Thursday, 5 February 2015

Civilization V: A Few More Turns...

So I recently bought a lovely new laptop, one that can play most relatively modern games (nothing too fancy, but so long as I don't push the detail levels too high everything is fine!). The first thing to do when playing around on a new computer is to install a few games and check out how well everything runs on the new hardware, so I installed and played a few games that are part of my backlog.

Then I hit Civilization V.

I'd bought the game a long while ago, in some steam sale or other, and had been buying the DLC when it got really cheap. I knew my old laptop would struggle with it, but this new one should easily cope. Over 1000 turns later, I think the testing phase has long finished!

I still haven't formed a full opinion of this fifth version versus the previous games I've played in the series (Civ2 and Civ4). With all the DLC I have, it certainly presents an awful lot of interesting mechanics, but I have yet to fully grasp the benefits and drawbacks of the different possible playing styles.

Currently with Egypt, I'm just about the world-leading power, something I have accumulated by generally avoiding war and accumulating new technology and culture. A culture victory seems very far away though, so I might just try for the spaceship victory. I potentially could go to war, but I'm not overly sure how easy that would be.

Until then, I wonder whether picking "marathon" for my first game was truly the best choice...

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Winter's Greetings, Seasonal Salutations and so forth.

It has been months (months!) since I last updated this blog, and to be honest I feel like I've let my loyal readers down (all two of you). I am hoping to have a few more reviews, and general thoughts about gaming in the coming months (starting January, perhaps).

My current list of games to finish and write about is still slowly increasing, although thankfully I have avoided spending much on the winter sales so I can hopefully get things under some amount of control.

I have recently been playing Torchlight 2, and will probably write about that at some point, although I feel bad now for having dismissed the first Torchlight after only ~20 minutes of play. Anyone care to comment if it's worth going back to take a look?

The other game that has completely consumed my time is GTAV, which unfortunately is on my shiny new PS4, so I feel it doesn't quite conform to the usual content of the blog, which has been primarily PC gaming focused. I am toying with the idea of extending the blog towards television, films and the like, so perhaps I will update more often if I can discuss a more varied set of topics.

So until next year, I hope you all eat more than you should, have plenty to drink and generally have an enjoyable time, wherever you might be.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Kickstarting: Star Command

All pictures from
Star Command interested me immediately as soon as I'd heard about it. In it's current mobile version, it puts you in charge of a small starship, and lets you explore strange new worlds and so on and so forth. The Star Trek influence is perhaps most strong, but the game has plenty more to offer. It's a little bit X-COM, a little bit FTL and also vaguely reminiscent of Star Control.

You begin by gathering a crew together, and assembling your choice of ship and it's components. You have a limited ability to upgrade your ship and it's rooms, all based on a token system. Those tokens are also used when hiring new crew members, and come in three varieties: Red for weapons/tactical, Blue for science/medical and Yellow for Engineering/Repair. The colour coding is maintained throughout crew uniforms and room d├ęcor, for easy reference.

I have played through a few missions and have enjoyed the touch-screen interface and even enjoyed the mini-games required for ship weapon firing (unusual for me, I usually detest mini-games!). The game has a great atmosphere, putting you in a variety of interesting situations with various aliens that you meet along the way (usually involving some sort of fight).

The art style and music are top-notch, and the background art in particular is brilliant. There are plenty of little humorous parts too, generally when reading the descriptions about equipment upgrades.

My main reason for backing the game is to see a full PC version, which unfortunately has been delayed. The main reason for this though is the vastly improved scale and scope of the PC version, which has the full name of "Star Command: Galaxies". This should mean a user interface more suited to a mouse than a touchscreen, and more opportunity to explore and upgrade your ship. Modding support was also a kickstarter goal which was reached, which can only be a benefit for this sort of game.

To bide my time between now and whenever in future Galaxies comes out, kickstarter backers were given a copy of the mobile version and will receive a port of the mobile version for PC/Mac when that is released (hopefully before the end of 2014).

The promises have sounded fantastic so far, and given that they have excelled themselves in delivering on a great mobile game I have high hopes for the PC version.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Quest For Glory II: Trial By Fire

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Quest For Glory series is one of my personal favourite game series of all time. It blends elements of adventure gaming with solid RPG mechanics, and remains entertaining even through repeated playthroughs.

Gate Plaza, home to Ali Chica and later the Fire Elemental.

I've completed the game numerous times previously, so for this playthrough (Playing alongside both The Adventure Gamer and The CRPG Addict) I'm continuing the challenge from the first game: Finish with maximum character attributes. I managed this quite easily in the first game, but this one was a greater challenge. The first game has a maximum of 100 points for any attribute, this one has 200, but it's not the increased numbers that pose the challenge, but rather the reduced opportunity to train in certain skills.
Having 100 for everything makes the game quite easy.

152 Gold sounds like a lot, but adventurers have a lot of expenses!

I began by working on the easy stuff, and since I know my way around the game like the back of my hand, it progressed very well at first. The early parts of the game are quite slow in regards to plot development, allowing the player to become accustomed to the different location and local intrigue. There are a number of time limits in the game, which can be an issue but generally it wasn't an issue to finish the main quest items and leave time for training.

Dinarzad, the money changer (and fellow thief)

Keapon Laffin, funny guy.

Your initial trouble in Shapeir concerns four elementals that will destroy the city without your intervention. There's generally only one way to defeat them, and they show up in a specific order with limited but plentiful time to vanquish them. Generally, there is little difference in how you defeat them depending on character class.
Ali Fakir, Saurus seller.

The Dervish in the desert, by the oasis. A whirl of his beard fetches a good amount of coin from Keapon Laffin (an infinite amount thanks to a bug, later fixed in a patch but still present in the version)

One of the things which makes the first game in the series really stand out is the way each class finds different ways to solve puzzles. Often this was brute force for the Fighter, spells for the Magic User and something a little more crafty for the thief. This second game has far fewer moments like this, and whilst it has class-specific content (well, it relies on certain attributes so someone with a multi-class can do them all), that content is rather brief. The biggest exception to this is the endgame, which is very well done.
From left to right: Houdini, Aziza, Ad Avis, The Dark Master, Zara, Erasmus, Erana, Merlin.

Elementary, dear wizard!

For the Magic User, you get a (somewhat meaningless) upgrade to Wizard (all the cool wizard stuff comes next game) at the Wizards Institute of Technocery, or WIT. You select your sponsor (only the whimsical Erasmus from the first game is available, but it's worth trying to pick the others that have pictures in the main hall), and after an initial very easy test, it's on to the test proper. To continue the elemental theme, you have four challenges each relating to Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. If you've remembered to buy all the spells from Keapon Laffin, this shouldn't be too hard.

Shema's dance, a somewhat odd inclusion to the game!

The poet Omar, definitely not the Sultan.

The thief has to find a fellow practitioner of pilfering peoples prized possessions for profit. A few thief signs later, and you find that the money changer has another side to her. She'll let you know where to break in, and fence your goods too (on a strictly platonic basis, despite the flirting). The easy one is Issur the weapon maker's shop, who has a big stash under an anvil. Harder is the second and only other place you can break into in Shapeir, but it's very much worth it and a challenge to get every last item.
Abdulla has a fondness for exaggeration.

The fighter gets a raw deal, and only has the Eternal Order of Fighers initiation, which occurs at the tail end of the Shapeir section of the game. It's not a great bit, and if you do it incorrectly you can foul up your chances of making Paladin. (See also, attacking the Griffin. A tough fight, but counts as a dishonourable action).
Once you've proved yourself in Shapeir, you might get to practice your skills with Rakeesh the Liontaur.

As for the Paladin, well, you aren't officially a Paladin until the very end of the game, so the class specific content is really more a case of trying to be a good and honest person. Not too difficult really!
Julanar, trapped in a tree in the desert. Help from a hero required!

Once the Elementals are out of the way, there's a little quest to solve to get the ingredients for a dispel potion. It wouldn't be a Quest for Glory without a dispel potion recipe, and as usual some parts are easy and others harder. One potion cures Ad Avis' apprentice Al Scurva, One is for the Emir Arus Al-Din, and I can't remember if the third one is required at all. Just a spare I guess!

I guess this part is optional, but helping Al Scurva here does give you a warning about Ad Avis (not that it does you much good)

After you've managed to free the man from in the beast (familiar eh?), it's time for the caravan to Raseir! You can actually walk to Rasier earlier in the game (takes a hell of a long time though), but you're not allowed entry so it's amusing but pointless. The caravan is beset by bandits and such, but thankfully you're a mighty hero and so you arrive in Raseir without much delay.

Dawn, the caravan rides today!

The caravan is beset by a horde of brigands, but that's off-screen.

The aftermath.

Raseir itself is a shadow compared to Shapeir, empty streets and broken tiles. Darkness hangs thick in the air, and evil men rule with an iron fist. The only place of interest initially is The Blue Parrot, a bar owned by the rather despicable Signor Ferrari and filled with film and TV references. Ferrari has a job for a thief, but otherwise has little interest in a hero.

The Blue Parrot. Lovely plumage.

The room isn't quite to Shapeir standards.

Your main job here is to come to the aid of the Emir's daughter, Zayishah, meet the resistance leader (who happens to be Shema's cousin), and fall into Ad Avis' trap. The first merely requires your change of clothes and visa (don't worry, you won't need them!). The second occurs by the accident of you getting arrested and thrown in jail, and the third is a consequence of your escape from jail.

My reversal spell does nothing!

Ad Avis is working with a prophecy, the same as you. He seeks the Iblis, a powerful creature that he wants to use to defeat his master (who we will meet in the future!). Of course, such prophecies are often misinterpreted, and whilst you initially are forced to do his bidding (damn his spells getting past my Reversal spell!), once he has the statue of Iblis, you find yourself a ring.

Dither too long, and Iblis is released with terrible consequences!

In the ring? It's only a Djinni! Much like Aladdin's Genie of the Lamp, he will grant you three wishes. One has to be used to teleport to the Iblis and foil Ad Avis' plans, but that leaves you two to wish for great fortune or a boost to your skills. At this point I must reveal that I had failed in my task to maximise my attributes. I had foolishly not maxed out Communication before leaving Shapeir, and Raseir left scarce ways to improve it. The other problem was Climbing, which was 100 from my imported character but alas, there is not a single place I could find to improve that skill. I had thought I would be able to use two wishes to max out Climbing, but it turns out that isn't possible. So instead I spent it on Communication and Climbing, leaving them at 239 and 150 respectively.

The Djinn bids me farewell. Not in picture: Ad Avis falling to his death.

Disheartened, I headed for the endgame anyway. Initially, I attempted the thief endgame, which is quite different to the others. I enjoyed sneaking through the harem, one of the more amusing parts of a generally very funny game (especially if you like puns). But the battle with Ad Avis was tricky. I decided to try a mixture of the Fighter and Magic User methods, storming the main doors to defeat the guards, then using my magic to defeat Ad Avis once and for all! (Until next time!).

Let the celebrations begin!

Three more games, in fact. Plus a new game: Hero-U!

My reward for my troubles was the eternal gratitude of the peoples of Shapeir and Raseir, a bunch of money, being adopted by the Sultan as his son, and getting a flaming sword from the Liontaur Rakeesh! Not bad for a few weeks work.

Those final stats, negative experience (another bug), shameful 150 in climbing!

I seem to have lost all my money somewhere, but I have plenty of pills so I'll be fine.

I have unfortunately failed in my challenge though, and I'm really not sure what to do about that, other than perhaps playing the VGA remake, where they kindly added in ways to boost your climbing skill.
Pictured: Not actually the next game! QFG3 would be named Wages of War, and it wouldn't be until QFG4 before we see the Shadows of Darkness.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Indie Gaming: Gunpoint

Gunpoint is a stealth-hacking game where you play a freelance spy. Honestly, if that's not enough for you to want to buy it already I don't know what's wrong with you.

It begins, as many things do, with a murder. Your task is to solve that murder and make some money while you do it! Armed with a variety of interesting technological gizmos and a lot of snark, you do jobs for whoever asks and pays.

It's a noir-like detective story at it's heart, with the gameplay essentially puzzle-like, as you figure out the best way to achieve your goals, which is generally to hack a computer and steal some files. The puzzles generally involve a sequence of hackable circuits that are connected to doors, alarms, lights and so forth. To add a bit of danger to the mix, there are various types of armed security guards to get in your way.

The game allows you to find your own path: choosing to avoid the guards or take them down, racing through the levels in a blaze of glory or taking the more thoughtful route. I generally favoured the quiet, slow and non-violent approach, but sometimes to make an omelette you have to shoot some guys...

I really loved the game, and my only criticism is that it's rather short. I had a great time on this particular storyline, and any future cases for Richard Conway, Freelance Spy would be well received. Thankfully, there is an easy-to-use level editor, and Steam Workshop support so that you can continue playing other peoples creations or perhaps build something yourself.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Indie Gaming: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

It's difficult to know where to begin describing this game. On the one hand it's a fairly simple adventure game (of sorts), with beautiful pixel-art scenery and understated but fitting music. On the other hand, it's all contained in a rather bizarre packaging.

There's the spinning record motif, the mysterious character called "the Archetype" the intrusive mentions of twitter, the episodic nature of it, the horrific interface. One particular moment actually ties in with the actual current date (moon phases), although thankfully there are two ways of getting around this.

The game begins with you controlling a mysterious Scythian warrior, on a quest involving a book of immense power, a dark evil, saving the world, sacrifice, and the rest. It's played out in a basic but interesting fashion, moving back-and-forth through the sparse areas of the game to visit areas and complete tasks.

The first task is to get the Megatome, then to get the three Trigons (Triforce reference?), before defeating the (evil?) Gogolithic Mass at the top of the mountain, Mingi Taw. The scenery, music and general pace of the game creates a wonderful mysterious quality which is unfortunately undercut by the more goofy elements and interface woes.

The simplistic character models leave a little to be desired, although it does work well for the Trigons and Gogolithic Mass. The main character and the few NPCs are in dire need of a few more pixels to give them a bit more definition though. The artwork is generally good, and thematically sound though.

What I found truly frustrating was the interface and non-core game elements. The interface was obviously designed with touch-screen devices in mind, but I feel like I would have been less than impressed with it even on an ipad or similar. Various points will ask you to share your experience on twitter, something I will never understand, and the Archetype character and vinyl record motif do nothing but distract from the far better parts of the game.

I can understand the Archetype being some sort of attempt at a meta-narrative, especially as he appears in-between each segment of gameplay. But I think the game would have been far better served concentrating on it's core concept, and fleshing that out somewhat. More challenges, more varied combat encounters, a greater build-up towards the conclusion, etc..

The biggest shame was the emptiness of the world, and the simplistic nature of much of the gameplay. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh on indie developers, but there were large areas of the game which you visit multiple times and yet on many occasions they would contain at most one item of interest. This meant there was rather a lot of slow walking around completing objectives.

There's a great core to the game, and it provided a couple of hours of good entertainment despite the frustrations I had with the interface and various other elements. I'd have loved to see more from the world they created, and a bit more variety too. It's a regular in various indie bundles though, and surely worth whatever low price I paid for it.

Alone In The Dark (1992) - An adventure game?

A 3D logo! Impressive for 1992.
 Alone In The Dark is the classic example of early "survival horror" gaming. It's a genre popularised by Resident Evil, and generally involves a lone protagonist in a B-movie horror setting. More modern examples tend to concentrate on gunning your way out of trouble, but Alone In The Dark was no third-person-shooter. Bullets and guns are hard to come by, and some of the malevolent creatures you meet are indifferent to your attempts to kill them by conventional means. (here's a retrospective over at IGN)
The game has some wonderful visual moments, and I love the book-based credits.

Perhaps we have this all wrong, and Alone In The Dark is in fact the first 3D adventure game?

Decerto - setting for this Lovecraft-inspired horror adventure

I began this line of thought after spending time over at The Adventure Gamer blog, considering what actually defines an adventure game. Certainly there is a lot of variation, from the text adventures of the early years to the lavish 3D series that are produced today. For many fans of the genre Lucasarts and Sierra are the classic examples, as they produced their finest works during a golden age for the genre in the 90s.

Someone, or some-thing, watches you arrive

At their heart, adventure games are about puzzles. But they are reliant upon a narrative structure to provide context for these puzzles. The puzzles are there to lead you through the narrative, to bridge the gap between an interactive novel and a simple puzzle game.
As a quirk of the engine, moving/interactable objects were all 3D. So this suit of armour stands out as something to remember.

If Alone in the Dark were a 2D, Sierra-style, point-and-click game, it would easily fit in to the adventure game genre. I would argue that it is merely it's appearance and control scheme which separate it from traditional adventure games. However, Grim Fandango shares a similarity in general appearance (albeit much more modern) and nobody would have any qualms about describing it as an adventure game. (see also: Quest for Glory V, Kings Quest 8, Simon The Sorcerer 3D, etc.)
The attic, where you begin. It requires you to think on your feet from the start though.

The other possible method of differentiation would be the game's use of combat. Adventure games have generally avoided action-based conflict, but there are plenty of examples that use action sequences or have combat throughout. Most notably of these is the Quest for Glory series (generally considered an RPG hybrid however), but combat is also seen in Mask Of The Betrayer, and the Space Quest series has had it's fair share of action or arcade-style sequences.

Letters and books contain clues for puzzles, as well as plenty of interesting information about the setting and plot.
It's the puzzles and puzzle-solving which I think truly place it in the adventure game category. You have an inventory, you pick up items throughout the game and you use those items to solve puzzles. The game lacks dialogue, but does have plenty of books, notes and such which provide clues and context for the plot.

A fully functional inventory system, with 3D display for your items!
Overall, I think this makes for a rather compelling case. However, I wouldn't necessarily extend this to the entirety of the survival-horror genre, as each game will have a different focus. Certainly the amount of combat in the Alone in the Dark series was highly variable.