance along with the research management of XCOM, and then set it in WWII, you'd have something that pretty closely resembles Valkyria Chronicles. While I have a love/hate relationship with the gameplay and the graphics are looking slightly dated nowadays, there's no denying that overall, I enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles. I'm glad they decided to release the game for PC and hope Sega decide to release more Valkyria titles on PC in the future.

Valkyria Chronicles is available from these retailers:
  • Steam - $19.99 USD (currently on special for $13.39 USD)

Is the game worth $19.99 USD?: Yes. Considering how many missions there are, the high production values and the heaps of extra content included, this is probably worth $40 AUD.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Valkyria Chronicles Steam Page ]

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Where are they now? - Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

In 2014, the 20th Anniversary Edition of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was released which was originally designed and written by Jane Jensen

For today's Where are they now? let's take a look at a few of the key developers behind the classic Sierra point 'n' click adventure, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. I played Gabriel Knight a long time after my first few years of playing Sierra point 'n' click adventures such as Quest for Glory, Space Quest II and Police Quest - which is probably just as well since some of the graphics were much better than these early Sierra games and the themes were darker, more adult. Anyway, the game was fantastic; I loved the music, I loved the fact you got to explore a real city (New Orleans), I loved the voice acting (Tim Curry as Gabriel Knight!) and it was just a great game overall. So it's probably no surprise that I ended up in possession of the 20th Anniversary Edition of the game (thanks to being gifted it for Father's Day).

But who were the people behind the development of this game? Well there are far too many to mention but I'll at least mention some of the key people (to me) and that would be its designers, writers and composers. In the case of Gabriel Knight, that would be Jane Jensen, Bridget McKenna and Robert Holmes.

Jane Jensen probably needs little introduction; I've already mentioned her in a previous "Where are they now?" post and it doesn't seem too much has changed since then, at least on the games development front. Jensen was responsible for designing and writing the original Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers but she was also responsible for designing and writing for the 2014 games Moebius: Empire Rising and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition. Since 2014, she doesn't appear to have worked on any other games but that's probably because she's been busy writing novels. Earlier this month, she showcased the cover of her new book called "In the Land of Milk and Honey" which is due for release in August.

Robert Holmes, Jensen's husband, composed the music for Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers and has composed music for just about every game his wife has designed since, such as the Gabriel Knight sequels, Gray Matter and Cognition. More recently, he composed the music for Moebius: Empire Rising and remastered his original work for the 20th Anniversary Edition of Sins of the Fathers.

Bridget McKenna is credited as one of the writers for the original Sins of the Fathers, although it seems that she performed a lot of editing and documentation work for Sierra during the late 80s and early 90s. McKenna continued to lend her writing talents for a few games after Sierra, mainly MMORPGs like 1999's Asheron's Call, 2009's Aion and 2011's TERA. Nowadays she continues to write stories and publishes them as e-books. Her most recent e-book "Evenings, Mornings, Afternoons: Thirteen Stories", was released just last year. She also provides creative writing advice on her blog.

I unfortunately don't have the time to cover what happened to the entire development team but if you happened to be part of the original Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers development team, then let us know! We'd love to hear your stories and anecdotes! :)

[ MobyGames: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers ]
[ Wikipedia: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers ]
[ MobyGames: Robert Holmes ]
[ MobyGames: Jane Jensen ]
[ Wikipedia: Jane Jensen ]
[ Facebook: Jane Jensen ]
[ Official Bridget McKenna website ]
[ MobyGames: Bridget McKenna ]

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hate Plus Review

Apparently, in the far future, it only takes three days to travel over 25,000ly!

  • Developer: Love Conquers All Games (Christine Love)
  • Publisher: Love Conquers All Games (Christine Love)
  • Release Date: 20 August 2013
  • Time played: 7 hours

Hate Plus is another of those games I managed to grab as part of a Valentine's Day Humble Bundle almost a year ago called "For Lovers (of games)" and despite finishing it quite a while ago, I've finally got around to reviewing it!

I've been slowly going through the games I purchased in this bundle and reviewing them and to date, I have reviews for WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01, Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, Roommates and this game's predecessor, Analogue: A Hate Story.

As you can see, I've reviewed a majority of the 7 games that came in the bundle, which is good, but don't expect to see a review of the critically acclaimed (and puntastic) Hatoful Boyfriend any time soon since I just couldn't roleplay a high school girl trying to get it on with male pigeons – it's a bridge too far for me (but kudos to those that can)! Long Live the Queen is probably the only game in the bundle (besides Hatoful Boyfriend) that I've left to review and it's actually not a bad game at all (albeit extremely difficult). So I might get onto it since it'd be nice to have a sense of closure by completing all games in the bundle (minus one).

So, as mentioned, Hate Plus is the sequel to Christine Love's Analogue: A Hate Story. The reason for the weird title is because Analogue: A Hate Story is a play on words on the title of an earlier game by Love called Digital: A Love Story. It continues assuming you didn't prematurely end the first game (like I did) and even gives you a chance to determine what your relationship with the ship AI is, a la Knights of the Old Republic II style.

So is Hate Plus a visual novel worth sinking your teeth into? And is it any better than its predecessor?

Plot (4/5)

Just like the previous game, Analogue: A Hate Story, you continue your role as an investigator in the distant future aboard a Korean generation ship (i.e. a ship where generations of people used to live on), poring through various logs with the help of the ship's AI, trying to determine what happened to the ship. The previous game focused on the events that occurred while the current AIs (Hyun-ae and Mute*) were active, but this game focuses on the ship's history, prior to the development of these AIs. Reading the logs will reveal what happened to society on the generation ship Mugunghwa and how it devolved into a patriarchal Neo-Confucian culture based on the extremely restrictive Joseon Dynasty in Korea.

I quite enjoyed most of the plot, especially the political intrigue and learning about Korean culture in general, but I switched off during the romantic escapades that cropped up every so often. In retrospect though, that's probably one reason why this game was included in the Valentine's Day Humble Bundle…

Gameplay (3/5)

Reading emails is what this game is all about (okay, technically they're ship logs). You occasionally get an opportunity to "converse" with the ship AI but this usually involves answering questions with one of three answers. The choices you make will affect your relationship with the AI.

And that's the bulk of the game. Thankfully, I actually managed to finish the game this time so it's not as easy to "die" in this one compared to Analogue: A Hate Story.

Oh, I also think it's worth mentioning that there is a Steam achievement that's only awarded when you actually bake a cake and submit the photo to the developer; this is an example of how the game takes roleplaying to the next level. It's an interesting social experiment but can also be annoying for those that do not want to participate since even if you want to "cheat" and pretend you baked a cake, you still have to wait for the several minutes it would take to actually bake the cake in real-time! It's very much a case of go hard with the roleplay or go home!

Oh, I also think it's worth mentioning that there is a Steam achievement that's only awarded when you actually bake a cake and submit the photo to the developer

Sound (5/5)

No problems with the minimal audio that is used.

Music (5/5)

As you may already know, I reviewed the soundtrack for Hate Plus quite a while ago and wasn't convinced that it worked well as an album on its own. However, the soundtrack works as a perfect accompaniment to the game as most of the music that plays are minimalist, ambient pieces which are appropriate while you're trying to read long passages of text.

Graphics (3/5)

Graphics are quite similar to the previous game, which means it's very minimalist, but what do you expect when you're viewing what is essentially a glorified email client? Sure, the ship AI/avatars are drawn well enough in their manga style but they're not exactly anything new since the same kind of artwork featured in the previous game. The only difference I've noticed between this game and its predecessor are the photograph-style portraits for each of the characters in the story, which is a nice touch; I've always found that I remember faces better than names, so for anyone like me, this is a welcome feature.

Replay (3/5)

Just like the previous game, Analogue: A Hate Story, Hate Plus contains multiple endings and Steam achievements. The problem with visual novels in general (and especially wordy ones like Hate Plus) is that the motivation is somewhat hard to muster when you want to replay the game since despite the possibility of a different outcome, 90% of the game is going to be exactly the same and involve a lot of reading. Not a problem if you love the story or have forgotten the details but it's a bit of an uphill battle otherwise.

Polish (5/5)

I didn't encounter any serious bugs and while the GUI can feel clunky or busy sometimes, it's done intentionally to give yourself that sense of immersion as you navigate through the ship's computer (it's one of Christine Love's strengths I believe).

Score – 8/10

While the plot isn't always my cup of tea, Christine Love has to be given credit for actually improving on Hate Plus's predecessor in terms of the graphics and audio. Not only that, it's probably one of the few games out there where it takes roleplaying to the next level, requiring you to patiently wait in real life in order to access a new batch of emails or while you bake a cake. For those without patience, having to wait before continuing with the game will seem like an infuriating gimmick; to the rest though, it's a brilliant way to further immerse the player into the world of Hate Plus.

Hate Plus is available from these retailers:
  • Steam - $9.99 USD (currently on sale for $4.99 USD)

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Not at the current exchange rate. It's a bit on the pricey side and I think it's worth $10 AUD. So it's definitely worth it if you can get it on sale (like it is now for $4.99 USD).

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Hate Plus Website ]

Monday, February 8, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #216 - SimCity 2000 - Track 2 (SimCity 2000 Theme)

Soundtrack composed by: Sue Kasper

The more astute readers of my blog would've probably noticed that I missed out on posting a new Choicest VGM video last Monday. Yes, that actually happened and I apologise but due to technical difficulties (namely a power outage) I was unable to keep to my original schedule. No matter though, as today we get to hear some music from the classic city builder SimCity 2000.

SimCity 2000 isn't probably a game that is synonymous with a great soundtrack, especially when you compare those primitive MIDIs to the game music of today, but they definitely ended up being memorable, perhaps through a combination of the sheer hours spent playing the game as well as the fact that many of them had a catchy beat.

This first track, simply called "Track 2" is one that usually plays at the beginning or while viewing the game credits and hence why it gets the de facto title of "SimCity 2000 theme".

Thanks to Simtropolis community member Biff for hunting down the SimCity 2000 soundtrack.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #216 - SimCity 2000 - Track 2 (SimCity 2000 Theme) ]

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where are they now? - Frontier: Elite II

An Imperial Courier prepares to take off in Frontier: Elite II

So for today's "Where are they now?" post I thought I'd take a look at a little space trading game I loved back in the early 90s called Frontier: Elite II. I was way too young at that stage to have ever got into the original Elite which was released in 1984, but I did get a chance to play this gem of a game. Sure, the graphics look crude by today's standards but the game retained the same open-ended gameplay as Elite (apparently) and featured realistic physics as well as an accurately modeled galaxy. In fact, thanks to procedurally generated star systems, Frontier: Elite II had millions of star systems, and not only that, it all managed to fit on a single floppy disk! The wonders didn't cease there since you could not only fly through space between planets, but you could land on the planets themselves too.

While games like Wing Commander: Privateer probably had nicer looking graphics, a plot and generally more character than Frontier: Elite II, it couldn't beat the sheer size of Frontier: Elite II's sandbox and the amount of freedom you had in exploring the universe (History seems to be repeating itself with rabid fans comparing the more modern games Star Citizen to Elite: Dangerous which have similar differences, but that's a story for another day). And yet I love both Frontier: Elite II and Privateer as I can appreciate their strengths and weaknesses.

So who were the brains behind Frontier: Elite II? Well, I found it quite surprising at how small the team actually was since besides Chris Sawyer (of Transport Tycoon fame) who helped with porting the 68000 assembler code into 80286 assembler code and Dave Lowe who composed the music, David Braben, a man who probably needs no introduction, was responsible for the design, programming and graphics.

I've talked a bit about where Chris Sawyer ended up in a previous "Where are they now?" post and as far as I know, he's still overseeing any developments with the iOS/Android version of Transport Tycoon. Dave Lowe has also been mentioned on this blog before as I was a backer on his project to remake several of his old game music, including an orchestral recording of the Frontier: Elite II theme (which I'm quite excited about).

But what about David Braben? Well, not content to rest on his laurels, shortly after the release of Frontier: Elite II, he started up a company called Frontier Developments in 1994. Frontier Developments worked on all sorts of games on a variety of platforms including 2004's Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, 2006's Thrillville, 2010's Kinectimals and 2011's Kinect Disney Adventures. 2012 was a busy year for Braben as not only did he launch a Kickstarter project for the latest game in the Elite series, Elite: Dangerous (which successfully secured £1,578,316 in funding), but he was also a co-founder for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity focused on promoting the study of computer science in schools and responsible for the development of the single-board computer known as Raspberry Pi.

In 2014, Elite: Dangerous was released and Braben was also appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Braben continues to serve as CEO of Frontier Developments to this day and besides releasing new content for Elite: Dangerous, the company is now working on yet another rollercoaster construction and management game called Planet Coaster which aims to be released at the end of this year.

I unfortunately don't have the time to cover what happened to the entire development team but if you happened to be part of the original Frontier: Elite II development team, then let us know! We'd love to hear your stories and anecdotes! :)

[ MobyGames: Frontier Elite II credits ]
[ Wikipedia: Frontier: Elite II ]
[ Kickstarter: Elite: Dangerous ]
[ Wikipedia: David Braben ]
[ Wikipedia: David Lowe (video game composer) ]
[ Official Uncle Art Music website ]
[ Kickstarter: Uncle Art - A Temporal Shift ]
[ Wikipedia: Chris Sawyer ]
[ Official Transport Tycoon website (for iOS, Amazon Kindle and Android) ]

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Slaughter - Act One Review

Ah Londoners during Victorian times, such a morbid bunch

  • Developer: Brainchild
  • Publisher: Brainchild
  • Release Date: 29 January 2016
  • Time played: 3.2 hours

Back in 2013, I decided to back a game being developed by a chap named Alex Francois. He was going to develop a retro-style point 'n' click adventure called The Slaughter set in a dark time for Victorian London where a serial killer is on the loose (Jack the Ripper anyone?). Anyway, it's been over two years since Francois has managed to secure a very modest £8,170 from 403 backers (me being one of them) and he's now done a Broken Age and decided to release the game into three acts - a decision he did not take lightly but it does mean he could release the game sooner to his loyal backers and any potential new fans. He is confident he will make enough sales from the act in order to fund development for the future ones.

So how is the game? Was this Kickstarter project a bad gamble or a good one?

Plot (5/5)

You play the role of Sydney Emerson, a down-on-his-luck, private detective living in 19th century London around the same time a serial killer known as "the Ripper" is active (obviously inspired by the real "Ripper" or "Jack the Ripper"). You're getting the life beaten out of you by a local crook's hired goon when you're saved at the last minute by a kind-hearted prostitute, and so begins The Slaughter – Act One where you'll soon have a reversal in fortune although at what cost? Is the risk to your life and your sanity, too high?

The game contains a cast of quirky characters that are often not what they seem, and the dialogue has the trademark British dry humour. The plot is intriguing and generally well written and kept me returning for more.

Gameplay (5/5)

The Slaughter – Act One plays like your typical point ‘n' click adventure: You have your usual inventory that's opened by scrolling your mouse to the bottom of the screen. Here you can drag and drop items on the main screen or merge inventory items together to create new items. The left mouse button activates objects and the right mouse button is for looking at objects. Otherwise, clicking the left mouse button moves you around. Eventually you'll have a map that allows you to travel between locations such as your home, the pub and other locations in London. You can talk with most characters in the game and with important characters you'll be given three conversation choices or topics. These topics will be updated as you continue to talk to the character or once you learn new bits of information.

I thoroughly enjoyed the game and I found it quite simple to pick up, although that also means the game might seem a bit too easy for veteran adventure game fans. I found it refreshing that the puzzles were logical and that the conversation options on offer were often identical to things I would say such as:

CHARLIE: "You see Sydney, this ain't the day to wind up Charlie Finch. Do you know why?"
SYDNEY: "It's your birthday?"

I also liked the mini-game that was included in the pub called Shove Ha'penny which I'd never heard of until recently (apparently, it's a real game so you learn something new every day!).

I also liked the mini-game that was included in the pub called Shove Ha'penny which I'd never heard of until recently (apparently, it's a real game so you learn something new every day!).

Sound (4/5)

The game has some pretty choice ambient sound effects and contains no voice acting, unless you consider the audio clips that play whenever a character laughs as voice acting (although usually whenever that particular sample plays, it really creeps me out since it sounds like a demonic laugh grabbed straight from a Wolfenstein 3D-era FPS.)

Music (4/5)

The soundtrack for The Slaughter is what I'd consider a minimalist one and while there aren't any tracks that are truly memorable to me, it is effective at setting the mood for each scene.

Graphics (3/5)

The game contains pixelated, retro-style graphics along with rather wooden animations, which were commonplace in point ‘n' click adventures during the early 1990s. The game also appears to have the occasional clipping issue where Sydney will end up walking through tables or balustrades.

There are some pretty advanced graphical effects though that will bring you back to 2016 such as the gorgeous lighting effects and the blurring that occurs when the foreground goes in and out of focus.

Replay (3/5)

I really enjoyed this game. Usually it takes me ages to finish games and sometimes I lose interest in them, but this isn't the case with The Slaughter. I'm really pumped to see what's in store for us in the second act.

The game is meant to generate Steam trading cards although this functionality doesn't seem active yet. It also appears that Steam achievements aren't a feature of the game either.

Polish (4/5)

The game only has a couple of minor issues which include the occasional spelling mistake and the inability to take screenshots through Steam via the F12 key. Otherwise, I've got no complaints.

Score – 8/10

I'm definitely not feeling "backer's remorse" for contributing to the development of The Slaughter. Alexander Francois has developed a game he should be proud of and while I have some minor quibbles with the game, its quirky characters, intriguing plot and entertaining puzzles have won me over. It contains all the crucial ingredients for a top notch point 'n' click adventure but with an indie game price tag.

The Slaughter – Act One is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $8.09 USD?: Yes. It's just over $11 AUD and if the second and third acts are as good as the first, that's about $33 for a decent adventure game.

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

[ LINK: Official The Slaughter Website ]