Trouble Thinking

May 24, 2012

Endless Space Alpha Impressions

So I caved, obviously.

Endless Space is an upcoming game by newcomer Amplitude Studios. It’s currently available for purchase both on their website and on Steam, for a 20% discount. It’s still in Alpha at the moment, so you’re not getting the complete version quite yet.

I would recommend that if you’re into 4X games, particularly space-based ones like Master of Orion or Sword of the Stars, that you give this one a purchase. It’s surprisingly solid for such an early stage in development. I’ve spent hours on it already testing out the races that are currently available and it maintains entertainment into the end-game. I do want to stress that it’s still an Alpha, though. There isn’t really “balance” or “a functioning late-game AI”, so you will usually either get rolled or roll over your AI competitors quite easily.

What Amplitude have brought to the table here is a very traditional world (or galaxy) conquering empire-building game and stripped off a lot of the useless bits that have built up over the years. They focus on allowing you to easily exploit your current resources, expand to new areas, explore the galaxy, and exterminate your enemies. The user interface that got me interested in the game via screenshots is completely as wonderful as I had hoped. It’s clean, it’s simple, the tooltips are useful, and you’re never at a loss for what to do. Your traditional turn is spent choosing a research, building basic “exploits” on your currently colonized planets, building ships or projects on your older more established worlds, and looking for new worlds to conquer. You spend resources to build, and use new planets to get access to more precious resources which are divided into FIDS: Food, Industry, Dust, and Science. Food keeps your population growing which adds a multiplier to all of your resources, Industry makes things you’re building pop out quicker, Dust is a catch-all “gold” resource letting you buy things fast, and Science adds a certain amount to whatever you’re currently researching.

When you inevitably meet other players who would maybe prefer you didn’t conquer their worlds, it’s handled elegantly if a bit simply at the moment. Your default state on meeting a new race is “cold war”, in that you can attack and kill their fleets so long as you’re not in their borders, but they won’t necessarily declare war on you because of it. In a nice twist, your early colonies are considered “outposts” rather than proper parts of your empire, so in the cold war phase of diplomacy they can be attacked and even conquered without consequence. Well, without going to war. It makes for a nice way of preventing the Civilization thing where people would just drop shit in the middle of your territories if your borders didn’t quite cover every square inch of land and now you suddenly need to go to war to take that city. The combat is also great fun, if a bit simple at the moment. It’s designed to be quick, taking a maximum of a minute or so each time, and gloriously space-operatic with big glowy ships firing cannons at each other from around the orbit of a binary star or whatsit. The combat is at base mostly a Civilization style clash of armies, and whoever has the most stuff wins. But if you choose to take command yourself, you can play “cards” at each of the three battle phases that can really turn the tides. For example if you notice your enemy is using mostly kinetics, which are deadly at close range, you can play “deflectors” in the last phase of combat, to give you a plus 40% chance to deflect their shots. It’s a neat system that seems easily extensible. It also didn’t wear on me even after hours of play. Something about seeing a big fleet of spaceships fire at another big fleet of spaceships is always entertaining.

If looking at a map of a galaxy and wondering whether you can take that star system by … force if necessary is something that really appeals to you, this isn’t likely to disappoint. If you’re really conservative, it’s still only going to be $25 at release. God I love budget games these days.

May 2, 2012

Endless Space: What’s this now? What? HMMM

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:19 pm

Hello there! Are you excited by space? Are you super into spaceships and vast galatic empires? Are you mildly aroused by the concept of controlling a vast fleet of warships that travel the universe subjugating civilizations?

Yeah me too.

So 4X games, set in space, are my bread and butter. Except they aren’t! Because many are super shit. In fact, of the ones I’ve played I don’t have a ton of favorites. AI War is amazing and everyone should get it, but I had the misfortune of cutting my teeth on the legendarily not very good Master of Orion 3, which cooled me on things. Alpha Centauri was fun but you know a distinct lack of warships. Galactic Civilizations felt like playing a German boardgame with a pride of mildly demented grandfathers. Sword of the Stars 2 was a goddamn atrocity. I got my money back, a first. It wasn’t even completed! Just sort of shipped hoping no one would open the box. I guess Star Ruler is actually getting super neat I should take a look at that… Star Chamber, a weird trading-card/strategy hybrid was probably the most fun I’ve had with the genre in a long bit.

So the point is a new thing popped up on Steam today, Endless Space.

Now, with all the starts being kicked recently I am getting slightly mildly suspicious when someone promises me a cool game in exchange for investment/preorder whatever. And seriously, I preordered SotS2 and it was so bad. But Endless Space intrigues me. It’s reasonably cheap, $27 for the most expensive version. It also has a neat sort of alpha/beta participation system, where when you buy the game you get  Games2Gether Points. Which sound really silly! But it’s not a bad idea, it’s a distinct developer-mediated methodology for getting fan input. Sometimes you want a wild font of ideas on a forum, it can be great. But sometimes a half-dozen people saying you should “allow people to enter the game like the matrix so that we can play like if it was the matrix” and you just want to take a reading on something more concrete. The examples up at the moment are competing logos for a faction design, and competing designs for a certain type of pirate ship. And I mean, why not? You’re guaranteed to nail down a few little features that don’t actually matter, and it creates an atmosphere of participation for fans who let’s face it are not always the most brilliant design mavens.

And that’s not all! It actually looks kind of really neat. I wish they had a real demo out, because it looks like it hits an amazing note of simplicity married to complexity that these sorts of games really need. It has a beautiful, clean interface (from the screens and videos I’ve seen) that just looks like a joy to observe while pretending it is a display on the deck of your command carrier. It’s unfortunately vague on a lot of gameplay specifics, because you know it’s a 4X so you… 4X things. It’s really hard to pin these sorts of games down without actually spend an hour or twenty with them, so that does make me pause. But fucking look at this:

It’s so CLEAN

And it’s all like that, just this slick as hell UI letting you do what you actually want to do: colonize, build, diplomacize, and murder. Also interesting is that the battle system seems a bit unique. Basically you make important decisions, but leave the actual to-do to mostly automated processes. On the one hand, I like telling everything what to do. On the other hand, part of the allure of being a Space Ruler is that you get to order people to do shit and make them figure it out. If the system allows for actually interesting tactical decision-making in the battles, it’ll definitely be fun. Particularly if new techs open up the field a bit more.

And I mean what a goddamn tech tree, right? Again: Clean, beautiful, functional. I love it when games like this realize that accessible UI is what you need to feel like an in-control ruler. If I’m governing by Excel I am not going to feel cool.

I am almost certain the top middle is some sort of sweater tech.

Anyway! There’s a very neat look at the Alpha build with some nice things to say at Space Sector, and in the meantime here’s a movie! I really think I might drop money on this. I mean, SPACE.

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.

February 20, 2011

Infinity by I-Novae Studios

Several days ago a colleague of mine showed me a youtube video that absolutely took my breath away. It’s a technology demo for an in-development computer game called Infinity, and though it’s still in earlier stages of development it looks to be something truly special. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean.

The elegance behind the I-Novae engine is that planets, stars and environments are procedurally generated using complex algorithms, meaning each planet, star, or element doesn’t need to have the bits stored on a disc or on a server somewhere to be looked up and instanced. Rather, the engine will generate an object for the user on an as-needed basis, allowing the developers to implement a persistent full scale galaxy of billions of stars without needing the data of billions of stars to be pre-written to memory.

Procedurally generated elements are not the same as randomly generated elements. If two players are each visiting the same planet, the seed assigned to that planet will cause the procedural algorithms to recreate the same planet for both observers. Infinity is an MMO designed around this engine, and from first impression promises to be a game which is very unique.

What I like most about the planned game play of Infinity is the fact that there are NO classes, races, levels, cooldowns or other traditional RPG progression mechanics. Combat is real time and dependent entirely on player skill, and unlike EVE, you won’t need to spend 3 years building up skills to have the ability to use big capital ships. The game is incredibly open ended, player driven and (forgive the pun) astronomical in scale.

It will probably be a few more years before Infinity is released, as the small independent studio behind the game is currently working to polish up the game engine for sale and licensing. Still, I’m content to wait if it means that they can deliver the sort of game they’re promising to. It’s finding gems like these that make me wish I had a wealth of venture capital to invest.

Official Infinity Site: http://www.infinity-universe.com

I-Novae Studio Site: http://inovaestudios.com/index.htm

Are you interested in other interesting things? Of course you are! Read my review of DreamKeepers Volumes 1 and 2!

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