Trouble Thinking

August 2, 2012

How I Feel About: “Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes”

Good! Generally Good. So, if you’ve got like $15 to burn and you were dumb and missed it on deep discount during the Steam sale, grab it in penance.

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is a game developed by Capybara games and published by Ubisoft, and is another in the long line of games that are all vaguely related to the original Might and Magic that everyone has forgotten because the like 40 spin-offs are all more popular.

Remember this? No, no you do not remember this.

So I’m assuming that all the random fantasy names and general plotline somehow tie into the larger universe, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you how. Suffice to say: demons are breaking out of Not Quite Hell, called Sheogh, and they kill the parents of a group of five children right in front of them with fire. The game’s sort of dark for a cartoony kid’s game! Like, I’m gonna say it straight up: there was more immolation and murder than I really expected. Like a bunch more. And yet, the bar you go to in one portion of the game serves milk and tea. Oh and it also has

The most amazing dude. This is a guy who knows exactly what needs to be done during a demon invasion.

But anyway the kids go on their own quests to become Heroes of Might and Magic and they each get a short chapter where you overcome some aspect of the ongoing war and treachery and ultimately foil the evil villain as expected. So how do they accomplish these mighty tasks? Why, PUZZLING of course! Similar to Puzzle Quest and a few other puzzle-based RPGs, your prowess in combat is represented by your ability to maneuver little arrangements of shapes properly except in this case rather than gems they’re beautifully animated archers and knights and whatnot.

In each battle, you have columns of random assortments of these units, in 3 colors. You can only move the bottom-most layer of each column, but you can spend a move to eliminate a unit at any level of a column. Align 3 units of the same color vertically, and you start charging an attack, and when it goes off your units shoot up and try to make it to the top of the gameboard. If they do, they deal damage to your opponent, minus any that’s been absorbed by their defenses. Align 3 units of the same color horizontally and you get a 3-column wide wall that will block damage from enemy attacks. There are also twists like larger champion units that deal more damage, your core units having different charge times and effect, and fusing or linking attacks to make them deal more damage. There’s room for some strategy, it’s very moreish to call in random selections of reinforcements and see if this is the turn you can cascade 3 walls out and then like 5 attacks or get one of your champions charged. It’s an engaging system! And it had fucking better be because it’s all you’re doing for like, 15 hours.

Not gonna lie here, I will probably win.

Which brings me to my major gripes. This game doesn’t wear nearly as quickly as Puzzle Quest, where I found myself dreading battles which was basically the entire game. You pick all of your fights, and you can always back out. For most of the chapters, most of the fights can be attacked in a lot of different orders thanks to things like Bounties and random grinding if you don’t feel prepared for a fight. But the thing is, the average fight is about 10-15 minutes if you know you’re going to win. The randomness inherent in the system and the fact that heavy attacks take a while to charge mean that you can be at 100 health to your opponents 50 and still have a 10-20 minute fight just waiting for things to line up right. Too much of the battle system depends on this random dropping in of new units, and too little depends on actually figuring out clever move combinations. Almost every fight can be won by making every available move that grants you one extra move, then lining up as many attacks as possible. It’s not necessarily the fastest method, but the game doesn’t really give you many clever ways to deliver a coup de grace. Eventually it can become pretty rote. Speaking of rote! They end the game with just the worst idea. Throughout the game, you take on the role of a hero, slowly build their army and take them from wimpy level 1 to godlike level 10. Except at the end. You start with all units, you start at level 7 which is just high enough for leveling to feel like it takes forever, and you have just the least fun to play army with the least ability to end a fight fast. So the last section of the game ends up suddenly ramping every tiny issue you’ve had thus far way up and isn’t the best note to go out on. There are 10 Battle Puzzles sprinkled through the game, and I feel like expanding the concept further would have helped. Having something to break up the relentless match-3 that requires some time and thought and comprehension of the rules was super fun.

I haven’t tried multiplayer yet, but the fact that it has hotseat gets it high marks in my book. Too few games of this sort recognize that turn-based means I can play on one dang controller.

Anyway! I highly recommend grabbing this, it’s a bunch of fun. Just don’t make the mistake I did and bomb through the whole thing in like 3 days. Spread it out a few hours at a time and have fun watching little cartoon archers impale adorable cartoon demons.

 

July 4, 2012

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is Good.

So I’m a fan of the comic Penny Arcade. I’ve played all three Penny Arcade games, and this is the first one I can recommend to people who are not fans of the comic.

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3(OTRSPOD3) is what you remember RPGs being like on the SNES, but with most of the horrible bits surgically extracted. I say surgically extracted, because the genius-types at Zeboyd Games have managed to remove all the little cruft that you thought was integral to an old-school RPG without damaging a dang thing. In fact, when they sewed it all back together it wound up being a lot more wonderful than the Final Fantasy standard model.

The gameplay is solid as hell, with battles usually being nicely-paced affairs. Each character has a certain speed rating, and that determines how quickly they’ll take their next turn. Until you start to really specialize, this usually boils down to a few of your characters going, then a few of the enemies. It gets more interesting as the game progresses and, for instance, your insanely-fast character is able to throw a heal down on a critically injured ally in the time between the enemy selecting their action and actually attacking.

You begin with a single “class”, which provides a small set of skill-attacks to perform and often some passive bonus to a stat. As you progress, unlock both more classes and eventually 2 extra slots which allow you to mix and match for an extensive skill collection. You rarely use anything but skills to attack, as the skills use MP that counts up rather than down as the battle progresses. So every turn you can use a skill costing 1 MP, or do a normal attack or defend and wait for your 2 MP skill. Until the late game, few skills cost more than 2, and some even cost nothing.

During fights, you can also use items, which heal, cure sickness, damage enemies, etc. Rather than purchasing “a potion” and slapping 99 in your inventory, you purchase a use. So if you’ve bought 5 potion uses, you can use a potion 5 times every battle, with them being restored (along with health) after every fight. I cannot tell you how much better an idea this is than the RPG standard-bearer of having to purchase a cruise ship’s worth of supplies to dole out over fights, greedily hoarding each one because who knows when you might need them? It removes none of the tactical decision-making, but makes the game a hell of a lot less annoying.

Speaking of annoying: no random battles! You see every enemy on screen, and you can decide who to engage when. In a move I’ve been wishing for since I was introduced to the genre, they’ve removed the grind. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of battles, there are hundreds! But instead of being a stunning number of randomly-generated beasties repeated over and over until you’re leveled enough for the next area, they’re more a series of timed puzzles. You’ve normally got maybe 10 turns max to kill someone before they get you due to each turn increasing the Enemy Power bonus, so you tend to figure it out or croak quickly. And if you do croak? No problem! You’re only kicked back to where you were, no lost progress. It’s the first RPG where I’ve spoken to people about “that one fight with 2/2/2 Swipewriters/Visor Misers/Fleshreapers” instead of a boss. Because that’s it, that’s the one fight with that enemy configuration. It’s incredibly smart and exactly what every game of this sort should have figured out long ago.

The writing is also top-notch tongue in cheek shit the way I like it. Enemy designs and descriptions are all funny, as are the classes and skills. I would say the dialog is probably not necessary for enjoyment of the mechanics, but it’s well considered and a pretty good Cthulu-ish storyline of vast cosmic malevolence and hidden motives.

The only real issues I have are with the manner in which Zeboyd accidentally recreated the horrible old menus at the same time they recreated other aspects of the old-school. The menu system is servicable, but unintuitive. Nothing auto-saves, ever. Which can be a problem in an RPG, no matter how often you’re reminded to save often. You cannot view all the classes easily, you can only select the “view” command on classes that are equipped. Many skills are stat boosters, but you have no way of telling how much they actually do, because stats aren’t displayed in any manner during a battle. There’s no real explanation of the keyboard controls, which left me randomly pecking to find that “q” opens the entirely separate “quit menu”. A lot of little UI issues could do with improvement. BUT Zeboyd knocked this one out of the park. It’s officially some of the most fun I’ve had with the genre, which says a lot when technically you’re making a parody. It’s the “Shaun of the Dead” of RPGs.

March 28, 2012

Starfarer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Durandal @ 9:01 pm

I’ve got too much to do to do a bunch of extra reading so you get a post about games, which requires no research due to my constantly thrumming connection to the Zeitgeist.

So Starfarer looks really interesting.

You can grab the game here: http://fractalsoftworks.com/

Lasers lasers laaaasers

Why does it look interesting?

Woah there calm down okay Starfarer is a game in the tradition of Star Control and Escape Velocity. That is, a game in which you play a brave starship captain who is making his or her way in the world via trade, diplomacy, and combat.

You begin with a single ship, your “flagship” of your “fleet of being a loser”. You have options about how you want to grow that into something impressive. You can modify your ship, acquire holdings for sweet cash money, or buy/befriend/capture ships to integrate into your growing fleet. Everything you do makes everything else you do a bit easier.

The economic model is something the developers are hoping to make a bit more interesting than varying commodity market prices. Essentially, it seems like they want to create RPG-like “economic encounters” in addition to having a simple underpinning trading system. The example they give is that you can encounter illegal weapons shipments. Destroying them ups stability in a system, leaving them lowers it. Your decision would depend on whether you want a stable trading partner that likes you or an unstable planet you might be able to grab for yourself.

Combat takes place in a top-down perspective, with you piloting the flagship of your fleet and giving general strategic orders to your captains. The direct control takes the form of WASD turning/acceleration and mouse aiming and firing. After tooling around in the tutorial/early mission there are already some things I love about the combat.

For one thing, there’s a great system for using multiple ship weapons. You can quickly swap which weapon you control in order to focus on an enemy with whatever hurts them most. Flak cannons for fighters, big HE shells for giant ships and whatnot. But oh, you say, what about when multiple enemies are attacking at once? Well, that’s where automating weapons comes in. Press Shift+3 and your flak cannons will auto-target incoming fighters.

The basic mechanic in combat is that ships have shields and armor. Shields take damage from certain weapons, such as lasers, very poorly. Armor takes damage from certain weapons very poorly too. So what you do is knock down shields with lasers and the like, then pound on armor with explosives. When shields get knocked out, there’s a moment of paralysis while systems reboot. If you drop shields before they’re forced down, you can avoid that. It’s all reasonably simple, but provides some decisions to make at a steady rate.

Other ships in your fleet mostly seem to mind their own beeswax, going to the location you planned in order to fulfill whatever mission you ordered them on. There’s little to no micromanaging. The idea is that you go into combat with a plan for your fleet, and they carry it out without your direct orders. They’re still playing with ideas about how to make the AI fleet respond to various RPG-type stats like the individual ship captain personalities and such.

They’ve just released a new update too! It introduces a nifty new campaign mode:

  • Campaign mode – fight your way up in the war-torn Corvus system
  • Start out with a single frigate, buy (or capture) more ships to grow your fleet
  • Customize your ship’s loadout before battle
  • Level up your crew
  • Ship weapons and engines can be disabled by damage, adding a new layer of tactics
  • Tons of balance changes, UI improvements, AI improvements, and several new ships and weapons

Here’s a video explaining a lot about the new mode, which I haven’t gotten nearly enough time with to fully understand!

I’ve wanted a game like this since Escape Velocity Nova, and I feel like this is pretty close to delivering all I was hoping for and more.

November 3, 2011

Bastion is Great, Buy It After The Steam Sale Ends.

Filed under: Game News, Game Reviews, Video Games — Tags: , , , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:53 am


Bastion is such a danged excellent experience, I recommend you pay more than $7.50 for it. In fact, not only should wait until you have the opportunity to pay $15, you should send Supergiant games an extra $5 to thank them.

Briefly, Bastion is a beautifully rendered dungeon crawl/action-RPG. Less briefly, Bastion tells the story of a young man who wakes up to find the world has shattered around him in the night and sets out to put everything back together. He’s guided… well, you’re guided, by the voice of an old man telling the story of how he does it. The narrative conceit, added late in the development apparently, works amazingly well. You’re gently guided to the right paths, you get commentary on your actions that can be pithy or surprisingly touching. There are also some very well done bits where the old man can only tell you what he thinks may have happened, which is a nice way of turning the previously omniscient narrator into a portion of the story.

Bastion is a triumph of form over function. It’s a game type I’ve played dozens if not hundreds of times before. You walk, you smack, you gather, you build. But with an astoundingly deft touch, the writing and art direction manages to make you care so much more than you expect in a game like this. It comes, appropriately, in both big and little pieces. The beautiful painted landscapes that rise out of nothing to meet you as you run, the spare lines of text that hint at a society you wish you could have seen in full flower, the way the narrator seems ashamed of the fact that he needs to send a kid to do the dirty work, the distant music from a time you’re trying to bring back. All of these pieces of design lift what could have been a standard slogging kill-fest into something simultaeously melancholy and heartening.

This is one of the few games where the compulsion toward completionism that I tend to feel regardless carried some emotional weight. I wasn’t making sure I had all the upgrade structures, I was putting back the pieces of a shattered world so that a hard-working kid could finally rest. I wasn’t getting achievements, I was paying tribute to the people that would be forgotten without me. Its a game with few characters, but it makes you feel for all of them. Including the beasts you need to kill to make your way in the world. It’s not mawkish or sentimental, either. It just presents you with a situation that is unfortunate and too few options to fix it.

Through these touches Bastion achieves one of the best game narratives I’ve seen, using subtle strokes to tell a story bigger than the part you play in it.

The best recommendation I can give is that immediately upon finishing it, I wanted to wipe my memory and start again from the beginning. Hell, it’s got a newgame+, I may do just that.

Buy Bastion at Half Off!

July 29, 2011

Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines $5 For The Weekend

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 2:40 pm

Vampire Colon The Masquerade Colon Bloodlines Implied Colon is a solidly interesting game. It’s a western RPG more in the tradition of Deus Ex than anything else, focusing on first person interaction with the world around you and a statistical underpinning to your fighty/sneaky/talky abilities. It’s essentially an FPS with the Vampire RPG system rolling in the background.

It’s notable for the amount of care and detail-oriented work done to ensure a mutable play experience. For instance, playing as “the ugly vampires” makes you actually unable to go out in public do to looking like a less composed Nosferatu. You spend a good portion of the game doing quests by plodding through sewer tunnels and popping up only when you’re safely away from prying eyes. It’s also got some great bits where you just kind of commiserate with the monster that’s been hunting the the townsfolk instead of killing it because well you’re also a monster that’s been hunting the townsfolk.

Much like Deus Ex, you could solve problems in a variety of ways depending on personal taste and ability. I tended to talk my way through things because I like to think I’m just such a clever boy. It had some pitfalls, in my experience. It has that old-game thing where every so often a trail will just stop cold and you’ll be left hugging the left wall making your way through the entire fucking hub area trying to figure out which person you need to click on in order to make shit go. It also is, for that matter, kind of an old game. It’s a bit ugly by default. Definitely not worth dropping $20 on, but absolutely worth checking out for the Steam Weekend Deal of $5.

Plus, it has a weirdly amazing community of modders behind it keeping things up-to-date. With the right selection, you can make it play like it came out this year. They’re up to patch 7.5 for goodness sake.

July 20, 2011

Dungeons of Dredmor: A Roguelike For People Who Aren’t Horrible

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 8:57 am

Dungeons of Dredmor, a new PC game released by the indie studio Gaslamp Games, is a Roguelike.

Okay! So what is a Roguelike? A Roguelike is a sort of game that makes people who can only grow a beard on their neck wax poetically about how gaming has devolved since the 80’s and they remember when things were complex and interesting and not all consolified like absolutely all games are now which is why they suck. More specifically, it’s a form of turn-based adventure/RPG. You walk around a map, you thwack monsters with things, you get items, and you gain power as you go via experience points doled out for a variety of reasons.

More importantly, though: you die. You die so often that it quickly becomes a game not about vanquishing monsters, but about considering exactly how paranoid you should be and whether you can make it to the second floor this time without stepping on a trap (stupid stupid I’ll never make that mistake again) or forgetting that your own flame spells can hurt you (just need to be patient next time) or wandering into a new room that is chock full of monsters with your HP at half and your Mana at bupkis (I can’t keep betting that the next room will be empty!). I have made 12 characters so far. None have lived to see the second level of the dungeon.

A good Roguelike will put you through your paces without mercy, and Dungeons of Dredmor is a good Roguelike. So why is it any better than the next Roguelike, most of which are free?

Well, this is what the extremely popular Nethack looks like:

Oh well that is an interesting series of what I can assume are game... things?

Here is what Dungeons of Dredmor looks like:

I can make out shapes, even things!

It isn’t exactly pretty, but for goodness sake it is at least making a goddamn effort. That says to me that the developer is actually attempting to create an entertaining game to be enjoyed by others rather than shoving more and more statistics into an already bloated pile of ASCII characters.  Dredmor retains the gleefully horrific difficulty and unnecessarily deep skill/crafting/etc systems that endear people to Roguelikes, while being accessible to a wider audience.  If you are at all into adventuring, RPGs, or puzzles, you owe it to yourself to give this a shot.

June 20, 2011

The Smallest Possible RPG/Awesome Old Game Cover Generator.

Filed under: Game News, Interesting Things, The Internet — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 11:42 am

So I just saw this on BoingBoing and I’m shamelessly acquiring it.

Rob Beschizza has created an old-old-school RPG called TinyHack that is played via a 9×9 pixel screen. It’s pretty simplistic, but interesting! It’s neat to see what you can do in terms of UI with only a few pixels to work with. Check it out:

Yeah, you're the dot. No, the white dot.

But more importantly, it’s also got a “Cool Old Game Cover Generator” that provides randomized generic backstory.

One of my favorites:

Halberd of the Manticore

Are you bad enough to command the Stone? The City needs you, hero!

The island kingdom of eveut is in havoc and dragons destroy all who come before them. Search for the Sword of Ouroboross in the forest of auixeu. Locate the Shield of Dreams in the tomb of aoxafe. Collect the 16 golden lights and find the key of destiny to unlock the secret of the water fortress, where the evil Loki gathers forces for the final attack.

Enter a world of pulse-pounding gameplay and fortune with Halberd of the Manticore , the most gruelling and challenging game of 1978. Remember, hero: Loki threatens to conquer the City!

June 7, 2011

Desktop Dungeons Gets Revamp, Free to Play Until Thursday!

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 10:25 am

Desktop dungeons is a very clever little puzzle game/RPG. Basically, it’s about trying to guide your adventurer through a randomly generated dungeon, killing monsters and exploring in a sequence that will allow them to level up. Attack high level monsters and you’ll die, only go for easy fights and you’ll never make it high enough to kill the dungeon boss. It’s a very solid mechanic. I had a lot of fun with the free version,  and I’m looking forward to seeing what the new not-as-free version has to offer, they seem to think it will be worth it! I highly recommend checking this out if you’re interested. You can play free until Thursday and see what all the fuss is about!

It's also moderately adorable.

 

May 25, 2011

Dead Island Gameplay: Nothing Like That Earlier Trailer But Looks Like Fun Times

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 12:04 pm

So “Dead Island”, a game about zombies on a (wait for it) island, got a bit of press a while back for a pretty gut-wrenching trailer. Basically a little short film about zombies that was pretty sad. Here! You can be sad:

So yeah, that was impressive, no? Now, the thing is there is basically not a good way to convert that sort of thing into a game. Now, I should clarify that actually you could probably take that as a challenge and produce something really interesting with similar emotional resonance. But there’s not a solid “invest $40 million” game design methodology in existence for producing that sort of art in games. The trailer depends on things that movies are good at, and frankly interactivity would likely not do much for it. I’m sure indie developers are right on that, but you’re a madman if your plan for a AAA game is “let’s see if we can make it about existential terror, and less about ‘playing'”.

So what exactly is Dead Island if it’s not a tactical weeping simulator?

Well, it’s a pretty fun looking open-world FPS/RPG game about an island populated with zombies. It seems a lot like a western studio “Dead Rising”. That is, slightly more serious and much less full of incredibly annoying boss fights and escort missions (I hope). Fun times! I don’t know why, but seeing numbers pop up when I hit something and when I kill something just makes a part of my brain tickle.

They released a pretty long chunk of gameplay for you to peruse at your leisure assuming you’ve not decided zombies are “played out” because you’ve heard it’s cool to say that:

Lots of first-person melee zombie killing. Could be fun! Certainly one to watch.

April 19, 2011

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is Something Pretty Fun Times

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:42 am

Pictured here: a delightful family dinner during which no one is hero-inspiringly murdered.

So Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is a puzzle-RPG that was released on the Nintendo DS last year, and in my ignorance I didn’t bother picking it up. It looked a bit weird, the box art was generic as all get out, and everything for the DS stays at $30 until the end of time. I was so very wrong to do this, and thanks to the magic of X-Box Live Arcade I have the chance to correct my ignorant mistake. You know, when I have the cash to pay for it (though $15 is a lot more attractive than $30)

Briefly: the game plays out as a series of puzzles in which you attempt to kill your opponent by attacking with your army, and defend from your opponent’s attacks with your army. The game uses a simple but surprisingly effective basic puzzle to play this drama out. You’re given a certain number of troops on the field lined up in rows and stacked in columns. If you want to attack, you simply take one of your few turns (2-4 usually) to move troops so that there are 3 of the same type and the same color in a vertical line. To defend, you use your moves to line troops up in rows of the same type and color. After X turns, your attacking troops attack, and your defending troops defend against those attacks. So if you’ve got an attacking group that does 7 damage, and it goes through a 4 strength wall, you deal 3 damage to the commander of the enemy troops. Idle troops “defend” in the sense that they usually die, but they take away a bit of the power of the attack too.

And that’s honestly about it. There are clever things like combining troops to make super-units, troops with powers that depend on the stats of your commander character, the ability to mix and match your layout of forces according to your preferences, individual levelling up of you and all of your troop types, “linking” attacks to make stronger ones, hero spells and abilities… it’s a pretty solidly fun time.

And actually, that’s the important bit. Solidness. At no point during the demo did I feel like it was unfortunate that I had to fight some demonic whatsit. It wasn’t grating, because it was always an opportunity to see if this fight  I could really wreck the bastard in record time. There’s randomness in terms of troop layout, but the feeling that any given grouping of your army can be molded into a wrecking crew with the right couple of moves is baked right in there in the tastiest of manners. It’s one of the most tactical feeling games I’ve played in a long while.

Also, it looks like it’s kind of surprisingly long. The demo was at least an hour of play-time for me, and there are 5 campaigns plus multiplayer in the full game.

So anyways, go become enchanted with it by downloading it on XBLA/PSN, or just buy it on the DS. I gotta say though, I like the cartoony graphics scaled up to a big HDTV. They’re nice and crisp looking, it’s a style I think works great for downloadable games.

Edit: Hunh, also according to this article, the XBLA/PSN version of the game comes with significant improvements, meaning it’s both half-off and the definitive edition. So. Don’t bother with the DS one unless you love your DS in a manner most states have deemed illegal.

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