Another Dimension: Puzzle Quest Galactrix Demo

By Kieron Gillen on January 19th, 2009 at 9:38 am.

Puzzle Quest really doesn't like JPG compression. Man!

It looks like it’s going to be a day for returning 2007 RPS-favourites. Well, there’s another one later. Maybe more. The day’s early. Anyway – we loved Puzzle Quest‘s mix of light-RPG and gem-matching action. We were excited at the announcement of a space-based sequel. And now you can actually play the bally thing in a web-based demo. Some initial thoughts and a little gameplay video beneath the cut.

It’s a pretty limited demo, which is just enough to get familiar with the new mechanics. There’s none of the adventuring side of the games, just a one-on-one duel with you and an opponent who has the same powers as you – which means you’re both competing to capture the same resources. The main difference is that rather than playing on a square grid, you’re on a hexagonal one. Which means your immediate worry will be trying to work out which direction the blocks slide when you move one. It’s actually quite simple – whatever direction you move your piece, that’s the direction which everything slides. By “quite simple” I mean “I’m bloody rubbish at it”.

One final tip – of your three powers, the Trident Laser claims that it doesn’t end your turn when it fires. It totally does.

And here’s some video footage of the full game.

Complaints about cheating AI… go!

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38 Comments »

  1. Lu-Tze says:

    In a word : Disappointing.
    I loved the original (despite the cheating AI), but I just can’t bring myself to love Galactrix. I think the main problem is that they’ve over-complicated a simple concept. Firstly there’s the dropping in, because the board can move in any one of 6 directions, it’s really hard to get your head around what it’s going to look like after you take your turn, and whether that will set off a combo, or worse give an easy strike to your opponent. This brings me on to point 2, where the mines vary so so wildly in damage that despite playing excellently, blind luck can just flat out hand the win to the AI .

    That, and the new campaign just has so much to do, most of the mini-games so far seem to focus on getting numbers of certain elements that will be familiar to anyone who every learnt a new spell in the first game. That means you’ll also be aware how horrific this mode is as you can lose through no real fault of your own because things just don’t go well, not to mention it requires a completely different mindset to the normal versus play.

    The constant flip-flopping between these, and the much more complex planning that the game requires have, for me anyway, taken this out of the Casual Market. As such, i’m disappointed I don’t have a replacement for the original for those little 10 minute blocks, and yet it’s not the kind of title i’d devote serious hours to (not least of which because the graphics almost look worse than the first title). I’ll let this one pass me by.

  2. Ging says:

    This will load the flash file directly, giving you a slightly larger view than the itty bitty yahoo page.

    I’ve found that you can in fact take the generals go for him by quickly making a move after yours has finished (I discovered that while trying to continue my turn after using Trident Laser), so I am sort of hoping that this isn’t a complete and final demo! :D

  3. shinygerbil says:

    Nobody tell my girlfriend this exists.

    She nearly made me buy it on XBLA. ;D

    Still, this looks like it’ll be another secret shame to add to my collection!

  4. Thomas Lawrence says:

    The AI never cheated, damnit. It just felt rubbish to be on the receiving end of massive chains, plus the AI would execute it’s moves very fast making it harder to process what was going on when half your health evaporated in a few seconds.

  5. RazorBlade79 says:

    I still play Puzzle Quest after over one year, and of course SF >> fantasy. But this demo was horrible :/

    I still hope the final game will be better, but as Lu-Tze pointed out, the whole game has been complicated to a degree where it doesn’t work if you want to play in 5-10 minute sessions. Add a cheating AI to the mix and it becomes unplayable (the original AI always knew what would drop next and used that info shamelessly)

    Hopefully the final game will prove us wrong, I WANT this to be good.

  6. Thomas Lawrence says:

    No, really, people, you’re imagining things. If the AI cheats, it’s very, very bad at it.

    The fact of the matter is just that the game is very random, not biased. It’s just it sucks to be on the receiving end of said randomness.

  7. Dolphan says:

    Yeah, there were a million times in the original when I hit a random big chain that the AI could have hit, but it had actually made some small move on the other side of the board. If it could cheat, it only did it sporadically. Which would be indistinguishable from luck without some sort of statistical analysis.

  8. Ben Abraham says:

    That demo was seriously hard. I played a few rounds and never beat the evil general Tam. =(

  9. Markoff Chaney says:

    Just don’t let whoever you are dueling with have a Warrior. Even my mage got one shotted all the time against that cheating Warrior… :( AI? It was just lucky enough to make you think it cheated. However, I could force the AI into making moves that would give me multi chains all the time. I just look for that one chain and hope the rest fall from the magic sky above.

    This rev? Meh. It plays ok, but seems almost too complicated for the casualness that rocketed the original to must have status. Stuff falling from different directions is fine for those of us that love puzzles, but if you’re looking for a mindless match 3 with a little more added, I fear the lightning will gravitate toward a different bottle this time. Glad they are still making games and working to innovate instead of re-tread however. Good on them.

  10. Paul says:

    Not enough red tiles. That’s my conclusion on this demo. All in all it was okay, and as others have stated the multidirectional stuff is a tad confusing.

  11. wb says:

    Actually, the AI just doesn’t cheat well enough. The difference here is that it’s very, very hard for a human to easily clue into all possible board states (I’m guessing about 78 tiles with 5 directions per tile), while it’s easy for the AI to test all of them for the best match. Thus, we get locked into local maxima (“Yeah, sure, this looks like a good enough move”), while the AI can exhaustively test every possible move and find the best one available. The end result is that the human player constantly plays a below-optimal game, while the AI appears to be pulling magical combos every turn. (Here’s a question: when the “hint tile” flashes, how long does it take you to figure out what the recommended move it? In PQ, it’s almost immediate. In this, it can take me up to a few seconds.)

    If the AI “cheated” by making less-than-optimal choices based on player performance (it probably already does, but my skill level is low enough that it doesn’t feel like it), the game wouldn’t feel so frustrating.

    Also, the punishment for making a bad move (a move that doesn’t result in a combo) is probably too stiff; if a move fails to result in a combo, then it shouldn’t relinquish control to the opposing player (at least as a play option, if not default behavior).

    All in all, I find the game unsatisfying — it’s a textbook example of how adding options (going from square to hex, in this case) can actually reduce gameplay quality. The great part about Puzzle Quest was the fact that you had two games going on at once: the almost autonomic gameplay of Bejeweled, and then the more strategic RPG battle game laid on top of it. Although adding directions is thematically appropriate, it puts too much focus on the puzzle game, which then detracts from the overlay game.

  12. rocketman71 says:

    The AI cheated

  13. Thomas Lawrence says:

    Gods damn it all, I will counter this meme if it takes my last dying breath.

    The developers have denied up and down that the AI cheats. What possible motivation would they have to lie? Come to that, what motivation would they have to make it cheat in the first place? It’s not as if they weren’t perfectly content to add arbitrary difficulty a game lengthening by any number of far more visible methods – bullshit spells and magic items on your foes, quests which require killing several of the same enemy, the bloody wandering monsters which spring up every damn where and make going from one end of the map to the other an exercise in tedium, or just outright giving your opponents far better stats than you and way more hitpoints.

    I find playing the game I’m as often the recipient of uber combos from space (with corresponding “Heroic Effort” XP bonus) as I am on the receiving end.

  14. cyrenic says:

    Took me four tries, but I finally beat the AI bastage. You can still goad the AI into making stupid moves, so at least there’s that :).

    The hex grid takes some getting used to, but by that fourth game I was scanning for 4 and 5 of a kind moves just like I remember doing in Puzzle Quest. For those of you not liking the new mechanics, I’d give it a little more time to sink in before dismissing them. That said, accessibility was one of Puzzle Quest’s strengths, so it might hurt it in the long run.

  15. Morph says:

    Puzzle Quest AI was perfectly fair. It was just better than you (and me).

    Still playing PQ after a year, completed it almost 3 times. But Galactrix doesn’t appeal to me. It’s less colourful and more complcated. That’s not what I want in my casual games. Booo!

  16. nihohit says:

    Small screen, hurt eyes.

  17. cyrenic says:

    @nihohit

    Use that link Ging posted, it makes things a lot bigger and more readable.

  18. undead dolphin hacker says:

    The AI didn’t cheat. The AI didn’t cheat. The AI didn’t cheat.

  19. Jocho says:

    That demo was great! Was a bit confused at first, whatever all these colours did (still don’t know the purple and white) and it was a bit confusing which side the new blocks would fall from, but once you understood that (or at least a bit) it worked!

    The mines seems to do damage equal to the number on them, and a good mine combo is better then the laser. The mine is great if you just want *something* and don’t care what kind it is. But I still don’t know the mechanic behind how the blocks fall.. sometimes it was on 4 falling a long way, sometimes a short way and sometimes 1 falling 4 steps… dunno what the rule was.

  20. Lucas says:

    The gravity is not random. The pieces fall in the direction you drag them. It was very playable once I understood this.

  21. ascagnel says:

    I was just playing the original Puzzle Quest a few nights ago (PSP version, to be accurate). There were two or three times where the AI passed up an opportunity to make a 4-chain, instead opting to make a smaller 3-chain lower on the board. However, after the move, the stones/skulls/money/XP would still fall in place to make the 4-chain. I don’t call that luck, I call that the AI being able to see the items before they fall into the game board.

  22. Zetetic says:

    I actually really enjoyed this demo. I’m confused at all the people saying it was hard – I beat it first go round, and I’m the guy who found Puzzle Quest so hard he didn’t even get half-way through.

    You just need to aim for reds. Can’t see any? Then just push a random tile to try and bring some reds closer together. And use shield matrix if you’ve been hit and can’t see anything you want on the board.

    Again, I really enjoyed it.

  23. K says:

    I got him down to 19 health after my first turn. I totally planned that move.

  24. PleasingFungus says:

    Beat it on my third try. The mines are… extremely powerful. Don’t remember the skulls in PQ packing anything like that kind of a punch. Intimidating.

    Jocho, the purples and whites are XP and money respectively, or the space-equivalents thereof. They’re completely irrelevant in the demo.

  25. Jon says:

    Actually, 20 purples will give you an extra turn (so when you have 17+, you can match three purples and know you’ll get to go again) and at a certain number of whites something good happens (full shield recharge I think?).

    I hope there’s a lot of variance in the mines depending on where you fight the battle or something — they do seem too powerful at this point.

  26. Leeks! says:

    The damage blocks now having specific values and variety of different ways the gems can fall adds a completely new dimension to the gameplay for me to not be any good at.

  27. Stromko says:

    The AI probably doesn’t cheat per se, and I only say this because apparently the developers maintain that it doesn’t cheat, and it’d be stupid for them to lie.

    What I think happened in Puzzle Quest, and probably Galactrix as well, is that the AI knows the probabilities of X entering the board. Just about every turn it will take a gamble on something entering the board that will give massive combos, and strangely enough, it’s usually right!

    It also never, ever misses an opportunity. In short it is as perfect as a human could ever be, and the only way you can win is a combination of luck and high-level strategic planning.

    But you know, I played Puzzle Quest for probably 30+ hours. I’d like to believe the developers when they say it didn’t cheat (though I don’t remember ever seeing that personally myself), but my gut says … well it makes up for how scripted AIs are deficient in high-level planning by being omniscient and ‘lucky’ to varying degrees. Maybe that’s the best way to actually provide a good challenge and ensure maximum mental stimulation for the player, but it’s also a bit frustrating when it spanks you.

  28. Stromko says:

    Also my turn ends every time I use the Trident Laser, but the popup says it doesn’t end when I use that power. Bah!

  29. Arathain says:

    The Puzzle Quest AI never cheated. I’m pretty sure of it. It has an OK grasp of the possible effects of its actions, which was a useful teaching tool for increasing your chance of lucky combos. It never did anything I couldn’t do, and it never got combos more often than I did. It just sucks when you’re on the receiving end of multiple extra turns and have to sit and watch.

  30. Arathain says:

    Anyway, I’m really excited about Galactrix. Puzzle Quest was such a clever, charming game. As long as they understand what they did with the first one it’ll be great.

  31. Zentastic says:

    Beat the AI on the 2nd try, after realizing that Trident Laser is my friend. Hogged the reds and the shields, and fired my laser whenever it seemed appropriate, and especially when my opponent was low on shield.

    I’m really looking forward to this. It didn’t feel much more complicated than PQ for me, once I figured in the multiple directions and the fact that shield pretty much acts like a buffer replenishable through the blocks, which the first PQ did not have.

  32. Stromko says:

    I’m fairly convinced now that the AI doesn’t cheat at all. At first I thought the AI was way too intuitive at least, but after about ten rounds I started to get a feel for the probabilities of what tiles would pop up next.

    Sure the color/type of tile that appears will be effectively random, but the surrounding tiles are a known quantity so I can figure out how likely a new hex will either start a streak of wins or leave me wide open for a counterattack. I expect that’s what the AI is capable of doing as well, it may not know what’s coming next, it just weighs the odds.

  33. Jon says:

    The AI definitely never cheated. From what I could tell, it didn’t even consider player responses more than one turn ahead — it just looked for good combos on that turn. They could have made it much nastier. I’d have liked to some ‘mastermind’ monsters who don’t have powerful spells or stats but do a complete min/max search of the whole board including all possible chains that turn and 5 or 6 turns ahead factoring in probable chains in the drops. That would have really made it feel like it was cheating, but it would have been fun once in awhile.

  34. Thomas Lawrence says:

    The one thing that did actually irritate me about Puzzle Quest’s AI was how continually it failed to use its spells when it was clearly sensible to do so – in many cases, even when doing so would instantly win the battle.

    Hopefully that’ll be fixed up in this new version.

  35. Fraser says:

    A friend of mine is a developer at Infinite Interactive – he worked on this game and knows the code from Puzzle Quest. he says the AI in both games is embarassingly simple and it works like this:

    * Look for five of a kind
    If none:
    * Look for four of a kind
    If none:
    * Look for skulls
    If none:
    * Play a random move

    Someone above claimed the AI ignores fours-of-a-kind. Well, I can’t say you’re wrong, but I don’t remember it ever doing that and since the above explanation was straight from the developer’s mouth (and this was at the pub, not a public interview) I’m going to go with his version.

  36. SuperNashwan says:

    *yawn* Same utterly random chains ruining the game leading to undeserved victory or defeat. Rubbish.

  37. Dolphan says:

    I won that no problems despite the AI getting far more big chains than me. Just keep hitting reds or blues if there are no mines, charging the shield and firing the laser. The shield’s the key, and the AI isn’t too clever about it – doesn’t favour blues over yellows greens etc.

  38. Markoff Chaney says:

    The full fledged PC demo just released and this game may be a little more zonable than I thought and offer the other stat fun the other game did. I’ll have to see past level 5.