Author Archive

Why I fell out with Fallout-inspired indie RPG Underrail

Underrail [official site] is a game that wants to be Fallout. That’s okay! That’s a legendary game for several reasons, and some are even good. There’s definitely room for an RPG to be to Fallout what Xenonauts is to UFO: neither remake nor clone, but a new game that does all the same stuff we’ve missed, only without an interface from the Stupid Age.

Underrail, however, is not that game. It’s a bold attempt, but ultimately one that misses too many marks, and copies too many notes from the Bumper Book Of Frustrating RPG Design We Still Have To Put Up With For Some Reason.

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EVE Online’s free to play update might change your mind

I almost uninstalled EVE Online partway through the oddly crashy character creation process. Somewhere out there is a parallel universe in which my only experience with the game is a distant memory of an unpleasant and rapidly abandoned free trial. What a terrible world that is.

For you see, I was wrong about EVE. I suspect a great many people are, as perhaps do its creators CCP, who recently released probably their most significant update ever, called Ascension (aka the Alpha update). The first step in an ongoing effort to overhaul the new player experience, this update introduced a free to play option to the long-running subscription-based spacey-tradey blowy-uppy stabby-backy MMO. Like many, I decided to give it a proper chance, to see whether its new structure was an improvement. That was over a month ago. So what’s the verdict? Read the rest of this entry »

Creeper World 3 has the best monster of any game

What’s the best video game monster? Stop and think. You’ve probably thought of something bristling with claws, which snarls as it rushes to bite you, or some skittering horror that lurks in the shadows. Perhaps it’s a shiny robot or a soldier with particularly fiendish AI. These are all understandable choices. They are, however, wrong.

The best monster is in Creeper World 3 [official site]. It is gunge. It has no weak point to exploit. It has no face. There will be no victory. There will only be gunge.

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Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead: A roguelike you could play for the rest of your life

I don’t like roguelikes and, like all real people, I was sick of zombies years ago. Plus, somehow in just a few years we’ve gone from having next to no survival games to having so many of the godforsaken things that you can barely move without tripping over a hunger bar.

All this and the keyboard-heavy ASCII affectation would, you’d think, make for my nightmare game. And it should. So I am actively irritated that Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead an ASCII zombie survival roguelike, has taken over my life. Let me tell you about my latest character, a 12-year-old girl who is surviving the apocalypse by jetting around on rollerblades, pelting monsters with a sling, and studying mechanics so she can hotwire an electric van and run over someone who stole her bag of precious salt.

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Friendless Space: Why Master Of Orion 3 Is Important

Games are either good or the worst thing to ever happen. That’s just how it works. Oh, sure, there are divisive games, but once the consensus has been reached that a game is bad, that’s it. Cast it away into the pit of 1 star reviews, the lair of the Thumbdown, to be spoken of only with frothing hatred and contempt. Never to be touched. Never to be examined.

Master of Orion 3 is one of the most important 4X games ever made. There, I said it. It’s all over for me now. Follow not where I dare to tread.

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Fragile Allegiance & The RTS Formula That Never Was

The youngest of you won’t remember The Before Times. One of the minor side effects of the millennium bug killing off 90% of the Earth’s population was that not long afterwards, strategy games stratified into a tiny handful of highly formulaic subtypes. There’s a downside to the unquestionably better standards of design we’ve enjoyed in the last decade or so. It’s rare to find a genuinely bad game in the same way that games were bad in the 90s. But I can’t help imagining what other ideas were bounced around before everyone agreed that the wheel was indeed the way forward, and Unk and Thogg would have to resign their posts as Chief and Assistant Thing Hurler To The Village And Sometimes The River.

Take, for example, Fragile Allegiance [Mobygames link]. Its position in game history was odd even on release in 1996 – both a port and a remake and a sequel to the Amiga’s semi-obscure, direly-named, but terrific K240 (itself a sequel to 1991’s Utopia) – and its design still defies the neat categorisation we’re used to. Technically it’s a real-time strategy straddling “city builder” and “4X”, but not quite conforming to any common model.

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How Imperialism 2 Took The **** Out Of XXXX

Epic grand historical strategy! Ugh.

Look, I’m not bashing the genre – I had to quit Crusader Kings 2 cold turkey as it took over my life – but when things become fashionable in games, we really overdo it, and something always gets lost in the desperate pursuit of the zeitgeist. Lately, it’s regular old historical strategy that’s felt the neglect. Not insanely complex, not gigantic in scope, not a danger to your circadian rhythm or those ‘social life’ things I’ve heard about. Just plain solid, highly playable strategy games.

So, Imperialism 2, then. Released in 1999 by Frog City Software, both it and its 1997 predecessor are far more obscure than they should be.

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Wot I Think – Aurion: Legacy Of The Kori-Odan

Like most of you (be honest), I know almost nothing about Cameroon. I also know precious little about communing with ancestral spirits, launching fireballs, or punching dudes in the face. How fortunate, then, that Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan exists.

Released in April this year following a successful Kickstarter by Kiro’o Games, Aurion is many things. It’s a fusion of a side-scrolling beat’em up with a JRPG. It’s the first release by a small games studio in central Africa. It’s a long, winding, and philosophical story inspired by several cultures and genres and forms of media. But what ultimately matters is that it’s pretty damn fun.

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Why Gothic Is More Believable Than Modern RPGs

One of the many nebulous concepts that spring up when writing about games is “a sense of place”. We talk about worlds and locations and settings, but often these boil down to unusual geography or art direction – surface details and imagery rather than a real identity.

Gothic, by contrast, wasn’t particularly pretty. Its setting wasn’t the singular underground world of Arx Fatalis, nor the varied alien landscape of Morrowind. Instead, Piranha Bytes recognised back in 2001 that a place is a place not because of its landscape or biome or buildings, but because the people there make it one.

Most RPGs have NPC traffic. Gothic had a society.

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Wot I Think: VA-11 Hall-A

I hesitate to call V4l… Va11 ha1… Val1… Valhalla [official site] a visual novel, which is ridiculous. It wears its influences on its sleeve, sometimes to a fault, and though its most ‘gamey’ aspect is that of a bartending sim, that’s really just a well-integrated excuse for telling a humble story. Is it a good one?

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You Wouldn’t Steal A Skyranger: X-Piratez Is An Outstanding Total Conversion Of UFO/X-COM

In my intro to Silent Storm, I mentioned both modding scenes and UFO (used to distinguish the 1994 original X-COM from the 2012 Firaxis one, and not only out of increasingly sad Eurocentric obstinance) without tying the two together. That, it turns out, was stupid, because X-Piratez, a UFO mod in active development by Dioxine, is the best total conversion for any game I’ve ever played.

Based on OpenXcom Extended, a long-running open source clone of UFO, it takes the story and gameplay structure of the original, and a huge stock of resourcefulness, and turns them into something that’s simultaneously very similar and completely new. The result is a dangerously addictive compound of comfortable old UFO with constant surprise, discovery, and content.

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Art of The Deal: Trading Games Don’t Understand Trade

Trade! Buy low, sell high. Tradey trade trade. Is that intro length? Good. Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about trading in videogames, and why it’s always rubbish.

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What Cinemaware Understood About Cinema And Games

Cinematic! What a loaded word it’s become. Once the game industry’s marketing buzzword du jour, the descriptor certainly earned its current status as a groanworthy sign that a developer would much rather be doing something else.

With such a disclaimer then, it’s safe to specify why It Came From The Desert, and in fact most games from its developer Cinemaware, had “cinematic” firmly in their sights. But in a good way.

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The Joy Of Destruction In Silent Storm

It’s a strange time to look at old turn-based shooters. While we’re hardly swamped, the genre has left its dormancy, casting strange shadows on our old sacred cows. Whisper it now: maybe some of those old things we championed for so long aren’t all that great?

Fortunately, Silent Storm can ignore such insinuations, as it was never sacred. Its 2003 release by Nival Interactive caused little splash, and it didn’t find the legendary status of UFO or the dedicated mod scene of Jagged Alliance 2.

Playing it now, that strikes me as completely unfair.

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Have You Played… Lords Of The Realm?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Are grand historical strategy games in vogue, or will I have to laud Lords of the Realm on its own merits instead of relative to what’s currently popular? Hmm. Let’s find out.
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Have You Played… Salvation Prophecy?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Loners are odd sorts. We all know this. Salvation Prophecy, for example, is a third-person shooter, space dogfighter, and real-time strategy all rolled into one by a lone creator. No committee would even try that.
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Have You Played… Sacrifice?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Centuries ago, some unknown ancient sage called Keeron Gillan wrote about a strange action strategy game called Sacrifice. I haven’t heard anyone mention it since. We have failed.

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A World Gone Sane: Strategy and Story In Hostile Waters

I'm not taking the minutes again, Oliver. I didn't declare war on the world to take bloody minutes.

Strategy games seldom come with a premise more creative than “what if aliens?”, or “what if robots?”, or perhaps “what if alien robots?”, and while this often works – their appeal tends to come from systems and details instead – it does leave a gap for more imaginative fair. Take, for example, Hostile Waters, Rage Games’ 2001 release inspired by the 1988 naval/aerial action strategy hybrid Carrier Command.

The central premise of Hostile Waters’ setting is essentially this: What if the Occupy movement had won?

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Have You Played… Evil Genius?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

It’s a little baffling that nobody’s tried to make Evil Genius [official site] again. A transparent derivative of Dungeon Keeper, it did more than enough to distinguish itself from that noble luminary of base building and evil overlording.

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