The Animal Farm

February 1st, 2014

Neptune’s Pride

Though I’ve been playing a small bit of Guild Wars 2, most of my gaming thoughts have been focused on the vicious warfare happening between me and my coworkers in Neptune’s Pride 2.

NP2 is a space warfare game, a 4X game focused on research, exploration, and destruction. The basic gameplay mechanics are simple - you amass armies and lunge them at your opponents, trying to conquer half the galaxy.

The primary “hook” is that games take place over a long, long time period, but you only need to spend a few minutes a day playing. Traveling between two close locations can easily take 5 hours. Researching technology takes days. A game can easily last multiple weeks.

It gives rise to a number of interesting strategies. If you’re up at 3AM, can you launch a sneak attack that catches your opponent unaware and ruins his morning? If your ships are attacking a planet 6 hours away, will they make it there before the opponent realizes and brings in reinforcements or upgrades their weapon technology?

It also gives rise to novel diplomacy. Alliances and mischief are always part of any good war game, but they feel different when they’re evolving over the course of multiple days as opposed to multiple hours. You can research a tech for days, share it with an ally, and then be caught by surprise when you wake up at 6AM to find that ally just used that tech to invade your home world. You can play several sides against each other, comfortable that they won’t be able to reach you from the other side of the galaxy until they’re knocking at your door the next week.

And you’re doing this through private messages, so unlike a board game, you can plot out in secret and really hurt someone’s feelings.

This is all, of course, in addition to the normal stress of a space warfare game - deciding how to allocate your resources and what upgrades to focus on and where to send your armies.

My eastern front. Which is secure - don't get any ideas.

My eastern front. Which is secure - don't get any ideas.

It’s a really fun game. I strongly encourage giving it a try with some friends.

April 7th, 2013

A Brief Discussion on Bioshock Infinite

Spoilers Ahead. Deal with it.

Bioshock Infinite was a good game, though somewhat lacking in the gravitas of the original Bioshock.

A lot was made of this big floating city in the sky, and beautiful as it was, generally it just felt like a normal city. A normal hard to navigate city, since I could never keep track of which skyline would take me where. There was a sky and some ground, and most of the time I forgot I was perpetually in the air. I tend to prefer bright and accessible games, but it’s undeniable that Rapture set a mood that made it a character unto itself.

Columbia sets a mood more with what fills the environment. Much like Rapture is a picture of Objectivism gone wrong, Columbia is a comment on Exceptionalism and Nationalism taken to their nasty extremes. Here it does an excellent job. My favorite portion was when they introduce Fink and his establishment, focusing on labor exploits that are very much rooted in American history. His talk seems almost satirical - like the heightened rhetoric of Ryan - but it’s a reflection of a reality that still partially exists. It’s masterfully done.

The narrative had some pacing issues. Near the middle there is a series of fetch quests, cheapened by the fact that every time you get near the thing you’re fetching you simply jump to another world where the thing you were fetching had already been fetched. Time starts to (seem to) skip around erratically, and without actually accomplishing anything you’re in the middle of a bloody revolution.

Near the end there’s the classic “giant information dump” to reveal things they couldn’t fit naturally into the narrative but needed to reveal for a full conclusion to make sense. It’s something Eternal Sonata did, though Eternal Sonata did it much worse. It’s not terrible - they provide subtle hints throughout the game where you could possibly piece bits of it together, and once it all fits there are even subtler clues in the game that seem a lot more clever. Still, there could have been more organic revelations.

Comstock, for all his importance, didn’t measure up. Andrew Ryan was a fantastic antagonist, constantly menacing you through the dreary Rapture. Comstock tries, and he has a few shining moments near the end of the game, but he’s mostly of little consequence while you tear down his army. Fitzpatrick is equally unimpressive - you don’t have a lot of time to warm to her before Elizabeth gets all stabby.

Gameplay didn’t really bring anything new to the table. Guns were guns, Vigors were (mostly rehashed) Plasmids, the end. The skylines added a little twist, and it’s clear they wanted me to use those by how much Gear they gave that was skyline-centric, but I never found much success there outside of hurriedly running away from a Handyman. It was good gameplay - a solid FPS - but nothing we didn’t see in 2007.

I found myself missing the Big Daddies, the terrifying battles that left me within an inch of my life and completely out of ammo. Even though I always knew when they were coming and had time to plan and lay traps. The closest equivalent we had here were the Handymen. They were good - seeing one of those hulks tear an airship in half before charging you was certainly harrowing - but I think there were three of them in the entire game? Maybe I should crank the difficulty up.

I know most of this discussion has focused on the negative, and it sounds like I don’t appreciate the game when set beside its predecessor, but understand that if it were half of the original Bioshock it’s still miles ahead of every shooter and the vast majority of games. When I’m thinking about games as art, wondering whether I could make a strong argument for any mainstream releases, Bioshock 1 & Infinite are the games I reach for first.

June 30th, 2011

Cuddle Bears Launches Tomorrow, June 1!

Cuddle Bears will go live tomorrow in the iTunes store sometime after 10 AM!

It will be free for the first few days. Get it. Love it. Leave feedback. Tell your friends.

What!!! Jetpacks?!?!?!

September 12th, 2010

A Cornucopia of Updates

Because we all like lists…

(1) See the Light Android sales update: Over 1800 trials. 31 sales. It has officially surpassed the XBLIG version in terms of trials in less than half the time, but the XBLIG version has 5x the sales.

(2) Game Ed 2.0 (which at this point is mostly Sprite Sheet Editor) makes me appreciate WPF more and more each day. Data Binding = love. It’s an area Interface Builder tries to do but doesn’t bring everything to the table.

(3) Spaced and Better off Ted! Two comedies. Spaced is easily Simon Pegg’s best work, and it’s pretty clear he took a lot of his ideas forward into his later (awesome) movies. Better off Ted is quirky and fun and entirely too underrated; it has some of Arrested Development’s charm.

(4) I never gave Plants vs. Zombies an honest shot until it came out for XBLA. Now I have. There are a lot of good ideas wrapped over a decent (though not stellar) game. I think its biggest win is the unending reward system - you get something fun after almost every level, a feature from which virtually all games can benefit.

(5) Have I mentioned League of Legends here yet? An awesome Defense of the Ancients style game. If you’ve got a PC, you should play with me… please?

(6) Fully moved into the new Cary digs. It’s a good townhouse with plenty of awesome restaurants and coffee shops within walking distance, which is its primary appeal.

(7) Got a cheap (Intel-based) Mac you want to sell? I’ll buy it. Desktop or laptop. I still hate Apple. The impetus for this is three-fold: (a) I want to take a shot at bringing one of my games (or a new game entirely) to see what the market is like. (b) I’d like to work from home every now and again, and I’ll be on Mac-based projects for the foreseeable future. (c) I don’t actually want to give Apple money, so I’m only going to buy used.

I think that’s all I have to update on for now. My next post will be prose, but I’m not entirely certain about what yet.

Rabbits rabbits rabbits rabbits.

March 20th, 2010

Reviews for Zach

Zach asked me to fulfill my reviewing obligations, and although he hasn’t visited me once since we parted, citing lamer and lamer excuses each time (”I’m getting married” or “I just bought a house”), I will oblige. With not one but two reviews - and one of those reviews will be a sweeping generalization of multiple games at the same time.

First the generalized review:
While trying to push Word Duelist out the door, I had the pleasure of reviewing something like 20+ games. Plus I’ve playtested quite a number. I won’t go into each game individually - I don’t want to talk about games that aren’t out yet, nor do I have the time to touch on each game individually - but I will give you the general state of XBLIG: Unfortunate.

With something like 18 different variations of Blackjack, 5 massage apps, a host of Avatar games that are little more than screensavers, and a series of games that literally just show you a screen and ask you to pass the game pad around, the volume of junk is absurd. There are gems - beautiful gems that deserve your time - but wading through the rubbish is an exercise in pain.

Here are some of the gems to watch out for: Rotor’scope, Mega Monster Madness, Dungeon Adventure, Missing Reel, Zombie Armageddon.

One day I’m going to write up a nasty attack on $1 games, Race to the Bottom economics, and voluntary peer reviewing, and by the end of it I think I’ll hurt even my own feelings.

And Now a Resonance of Fate Review
I’m only about six hours deep into Resonance of Fate (RoF), so I can’t really talk about the deeper story, but I feel like I have enough feeling for the battle system and game flow to talk about it.

First an overview: RoF is a JRPG that came out a week after FF13. It takes place in a futuristic dystopia where mankind lives in a giant tower, and the cast features three bounty hunters taking on missions to survive. None of this should be new if you’ve played games since the year 2000.

Where RoF breaks the mold is that it throws away conventional battle mechanics for something much more stylized - your characters are John Woo-inspired gunslingers, jumping around the battlefield and over enemies, hiding behind cover, rolling and dodging and darting around the map as they fire submachines or dual pistols into their enemies.

There’s a lot going on in the battle system, and you’re not gently nudged into this - the game has a monolithic battle tutorial in the beginning which shows you everything you’ll be doing from start to finish. Luckily it’s mostly intuitive - the tutorial makes it seem more daunting than it is, but a lot of things just happen fluidly, and you have plenty of time to react.

Which is not to say that battle is easy, because it isn’t. It’s actually very, very hard. Mismanage for a moment, and you can get snubbed out quickly. So while getting the hang of battle isn’t too bad, getting the hang of battling well is a job in itself. But it’s a rewarding job.

Outside of battle, you’re greeted with at times a very linear and at others a very non-linear game, and I think this game hits the perfect balance. There’s a main hub town where you accept missions - one story mission per chapter and a host of optional side missions. You have your choice of how your approach things.

When you’re on a mission, the mission is generally pretty linear. Dungeon design is light - often a line of connected rooms, where each room has a new battle. And you know what? I like this. Finally a game that realizes that I don’t need to explore every nook, that wasting my time with worthless rooms is really just wasting my time, that there is no shame in going from Point A - Point B with each point in between punctuated with something interesting.

The game also introduces a lot of nifty things, like an interesting weapon customization system that semi-mirrors what I had planned for Steam Powered.

In short, it’s a pretty fun game, and I’ll probably be playing it through to completion.

But my battery is about to die, so I’d better cut this off.

Dont’ make passes.

March 10th, 2010

Word Duelist is out NOW

You can go buy it. Hint hint.

And by “hint hint” I mean “go buy it.”

January 16th, 2010

See the Light Trailer

See the Light was released weeks ago over Xbox Live Indie Games, but if you haven’t played it yet, here’s a new trailer to tease your appetite!

Later we’ll talk about how much I hate Windows Movie Maker.

January 13th, 2010

Word Duelist Promo #2 - The Duel

The sound quality is a bit rubbish, but the editing came out pretty well I think.

I challenge you… to a word duel!

January 12th, 2010

Word Duelist Promo #1 - Infomercial

Here is the first fun promotional video we put together for the Word Duelist:

Would you like to make more money? Of course you would. You’re not an idiot after all.

December 4th, 2009

See The Light Hits Alpha!

At long last, my most current game project, See The Light, has hit alpha! This means that all the features & content are in place, and all that’s left now is some polish and bug fixing.

I’ve been pretty quiet on this project, largely since I was prototyping a few ideas and didn’t want to reveal anything until decisions were solid. It’s a small puzzle game about manipulating light with mirrors, lenses, disco balls, and other items. It has 64 levels, some of which are pretty tough. It’s coming for Xbox Live Indie Games, so those of you that don’t have an Xbox are just going to have to purchase one to support me. I’m not above guilt tripping you.

For those wondering, no, this project has not put Word Duelist behind. Word Duelist is still coming, but it’s still waiting on assets to be completed.

Here! Screenshots!

Weird, right?