Posts Tagged ‘Early Access’

Premature Evaluation: Caves of Qud

We’re at a weird place in videogames - and possibly in culture in general - where certain tropes have ingrained themselves around the notion of mutation which diametrically misrepresent how it works. I’m not saying that’s entirely a bad thing - Caves of Qud would be a lesser game if it didn’t indulge the fantasy of being able to sprout multiple legs and quills, while farting out a cloud of sleeping gas. Yet it’s peculiar that we have seized upon and so widely propagated such a fanciful interpretation of a process that, when considered as part of evolutionary adaptation, is defined by its sloth, incrementality and a total lack of governing agency.

Each week Marsh Davies sniffs out advantageous evolutions among the many horrendous deformities of Early Access, and comes back with any stories he can find and/or succumbs to a gruesome fate in a Darwinian dead-end. This week, every which way he turns is a genetic cul-de-sac in Caves of Qud [Steam page], an uncompromisingly old-school Rogue-like set in a doggedly lo-fi post-apocalyptic sci-fantasy world, heavy on simulation and mutation both.

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Nuts, Bolts, Wheels, Guns: Scraps Is Out Now

After three years in development, vehicle construction and combat game Scraps has entered Early Access. The initial response seems positive (Steam literally says “User reviews: positive”) and that’s understandable: Scraps [official site] allows you to build vehicles that are more or less made out of cannons, and when those cannons fire, the recoil is liable to cause all manner of physics-driven shenanigans. The video below shows a variety of vehicle types, and the final shot demonstrates that spherical cars are the only thing better than galley-shaped cars.

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Premature Evaluation: Dungeon Souls

According to the design documents on the game’s Tumblr site, Dungeon Souls dungeon is, in fact, a tower. But that’s actually not inappropriate given the tangled etymology of the word “dungeon”. Dungeon in the sense of a subterranean prison emerges only in the 14th century, and there seem to be conflicting theories as to how.

Each week Marsh Davies wriggles free of his shackles and flees, filthy and naked, from the dank imprisonment of Early Access, bringing you stories of the depravities he endured therein. This week he’s playing Dungeon Souls, a frenetic top-down roguelike in which the player battles through successive tiers of peril, nipping between abruptly spawning enemies and hails of magic bullets.

Titan Souls, Twin Souls, Crystal Souls, Crossing Souls… if Namco ever wanted to stake a claim to that “Souls” suffix, I suspect the horse has bolted, flown to Belize and can now be seen scooting round Tranquility Bay on a jetski, trying to clasp a piña colada between its hooves. But whereas the lack of opposable thumbs ultimately renders this a tragic scene, the existence of Dungeon Souls should be one of celebration, derivative though it is, both in its name and in its action – which borrows heavily from both Nuclear Throne and Spelunky.

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Premature Evaluation: Interstellar Rift

Each week Marsh Davies battles the overwhelming urge to flee, struggles through an Early Access game, and comes back with any stories he can find inside. But this week he’s on holiday, and so in his stead Brendan Caldwell has played Interstellar Rift, a multiplayer starship construction sim.

I spawn on an impossibly advanced spacecraft. We are floating among asteroids and surrounded by a flotilla of other impossibly advanced spacecraft. The computer terminals flicker on and off as I walk past, chirruping for attention. The doors part with a welcoming breeze of pressurised air. The ship’s corridors shine with the glow of futuristic pride. Truly, this is a magnificent time to be alive. A time of scientific glory, a time in which anything and everything is possible.

Hey. This vending machine is broken.

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Bridges The Gap: Poly Bridge Out In Early Access

Building bridges is hard. Both in the physical and metaphorical sense. Dry Cactus’ new game Poly Bridge [official site] tasks you with helping vehicles of various shapes and sizes across watery chasms using World Of Goo style physics systems. It’s out in Early Access now.

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Premature Evaluation: Train Valley

Train Valley offers quite a focussed and fun optimisation challenge rather than a sprawling simulation of every aspect of rail management. Nonetheless, it makes some efforts at historical accuracy - at least in terms of the style of the engines you use - setting its challenges across two centuries of rail transport in Europe, America, Russia and (when it gets a later content patch) Japan. The Gold Rush gets a hat tip, as does World War 2 - so it was with a tiny amount of completely irrational sadness that the date of 1864 came and went while playing the game’s European levels, and there was no mention of the One Thing I Know About Railways: the first British railway murder.

Each week Marsh Davies boards the Steam locomotive as it chugs its way through Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or is cannibalised by rabid commuters while delayed in a siding. This week he’s played Train Valley, a chirpy but challenging rail construction sim.

My attempts to run a railway system make a good case for nationalisation: the absurd delays as I reverse trains back and forth over a switch in the track, somehow making the same signalling error each time; the piles of cargo that end up in the wrong town, or so late that its value has completely expired; the destruction to wildlife, farmland and neolithic monuments; the forced relocation of indigenous people. Oh, and the massive loss of life, too, I suppose. At the end of it all, I go bankrupt – and yet they keep giving me another chance.

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Walking With Dinosaurs: Is Ark: Survival Evolved Good?

On my third night in Ark: Survival Evolved [official site], when the sun had finally set and I was left alone in the seething blackness of the jungle, I saw a glimpse of my possible future. I was chopping trees in the dark, too scared to even light a fire for fear of what the warmth might draw toward me, but as another tree toppled with a groan I spied lights in the valley below. I crept closer. Silhouetted in flickering torchlight towered a tyrannosaurus rex, around which a group of hunters darted back and forth, attacking with spears and arrows. Eventually, they hunters prevailed, and, as they set upon the fallen dinosaur with tools to harvest its meat and hides, I faded back into the jungle and began chopping with renewed purpose.

Ark: Survival Evolved is an early access survival game full of these moments – the kind that fill you with trepidation and excitement in equal measure. But for every moment that adds to the enchantment of surviving on an island teeming with prehistoric life, there are just as many capable of frustrating you. Building on a firm foundation well tread by online survival games, Ark certainly has potential, much of it unrealized, but I can’t help but wonder if the claim of Survival Evolved is just too hyperbolic of a statement to make.

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Premature Evaluation: CrossCode

The game's tutorial largely takes place on a cargo ship, the Solar, captained by a jetpack wearing tar, who is full of slightly mangled but suitably salty language. This enjoyable seadog stereotype is a rather indelible one, and I suspect it persists in the cultural imagination because, for most of human history, the sea was a thing that would surely fucking kill you, and anybody who made a living dicking about on it had to be either fearlessly stupid or stupidly fearless.

Each week Marsh Davies jacks into the virtual battleground that is Early Access so that his spandex-clad avatar may wrestle with the digital monstrosities therein. This week he’s uploaded himself into CrossCode, a top down 16-bit-styled singleplayer ARPG set within a distant future MMO, where the boundaries between the real and virtual worlds have blurred.

It is a strange vision of the future in which the world’s number one entertainment involves me slapping a hedgehog to death with my balls. These balls are sadly just glowing projectiles, of course, aimed in 360 degrees and fired continuously if desired, ricocheting off walls to hit enemies and switches out of the line-of-sight – but the game does insist on referring to them as “your balls” in a way which is either deadpan mischief or minor mistranslation from the developers’ native German. It is but one of many mysteries in the intriguing world of CrossCode – and a rather natty combat system to boot.

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Premature Evaluation: Lego Worlds

Will Lego Worlds escape the penises that plague so many other games with user generated content? It’s hard to see a system they could enforce which might effectively root them out without adversely affecting the freedom to create and share worlds. It’s a problem Minecraft has survived, however, without much damage to its image among parents - perhaps because there are just more interesting things to do. Spore probably couldn’t say the same.

Each week Marsh Davies squints at the ambitious blueprint that is Early Access and struggles to work out which bit goes where, and how many pieces are missing, before giving up and, most likely, building a big old cock instead. This week he’s been playing Lego Worlds, TT Games’ attempt to channel the charm of Minecraft’s freeform construction at the behest of their brick-wielding Danish overlords.

Finally, Lego have made a game about Lego rather than the Lego brand. Though they quite possibly only managed that because someone else went and did it first. Every dismayingly poor TT Games platformer I’ve played has only further convinced me that Markus Persson already made the best possible Lego game – and as just one facet of that multifaceted monster, Minecraft. Its shadow looms large over this entire enterprise. Though it’s an enterprise that seems to be getting wise to this fact: some of the recent releases under the Lego brand are, I am told, interesting and ambitious in their own right, and not just quirky minifig rehashes of film properties, draped over a crap but childproof platformer framework. So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that Worlds, too, feels interesting and ambitious – albeit extremely early in its development. There’s not much about it at the moment that Minecraft hasn’t covered in mods, but it’s nonetheless immediate, generous and jolly, its focus shifted away from Minecraft’s complex recipes and resources to simple collection and unfettered creation.

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Early Excess: Quinns Revisits Darkest Dungeon

Hey! It’s a new and sporadic video series from Quintin Smith called Early Excess, re-visiting Early Access games to see what they are, how development has progressed, and whether they’re any good.

First up: 50 minutes of Darkest Dungeon [official site], a fantasy RPG in which you’re managing your squad’s mental state as much as their stats and inventory.

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Premature Evaluation: Gynophobia

For a much more provocative and intelligent look at the phenomena of gynophobia, one might turn to Lars von Trier’s film Antichrist. I love Lars von Trier’s films partly because I always know that I will find something violently objectionable in them - but unlike the many shallow attempts at purposeless offence that various right-wing bores attempt to parade as examples of free speech, von Trier’s films are masterworks of trolling which entangle the middleclass arthouse fan in their own hypocrisies and complacencies. I sometimes leave the cinema absolutely furious, and yet somehow delighted, because this fury is a joke at my own expense. It’s a really strange concoction of emotion and meaning, and unlike the work of any other director.

Each week, Marsh Davies roots through the underwear drawer of Early Access and beholds with a mixture of fear and arousal the strange contraptions he finds within. This week, he’s played Gynophobia, a short game about shooting things and being afraid of tits and spiders. There’s even a spider with tits – a lamentable mainstay of monster design that not even Dark Souls could redeem.

Sing with me now:

♫ SpiderTit, SpiderTit, ♫
♫ Let’s be honest, it’s always shit. ♫

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Premature Evaluation: Ronin

It’s doubly tricky to avoid setting off alarms in Ronin because the levels occasionally repopulate with extra enemies who stumble upon your trail of corpses - corpses which you have no means of hiding. This is a terrible shame because furtively stacking corpses in closets is my number one favourite thing to do in stealth games, and probably also number one in the list of macabre game mechanics that you should not admit to enjoying loudly in public.

Each week Marsh Davies slices open Early Access like the soft belly of a hapless Yakuza goon and roots around inside for any stories he can find. This week he’s playing Ronin – a game about infiltrating 2D-cutaway buildings and dicing their occupants up via a sharp-as-hell turnbased combat system.

“Tip: this is not Gunpoint,” says a little message on the screen. It’s not wrong. While playing Gunpoint, for example, I never punched my monitor so hard that it flickered to a blank white for several seconds, during which I fearfully grovelled in apology to the gods. Ronin is heavily inspired by Gunpoint, however – a fact which, to forestall the needlessly defensive cries of “Clone!”, seems to delight Gunpoint’s creator, my good chum Tom Francis. And regardless of its origins, Ronin now plays really quite differently (not least because of the tantrum-inducing lack of a manual save system). You can still leap across moonlit rooftops in elegant parabolas, scuttle up the sides of skyscrapers and sling yourself through their plate glass windows, but, once inside, the player’s purpose is less about open-ended stealth puzzling than it is strategic slaughter.

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None More Black: Darkest Dungeon Expands

so which one's the Man-At-Arms? Oh, right

Darkest Dungeon is a good time, if your idea of a good time involves people going mad, dying horribly, getting lost in brothels or demanding to be flagellated. If it doesn’t, why not? Pervert. While one of the more robust Early Access offerings it was not without annoyance at launch (Yes, I know full well you’re in distress, Hero! Stop barking at me!) and there was clearly much more to be bolted on. Last night’s Fiends & Frenzy update is the wondrously-narrated team roguelikelike’s biggest step forwards yet.
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